Chicago Tour: River North
Partly bordered by the Chicago River, River North is home to art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and clubs. There’s something for everyone here, and for every budget. Eat lunch at a Chicago pizza chain and dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. At the south end of the neighborhood looms Merchandise Mart, the world’s largest commercial building, which has its own zip code and offers tours of the enormous space. Gallery-hop on Superior between Wells and Orleans. Shop for unique home furnishings around Chicago and Wells. Eat a steak at one of the many steakhouses on Dearborn. And enjoy the nightlife around State and Ontario. The streets are filled with people who want to enjoy themselves, creating a celebratory atmosphere in this Near North Side neighborhood.
Gene & Georgetti
Aside from the absence of cigarette smoke, it’s hard to imagine that this classic steak-and-seafood place has changed much since it first opened in the same wood-framed house in 1941. In case you didn’t catch the clubby, old-school vibe from the all-male, white-jacketed waitstaff, red leather chairs, or the boisterous guys in suits ordering rounds of scotch at the bar, it’s obvious from the menu: unapologetically large steaks and chops, Italian standards like chicken Vesuvio and eggplant parmigiana, and shrimp De Jonghe, a butter-and-garlic-drenched specialty with a long local history. The wood-paneled downstairs dining room is often reserved for regulars, politicians, and visiting celebs, although if you make a reservation on the early side and dress well, there’s a chance you might avoid being banished upstairs.
Master of Mexican gourmet Rick Bayless delights diners with this casual and affordable “little sister” to the more upscale Frontera in River North and North Side’s Topolobampo. Patrons line up inside the cozy yellow café for the torta ahogada, or “drowned sandwich,” made with succulent carnitas, pickled onions, black beans and chile de árbol sauce, served on chewy bread, and dipped in tomato broth. You’ll dine amidst the aromas of simmering caldos (soup with carnitas and potato dumplings) and perfectly spiced tortas.
Chef Takashi Yagihashi has a few eateries around town, but the Slurping Turtle is his nod to Japanese comfort food. Featuring bento boxes, binco grill items, and, of course, noodles to slurp, the restaurant attracts a loyal lunch crowd. Sit in one of the booths or at the communal table in the middle.
Wateriders Kayak Tours
On a clear, warm day, admire Chicago’s architecture from a unique vantage point: the Chicago River. Wateriders offers guided kayak tours through downtown Chicago for a truly one-of-a-kind sightseeing experience that includes Willis Tower, Wrigley Building, and Merchandise Mart. Sign up for the Evening Paddle for a magical view of illuminated city at night.
Chicago Gallery News Tours
Chicago Gallery News provides free tours of River North’s many galleries on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet the guide on the corner of Franklin and Chicago (in front of the Starbucks) for a tour of four art galleries. The itinerary changes weekly, so you may see anything from European Impressionist paintings to innovative glass sculpture to contemporary Asian artwork to vintage black and white photography to antique home furnishings to steel furniture. No reservations necessary.
Known for its simple, seasonal Tuscan cuisine, Coco Pazzo features an award-winning all-Italian wine list, as well as homemade bread and fresh pasta—potato and spring nettle gnocchi, pappardelle with braised rabbit, and linguini with chili-flecked Manilla clams.
Amid countless coffee chains, Fabcakes is a welcome change for your caffeine fix. Red velvet-draped walls add to the cozy atmosphere of this café, where customers enjoy freshly baked goods and lattes flavored with homemade syrups, like pepper-fig and vanilla-rose.
River North’s neighborhood blues bar, Blue Chicago is notorious for its songstresses. Grana Louise, Big Time Sarah, Laretha Weathersby, Dimetria Taylor, and Shirley Johnson are just some of the blues women who shake up the stage. Catch remarkable acts, nightly.