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10 New Experiences in Chicago

A magic lounge, a hotel facing Wrigley Field, giant wooden trolls and a golf-theme restaurant are some of the fresh places for visitors to explore in the Chicago area this year.

You’ve already taken a selfie at The Bean, admired the masterpieces at the Art Institute and watched the Cubs play at Wrigley Field. But Chicago always has new ways to play. Here are some of the places to check out the next time you’re in town.

1. Chicago Magic Lounge

Long ago, Chicago teemed with magic bars that drew magicians from all over the country. The new Chicago Magic Lounge hopes to revive that era with a magic bar and theater. Magician memorabilia decorates the speakeasy-style rooms, where bartenders serve signature cocktails like the Sleight of Hand or Abracadabra. A roaming magician does card tricks at your table or behind the bar. For bigger tricks, buy a ticket to a show in one of the lounge’s two theaters. chicagomagiclounge.com

Chicago Magic Lounge

Photo courtesy of Chicago Magic Lounge

2. Hotel Zachary

Just in time for baseball season, the new Hotel Zachary opened across the street from Wrigley Field. Floor-to-ceiling windows of the 173-room boutique hotel face one of the nation’s most famous ballparks. Baseball-theme wall art and ivy-green headboards (to match the famous ivy on Wrigley’s outfield walls) make a nod to the hotel’s location, but the overall atmosphere is more sophisticated than the partying Wrigleyville neighborhood around it. marriott.com

Hotel Zachary

Hotel Zachary. Photo courtesy of Stoffer Photography Interiors/Hotel Zachary.

3. Booth One

The legendary Pump Room in the old Ambassador East Hotel has been remade into a sleek new Gold Coast restaurant. It still honors its celebrity- and socialite-filled past, and it has preserved Booth One, a famous Pump Room table available only to top celebrities. Back in the day, guests would crowd into the restaurant just to see who might be seated there—possibly Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr. or Bette Davis.  Today, framed black-and-white photos showcase celebrity clientele, including former Chicagoans Bill Murray, Oprah and Chance the Rapper. The menu features fresh contemporary takes on classics, such as lobster risotto and filet mignon with English steak jam. Inside the Ambassador Chicago hotel. boothone.com

Booth One

Photo courtesy of Christina Slaton/Booth One

4. Art on theMart 

This fall, the largest light projection in the world will be displayed on Chicago’s landmark Merchandise Mart building. Powerful digital projectors will turn the 25-story, two-block-long downtown building into a colorful work of art. Since the Merchandise Mart faces the Chicago River, Art on theMart will be best viewed by boat, or while walking along the new Chicago Riverwalk path. cityofchicago.org

Art on theMart

Art on theMart. Photo courtesy of Obscura Digital

5. Troll Hunt at Morton Arboretum

Six 15- to 20-foot wooden troll sculptures by artist Thomas Dambo will appear among the trees at the Morton Arboretum this summer. Starting June 22, visitors can hunt for the giant figures made of reclaimed wood, some hidden and others in plain sight. The trolls aim not just to entertain but to encourage people to think of their personal responsibility as stewards of the environment. Walking around, you might even catch a glimpse of Dambo and his team at work on the next sculpture. mortonarb.org

Little Tilde Troll

A troll constructed by artist Thomas Dambo in Denmark. Photo by Thomas Dambo. 

6. Great Wolf Lodge Illinois

On July 1, Great Wolf Lodge Illinois opens an 80,000-square-foot lodge in north suburban Gurnee. It’s double the size of the park it replaced (Key Lime Cove) and will have both indoor and outdoor water slides and play areas. If that’s not enough excitement, visit the roller-coaster-filled Six Flags Great America across the street, which debuts the world's largest loop coaster this year. greatwolf.com/illinois

Great Wolf Lodge Illinois

Rendering courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge Illinois

7. Hotel EMC2

A hotel inspired by Albert Einstein? That’s the equation for this new tech-centric downtown lodging that mixes science and art. The show-stealers are its two playful R2D2-like robot butlers, Cleo and Leo. Text them, and they’ll bring extra towels, a toothbrush or waters up to your room. The high-rech rooms feature Smart TVs and Amazon Echoes, so you can ask Alexa for whatever you need. hotelemc2.com

Photo courtesy of EMC2

Leo and Cleo robot butlers. Photo courtesy of Hotel EMC2.

8. Murray Bros. Caddyshack

Cinderella story! The 1980 movie Caddyshack has inspired a golf-theme restaurant created by one of its stars, Chicago native Bill Murray, and his five golf-loving brothers. The sports-bar-styled restaurant will open in April in Rosemont, just outside Chicago near O’Hare International Airport. Expect a casual dining menu, an island bar, a golf simulation area—and a strong temptation to recite funny lines from the movie. Inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel Chicago O’Hare & Conference Center. mbcshack.com

9. Theater on the Lake

A $6 million remodel turned the 100-year-old, Prairie-style building into a gorgeous new theater and event space in Lincoln Park, along Lake Michigan. The 2018 show lineup is still coming together, but in the meantime, stop in for a meal at the new tavern, Lakefront Restaurant. It serves Midwestern comfort food, including divine locally-made pie and ice cream. theateronthelake.com

10. Wow Bao

Chicago’s first fully-automated restaurant serves fast-food Asian bao and buns.  Order on a tablet, and minutes later, your custom order is waiting for you in a little LED-lit cubby (the cooks are out of sight, behind the cubbies). Slide in your credit card and the cubby pops open, so you can take your order and go. wowbao.com

Wow Bao

Photo courtesy of Wow Bao

Want more Chicago inspiration? Check out Midwest Living's story on the newly expanded Chicago Riverfront; our comprehensive trip guide to what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Windy City; and our suggestions for a 36-hour stay in Chicago.

 

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