An Island in the Sky – Chicago’s Signature Room

As a Chicagoan, it is often easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life and not take the time to do the things that tourists find exciting. We take our fair city for granted. We always forget to stop and take a look around………. or look down.

Recently, I took a minute to do something we all know is fantastic but do once every 10 years or so or when relatives or friends come to town. I went up… no I did not look up, I went up. I grabbed a view of the city from the top.

Going to the top of the city alone or with city people has a few distinct advantages, number one is that you can actually take the time to enjoy the view. You are not having to explain what this tower is or what that landmark means. Is that Wrigley Field in the distance? Where is Comisky Park? Nope, none of it.  Just you, your thoughts and the view that you already know, something so familiar it is like an old lover from the distant past that has come knocking on your door at midnight.

There are many ways to get to the top of course, you can pay a jillion dollars and wait in line at the Sears Tower (uhhh, Willis Tower) or you can do the same at the John Hancock Observatory. Both offer amazing views and the chance to walk around and watch a movie or two about Chicago history while you wait for the good stuff and what you want…..most notably  that fast elevator ride to the top where you can see for 80 miles and 4 states on a clear day. Once at the top of these two places, you feel rushed as they are shoving more and more people though like a cattle drive. There is no place to sit and think about what you are actually seeing.

Now, you can do what cattle do, or you can do what I like to do…If I am going to be spending a butt load of money on an elevator ride and a view, I want something to show for it and I am not talking an overpriced number two pencil from the gift shop. I want food and a cocktail. For this, you must go to the Signature Room at the 95th. This is the destination you are looking for and where you will find your escape.

I have traveled here many times and even held an event or two in my job as a meeting and event planner but nothing beats coming here on a day off with a little time to kill, a few shekels in my pocket and a desire to see my city. It is pure bliss if you catch it right, it is a chance to sit, savor and really enjoy what we have.

I usually pass on the restaurant. Although I want something for my trip to the sky, I don’t want to spend $300.00 on a lunch that would cost $60.00 1,127 feet below me.  I am funny that way. For my money and my time, I head to the bar, or the lounge as they like to call it. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the Signature Room restaurant… it is just not my style.

Those who know me will tell you that the lounge is exactly my style, the type of place I am most comfortable and the type of place I could hang out in. The lounge is actually on the 96th floor and on the west facing side of the building. Depending on the time of day and the weather, you can grab a seat looking to the south, the north or due west. I say depending on the time of day or the weather because if it is nice out and the temps have people swarming the city like Locusts, you are going to be hard pressed to find a stool, a table or even standing room.  I recommend a Tuesday, just before or after lunch time.

As you grab your seat and a little liquid lobotomy, take the time to savor the view. Watch the el trains on the brown line as they head from the Sedgewick Stop to the Merchandise Mart, envy those sailing out on our own inland sea or pity those stuck on the Kennedy Expressway. Look over toward China Town and Little Italy or North to Wrigleyville, Andersonville and Evanston Beyond. See that smoke machine in the distance, that would be Gary, Indiana and those small buildings that seem to float on the lake? Those would be the pumping cribs bringing the water that we drink. Even take a minute to look closely at the inhabitants mere inches from your face, just through the glass…. Yes, I am talking about the spiders.

What you will find is a little reprieve from daily life. It is even fun to listen to those around you. The tourists and visitors will put a voice to your excitement as they call out landmarks and sights that you might have overlooked and that they are noticing for the first time.

If you catch it right, you can be lost in the sky, staring for what seems like hours at the magnificence that is Chicago. It almost feels like floating on an island high above the noise, traffic and madness that can be life in the city. While you are here, you are not here, you are in a magic place. Perhaps this is just the martini talking, but it is truly amazing.

Heading to the Lounge on the 96th also offers another advantage. On the trip down, this is where the elevator makes its first stop so you can almost be assured of not having to wait to get back to the real world and the all of the adventures that wait below.

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Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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