Chicago Neighborhood Guide: River North

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iStock.com/ablokhin

Welcome to the land of gingham shirts, reservations, and valet. Chicago’s River North neighborhood is located in its Near North Side, surrounded by bougie areas like Streeterville and the Gold Coast. As its name suggests, this lively locale sits to the north of the Chicago River, just across the Kinzie Street Bridge from the Loop, and steps away from Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. This urban area is densely populated with nine-to-fivers, a cornucopia of eateries, galleries galore, busy bottle-service dance clubs, and luxurious highrises. The vibrant community is also blessed with the Chicago Riverwalk, which offers ample skyline ogling opportunities. 

Commute

iStock.com/Shelly Bychowski

The Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) Red Line shuffles between the North and South Sides via downtown 24/7, stopping along the way at River North’s Grand subway station on N State Street. Both the Brown Line and Purple Line stop at Chicago Avenue and Merchandise Mart before making their way to the Loop. 

Many bus routes serve the area, with stops every few blocks. 22 Clark travels from the Loop and the North Side to River North. 65 Grand goes down Grand Avenue before connecting with both the Red and Blue Lines further west. 66 Chicago goes from Michigan Ave to West Town via Chicago Ave. Whatever you do, don’t drive! The L can get you to the city’s central business district, The Loop, in less than 15 minutes.

Eat

Where locals eat brunch on Sundays

The Doughnut Vault
401 N Franklin St, Chicago, IL 60654

via The Doughnut Vault

Some Chicagoans stay sober Saturday night just to line up for at The Doughnut Vault bright and early on Sunday morning. With delicious creations like the grape jelly with peanut butter icing and the wedding cake doughnut, it’s no wonder they always sell out. Pro tip: Grab a Starbucks to sip on while you wait.

The best coffee shop to work remotely

3 Greens Market
354 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654

  • via 3 Greens Market
  • via 3 Greens Market

3 Greens Market has it all: an inviting coffee lounge, gourmet Small Cheval burgers, Dillman’s Pastrami sandwiches, a big salad bar, and ping pong. 

The best take-out spot for when you don’t feel like cooking

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
439 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654

via Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

Order a Chicago-style deep dish from Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. The local family-owned chain is known for its crunchy, buttery crust.

Late-night eats for when you’ve had one too many

Portillo’s Hot Dogs
100 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60654

via Portillo’s

Grab a Chicago dog or world-famous Italian beef sandwich from Portillo’s Hot Dogs. The River North location is the classic Chicago chain’s flagship spot. If you’re really feeling like a fat kid, go ahead and a “cake shake,” the off-menu diabetes-inducing chocolate cake milkshake. 

Drink

via Three Dots and a Dash

The dive bar where everyone knows your name 

Green Door Tavern
678 N Orleans St, Chicago, IL 60654

The Green Door Tavern is kind of reminiscent of a Bennigan’s, but the burger bar is sitting on a subterranean secret, The Drifter. This basement bar is a legit Prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with hourly cabaret acts and an incredible rotating cocktail list presented on a series of tarot cards, and is one of the reasons River North made our list of the best neighborhoods in Chicago for young professionals.

Where to drink mimosas outside 

The Laurel Room
640 N N LaSalle Dr 8th floor, Chicago, IL 60654

River North is rife with rooftop bars, like Pacific Standard Time’s seasonal spot, The Laurel Room. Sip a spritz, spirited slushie, or rosé as you take in the skyline from the eighth floor open-air lounge. If you work up an appetite, there’s always the seafood-centric coastal Californian cuisine, or you can go downstairs to PST and order well, just about everything. 

Where to get cocktails on a first date 

Three Dots and a Dash
435 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

Tell your date to pack their bags, because you’ve got two tickets to tropical paradise. Will they be pissed when they find themselves in line in an alley? Maybe. Will they be happy once they have a flamboyantly garnished rum-tastic tiki beverage in their hands? That’s nothing short of guaranteed at Three Dots and a Dash.

Things to Do in River North

via The Mart

Boutiques 

Upscale shops and luxe fashion outlets line Chicago’s premier commercial district, the Magnificent Mile. The Shops at North Bridge takes up six blocks of it, featuring a Nordstrom store and Eataly among its 50+ shops and restaurants. Head to N Wabash to get your big brown bag of goodies from Bloomie’s

Merchandise Mart, now referred to as just “The Mart,” houses showrooms, restaurants, and offices. An interior design district surrounds this sprawling iconic edifice.

Theaters

The Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place and the Lookingglass Theater sit across the street from each other in historic gothic buildings on N Michigan Ave. The former is on the first floor of the historic Water Tower while the latter is inside the old Pumping Station.

Farmer’s Markets

The nearest farmer’s markets can be found in the Museum Of Contemporary Art (SOAR Farmers Market) and at Division and Dearborn (Division Street City Market). But what River North lacks in outdoor markets it makes up for by having both a Whole Foods (W Huron St and N Dearborn) and a Trader Joe’s (E Ontario St and N Wabash). Score!

Parks

On the banks of the Chicago River, the modest Ward (A. Montgomery) Park offers a place for both K9s and kiddos to play. To the north in the Washington Park/Woodlawn neighborhood, Washington Park boasts nearly 350 acres of fun, featuring three playgrounds, a pool, an arboretum, two gymnasiums, a fitness center, sports courts, a lagoon, a game room, a racquetball court, and more. It’s also home to the renowned Fountain of Time sculpture by Lorado Taft and the DuSable Museum of African American History. Grant Park, Millennium Park, Cloudgate (The Bean), and Buckingham Fountain are just 20 minutes away by train.

Top-Rated Places in River North

Riverwalk, iStock.com/stevegeer

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Riverwalk! For the best views, we recommend entering on Franklin Street then walking down to Dusable, with a stop for wine at City Winery or ice cream on the way. 

Historic Gilded Age architecture meets interior design at The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, a restored 19th-century mansion on Eerie Street. Count the different types of marble (there are 17), gaze up at the hand-painted ceilings, and marvel at the carved exotic wood wainscoting.

River North is actually short for River North Gallery District, so named for its gaggle of galleries, primarily congregated along Chicago, Superior, and Huron streets. Check out the photography collections at the Stephen Daiter Gallery and Catherine Edelman Gallery and admire the Asian art at the Andrew Bae Gallery.

River North is just a hop, skip, and a jump from many Chicago attractions, including Navy Pier, the Chicago Children’s Museum, 360 Chicago, Lake Shore Drive, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

Ready to move to River North? Search thousands of River North apartments on Zumper and get ready to call this neighborhood home. 

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