For over fifty years, The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival has drawn thousands of bright eyed, cheerful people to Michigan Ave. Locals and visitors alike come ready to celebrate while officially bringing in Chicago's holiday season. After the floats park, lights dim and crowds clear, the party keeps going!
As a member of the National Concierge Association, I helped visitors find their way, rode along on the NCA float and cheered in the holidays with my fellow concierges from all over the city. For me, the best parts of the parade are being among new faces, smiles everywhere and good energy throughout downtown Chicago. There's great music being played from the featured floats, TV cameras all around (yes, you and your family may be on TV) and after all the fun and excitement passes by, there's still plenty to do in the area.
110 East Pearson, Reservations accepted.
Saturday's Hours: 11:30am to 11pm
Known for their "World of Wonderful Pizzas," a wood fire oven cooks their bites of paradise to perfection. Bar Toma has 15 different kinds of pizzas to choose from. My Favorite is the "Power Pizza," spinach, light garlic, cheese, and lemon zest. Whatever your family's taste, the flavors here will drive you cray cray! The highlights:
- This is Bar Toma's will first Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
- They will have communal tables and heating lamps so you won't be left in the cold.
- The outdoor oven will be cooking small margherita pizzas that range in price from $8.00 to $10.00.
- From 6pm to 8pm, kids 12 and under can stay warm by drinking complimentary hot chocolate and snack on flavored popcorn.
822 N. Michigan, Ave.
Saturday's hours: 10am to 10pm
"Fill the Bucket Machine," a must-do for all you chocolate lovers. I would let the kids go first, nobody likes a chocolate hog (dad!). This fun place allows you and your family to become Hershey workers for a day (or five minutes depending on your work ethic) by filling up a special bucket with chocolates and earning your picture ID. The experience is worth its weight in chocolate and only costs $19.95.
800 W. Adams, St.
Saturday's hours: 5pm to 12am
Located in Greek Town, this place is only a 10-15 cab ride from Michigan Avenue. This iconic place has excellent seafood, a lively atmosphere, a smell that grabs you the second you walk through the doorway. The "Lake Superior White Fish,"rules me when I dine here. So much buttery flavor, and it's under $15.00!
50 E. Walton
Saturday's hours: 9am to 9pm.
Do I even need to go on? OK, I think a pastry of Heaven on Earth will keep anyone smiling. An army couldn't stop me from breaking into this cupcake palace. This time of the month I go for the "Pumpkin" series because they remind me of my parents' Thanksgiving pies. At $3.50 a cupcake, I'm good for a baker's dozen. You know, it's been a hard week. Don't judge.
739 N. Lasalle
Saturday's hours: 11am to 1:30am
Spanish Tapas at their finest. I enjoy small plates; hopefully your family does too. Small plates are normal sized portions of sharable foods. Two tapas per person is a lot of food for a small group and a fun (affordable) way to enjoy a late night snack. Call ahead to reserve a table.
20 W. Division St.
Saturday's hours: 8am to 4am,
Division Street is filled with fun late night spots and street eats. Walk into Butch McGuire's and - by association - you'll be a part of the "cool crowd." Butch's Christmas decorations are famous; you'll feel like you've walked into an encore presentation of The Lights Festival (with centralized heat). The place is decked out with trains, eye catching lights hanging from the ceiling and a ton of other amazing decorations to catch your gaze. Each year when my family comes to town from New Orleans and France, we go and always leave happy (and full). Try the fish and chips; the Sam Adams beer batter gives the cod fish a sweet and spicy flavor.
2 W. Erie St.
Saturday's hours: 5pm to 3am,
From 26 stories above the city, VSL is one of my "top picks" for Chicago nightlife. It's the only lounge bar in Chicago that is open year-round both indoors and out. The vibe here is swanky and cool, but still relaxed. If you want to meet and mingle with singles or maybe spot a celebrity in town, check out the Vertical Sky Lounge.
Industry secret: If you are staying at one of the hotels downtown, ask the Concierge for lounge and clubs complimentary drink vouchers. When I was at a desk, I would pass them out like I was a black jack dealer. The patio closes at midnight. Enjoy the Sky!