Neighborhood Guide: River North

If it were the mid-1800’s, you could locate River North by eyeballing where the Chicago River curves, see the southern and westernmost edges and land in the yet-to-trend neighborhood. River North was the site of the Windy City’s first three taverns and first hotel way back when, so it was destiny that, today, you only need to follow the crowds to some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, shops and galleries. When you’re looking for a night on the town, you can’t miss because River North boasts the greatest concentration of eateries and entertainment spots in Chicago with these among the fine lot.

History Of River North

In it’s early years, the River North neighborhood witnessed factories belching so much smoke it was called “Smokey Hollow,” followed by a red light district and lots of abandoned buildings. Then, the artists came a-calling to the big spaces with low rents and the rest of us followed. Now, it is home to some of the best spots for food and art in all of Chicago. 

Eat And Drink: The Green Door Tavern
678 N Orleans St
Chicago, IL 60654

(312) 664-5496
greendoorchicago.com

What’s behind that kelly green door? Only the oldest tavern in Chicago pouring sturdy drinks since 1921. The structure itself was erected in 1872 after the Great Chicago Fire leveled a good chunk of the city. You can still see some of the original fixtures installed when it became a restaurant in the ’20s and the door was painted green indicating that a speakeasy lurked somewhere in the building. Its history lends a certain friendliness and a fortunate lack of hype even though the whiskey and craft beer list is as long as faux historic joints in in the area. The food is substantial and homey — grilled cheese, tuna melts, burgers, chili and even pretty decent fish ‘n’ chips. For crowd followers, there’s also the expected Brussels spouts, poutine, baked cauliflower and other trendy stuff that shouldn’t be eaten in a great old place like this. 

Hot Spot: House of Blues
329 N Dearborn St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 923-2000
www.houseofblues.com/chicago

Yes, there are nearly 30 of these in North America, but the House of Blues venue in Chicago is part of the iconic Marina City complex and its design is inspired by an opera house in Prague, Czech Republic. It’s innards are more reminiscent of a foreboding, dark Delta juke joint. In other words, it’s a nice stack of bricks in which to see your Dead Kennedys, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings, various comedy acts and the Sunday Gospel Brunch, which is a rousing good time for all ages. 

Arts And Festivals: Taste of River North
Ward Park
630 N Kingsbury St
Chicago, IL 60654
www.tasteofrivernorth.com

You can’t go a summer weekend in Chicago without running into a “taste” of some neighborhood, from the Mexican Taste of Little Village to Roscoe Village’s Burger Fest. The Taste of River North, however, allows you all of that as well as wall-to-wall live music, artisan vendors, demos by various local businesses and a park to plant the kids for awhile. Outdoor food booths pop up along the banks of the Chicago River in July, offering plumes of intoxicating smoke and scents. Locals return for the diverse roster live bands and if the food booths aren’t cooking up enough to your liking, just head in any direction for a sit-down meal in any of the many neighborhood restaurants from Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill to Union Sushi + Barbecue Bar. 

Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.


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