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An Ode to Opulence

For a sizeable dose of ambience your attendees won’t soon forget, head to these tasteful and refined event spaces

By Shelby Deering

Orchestra Hall and Armour Stage at Symphony Center in Chicago
Orchestra Hall and Armour Stage at Symphony Center in Chicago || Photo by Johnnie Tran

When planning a corporate or nonprofit event, there are so many details that come together to make it memorable for attendees—the food that delights the taste buds and activities and presentations that engage every eventgoer. But these curated touches might just feel like they’re missing something if they seem out of step with the setting for the meeting.

Sure, standard spaces without a lot of finery can undoubtedly get the job done, but if you really want to inspire your attendees and make them feel as if they have been transported to another place altogether, aim for venues that have a notable and elegant feel to them—those locales that can easily be described as chic, dignified, luxurious, and stately.

Luckily, in the Chicagoland area and beyond, there are myriad places to choose from if you’re envisioning chic visuals for your event. The state has no shortage of historic buildings and well-appointed spaces that are perfect for meetings.

Distinctive Spaces

Some of these elegant event venues can be found right in the heart of Chicago. For instance, The Blackstone Hotel, just a stone’s throw from Lake Shore Drive and adjacent to the Museum of Contemporary Photography, is a four-star hotel that has “an impressive collection of both historic and modern, sophisticated event spaces,” as Tammy Jordan, director of catering and events, describes it.

Originally built as an ornate mansion and operating as a hotel since 1910, The Blackstone has welcomed the likes of the Astors and Rockefellers over the years, and today offers many venue options for planners—from intimate rooms for small gatherings all the way up to the grandeur of the striking Crystal Ballroom for large-scale events. Two Executive Boardroom spaces can seat up to 14 guests, while eight additional meeting spaces can facilitate 15 to 50-plus guests. The Crystal Ballroom can hold up to 240 guests. “Our meeting spaces combine historic charm with modern sophistication, providing flexible options and a canvas for personalized corporate events,” says Jordan.

Elegant event decor at The Blackstone Hotel in Chicago
Elegant event decor at The Blackstone Hotel in Chicago || Courtesy of The Blackstone Hotel

Then there’s the Symphony Center, the headquarters of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, that also can be found downtown. Nestled near notable points of interest like Grant Park and Color Factory Chicago, the Symphony Center offers planners a venue right where some of the greats have taken the stage, like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, singer Ben Folds, and the vintage-inspired band Pink Martini. Michael Lavin, assistant director of operations for Symphony Center Presents & Rental Events Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, calls it “a unique atmosphere for first-class meetings and special events.”

The Symphony Center is home to Orchestra Hall, where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays; the illustrious Grainger Ballroom; and the Richard & Helen Thomas Club, which occupies the eighth and ninth floors and features spectacular views of downtown Chicago. There are smaller options as well, like the Green Room, which is located in the backstage area of Orchestra Hall and can hold 50 guests. For the very largest of events, look no further than Orchestra Hall, which can accommodate up to 2,500 attendees.

These venues are both top-tier meeting locations, and they’re in good company with other sophisticated venues found throughout the city. One is Union Depot—housed at Chicago Union Train Station that resides near the Chicago Loop and features The Great Hall—a resplendent tribute to old-fashioned architecture that can hold 750 seated attendees. Corboy Law Center at Loyola University Chicago is right in the thick of it all, with proximity to shopping and dining at  Water Tower Place, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago just down the street. With a modern feel, the Corboy Law Center also boasts several electronic classrooms and conference rooms for events.

Corboy Law Center’s main event space, Kasbeer Hall, at Loyola University Chicago || Photo by Lukas Keapproth, courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

But chic spaces aren’t limited to the Windy City. Step just outside the bounds of Chicago and you will find a number of stylish venues to hold events. This includes the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. It’s home to a collection of more than 50,000 artifacts related to the former president, along with seven on-site venues available for events. And there’s no shortage of impressive and eye-catching historical ambience here—the Lincoln Reception Room, a glass-and-stone rotunda that can host 100 guests for a reception, features an engraved excerpt from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The museum itself can be rented in the evening as it’s open to the public during the day.

“Our library venues offer warm, inviting meeting and social event venues while the museum offers the opportunity for the rental client and their guests to be the sole visitors to the museum during an evening event,” says Venue Rental Manager Britta Brackney.

Also beyond the boundaries of Chicago, there’s The Venue CU in Champaign, a swanky event space with brick-clad walls, stylish decor, and Instagram-worthy surroundings. The Standard in Rockford is a rooftop conservatory where events can be held year-round, sporting crystal chandeliers and strands of twinkle lights.

Ambience & Architecture

Although stylish spaces often showcase elegant decorative accents and gourmet meals, oftentimes it comes down to the surrounding architecture to truly set the scene.

For instance, The Blackstone Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom is brimming with stately architecture, stylish arched windows, and classic views of Michigan Avenue, “providing a sophisticated backdrop for any meeting or event,” as Jordan says.

The Museum Plaza at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a study in historical architecture. Soaring several stories, some architectural features in the venue include replicas of Lincoln’s log cabin and the White House, spotlighted alongside stunning high ceilings and a mural.

Well-known Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham designed Symphony Center’s Orchestra Hall, which opened in 1904. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

“Grainger Ballroom is in the Orchestra Hall building and was designed in a French Renaissance style with Rococo decorative elements,” Lavin explains. “The room’s high ceilings are embellished with Austrian crystal chandeliers and sconces, and it also features extraordinary views overlooking Michigan Avenue.”

To take in even more of the rich history and architecture throughout this venue, Lavin says that they often incorporate a Symphony Center venue tour into meeting agendas. “History and architecture are such an integral part of what makes Chicago great as a city, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Center are a big part of that,” he reflects.

Renny Pedersen, owner and creative director of Bliss Events Chicago, can attest to the beauty of this building. Having hosted large corporate parties along with small cocktail events, Pedersen says the Symphony Center’s Grainger Ballroom “is incredibly charming with very Old World architecture.” She adds, “It’s one of the oldest ballrooms in Chicago.” In fact, she believes it just might be the most elegant ballroom in the city.

Benefits of Stylish Surroundings

While it makes complete sense to focus on the essentials of an event, like the food and the schedule, it’s also worthwhile to devote just as much time and attention to choosing a venue with grandeur. In fact, there are some benefits to booking an elegant event venue.

“Our diverse and story-rich meeting spaces set the stage for truly remarkable and bespoke events, distinguishing them from standard venues,” Jordan says. In other words? A refined space will make the event stand out from the rest.

The stately Stevenson Room at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield || Courtesy of Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

“I think a meeting in an elegant space creates a certain atmosphere that enhances the overall attendee experience,” Lavin says. “I also think it is a positive reflection on the host and demonstrates a certain level of appreciation and hospitality for their guests.”

Lavin also points out that the idea of meeting in a chic space will be a stronger draw for attendees. “I think attendees will be more interested and engaged when attending a meeting in an elegant space compared to a boardroom or classroom,” he says.

Planning an event amid elegant surroundings can be a surprising time- and money-saver as well. “Venues that are elegant and stylish are easy to plan an event in, as they may not require a client to spend a portion of their time and event budget on decorating the venue,” Brackney says. “The Museum Plaza, for example, is a venue that does not require decoration.”

Even though an elegant event venue can certainly stand on its own as you incorporate interest into your meeting or event, you can push the theme even further by serving elevated meals that fit the atmosphere and planning outings to nearby, equally chic destinations. These additions can include visits to noteworthy museums and art galleries, as well as memorable activities like architectural tours or shopping excursions to stylish boutiques.