5 Unique Dining Spots Serve Up Impressive City Views

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By now everyone knows that if you want the most iconic view of Chicago, you head to The Signature Room. Situated on the 95th and 96th fl oors of the John Hancock Center, you can’t get much higher above the city’s ground level, says Director of Sales and Marketing Tricia Bryant. “Our private dining rooms are more than 1,000 feet above the city. On a clear day you, can see all the way to Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.” 

In addition to the panoramic sights that are especially scenic during the Air and Water Show and Navy Pier fireworks, there’s also a lot to take in on the menu, which is American contemporary with a heavy focus on fish and chops and can be customized for dietary restrictions or even for themed events. Guests can start out with a raw bar or seafood tower and then move on to bison carpaccio and goat cheese gnocchi for starters. Mains include seared sea scallops, rack of lamb and crispy tofu. The drink program is also a highlight and cocktail receptions can be coordinated. With 11 private dining options, “our space is very versatile and can accommodate groups of 20 and up to 1,000 people,” says Bryant, who notes a majority of bookings are corporate in nature. “Clients like that the view draws people in so they do not have to spend as much money on décor inside the room. … Our view is like none other in Chicago.” 

Yet while The Signature Room is an obvious choice for sightseeing and eating, Illinois Meetings + Events went on the hunt to find four other visual surprises—and trust us when we say they are picture-perfect.

The Lincoln Parker

You can’t get much greener than J. Parker, the rooftop restaurant on the top floor of the boutique Hotel Lincoln. Not only does the venue offer rare, sweeping views of Lincoln Park, the zoo and the lake in the distant horizon, but the food follows a sustainable mission delivered by chef Paul Virant. The James Beard nominee helms the next-door restaurant, Perennial Virant, and is the author of The Preservation Kitchen, which follows his philosophy of making seasonally fresh, locally sourced ingredients the heart of his menu.

That being said, meals are subject to change and menus are finalized one week prior to the event date. Some examples include skillets filled with veggies and crostini, charcuterie plates, “laughing bird” shrimp ceviche, a slider bar, Great Lakes whitefish and salads with summer squash, basil mayo and pickled herbs—all served as shareable small plates. Semiprivate group reservations of eight to 65 people are welcomed and an outside buyout for 125 or a full buyout for 225 can be accommodated.

“There are many amazing rooftops in Chicago, but guests are really drawn to our view,” says Taylor Crowley, director of private events. “We’re one of the only rooftops to offer such sweeping, unobstructed views of Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park. It makes for an incredible backdrop for a private events.”

The Crown Jewel of Michigan Avenue

The Crown is a rather new venue, open to the public only since June 2013, but already it’s taken the throne of private rental options in the city. It’s situated on the 25th floor of the Tribune Tower with a beautiful 360-degree veranda that looks down upon the scenes of the Mag Mile, Lake Michigan and the skyline. “We wanted to share a stunning event space in Chicago that had never before been accessible to the public,” says Event Director Erin Carroll, who also notes it is a great setup for cocktail receptions of all kinds. “The Veranda on The Crown can accommodate up to 150 guests, so there is plenty of space for entertainment such as a small bands or wine tasting stations.” The indoor lounge has room for 75, so if the weather turns dire there is an East Banquet room on a downstairs floor (located in Howells & Hood). Food and beverages are provided by Howells & Hood, the restaurant at the base of the Tower, and include eatables such as heirloom tomato bruschetta, crispy stuff artichokes, burgers and fish tacos and a threehour beverage package inclusive of beer, wine and spirits. “Whether you are looking for a corporate function or a celebration with family and friends, The Crown is sure to impress anyone,” says Carroll, “even if they have lived in Chicago their whole lives.”

The Lake’s Golden Coast

Chicago’s Gold Coast is well known for its shopping, but just beyond the doors of highend retailers like Louis Vuitton is the epic landscape of Oak Street Beach and Lake Shore Drive. Both merge at Freds at Barneys New York Chicago, the sixth-floor restaurant of the boutique department store that offers views of all Lake Michigan and bustling Rush Street have to offer.

Though the space inside is intimate, Freds can host 40 cocktail-style or 30 for a seated event in a semiprivate dining space, or provide a full buyout for up to 160 people. There’s also a private terrace that seats 26 guests. “Freds can accommodate a wide range of events, including but not limited to cocktail receptions, birthday parties, fashion events, corporate meetings or parties, graduation parties, business dinners, holiday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, and engagement parties,” says Carlos Navarrete, restaurant manager. Menus can be customized from the regular selection, which includes housemade hummus and guacamole, vegan cashew “cheese” dip, a number of flatbreads and tuna tartare, among other options. Even better: “The restaurant offers a complimentary dinner for two when someone plans an event over $1,500,” says Navarrete.

Skyline from the Suburbs

If you think the Chicago skyline is a distant memory in the suburbs, El Tapeo will change that viewpoint. The hallmark restaurant of the new Le Meridien in Oakbrook has expansive floor-to-ceiling windows that, on a clear day, will visibly showcase the city skyline from the east view. As the highest restaurant in the western suburbs (on the ninth floor of the hotel), there are also views of Oakbrook and Elmhurst and the surrounding areas.

Menus are helmed by Chicago native, chef Franco Diaz, and feature Spanish tapas dishes such as Dátiles, fried mejool dates and Pescado del Dia, two-year aged serrano ham wrapped monkfish. There’s also Albondigas, ground lamb and bacon meatballs and Salpicón Cangrejo de Mar, jumbo lump crab salad. Cocktails also follow the theme, represented by the Senor Simon with famous grouse scotch, banane du bresil, cinnamon syrup, orange bitters and woodford sassafras bitters.

Corporate events (paired with a meeting) allow groups to have exclusive use of the whole ninth floor, says Katie Davis, director of sales and marketing: “It provides an interactive and really fun experience with family-style dining, so all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderful view.” 

Members of The Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association (IHLA) placed their bets for a good cause this summer at the 11th annual Pony Up for the Kids fundraiser event, held at Arlington International Racecourse. Proceeds went directly into a fund for the IHLA Educational Foundation Scholarship program, which provides financial assistance to local students pursuing degrees in hospitality. (See the latest winners on page 45.) To date, the program has awarded $400,000 to deserving students. Guests were able to enjoy the racecourse’s private Beverly D.

 

The work of Bob Doepel and his staff at Chicago Scenic Studios speaks for itself, having produced some of the most iconic sets for museums, TV and film and corporate events.

 

Meeting planners have more options than ever outside the city.