Who gets the credit for West Loop? Undoubtedly, the area separated from the very heart of downtown Chicago by the Chicago River sports some of the city’s trendiest addresses — more than 4,000 rental units were added to the neighborhood between 2008 and 2016 — attractive for their walking distance from downtown employers and easy access to public transit and three major highways.
But as recently as the 1980s, West Loop was rough territory, mostly notable for flophouses and empty warehouses. Then along came Oprah. And Michael. Now, there is no shortage of things to do in West Loop.
In 1989, Oprah Winfrey opened Harpo Studios on Washington Boulevard. In 1991, the year Michael Jordan’s Bulls won the first of six championships in seven seasons out of their Chicago Stadium home a few blocks away on Madison, restaurants started opening on Randolph Street. A loft boom joined the restaurants, with more than 6,000 units being added to the area from 1990 to 2006.
The West Loop lifestyle is still sporty. No doubt, the local community got to know the area as they got to know Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, eventual superstars and three-time Stanley Cup champs who debuted with the Blackhawks in 2007.
McDonald’s corporate headquarters opened in the old Harpo space in the spring of 2018, so there’s no shortage of professionals to populate West Loop hot spots.
Technically, the United Center lies just beyond the Ashland Avenue western boundary of West Loop, but the home to the Bulls and Blackhawks hosts countless national concert acts and more — and, postgame or show, you can walk to the Billy Goat’s West Loop location for a world famous cheezborger.
Beyond that, when you’re looking for things to do in West Loop, here are some of our favorite options:
Randolph Street Market Festival: Is it a monthly party? A flea market? A place for pickers? An arcade for antiquers? Yes. Throw in some emerging fashion design talent and you have probably the best place in the city to buy, sell and people watch.
Union Park: Nearly 14 acres of green space. There are outdoor tennis and basketball courts, a pool, and a fieldhouse with a fitness center. West Loop also has Mary Bartelme Park, a one-block hotspot that features a sunken dog park, a fountain plaza and a children’s play area; and Skinner Park, a seven-acre area that includes a community garden, baseball fields and basketball courts, and shares the facilities at neighboring Whitney Young High School.
Twisted Spoke: Part biker bar, part whiskey aficionado’s nirvana. The Ogden Avenue veteran keeps late hours, serves breakfast until mid-afternoon, and has an expansive craft beer menu outstripped only by a prodigious whiskey menu it claims is the best in Chicago.
Artopolis: A cup of coffee and something sweet to cap off an evening? Something stronger? A place to linger a bit longer with that special someone? Artopolis, a relative newcomer among Greektown’s Halsted Street stalwarts, is such a place. An unbelievable array of desserts, and wonderful specialty coffees draw many happy returns.
Bad Axe Throwing: Truly, there are things to do in West Loop that you can’t imagine finding anywhere else. Once such activity takes place at Bad Axe Throwing, where you can — well, throw axes. Plus, it’s a block north of Randolph Street Market, so heave a few hatchets to work up your appetite.
Bonci Pizzeria: OK, this is blasphemous. Chicago is a pizza town. And Bonci is a chain, opened within spitting distance of some truly great restaurants (Grace, Oriole, Girl & the Goat, Au Cheval). But this is the first Bonci location outside of Italy. It features one-of-a-kind pizzas, the lineup changing frequently throughout the day based on the available, locally sourced ingredients. Warning: No cash accepted. Credit or debit cards only.