Tourists hitting Chicago may opt for the Loop or Mag Mile, but not far from either you’ll find River North, an urban quadrant with a decidedly upscale flair. Home to eateries run by Rick Bayless and some legendary pizzerias, River North is a foodie mecca. But there’s plenty more to explore on foot. Here are five picks for unique things to do and see if you have a few hours to yourself in River North.
Abraham Lincoln Book Shop
357 W. Chicago Ave.
If it’s Lincoln you want, it’s Lincoln they’ve got: books, busts, photos, portraits and a lock of Honest Abe’s hair (priced at a modest $39,000). Also on hand are many rare, signed letters from U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant. A treasure trove for Civil War buffs, this is much more than just a book shop — it’s a museum in miniature.
401 1/2 N. Franklin St.
The Vault is a Ft. Knox of doughnuts that'd make Homer Simpson exclaim, “D’ohmigod!” Their plain glazed was rated the best doughnut in America last year by the Daily Meal. Specials include a salted caramel pistachio old fashioned and the well-loved birthday cake. Lines can stretch more than an hour long. And bring cash, as they don’t accept credit cards. Serves from 8 a.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, “until we run out.”
223 W. Erie St., Suite 1NW
Founded by two architects, Orange Skin features sleek, ultra chic modern home design and furniture — from the Pivot chair collection, which looks positively 22nd century, to the intricate Loop side table in an enticing electric green. Browsing is fun; buying is not for the faint of heart, as many items carry four-digit price tags. But the designs are so eye-grabbing you’ll want to have credit cards at the ready.
River North Gallery District
Between Chicago Avenue, Merchandise Mart, Orleans and Dearborn
River North hosts the largest concentration of galleries in the U.S. outside of Manhattan. Dozens radiate from Superior and Franklin streets, running the gamut from Schneider Gallery (230 W. Superior), which features contemporary photography, to Maya Polsky Gallery (215 W. Superior), with its focus on figurative painting and Eastern Europe. You can easily hit some 30 stops in the area by foot, so choose according to your tastes — or let your whims lead the way.
Marina City Towers
State and Dearborn Streets
Affectionately called “the corncobs” by city denizens, Marina City Towers were designed by legendary Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg. They’ve appeared on album covers (Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”) and in film, including “The Hunter,” in which a 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix dove from the parking deck into the Chicago River. Hoof it west and you’ll see other architectural gems, including the Merchandise Mart, a building so large it has its own zip code.
— By Lou Carlozo, Brand Publishing Writer