They say time flies when you are having fun, and that is exactly how we feel about River North. Rich with culture and nightlife, this hip and trendy Chicago neighborhood has undergone a few revivals over its first 180 years, becoming the go-to district for those who enjoy fine art, design, upscale dining and some of the best bars in the city.
With so much to offer and a wide range of public transportation, let’s take a closer look at why River North is one of the hottest neighborhoods for singles and couples alike.
River North Today
As its name implies, River North lies north (and west) of the Chicago River, directly “above” the Loop when looking at a map. Bordered by the Magnificent Mile to the east and Chicago Ave to the north, it is a highly walkable neighborhood that is home to some brand name corporate headquarters such as Groupon, Yelp, Motorola Mobility, and ConAgra.
Chicago is the third largest city in the US and home to many famous architectural structures, including over 1300 high-rises and the renowned Trump International Hotel and Towers. As the second tallest building in Chicago and the fifth tallest in the United States, this 98-story structure sits on the main branch of the Chicago River, in the River North Gallery District. The all glass building features a hotel, condos and retail space.
Also sitting along the river is Bertrand Goldberg’s iconic Marina City, where the House of Blues Chicago is located. This famous structure is a stunning music hall with interiors modeled after the Estavovski Opera House in Prague. Every Sunday, the House of Blues hosts their Gospel Brunch, featuring live local talent. The brunch is brimming with mouth-watering items such as a custom omelet station, but their “World Famous” chicken and waffles should not be missed!
Situated just off the Michigan-Wacker historic district is the Wrigley Building, a National Historic Landmark. Helping define the Magnificent Mile, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. paved the landscape when Michigan Ave was extended north of the river. This shimmering skyscraper is made up of six different shades of gleaming white terracotta, all beautifully illuminated at night.
If you’re an art lover, you might be surprised to learn that the River North Gallery District has quietly become host to the largest concentration of art galleries outside of Manhattan. Located between Orleans and Lasalle, mainly along Chicago, Superior, and Huron, many of these galleries were inspired by the large manufacturing spaces that have continuously converted since the 1970s.
If you’re less of an artist and more of a pick-up artist, you have to check out “First Fridays”, a can’t miss party where the galleries are open late on the first Friday of every month. It’s definitely a cultural favorite for singles! During the summer, you don’t want to miss the Midsummer Art Walk, Chicago’s largest art event with live music and delicious local fare.
Located in a pocket just outside of the Merchandise Mart is the River North Design District, boasting interior design offerings to both designers and consumers. This bustling district features many showrooms carrying everything from lighting to tile to furnishings, all to help you create a one-of-a-kind space.
Experience both the River North Gallery District and River North Design District through their annual gallery walk to experience a full lineup of openings and events. This year the River North Design District (RNDD) event takes place starting September 6, 2019.
Another “neighborhood within the neighborhood” is River North’s Cathedral District, drawing its name from the high density of churches in the area. Stretching less than two square miles, the area boasts new high-rise developments and famous churches like Holy Name Cathedral and the iconic St. James Cathedral. A mix of old and new, this sought-after neighborhood is also home to many prestigious luxury apartments and high-rise residences.
Located in River North just steps from the Magnificent Mile, the Richard H Driehaus Museum is located in one of the most monumental residential buildings of 19th century Chicago, the Gilded Age home of Samuel Mayo Nickerson (the founder of Chicago’s first national bank). The artworks on display in the museum are selections of American and European decorative arts of the late 19th and 20th century.
Although not much green space exists in River North, Ward (A. Montgomery) Park is a 3.10-acre oasis stretching along the north bank of the river. Pack a picnic lunch, let Fido take an outdoor romp in the dog-friendly area and enjoy the river walk promenade on the western part of River North.
Every season, 35,000-plus come together to experience the Taste of River North, located in Ward Park. This summer festival features fare from dynamic restaurants, live music, and activities. Sip some beer, feast on the variety of culinary bites and enjoy this annual outdoor summer entertainment.
Vibrant and exciting, with a ton of young professionals, artists, and entrepreneurs, River North has successfully established itself as the sought-after Chicago neighborhood for both work and play.
History of River North
This chic and artsy neighborhood wasn’t always quite so glamorous. In fact, in the early 20th century, the area was known as “Smokey Hollow” due to the thick smoke that billowed from the many factories, often blocking the sunlight. River North was also known as a transportation hub, with an abundance of train lines linking the neighborhood to the surrounding states. Today, you won’t see those tracks, but they still exist, hidden under the River North’s own Merchandise Mart.
The Merchandise Mart, aka “The Mart”, was originally built by retailer Marshall Field and Company to consolidate its wholesale activities. Upon its opening in 1930, it became the largest commercial building ever constructed, with over 4 million square feet of floor space spanning two city blocks. The stately Mart, still impressive today, was designed to beautify the riverfront, replacing the unsightly train yard occupying the space.
Shortly after the Great Depression, Field’s closed down its wholesale activities conducted in the Mart and leased its space to the federal government to be used as offices. But, in 1945, Joseph P. Kennedy purchased the iconic building and slowly transformed the offices back to showrooms, eventually hosting trade shows and encouraging the country’s convention and tourism industry.
Today, it is a national center for both designers and consumers, and famous for its “Art on the Mart” light shows that flash digital light shows on the south-facing facade of the building in the evenings.
In the 1880s the city’s first Italian Roman Catholic Church, Assumption Parish, drew many Sicilians to what was known as “Little Sicily”. It also brought some of the city’s best food and wine, but by the 1890s, Sicilians were actively running gang and mob activities that had the city on edge. At times, tensions were so high Chicago police didn’t want to enter the area.
The turn of the century didn’t help, as crime got progressively worse, heightened by the prohibition period from 1920 – 1933, when illegal drinking establishments, or “speakeasies”, began popping up in the city. River North, with its many train tracks, became a center for bootlegging, moving alcohol from Canada (where it was legal) to the US. River North was in business, but at a high price.
Two of the most famous Chicago mob scenes happened in River North during the chaotic ’20s. The first was the murder of Dan O’Banion, an Irish American mobster who was part of the Northside gang.
O’Banion and his wife ran a bootlegging business on the corner of Chicago Ave and North State, cleverly disguised as a flower shop. Al Capone was not a fan, and on the morning of November 10, 1924, Capone and his men walked into the establishment and shot and killed O’Banion. The incident sparked a five-year gang war between The North Side Gang and The Chicago Outfit that culminated in the killing of seven North Side gang members in the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.
The neighborhood remained rough and isolated through the 1960s, with most families preferring to move out to the suburbs. But, in 1974 Chicago real estate developer Albert Friedman helped revive the area and coined the name “River North” for the once-abandoned neighborhood. Due to the low real estate prices and large industrial spaces, many of the properties were sold and repurposed into art galleries, restaurants, shops, and apartments.
One of the biggest punk rock clubs in the 70s was named O’Banion’s in River North, named after the hit put on Dan O’Banion. O’Banion’s played host to several local and national acts like The Replacements, Dead Kennedys and Husker Du and to this day, still has an influence on Chicago music.
Like so many great neighborhoods, the history of River North is part of what makes up its character. Between the years 2000 and 2010, the population in the four census tracts covering River North increased by an average of nearly 82%, boosting population from 9,835 in 2000 to 17,892 in 2010. Today, River North is one of the most social and sought after neighborhoods in Chicago, leveraging its colorful history to create a truly unique experience.
River North Map
While Google identifies River North as bounded by Chicago Ave to the north, Michigan Ave to the east, and the Chicago River to the south and west, local businesses creatively stretch these boundaries.
I did a quick search of two businesses that were just north of Chicago Ave to put it to the test. Both businesses listed themselves in River North. Check out the map below which shows them being one or two blocks north of Chicago Avenue.
Many businesses north of Chicago Avenue and east of Michigan Avenue advertise themselves as being located in River North. Here’s what Next Apartments has on their website, for example:
Next Apartments thinks River North is “Chicago’s hottest neighborhood”, and why wouldn’t they. River North is synonymous with being hip, trendy and all-around desirable- and I couldn’t agree more.
River North Statistics
- Size: City census data places the area of River North at 0.33 square miles, but for those of us who live here, we just think that’s wrong. So, we did a quick drive around the perimeter, plugged it into our TI-81 calculator and came up with 0.49. That’s 50% bigger. (I suppose we could have calculated it on google, but where’s the fun in that!)
- Population: Nearly 15,000 people live in the 60606 and 60610 area codes. You will find a nearly even 50/50 split according to gender, unless there is an unusually high number of bachelorette parties that night, skewing the data.
- Median Age of Population: 32
- Average Household Income: ~ $144,000 annually
- Median Household Income: ~ $98,000 annually
- Marital Status: 48% never married, 37% married. The rest are either separated, widowed or divorced.
- Median Income for Residents Aged 25-44: ~ $89,000 annually
Parks and Greenspace
River North is a relatively small neighborhood in size, and as such, has a limited number of parks, coincidentally all on the western part of the neighborhood. The good news if you’re a dog owner, however, is that all of them are dog-friendly! Check out a list of them here:
- Ward A Montgomery Park The park sits on a 3.10-acre parcel that stretches along the north branch of the Chicago River and offers a large playground, adjacent dog-friendly area and two works of art.
- Larrabee Dog Park A fenced-in gravel dog park for your dogs to run off-leash.
- Ohio Place Dog Park A concrete dog run to meet other fellow canine friends.
Another bit of good news is that just north of River North, within a few blocks of Chicago Avenue, are at least three additional green spaces, including Durso Playground Park, Washington Park, and Seneca Playlot Park. Check these out too, and if you find yourself in the northeast part of River North, take a little longer stroll and skip the parks for some time at Oak Street Beach.
If you’re new to the area, or just need help getting to the River North Parks (or parks in other neighborhoods, for that matter), check out www.transitchicago.com.
Neighborhood and Business Associations
- Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine Private research-intensive medical school preparing physicians and scientists.
- Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Founded in 1859 and also one of the first law schools established in Chicago and a member of the “Top 14 (T-14)”, a group of law schools that have national recognition.
- Moody Bible Institute Moody Bible Institute is a Christian institution of higher education with a mission is to train students for full-time ministry in churches and parachurch organizations.
- The Chicago School of Professional Psychology A non-profit university specializing in psychology offering degrees in more than 20 programs in psychology and related behavioral sciences.
- Erikson Institute Private graduate school in child development, named after noted psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson.
River North Amenities
River North is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Chicago in terms of dining, nightlife, and cultural activities, and undoubtedly one of the hotspots for singles. What it lacks in parks and green spaces, it makes up in art galleries and trendy restaurants. Residents also get great access to public transportation.
Using Hotspot Rentals’ neighborhood comparison chart is a great way to compare River North with other downtown neighborhoods. Check out how it compares with its neighbors below.
The River North neighborhood is not only filled with things to do for you, but there are also a few options for your canine companion! With all 3 parks in River North being dog-friendly, you’ll have plenty to choose from for Fido at Larrabee Dog Park, Montgomery A Ward Park, and Ohio Place Dog Park.
Since parking is limited anywhere in downtown Chicago, most residents of River North rely on on-site parking. Limited metered street parking is available, but most of the options consist of off or on-site parking. There are many permanent off-site parking garages in the area and we would suggest using SpotHero and Parking Spotter to find the best prices and locations.
To get an idea of your options, check out these and other available sites:
River North is a great central location for access to the Chicago highways. Strategically situated between I-90/94 and Lake Shore Drive, residents are only a couple minutes from the Ontario Street on-ramp that gets you on the Kennedy Expressway (90/94), and Ohio Street, which is the exit off the highway back into the city.
For access to Lake Shore Drive, head east from the neighborhood to use one of the LSD (Hwy 41) access points, depending on whether you’re headed north or south.
Although 49% of River North residents walk as a means of transportation, many use public transportation as a way to easily get in and out of the city. There are two CTA Brown line and two CTA Red line stops accessible within the limits of River North. You can also access the Chicago neighborhood with CTA bus #22 (Clark), #36 (Broadway), or #29 (State). CTA bus routes run east/west or north/south giving extra options during peak commuting times.
The Metra is also another option. Although there isn’t a specific Chicago Metra station in River North, Ogilvie Station is just across the river.
For the best routes with maps and schedules, it’s easiest to use the websites of the CTA or Metra. The direct site will give you the best arrival and departure times, in addition to providing the best routes. These third-party apps also give you easy accessibility to the information needed.
Let’s say you live at Bush Temple Apartments and need to use the Metra at Ogilvie Station to get out of the city. Using Google’s direction finder, enter Bush Temple’s address in the top field and Ogilvie Station in the bottom field. Click “get directions” and there will be route options below. If you prefer to drive, just click the car icon on the top field to receive the best driving route options.
Metra also provides a full list of complimentary services to public transportation such as water taxis, suburban Pace buses, and Zipcar.
River North Rental Properties
If you haven’t noticed yet, high-rises are cropping up all over Chicago and several have made River North home. Here are a few of our favorites that have sprung up most recently:
Wolf Point East. The long-anticipated sibling to Wolf Point West is finally here and carrying on a tradition of offering top-level, luxury living on the river. The 60 floors, 698 unit addition is centered on a four-acre, landscaped park located on the peninsula where the Chicago River divides. This means amazing city river views from the studio, one, two, and three-bedroom units it offers. Being located off the private drive of Wolf Point Plaza also means you get a little more privacy than most downtown high-rises.
Bush Temple Tower. This is the expansion of the already popular Bush Temple from FLATS properties. In keeping with their innovative planning style, we have here an “old meets new” concept. These two properties are joined at the hip (lobby) and the new 15 story, 101 unit tower adds a second lovely rooftop deck and an outdoor pool to the already shared amenities. The tower offers a choice of studio and one-bedroom units.
3Eleven. Completed in 2018 and currently leasing. This 25-story sleek, glass tower offers 245 units comprised of studios to 3-bedroom apartments. Amenities include an outdoor pool, sundeck with BBQ grills, fitness center, and work/lounge spaces.
Hubbard 221. Completed in 2018 and currently leasing. Offering up a modest 195 units, this modern and sleek 23-story community offers stylish studios to 3-bedroom apartments with extensive amenities. An expansive rooftop deck with pool, cabanas and BBQ grills are offered, as well as a fitness center, demo kitchen and workspaces to fulfill every need.
640 N Wells. Completed in 2018 and currently leasing. This 23-story luxury community has 250 units ranging from studios to three bedrooms. Brimming with amenities, you’ll find a golf simulator, outdoor pool on sundeck, fitness center, game lounge and much, much more!
Coming Soon: New River North Rental Properties
Restaurants tend to come and go in Chicago and the best way to find the best to satisfy your tastebuds is to search the web. The easiest options are sites or apps that offer customer reviews to help you make your decision.
The more specific, the better. “Best restaurants in River North” may give you too many options, so add specific details like the type of food. For example, “Cocktails and Dinner” or “Desserts” will help your search.
Here’s a “Cocktails and Dinner” example.
Bars and Nightlife
As often as bars and clubs come and go in Chicago, sometimes a little direction is all we need.
One of the city’s mainstays is Chicago’s House Of Blues. Open since 1992, it is a must-see for music lovers and an intimate venue for bands of all genres. If you’re looking for great live music and dancing, make it a point to check out the House of Blues next time you are in the River North hood.
There is a lot to do in River North, so we’ve made a list of popular searches that will help you find up-to-date information on River North pubs, bars, clubs and general entertainment in this vibrant Chicago neighborhood.
- Best bars in River North
- Best pubs in River North
- Best sports bars in River North
- Best clubs in River North
- Best entertainment in River North
- Best movie theaters in River North
- Best comedy in River North
- Best dancing in River North
River North offers venues for live concerts and theater. You can check out each venue’s site for upcoming performances.
- Best concert venues in River North
- Best live theater in River North
- Best ballet/dance theater in River North
5 Great Things You Need To Know About River North
As you can tell, River North is a wonderful Chicago neighborhood to live in. Here are five of the top reasons we believe so many call River North home:
- Prime location. River North offers endless options for dining, restaurants, and entertainment all within walking distance.
- History preserved. River North has a rich history that has been lovingly preserved and developed to stay true to its historical roots, but remain relevant in today’s modern world. Nothing is a better example than the Merchandise Mart.
- Business-friendly. With some major corporate headquarters and a focus on attracting more businesses, River North is a prime location for career-oriented individuals who want an environment to work, live and play.
- Unique art scene. Take a moment to experience the array of diverse art galleries playing host to mixed-media and various forms of art.
- Energetic. You won’t be bored in River North, which offers a high density of art galleries, restaurants, bars and shopping, all packed into this vibrant hotspot north of the Loop.
To sum it up, River North is an exciting playground for grown-ups to take in some culture, work hard and play even harder. Now, all you need to do is head over and explore!