A guide to the things to do in River North – this Chicago neighborhood is known for its active nightlife and trendy restaurants. The neighborhood is also home to contemporary art galleries, music venues, and the last Prohibition-era speakeasy in Chicago.
Last updated: April 2022
Read More About River North
River North Restaurant Guide
Where is River North?
River North is directly north of the Chicago River and the Loop. The neighborhood is bordered by the Chicago River to the south and west, Streeterville to the east, and Old Town and Gold Coast to the north.
How to Get to River North:
You can take the Brown Line to the Chicago (at Franklin St) or Merchandise Mart stops on the train, or you can take the Red Line to Chicago (at State St) or Grand.
Parks and Outdoor Activities:
A park located along the Chicago River in northwest River North with a large hilly lawn for relaxing, a children’s playground, and an adjacent dog park. The park hosts movies in the park in the summer and The only other park in River North is a small dog park.
Recently rebranded as theMART, this giant building is 25 stories tall, has a footprint that takes up two city blocks, and has over 4 million square feet. It even has its own el stop. The building is home to many interior design showrooms and hosts several trade events and public events each year.
Historic Water Tower
The water tower is located in the spot where the River North, Streeterville, and Gold Coast neighborhoods meet. This white stone water tower on the Magnificent Mile survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. A large water pump was located within the structure, but now the building is used as a small gallery and a city tourism office. The water tower is located on Michigan Avenue just north of Chicago Avenue, in the middle of the Mag Mile. Admission to the gallery is free.
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum
This museum located in a restored mansion built in 1883 explores the art, architecture, and design of the Gilded Age and the 19th century. The museum features not only the interior design, furnishing, decorative art, and architecture of the mansion itself, it also hosts special exhibitions.
Things to Do in River North:
Kayaking in the Chicago River
Wateriders offers kayak rentals from their 500 North Kingsbury Street shop. They offer hourly kayak rentals plus a variety of tours including an architecture tour, a ghosts and gangsters tour, and a fireworks paddle.
The Chicago Electric Boat Company has a fleet of easy to drive electric boats that you can rent to cruise the Chicago River. They have boats to fit 10-16 people and they are BYOB.
An Italian marketplace with food counters and restaurants. The market has an extensive selection of cheese and wine plus imported Italian food products. There are food counters on the first level for a quick meal and sit down restaurants on the second level.
Art on the Mart
An art experience involving art being projected onto the massive Merchandise Mart building. The art is projected onto the side of the building facing the Chicago River.
AIRE Ancient Baths
AIRE isn’t really in River North, it’s just across the river in River West, but it is so exceptional we couldn’t exclude it. AIRE is a luxurious spa and bath house featuring a variety of pools, steam rooms, and saunas. I love the lavender scented steam room and the floating pool which has super salty water so that you can float. AIRE is the ultimate date night experience.
A weekly Sunday event at the House of Blues that combines an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet with gospel music.
Restaurants in River North:
River North Restaurant Guide
Bars and Cocktail Lounges:
River North is a center of Chicago’s bar scene. We wanted to highlight a few spots that stand out from the rest.
Green Door Tavern and The Drifter
The Green Door Tavern is one of the oldest bars in Chicago and the city’s last Prohibition-era speakeasy. The building was constructed in 1872 and was a grocery store until 1921 when it became a restaurant and bar. When the building settled after construction, it started to lean and still leans to this day… and perhaps more since a handful of cars have crashed into the building during its history. The name Green Door Tavern refers to green doors marking the locations of speakeasies during the Prohibition. Today, the first floor bar and restaurant has many of its original decor, and if you go downstairs, you can find the entrance to The Drifter, a dimly lit cocktail lounge with live entertainment, hidden behind a bookcase.
Untitled Supper Club
A speakeasy style restaurant and cocktail lounge with live entertainment. Compared to The Green Door Tavern and The Drifter, Untitled feels more polished. It’s newer, trendier, and the food earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand award in 2021. The space has several rooms offering different experiences and a stage for live music and a burlesque and variety show.
Three Dots and a Dash
A tiki bar located underneath Bub City that is accessed via the alleyway behind the restaurant. The bar has a large selection of rums from all over the globe and juice for the cocktails is cold pressed daily. Both individual cocktails and large format cocktails to serve up to 8 guests are available.
River North is home to several fine art galleries. Many are located on Superior Street between North Orleans Street and Wells Street.
A gallery focused on promoting and displaying studio glass and sculpture.
This gallery features both emerging and mid-career artists working the mediums of painting and sculpture.
Andrew Bae Gallery
Contemporary Asian Art is the focus of this gallery.
Zg Gallery features new work from emerging contemporary artists working in all mediums.
Jean Albano Gallery
A gallery with contemporary painting, sculpture, and mixed media works.
Carl Hammer Gallery
Outsider art and work from contemporary self-taught artists can be found at this gallery.
Vale Craft Gallery
A gallery centered around American fine craft and sculpture.
Stephen Daiter Gallery
A photography gallery displaying 20th century fine art photography and vintage photography from American and European artists.
A shop carrying antique housewares, silver, restaurant china, and dinnerware sourced from auctions and European flea markets.
The Shops at North Bridge
This urban shopping mall is home to Nordstrom plus shops including Stuart Weitzman, Kiehl’s, EQ3, and Untuckit.
House of Blues
A concert venue that hosts a wide variety of concerts and events including tribute acts, emerging artists, and book tours. Note: they currently have a clear bag policy.
Andy’s Jazz Club
One of Chicago’s top jazz venues, Andy’s has live music daily. A full menu is available in addition to cocktails. Advance reservation required.
A bar with live blues performances seven days a week.
A live music lounge located in the basement below Hampton Social.
This theatre founded by Northwestern University graduates in 1988 won a Tony Award for regional theater in 2011. This is a place to see new theater and many new plays have premiered here. (Technically, this is just outside River North and in Streeterville).
The Comedy Bar
A stand-up comedy venue with two stages, affordable prices, a full dinner menu, and no drink minimums. They host stand up comedians, open mics, and ensemble shows.
Annual Events In River North:
Chicago River Dyeing
Chicago celebrates St. Patricks Day by dyeing the Chicago River bright green. The dyeing takes place on the morning of the Saturday before March 17th. If the 17th happens to be a Saturday, the dyeing will take place on the 17th.
One of a Kind Show and Sale
A twice annual show that takes place in the spring and at the start of December. Each event brings together more than 300 artists, makers, and designers. In addition to shopping, the event has workshops, live music, food, and drinks.
A Taste of Chill
A one night wine, culinary, and design event that takes place at select LuxeHome boutiques at theMART in November.
Taste of River North
A neighborhood food festival that take place beside theMART and features booths from local restaurants plus live music.
River North Design District Fall Gallery Walk
An event that brings together fine art galleries and design showrooms. The event takes place across dozens of galleries and showrooms and top designers select their favorite artworks.
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Thursday 7th of April 2022
[…] is projected onto the side of the building facing the Chicago River so while Merchandise Mart is in River North, Art on the Mart is best viewed from the Riverwalk in the […]