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The best things that happened in Chicago in 2015

The opening of the 606, the NFL Draft, the return of happy hour and more of our fondest Chicago memories from 2015

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
Clayton Guse

The year 2015 had its fair share of ups and downs, but with all of the bad stuff came a whole lot of good. When we think about the last year of Chicago happenings, we fondly remember the opening of a brand new Chicago park, a great addition to one of Chicago's best museums and a new excuse to visit a cocktail bar after work. Reminisce with us as we revisit some of the best things that happened in Chicago in 2015.

RECOMMENDED: The best of 2015

The best things that happened in 2015

Happy hour returned to Chicago

1. Happy hour returned to Chicago

The year 2015 will forever live in infamy as the year that Chicago regained happy hour. Banned since 1989, happy hour was legalized in the city thanks to a bill signed by Governor Bruce Rauner that allows bars to advertise drink specials for up to four hours a day and up to 15 hours per week. Some bars immediately implemented happy hour specials and others are just warming up to the practice, but it’s never been easier to find a place to grab a cheap drink (or two) after work. —Zach Long
Ride-sharing came to O'Hare and Midway
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

2. Ride-sharing came to O'Hare and Midway

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft made several huge steps in Chicago in 2015. After overcoming protest and lobbying efforts by local taxi companies, the companies not only held their ground in the city, but expanded their reach. In October, the City Council approved a measure allowing ride-sharing services to make pickups at O’Hare and Midway airports. Passengers are charged a $5 surcharge for getting scooped up at those locations, which could generate an additional $20 million in annual revenue for the city. Now, weary airport travelers in Chicago have the option to circumvent the lengthy cab stand lines and secure a ride before they even exit the terminal. —Clayton Guse
The 606 (finally) opened up
Photograph: Martha Williams

3. The 606 (finally) opened up

Remember when Chicago’s very first elevated park system was scheduled to open in the fall of 2014? A harsh winter delayed the debut of the 606, but on June 6 (appropriately) the renovated Bloomingdale Trail officially opened to the public, drawing crowds who walked, biked and ran back and forth across the 2.7-mile path that passes through Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park. Six months later, the 606 has become a well-used throughway that encourages Northwest Side residents to get some exercise while traveling between neighborhoods, restaurants, bars and shops—we almost can’t imagine life without it. —ZL
Rahm was forced into a runoff
Photograph: Drew Reynolds

4. Rahm was forced into a runoff

When Rahm Emanuel left his post as President Obama’s chief of staff in 2010, it was pretty clear that he was going to run for mayor of Chicago. He won the election in a landslide and proceeded to oversee the largest closure of public schools in the city’s history, triggering a week-long Chicago Teacher’s Union strike in 2012. During his first reelection bid in February, Emanuel was forced into a runoff against Cook County Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia. Rahm won April’s runoff election handily, but he proved to be much more politically vulnerable than anyone thought. His blunders since than have stacked up: From his stalemate with new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner to his alleged cover-up of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald to the firing of Superintendent of Police Garry McCarthy. A third term for Emanuel in 2019 seems out of the question at this point. —CG

5. The Cubs almost went all the way

The Cubs have long been the laughingstock of baseball. The ever-hopeful club hasn’t won a World Series title since 1908, which is the longest championship drought in major baseball history. With a new manager and a handful of unproven rookies, North Side fans didn’t know what to expect heading into 2015. But the season turned out to be magical, with 97 wins in the regular season that left Chicagoans in awe. They went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game playoff before bouncing longtime rivals the St. Louis Cardinals from the playoffs. The Cubbies ended their season being swept by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. But with a roster stacked with young, talented hitters and a handful of key additions this off-season, the team is poised to be a World Series contender for years to come. —CG
Marriage equality became law directly before Pride
Photograph: Max Herman

6. Marriage equality became law directly before Pride

On June 26, the Supreme Court declared by a margin of 5 to 4 that states must issue licenses for same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex unions from other states. It was a landmark decision in a decades-long battle for gay rights in America. Two days later, Chicago hosted its 46th annual LGBT Pride Parade, and Boystown went bananas. More than one million people showed up to the North Side party for an awe-inspiring victory lap, which was perhaps the most jubilant scene in Chicago in all of 2015. —CG
The Blackhawks became a Chicago dynasty
Photograph: Kristan Lieb

7. The Blackhawks became a Chicago dynasty

In June, the Blackhawks clinched their third Stanley Cup championship in six years (and their first on home ice since 1938). The subsequent parade and citywide celebrations proved that the team has become the biggest deal in Chicago sports since the Bulls won six NBA titles in the ’90s, and it's not slowing down anytime soon. Whether you’re a longtime fan or just jumping on the bandwagon, the Hawks’ recent success has been one hell of a thrill. —CG
Chicago's Riverwalk made summer grand
Photograph: Jeremy Atherton

8. Chicago's Riverwalk made summer grand

The first sections of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s long-promised Riverwalk opened over the summer, welcoming some familiar Chicago businesses to a picturesque section of the Loop. In addition to boat docks and plenty of seating, the riverfront recreation area also welcomed the Hideout and City Winery, where guests could enjoy drinks, food and sometimes live music. We’re not sure what businesses will return to the Riverwalk in 2016, but the final three sections are scheduled to open next year, so you’re sure to have plenty of options for convenient after-work drinks. —ZL
The NFL Draft touched down in the Loop
Photograph: Martha Williams

9. The NFL Draft touched down in the Loop

The decision to hold the NFL Draft in Chicago this spring was one that just made sense. After all, the city is located in the middle of the country, just a short flight away from either coast. While some may have grumbled about the location, Chicago proved it knows how to host a large-scale event, staging the draft in Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre and inviting fans to free Draft Town festivities in Grant Park. Sure, the event mucked up traffic in the Loop, but you have to admit that the changing lights on Buckingham Fountain were pretty spectacular. It was such a success that the NFL Draft (and an expanded Draft Town) will be returning to Chicago on April 28–30, 2016. –ZL
Return of the Western and Ashland express buses
Photograph: Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr

10. Return of the Western and Ashland express buses

After being put on “hiatus” five years ago, the CTA brought back the Western and Ashland express bus routes this year. The #X49 and #X9 officially returned on December 21, stopping every four blocks and at every train station and bus transfer point during rush hour. The pair of routes are a pretty big step in providing quicker north-south transit options on the city’s West Side. With the addition of the Loop Link and the promise of “Transit Signal Priority” by the end of 2017, riding a bus in Chicago could soon be a not-so-miserable experience. —CG
The Grateful Dead said farewell at Soldier Field
Photograph: Zach Long

11. The Grateful Dead said farewell at Soldier Field

In July, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead brought the infamous jam band’s long, strange trip to an end during three sold-out shows at Soldier Field. Billed as the group’s final performances, the shows attracted fans from all across the world who made the journey to Chicago to see the band one final time. Museum Campus turned into a sea of fans in tie-dye shirts, selling bootleg merchandise and trying to score tickets to the show. Nevermind the fact that most of the Dead has since reunited (again) to tour with John Mayer—those three days at Soldier Field were something special. —ZL
The Field Museum debuted a new permanent exhibition
Photograph: Martha Williams

12. The Field Museum debuted a new permanent exhibition

The Field Museum’s collection of Chinese artifacts once occupied a few cases that were tucked away in a corner of the expansive institution. That all changed in June, when the museum opened its latest permanent exhibition: The Cyrus Tang Hall of China. Filled with thousands of pieces that date back to 10,000 BC, the exhibit traces China’s history through the ages with displays that include ancient scrolls, imperial robes and ornate sculptures. Each collection is accompanied by a touch screen, which allows visitors to learn more about the objects on display—a nicely implemented modern touch. Our favorite part of the exhibit is the indoor Chinese rock garden at its end. It's easily the most tranquil spot in the entire museum. —ZL

13. A Taco Bell that serves booze opened in Wicker Park

There was a time when getting drunk and eating at Taco Bell meant finding a friend to drive you to and from the restaurant or paying a premium to have your chalupa delivered. Those dark days are a thing of the past for Chicagoans, who can now drink beer, sangria and boozy slushies while munching on tacos and nachos at the chain’s Wicker Park restaurant. Upon opening in September, the Taco Bell Cantina became the first location of the chain to serve alcohol—a fact that news outlets across the nation took notice of. Who cares if your Crunchwrap Supreme isn’t authentic Mexican cuisine? Just wash it down with a rum-spiked frozen Mountain Dew drink. ZL
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