10 Hidden Gems Along The Magnificent Mile
Around every corner of The Magnificent Mile lie surprising pieces that make up the rich history of downtown Chicago. Unexpected turn-of-the-century ballrooms, lavish chandeliers, stained glass fit for royalty, atlases of the Renaissance, former mansions of America's elite, eclectic bars, iconic burger joints, classic cocktails, and unbeatable views make up our guide to the top hidden gems around the district.
Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
Just steps away from the iconic Tribune Tower is the majestic Intercontinental Hotel. The south tower of the building opened its doors in 1929 as the Medinah Athletic Club. Imagine a time when the who’s who of prohibition era Chicago gathered to socialize and entertain in a lavish space that spared no expense. Club members enjoyed luxurious amenities such as a rooftop golf course, a shooting range, and a junior Olympic size swimming pool—the oldest in the city. It was common to spectate as Olympic Swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, the original Tarzan, swam laps. Every unique floor has been carefully restored to its original state. Step back in time to Gatsby-era Chicago with extravagant baccarat chandelier ballrooms, gold leaf molding, and hand painted murals. Step into “smoking rooms,” now used as event spaces, adorned with lavish stained glass windows, rare wood walls and a hand painted ceiling illustrating the life of King Arthur. Around every turn is another hallway decked with hand painted mosaic tile, family crests and original club embellishments. Whether you’re dining at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse or looking for a historic place to stay, do not miss the wall to wall extravagance waiting behind the doors of the Intercontinental Hotel. Photo Credit: Jenny Lam
- What was originally a mini golf course on the 23rd floor is now an enclosed observation deck open to the public.
- Since the building was originally built as a men’s club, once upon a time women were only allowed in the rooms with light blue ceilings.
- The hand painted murals throughout the building were restored by Lido Lippi, who was also consulted to restore the murals of the Sistine Chapel.
505 N. Michigan Avenue
Bloomingdale's Medinah Home Store
Whether you're window shopping or in the market for new house wares, the Medinah Temple is a must when wandering River North. The impressive exterior is hard to miss! The 105-year-old building originally served as an Auditorium for the Medinah Shriner’s Club. For many years, the auditorium was home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Shriner’s Circus, and countless local graduation ceremonies. Today the building lives on as the largest Bloomingdale Home Store in the country. However, much of the interior integrity remains intact, including stunning original stained glass windows circling the top floors, the auditoriums original stage framing, and a gorgeously domed ceiling.
- For a better view of the building’s entire exterior, head to the fifth floor of the parking garage across the street on Wabash Avenue.
- The Women’s restroom on the second floor has been called one of the most beautiful restrooms in Chicago. Stop by to see for yourself!
600 N. Wabash Avenue
The Blackstone Hotel
The Blackstone Hotel, also known as “The Hotel of Presidents,” sits across the street from Grant Park and the Union Pacific Railroad. The hotel was built on the former home site of Timothy Blackstone, 19th century railroad tycoon and founding President of the Union Stock Yards. This historically rich hotel features a beautiful lobby, an elegant art hall, and unbeatable lake front views. The English room, once used for private dinner parties, is made from wood and stained glass imported from an English Castle. Check out the ornamental Crystal Ballroom where an infamous meeting involving the families of the New York and Chicago Mafia "allegedly" took place. Grab a glass of wine at Mercat a la Planxa on the bottom floor and head up to the art hall which is open to the public.
636 S. Michigan Avenue
- Every U.S. President from Taft through Carter has stayed at the Blackstone.
- President Kennedy learned of the Cuban Missile Crisis while staying in the Presidential Suite
- Al Capone was a regular at the barbershop on the basement floor. This was his favorite place for a fresh shave because it happened to be the only barbershop with no windows in Chicago.
Between The Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast lies a history buff's dream come true. Since 1887, the Newberry Library has served as free public independent research institution. Anyone with a relevant research topic is welcome to explore the library's rich collection of artifacts. Discover treasures such as an exquisitely hand-colored map of the Americas from the Renaissance; actual hand-written correspondence between Jack Kerouac and his publisher; and an 1865 first edition, beautifully-bound copy of Alice in Wonderland. Additionally, the Newberry Library offers a full schedule of adult education seminars, lectures, panel discussions, live performances, and rotating exhibits. Whether you're a local looking for things to do in Chicago or an intellectually curious traveler with some time to spare, The Newberry Library is a unique Chicago attraction full of rare hidden gems.
- The collection includes genealogy and local historical records.
- The building was one of the first in the area with electricity.
60 W. Walton Street
Richard H. Driehaus Museum
Take a step back in time to the Gilded Age right in the heart of The Magnificent Mile. The Driehaus Museum is a decorative arts museum inside a lavish 19th century mansion. The mansion, once home to a wealthy Chicago banker, a paper magnate, and the American College of surgeons is known as the Marble Palace because of the 17 distinct types of marble used in the interior. Walking through the museum gives a glimpse into the home life of the affluent members of the Gilded Age. The museum showcases fine interiors of the era, featuring some original home furnishings of the mansion and others from Richard Driehaus's private collection. The walls of each room are made of a different type of rare wood and accented with detailed carvings. Highlights of the museum include one of the largest collections of Louis Comfort Tiffany pieces, artistic high-end furniture of the Gilded Age, and a beautiful sun-lit stained glass dome. The second floor of the museum hosts rotating exhibitions featuring art, fashion, and design of the era. The current exhibit, L'Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, runs through January 2018. The third-floor ballroom hosts public programs and events such as holiday brunches, lectures, and cocktail series.
- Visit the impressive gift shop on the third floor, an excellent place to find unique gifts and beautiful jewelry. Admission to the gift shop is free, a terrific way to get a sneak peak of the mansion.
- Occasional themed tours are offered such as a “servant’s tour” led by a fictional housekeeper and multiple walking tours of the historic neighborhood.
- Don't miss the museums traditional holiday carolers on the porch on your way to The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Ligts Festival!
40 E. Erie Street
Lawry's The Prime Rib
One of Chicago's top restaurants, Lawry's Prime Rib, has an interesting history of tenants. The building originated in 1893 as a McCormick Mansion, home to Leander Hamilton McCormick and his wife Constance. In the 1930's after a brief stint as a casino, the building was leased to Frederick Chramer. The restaurateur remodeled the building in Swedish Modern Style and turned it into Kungsholm, Chicago's premiere Smorgasbord buffet and internationally known puppet opera theater. Elaborately staged performances featuring hand-crafted, string-less puppets would entertain over a million people until 1972. Shortly after, Lawry's took over the building and opened their first Chicago location: they remodeled the interior to bring back the elegance of the McCormick era along with the incomparable atmosphere of Kungsholm. The next time you're looking for a place to eat downtown Chicago stop by Lawry's and enjoy a delicious meal while you imagine the restaurants quirky past.
- Lawry's newest addition, Sidedoor, was once the McCormick's dining room.
- The late Constance McCormick is said to haunt her former home to this day.
100 E. Ontario Street
The Original Billy Goat Tavern
“Cheezborger, Cheezborger, No Coke. Pepsi!" You haven't truly been to Chicago until you've been to the original Billy Goat Tavern. The iconic tavern on lower Michigan Avenue is a gem of all sorts. The pub became famous due to the infamous Cubs Curse: The original owner Billy Sianis brought his pet goat to a 1945 Cubs World Series game at Wrigley Field but the goat’s attendance was not appreciated. After being told to leave the stadium, Sianis put a curse on the team. He swore the Cubs would never win another World Series Championship. The Cubs lost to the Tigers that year and did make an appearance in any World Series until last year when the curse was finally broken! In the 1970's the recurring Saturday Night Live skit "Olympia Cafe" starring John Belushi was based on The Billy Goat Tavern. The pop culture skit is known throughout the world today. Billy Goat Tavern's proximity to the Chicago Tribune and the former Chicago Sun-Times have made it a regular hangout for Chicago journalists since 1934. The walls are filled with decades of newspaper clippings and photos of Chicago journalists, celebrities, and politicians. Remaining true to its roots, the grill only serves its original limited menu along with Chicago made Vitner's potato chips, and of course Pepsi. The bar has a larger selection of spirits -and you can't find better prices anywhere downtown! The next time you're walking Michigan Avenue, don't hesitate to head down the stairs at Hubbard street and step into the Chicago of yesteryear.
- The Billy Goat beer on draft is specially brewed by The Berghoff
- The tavern is still run by the original Sianis family.
430 N. Michigan Avenue
Who doesn't love a diamond in the rough dive bar? Streeter's Tavern, named after the infamous Captain George Streeter, is the perfect place to unwind after an afternoon shopping on The Magnificent Mile or a long day at work. Located on the underground level of a building so old it survived the Chicago Fire, you will find an eclectic mix of local regulars and tourists from all over the world. The bar once served as a late-night club where Chicago businessmen, baseball players, and playboy playmates gathered to drink and play dice till the wee hours of the night. On the menu are classic Windy City treats including Chicago hot dogs from neighboring grill Downtown Dogs. The sound is on for any Chicago playoff game and the drinks are fairly-priced.
- Star Wars creator George Lucas has been known to walk by and say hello.
- Patio seating available in the warmer months - perfect for Chicago people watching!
50 E. Chicago Avenue
Located in the historic Drake Hotel, the Coq d'Or is one of Chicago's most historically significant restaurants. The legendary lounge opened its doors in 1933. It was the second outlet in Chicago to obtain a liquor license and the rest is history. Coq d'Or has been open 365 days a year since the day it opened 84 years ago. The intimate space at Coq d'Or feels like a step back in time to a place of Mad Men-esque happy hours with famous actresses laughing in the corner booth. Generations and generations keep coming back to Coq d'Or to enjoy timeless comfort food, classic cocktails, live jazz piano on the weekends, and one of the finest whiskey collections in the city. The full menu is available until midnight for a delicious late night meal.
- The Bookbinder Red Snapper soup is the best in the city, you can't find anything like it!
- The Drake Hotel's Whiskey Club hosts monthly tastings of rare whiskey paired with hors d'oeuveres to complement.
140 E. Walton Place
The View from the Adler Planetarium
The beauty of Chicago's skyline is simply unmatched. The view from outside the Adler Planetarium is the best place to take it all in and reflect on the magnificence of our world-renowned city. Sit back and enjoy as sailboats pass while admiring the entire skyline, Navy Pier, and Grant Park alongside the blue Lake Michigan water. The view is gorgeous day or night; however, the Museum campus hours are restricted. You can access this unbeatable Chicago view by walking or biking along the lakefront path, taking a taxi to the planetarium, or driving through the Museum campus.
1300 S. Lakeshore Drive