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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

The 18 best things to do in West Loop

Explore the West Loop with our guide to the neighborhood's best restaurants, bars, shops and things to do

By Zach Long
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Once an industrial meatpacking district, the West Loop has transformed into a destination for some of the best restaurants in Chicago, a hub for corporate headquarters (hello, Google and McDonald's) and the home of an array of exciting boutique hotels. Most visitors gravitate to Randolph Street and Fulton Market, where you'll find Michelin-starred restaurants, a historic Italian deli and a subterranean ramen shop. Once you're full, try to set a high score at an arcade bar, see a show at a nearby music venue or shop at one of the city's menswear destinations. With so many great things to do in West Loop, you may want to take several afternoons to explore it all.

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The best of the city

Time Out Market Chicago Atmosphere
Jack Li

Time Out Market Chicago

Restaurants West Loop

We've rounded up the best chefs in the city to join us at Time Out Market Chicago, a culinary and cultural destination in the heart of Fulton Market. The 50,000-square-foot space houses 18 kitchens, three bars and one drop-dead gorgeous rooftop terrace—all spread across three floors. Our mission is simple: Bring the pages of Time Out Chicago to life with the help of our favorite chefs, the ones who wow us again and again. (You can read more about our delicious curation process here.)

Things to do in West Loop

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

1. Emporium Fulton Market

Bars West Loop

Stocked with pinball machines, arcade games, foosball, air hockey and pool tables, the Fulton Market offshoot of Emporium Arcade Bar is one of the neighborhood's best places to face off against your friends. When you're not pumping tokens into the Centipede cabinet, sit down and enjoy a beer or a cocktail from the bar—it's a great spot to kill time while you're waiting for a reservation at a nearby restaurant or two unwind after a delicious meal.

Brooklyn Boulders Chicago
Photograph: Nikko Salgado

2. Brooklyn Boulders

Sports and fitness Climbing West Loop

If you've ever thought about taking up rock climbing as a hobby, there's no better spot to begin than this expansive West Loop climbing facility. The 25,000-square-foot venue is packed with vertical surfaces that you can crawl up, as well as trained professionals who will keep you safe while you navigate the holds. Take an introductory class to learn the ropes or spring for a day pass to scale the gigantic walls at Brooklyn Boulders until your muscles ache.

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Photograph: Courtesy Bad Axe Throwing

3. Bad Axe Throwing

Things to do Sport events West Loop

You don't need to have bulging biceps or wear flannel to toss a lumberjack's favorite tool at targets. The West Loop outpost of Bad Axe Throwing allows groups to book time in one of the facility's two rooms and test their accuracy, with some assistance from a coach. While there are limited walkup hours available for spur-of-the-moment throwing, you're better off making a reservation for an evening of creating wood chips.

Open Books Store
Photograph: Courtesy Open Books

4. Open Books

Shopping Bookstores West Loop

Open Books isn’t your average bookstore. The nonprofit venture is housed within the Chicago Literacy Alliance's Literacenter and contains more than 50,000 books—mostly used and donated, with some recent new titles, are housed in rows of wooden shelves painted in bright, cheery colors. Open Books invites customers to sit and stay awhile, offering plenty of snug reading nooks, complete with comfy seating, as well as a dedicated children's section. Go ahead, buy a handful—all proceeds go to literacy programs in the city.

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bottomlounge
Photograph: Courtesy Bottom Lounge

5. Bottom Lounge

Bars Lounges West Loop

Punk, hard-rock and electronic acts rule the stage at Bottom Lounge, where you can grab a burger, some poutine or a beer before heading into the midsize music venue. The bar feels like a rocker hangout that thrives regardless of what is happening in the live room, with some great craft beer options (including Three Floyds' hard-to-find Zombie Dust Pale Ale, which is usually on tap). Thanks to its proximity to the United Center, Bottom Lounge is also a popular destination for Blackhawks fans during hockey season.

NationalHellenicMuseum.venue.jpg
Photograph: Courtesy the National Hellenic Museum

6. National Hellenic Museum

Museums History Greektown

Just off the bustle of the restaurant-studded stretch of Halsted Street in Greektown, the first and only major museum in the country dedicated to Greek-American culture is housed in a 40,000-square-foot building. The permanent collection includes artifacts and documents that portray the Hellenic immigrant experience and the origins of Chicago’s own Greek community.

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Punch Bowl Social
Photograph: Amber Boutwell

7. Punch Bowl Social Chicago

Restaurants American West Loop

With 30,000 square feet of space devoted to dining, bowling alleys, private karaoke rooms and vintage arcade games, Punch Bowl Social's Fulton Market outpost is a destination for post-workday hijinks. After chowing down on burgers, fried chicken and hot dogs, grab an adult milkshake at the bar before trying to pick up a spare on the lanes or making a fool of yourself in the VR lounge. If games aren't your thing, you can at least snap a few Instagram photos amid Punch Bowl Social's kitschy decor.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2019
Photograph: Carolina Rodriguez

8. Union Park

Things to do West Loop

Summer festival fans know Union Park as the venue for the annual Pitchfork Music Festival, but this West Loop park is worth visiting even when there aren't stages set up on the lawn. You can take a dip in the swimming pool, check out the auditorium, visit the fitness center or show off your skills on the basketball and tennis courts. It's also a nice destination for a walk after you finish a meal at a nearby restaurant on Randolph Street or Fulton Market.

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Photograph: Jordan Avery

9. House of Vans

Things to do Event spaces West Loop

A combination skatepark, music venue and event space, House of Vans is an old Randolph Street warehouse that has been transformed into a totally rad hangout. Outfitted with a bar taken from the defunct Goose Island brewpub in Wrigleyville, skateboard ramps and a stage, this shoe-company–sponsored venue hosts free (with RSVP) concerts, screenings, skate nights and other programming throughout the year. Just make sure that you're on the list—the standby line usually wraps around the building.

Kavi Gupta Gallery
Photo: Courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery

10. Kavi Gupta Gallery

Art Galleries West Loop

Gallerist Kavi Gupta owns and operates this eponymous space, which is one of the few galleries that has managed to remain in the West Loop. Inside, you'll usually find exhibitions of work by emerging and mid-career artists—in the past the gallery has displayed work by the likes of Theaster Gates, Puerto Rican–born painter Angel Otero and multimedia artist Tony Tasset. In addition to the main gallery, Gupta also runs a warehouse space at 219 N Elizabeth Street that is open by appointment only.

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11. Notre

Shopping Menswear West Loop

Whether you're in search of a new pair of Yeezys or the latest pieces from Paris fashion label Maison Margiela, you'll find some of the most sought-after looks at this high-end menswear boutique. Walk up the brick steps in the shop's cavernous vestibule and into its minimalist showroom, where you can browse a tightly curated selection of Notre's latest offerings. Regular programming like the Notre Talks series (which has featured Alinea chef Grant Achatz and Ghostly International founder Sam Valenti) provide a reason to visit, even if you're not ready to drop a few hundred bucks on some trendy threads.

12. Union Station

Things to do Literary events West Loop

This classic Chicago landmark opened in 1925 as a replacement for an 1881 train station and remains in operation today as a transportation hub for Amtrak and Metra trains in and out of the city. Film buffs will want to stop by Union Station's Great Hall, which has been featured in movies like The Untouchables, My Best Friend's Wedding and Flags of Our Fathers, among others. If you have time to poke around, find the two Henry Hering statues—one holding a rooster and the other holding an owl—which represent the around-the-clock nature of this bustling station.

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Field Notes HQ
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

13. Field Notes HQ

Shopping Gifts and stationery River West/West Town

You know those trendy pocket notebooks adorned with cool graphics and type set in Futura Bold font? They originate from Field Notes HQ, a retrofitted industrial space that houses the brand's warehouse, design studio, library and a small shop stocked with limited-edition products (including collaborations with local artist Jay Ryan and members of the rock band Wilco) that are just waiting for you to write something important inside of them. Visitors can ask for a tour of the space or keep an eye on Field Notes' social media feeds for details about launch events and parties.

Randolph Street Market
Photograph: Courtesy Randolph Street Market

14. Randolph Street Market Festival

Shopping

Bargain hunters, hagglers and collectors head to the West Loop once a month to shop the wares of more than 100 vendors at Randolph Street Market. During the warmer months, the bazaar takes over the parking lot of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall, filling the space with antiques, records, vintage movie posters, clothing, jewelry and assorted knickknacks. When it gets colder, the market moves inside, but you'll still find plenty of sellers who might be willing to make you a deal. Don't forget that your ticket to the market is good for both days of the event!

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McDonald's
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

15. McDonald’s International Headquarters Restaurant

Restaurants Fast food spots Loop

You can get a Big Mac at anywhere, but you can sample McDonald's menu items from around the world at the restaurant located inside of the fast food giant's West Loop headquarters. The McDonald’s International Headquarters Restaurant offers a new selection of items from all over the globe every few months, ranging from sweet potato fries that are served in the Netherlands to a breakfast sandwich made with Halloumi cheese that's popular in Cyprus. If you're not feeling adventurous, you can also order from the usual menu of American McDonald's dishes, but where's the fun in that?

CityWinery2.venue.jpg
Photograph: Jason Little

16. City Winery

Music Music venues West Loop

Just like this chain's locations in New York City, Boston and Nashville, the West Loop's City Winery serves plenty of food, beverages and live music. The booking leans heavily on adult contemporary artists (Bilal, Los Lobos) and legacy acts (Booker T, Lucinda Williams), attracting an older crowd that appreciates dinner and a show. If you're looking for a music venue with a wine list that goes deeper than "red or white," stop by City Winery for a glass or two.

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The French Market
Photograph: Martha Williams

17. Chicago French Market

Shopping Markets and fairs West Loop

Before food halls started springing up throughout the city, Chicago's French Market was one of the only places in town where you could sample cuisine from multiple local restaurants in a single building, including sushi, tacos, bahn mi and other delicious dishes. In addition to great grub, you'll also find a European-inspired marketplace, with fresh fruit, veggies and baked goods that you can bring home for dinner. Good luck snagging a seat during the weekday lunch rush—this place hasn't gotten any less popular.

MaryBartelmePark.venue.jpg
Photograph: Mark Wright

18. Mary Bartelme Park

Kids West Loop

Located near Greektown, this West Loop park is best known for its ADA-accessible children's playground, which allows for inventive, non-linear play without traditional play equipment, though it does have swings, slides and a lot of other cool things to run around on. In the rest of the park, canines love the sunken dog park, complete with a continuously filling, oversized dog bowl, ramps, ledges, steps and an artificial grass exercise area. The viewing hill is up to six feet high and provides a stunning view of the park with a backdrop of the Chicago skyline.

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