by Jan Brenner, Editor-in-Chief
Chicago is not only the most visited city in the Midwest, it’s one of the most dynamic cities on the planet. From its fabulous parks and museums to its world-class dining, shopping, entertainment and hotels, it has everything you (and your guests!) could want—including a long list of amazing wedding and special event venues.
Whether you’re looking for a traditional (but gorgeous) location or one that’s truly outside the box, here are 12 unique places for you to explore.
Neighborhood: Museum Campus, Northerly Island
What an amazing place! The event spaces are so out-of-the-box, from the Café Galileo, which frames a view of Chicago’s glittering skyline through a wall of glass, to the Clark Family Welcome Gallery, where you can project a photo slideshow or video onto any of four screens. The catering is eco-friendly, with menus based on local and organic ingredients whenever possible. Plus you can add a special show to your event, like taking your guests on a journey through the cosmos.
Neighborhood: West Loop
At this environmentally friendly and vibrantly colored restaurant, the food is as bold and flavorful as the venue. Carnivale supports the Green City Market, using only cage-free eggs, sustainable seafood, and organic vegetables from its rooftop garden in the summer. Their menu offers authentic cuisines from Spain, the Caribbean, and South and Central America, and they’ll take care of you in delectable style whether you want a small private dinner for 15 or a grand event for 300.
Neighborhood: Navy Pier
True to its name, the Crystal Garden is a one-acre botanical garden thriving beneath the arched ceiling of a six-story glass atrium. Adorned with twinkle lights, fountains and graceful palm trees, it provides a gorgeous outdoor experience indoors. Thanks to its location on Chicago’s famous Navy Pier, the venue also affords terrific views of the city skyline, Lake Michigan, the Ferris wheel, and Dock Street. And there’s no rental fee to enjoy this unique setting—only a food and beverage minimum.
Neighborhood: Logan Square
Housed in the Green Exchange building (Platinum LEED Certified), the Loft’s main event space is filled with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows. As Chicago’s most unique sustainable wedding venue, it comes with plenty of “green” services and amenities, like an 8,000-square-foot organic sky garden, 120-year-old reclaimed wood floors, and eco-friendly cleaning/maintenance supplies. Their catering and vendor partners are also sustainably minded, so your celebration will support the environment from start to finish.
Neighborhood: River North
The Tree Studios were originally turn-of-the-century workshops for some of Chicago’s greatest artists. Today they serve multiple purposes in the community, and the Ivy Room has become a mecca for fabulous events. Annexed to the city’s famous Moorish-style Medinah Temple, the Ivy Room is an elegant ballroom with a high ceiling and gleaming hardwood floor. Multiple windows bring in abundant natural light and overlook a private ivy-walled courtyard, a lovely spot for an al fresco ceremony or cocktail reception.
Neighborhood: Near West Side / West Loop
Committed to conservation and sustainability, this venue is an ideal place for a green wedding. During the day, sunlight filters in from a skylight 65 feet above, and at night you’ll see a sky full of stars overhead. You can also decorate your event with artworks from some earthbound stars—the Loft’s network of Chicago artists. Another perk: one of the venue’s owners happens to be a professional artistic photographer.
Neighborhood: The Loop
The park’s five fantastic venues can accommodate any event, from a small company gathering to a grand wedding. Dinner and dancing on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Stage—beneath its dramatic steel-and-glass “ceiling”—are accompanied by breathtaking views of the Chicago cityscape and the park’s many architectural and cultural features. Or, party under the stars on the Rooftop Terrace, which overlooks the city skyline. Conveniently located in downtown Chicago, Millennium Park is close to everything the Windy City has to offer.
Neighborhood: Fulton River District
Whether you’re planning a black-tie affair or a more casual celebration, the restaurant’s award-winning interior will enhance it with the perfect combination of vintage and contemporary elements. Sepia has been recognized for its food, too: Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman and his culinary team have earned the venue a rare Michelin star. Their innovative cuisine—based on natural, organic and sustainable foods—supports local artisan farmers and winemakers.
What a neighborhood treasure! Built over a century ago, this restored gem retains its period charm, complete with antique doors, lighting, and plumbing fixtures. Your guests will love historic details like the silver tin ceiling and the original fire pole, and a private yard provides an intimate space for an outdoor cocktail hour. Being a green-minded venue, Firehouse Chicago works closely with Chicago’s Green Wedding Alliance members who will reduce the carbon footprint of your event.
If you love the charm and romance of the Gilded Age, with its elaborate architecture and décor, this gem of a venue is for you. The estate has two national historic landmarks on its grounds, both of which can be part of your wedding. Couples often tie the knot in the Old Central Church, notable for its three stained-glass windows and century-old 2,000-pipe organ. From here it’s just a short walk down a winding path through the beautiful Secret Garden to the mansion, where receptions unfold in the Victorian Ballroom.
A wedding should be fun, and with 18 bowling lanes, 6 bocce courts, and banquet rooms for 20–600, everyone will have a great time at this venue! There’s also a year-round patio with a fire pit for outdoor relaxation, and a sophisticated Italian-American bistro. Their staff will tailor your celebration to your vision, and their packages accommodate a wide range of event needs and budgets. You can even get a custom cake!
Neighborhood: Vernon Hills
Talk about a fairy-tale wedding venue! Built in the early 1900s, this Italianate-style mansion showcases a gorgeous collection of fine antiques, paintings, tapestries and sculptures, and is surrounded by acres of manicured lawns and gardens. Serve cocktails poolside and host your reception in their year-round pavilion—one of their preferred caterers will make sure your event turns out perfectly. And with all the photogenic backdrops here, your wedding album will be filled with memorable pictures.