Eating Chicago: Toasting at the Signature Lounge

One of my favorite travel activities, whenever we go abroad, is to take Tina to the tallest possible place that I can find.  It’s a ritual that we’ve enjoyed now in a number of cities, in countries around the world, one that has highlights for both of us:

  • For me — I love to take in the sweep and grandeur of the places I visit, and there are few better ways to do that than from above.  I have a really difficult time not smiling madly and pointing to all the spots I’ve visited, before just sitting back and enjoying the very real feeling of being somewhere else.
  • For Tina — She gets to experience a complete emotional breakdown in a brand new place.

I have learned that my wife, she does not partake in high places.  The specifics of how high seems to vary, since she can be at the top of a very tall staircase and be fine, but immediately fall into incoherence when an elevator passes the twenty-fifth floor.  So, somewhere between two storeys and twenty storeys, she loses the ability to cope with altitude.

When we went up the Eiffel Tower on our first night in Paris, we squished ourselves into one of the cage elevators with probably thirty other people.  I should probably take it as a sign that, when Tina began to openly sob from anxiety, I failed to recognize her reaction as extraordinary; it took the alternating expressions of sympathy (toward Tina) and loathing (toward me) of everyone else in the car to remind me of that.

But, look, before you turn into a horrified and disgusted Parisian, you try talking her out of doing these kinds of things.

“Sweetheart, we really don’t have to do this.”
No, it’s fine.”  (shudder, wipe tears from cheeks, fix eyes on the ceiling)
“Seriously, it’s not that big a deal–“
“MIKE.  We are GOING UP this AWFUL TERRIBLE THING.  I am not going to LOSE to FRENCH ARCHITECTURE.”

And that is that.

Thus I felt as though it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to take our fabulous readers’ advice and make a trip to the John Hancock building, which we could actually see through our hotel window the entire time we were in the city.  It held the promise of satisfying all of my touristy urges, but without Tina clenching her jaw so hard that her molars turn to diamond.

That’s because, finally, someone built the high-elevation observatory destination with my beloved wife in mind:  one that grants incredible views of the city, but instead of historical plaques and coin-op binoculars, they serve drinks.

It’s sort of genius.

On the 96th floor of the building, The Signature Lounge is a small cocktail bar that overlooks The Signature Room, a somewhat swanky restaurant and event venue.  Both areas are surrounded on all sides by unobstructed windows, granting a 360 degree view of the vast sprawl of Chicago — though the advantage of the Lounge is that it’s slightly higher, doesn’t require a reservation, and is intimate enough that the spectacle can be taken in from any table.

Oh!  And there’s no admission fee, aside from whatever you order, to take in the incredible view.

Tina and I found our way to the Lounge after walking through the dazzling (and also free) stained-glass museum on Navy Pier (pictured above — I told you I loved picking out the sights I’ve visited), and very quickly discovered it was everything we hoped.  We dressed up in a way that tried to show we were dressing up, without over-dressing so much that people knew we were trying to dress up, just enough that everyone could see that we were dressed-up, and found that we probably didn’t need to put as much thought into it as we did.

The atmosphere there was chic but comfortable, and even though the surroundings were immediately impressive, we felt no sense of being out of place.  The service was a little overwhelmed but very friendly, taking a moment to share that the truly best view is from the ladies’ bathroom, and we were very happy to just settle in.

Quickly we realized that we weren’t the only ones making ourselves comfortable.  On one side of us were folks having a drink after work, on the other side a middle-aged woman meeting her early-20s hipster internet boyfriend for the first time. It was a diverse crowd, is what I’m saying, which was just fine with us.

The drink menu was happily just as varied, and there was lots for us to take in — which we were happy to do, after an afternoon of strolling around the city.  It’s possible that we were still sticker-shocked from our evenings in Fulton Market, but the prices all felt pretty reasonable too, especially given that we were effectively soaking up booze at a tourist attraction.

In other words, we were very happy to have found our way to the Signature Lounge.  There was something there for both of us:  for me, the expansive view and the chance to knock another major sight off my tourism list; for Tina, the discovery of a wonderful restaurant, with a happy little annex serving a wide variety of cures for acrophobia.

It’s well worth the climb.

The Signature Lounge, 875 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL

  • Jan

    What gorgeous views, I’ll have to make sure to get up there! The last time I went up Taipei’s 101 tower, our tickets came with 2 for 1 beer ice cream float coupons. I’d never wanted a beer ice cream float, but obviously this was a challenge. Frankly, your drinks look much, much better.