The city is often best experienced where the urban meets the natural, and with a Great Lake at its doorstep and a prominent river winding through downtown, Chicago offers plenty of opportunity to observe the two elements in harmony. Several restaurants/bars take advantage of pedestrian proximity to the water and offer outdoor seating for patrons to balance the clamorous streets with the tranquil shores. The weather window may be limited, but there is plenty of time left this season to maximize the al fresco experience and settle in to one of these prime waterside venues.

Bridge House


Open since April, Bridge House occupies the river level at the Clark Street bridge, with an indoor bar/dining area upstairs. The “industrial tavern” mixes upscale surroundings with an emphasis on comfort food and innovative cocktails.

(credit: Steve Hardy/CBS Local)

This super-casual boat-shaped hangout features an ice cream cafe, beachside burgers, live entertainment every weekend, and plenty of ice cold drink options. While popular throughout the summer, the Castaways rooftop becomes one of the hottest tickets in town during the annual Air & Water Show.

The riverside became a little more upscale with the recent opening of the celebrity-friendly Chicago Cut Steakhouse. The restaurant became instantly popular for power lunches (and now breakfasts), notable as well for its iPad ordering system. It’s a classy destination for dinner or a glass of wine on one of two levels of outdoor waterside seating.

Not to be confused with Cyrano’s Bistro on Wells, this seasonal outpost brings a taste of France to Lower Wacker Drive, with a summer-appropriate menu that is lighter than that of the parent restaurant. Dogs are welcome, too!

Fulton's On The River


This popular riverside patio features stellar views, classic seafood, steaks and an acclaimed dessert menu. For maximum bivalve indulgence, don’t miss Fulton’s Clam Bake on the first Tuesday of the month from June through August.



Venues situated on the north branch of the Chicago River are few, but Japonais makes up for the lack of quantity with abundant quality. Located in the former Mongomery Ward Catalog Building (now home to Groupon), the restaurant features contemporary Japanese cuisine and sushi in impressively-designed interior and exterior environments.

The Riverwalk Café at Wabash & Wacker is an offshoot of the original O’Brien’s in Old Town, and is an ideal spot for hanging out with co-workers, or for visitors looking for great river views in a very casual setting. With a limited and basic menu, this one is all about the location and the booze.

Rivers has been one of the most popular after-work destinations in the Loop for a long time, and with good reason. The riverside patio area is lengthy, it’s well-nestled among the financial district office highrises, a stone’s throw from the Metra stations, and it’s a good spot for pre-United Center event meetups.

Smith Wollensky


This iconic steak house has several locations around the country, and they scored a prime one here in Chicago. While it features an outdoor patio along the Chicago River, Smith & Wollensky’s views aren’t limited to periods of good weather. The south wall of the dining room is perched above the river, and it’s all windows.


Rivers has some new competition in the form of South Branch, a casual spot with an upscale vibe that recently opened one block south at Wacker & Monroe. The owners of Sweetwater on Michigan Avenue bring a similar menu and atmosphere to their new place, with a large outdoor dining area and bar along the river.

Greg Wahl is a Chicagoan, a freelancer, a grad student, and a seeker of all things awesome & interesting throughout the city and beyond.

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Photos: Scenes From North Ave Beach>>>