Choosing a Venue

Chicago's First Lady
Angela Renée Photograph

Chicago’s incredible museums and historical buildings are also perfect venues for events. They have built-in visuals with world-class art and exhibits, plus breathtaking city and lake views.

Appropriately housed on the shores of Lake Michigan, Shedd Aquarium “covers all bases,” affirms Catering and Events Sales Manager Lorelei Kroulaidis. “It’s quintessential Chicago: amazing animals, sweeping views of the city and classic Chicago architecture in one place. We create a connection to the collection here while giving guests an unforgettable experience.” Where else can you sip cocktails surrounded by dolphins and beluga whales? The Shedd, located within Chicago’s Museum Campus at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive, hosts events for groups ranging from 35 to 1,200 guests.

Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum

The Chicago History Museum (CHM) at 1601 North Clark Street “offers a true Chicago experience for corporate groups and weddings with out-of-town guests,” says Barbara Siska, director of corporate events. “Since we’re a museum, we offer built-in entertainment for guests.” One such attraction is Crossroads of America, the museum’s permanent exhibition that features the history of the city. “Clients can have exhibitions open for their guests and experience the museum in a private setting,” shares Ms. Siska.

CHM’s main event space – the Chicago Room – features windows overlooking Lincoln Park and interior walls with 10 back-lit cases displaying exquisite stained glass panels from the museum’s collection, while the gorgeous outdoor Uihlein Plaza “can be rented privately during regular museum hours for daytime events,” shares Ms. Siska. “Not every museum has a space that can accommodate that.”

The easily accessible Harold Washington Library Center offers a range of event spaces, from its elegant marble-floored Grand Lobby to its African mahogany-paneled, 385-seat lower-level Cindy Pritzker Auditorium. But the centrally located library at 400 South State Street is best known for its architectural centerpiece, the 9th floor Winter Garden. This breathtaking space features a terrazzo and marble floor, as well as a 52-foot, glass-paneled dome that spans the entire room. “The library offers an event setting in a building that has special meaning to so many Chicagoans,” affirms Marketing and Communications Director Ruth Lednicer. “Then our Winter Garden allows you to dine under the stars year-round.”

The venerable Chicago Cultural Center is an architectural and historical gem that woos hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. On a bustling corner across from Millennium Park, this treasure at 78 East Washington Street was built in 1897, showcasing rare imported marbles, polished brass, fine hardwoods and mosaics, to serve as Chicago’s first central public library. Today, the facility functions as an intersection for locals and visitors from across the globe. This landmark building features two awe-inspiring stained glass domes, and its Tiffany dome is the world’s largest.

Chicago Cultural Center G.A.R. Rotunda

Chicago Cultural Center
G.A.R. Rotunda

The Cultural Center’s event spaces – including the G.A.R. Hall and Rotunda, Preston Bradley Hall, Claudia Cassidy Theater and Yates Gallery – “are all different and unique,” says Mary May, department of cultural affairs and special events. “The venue is also centrally located to public transportation, hotels and downtown businesses, so it’s easily accessible.” Not only can it accommodate daytime events, says Ms. May, “but we include a lot of equipment that other venues don’t offer, [such as tables, chairs and staging].”

Filled with literal treasures is the Art Institute of Chicago, with about 300,000 works in its permanent collection that spans eight buildings and a whopping one million square feet. With the addition of its Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing, the Art Institute at 111 South Michigan Avenue is now the second largest art museum in the nation. “With this addition, we have the capability to host simultaneous events in multiple spaces without guests’ paths crossing,” says Director of Catering Kim Lilleberg.

The museum’s unique event spaces range from Michelin-star Chef Tony Mantuano’s Terzo Piano restaurant and Griffin Court in the Modern Wing to the Grand Staircase and Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room – an opulent room that includes architect Louis Sullivan’s elaborate stenciled decorations, molded plaster capitals and art glass preserved from the original Chicago Stock Exchange when it was demolished in 1972. This variety of venues, says Ms. Lilleberg, allows “guests to offer two styles of event spaces during the course of the same event.” And don’t worry – the Modern Wing’s third floor gallery closure through April 2014 won’t affect any of these spaces. In fact, among those already booked for 2014 include fashion shows for Carolina Herrera and Jason Wu.

Another venue to consider for an event: lesser-known hidden gems like the Richard H. Driehaus Museum at 40 East Erie Street. Known for its ‘Gilded Age luxury,’ the museum’s event space is opulent and eye-catching, with a marble-clad entrance, carved wooden interiors, iridescent mosaics and stained glass windows. Intimate gatherings allow for 100 seated dinner guests or 125 standing guests for a cocktail reception. But if you need more space you may also reserve The Murphy Chicago, which is connected to Driehaus Museum and located at 50 East Erie Street.

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