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The Prairie State Refresh

Get to know the hottest new venues, dining hot spots, and experiences throughout Illinois

By Shelby Deering

Embassy lobby venue
Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront Rockford Conference Center. || Photo by C Tyson Photography

At its heart, an event is never simply just an event. It’s an experience that plucks guests from their day-to-day lives and transports them to someplace else, whether it’s a short trip to Italy through one of Chicago’s Mediterranean restaurants or a luxurious meeting room evoking opulence.

Luckily, many Illinois venues not only offer great food and sizeable spaces, but also provide immersive experiences and ambience that won’t soon be forgotten. To capture this feel and to hold your meeting or event at a fresh location, check out Illinois Meetings + Events’ showcase of some of the recent and upcoming new venues, renovations, and expansions throughout the Chicago region and beyond.

Fanciful Hotels

With Waldorf Astoria locations found in far-flung destinations like Thailand and France, you can expect an intercontinental vibe brimming with luxury at the Chicago hotel. Featuring a top-to-bottom refresh that was completed last November, Waldorf Astoria Chicago now sports updated guest rooms and suites, enhanced spa experiences, and a new lounge and restaurant. For events, take advantage of the private dining spaces and culinary and cocktail programs that depart from standard event offerings.

Catie Walsh, director of sales and marketing, puts it best when she says, “Not only do our traditional venues blend seamlessly with iconic Waldorf Astoria service, but combining events with our elevated accommodations, spa, and dining experiences [also] allows meetings and event attendees to have a holistic stay experience from start to finish.”

Waldorf Astoria venue
Waldorf Astoria Chicago’s renovated Peacock Lounge. || Photo by Scott Baker Photography

If you’ve ever imagined living in one of those industrial lofts in a historic factory, now’s your chance with Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront & Rockford Conference Center. First opened in 2020, the hotel is a far cry from the once-vacant 1913 building with its 160 guest suites, two restaurants, a locally owned coffee shop, a fitness center, an indoor pool and spa, a golf simulator, a game room, and over 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space. Kelly Plath, director of sales, and Vinny Bucci, general manager, note that, “We are welcoming guests looking for a more full-service experience that they just aren’t able to get anywhere else in Rockford.”

Opening its doors this past January, Aloft Chicago Schaumburg is a Marriott hotel that’s bursting with bright colors and urban accents. The chic hotel also features 3,297 square feet of flexible meeting space, not to mention its Re:mix Lounge and WXYZ Bar, where guests can take in live music. General Manager Carmie Antongiovanni says the hotel is ideal for “today’s tech-savvy clientele,” with plug-in stations, Bluetooth speakers, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s The St. Regis Chicago, which debuted this May. The much buzzed-about hotel is within the third-tallest building in the city, taking your guests to (literal) new heights. Step into a land of luxury spotlighting 10,495 square feet of premier event space, like the 4,721-square-foot Astor Ballroom. Additionally, each attendee has access to the 24-hour signature St. Regis Butler Service. Ashley Ochse, director of catering and group sales, adds, “Our team is dedicated to crafting bespoke and experiential meetings and events experiences for clients.”

Dreamy Eateries

Food is always a surefire way to instantly transport meeting-goers to another place, and by holding your meeting or event at a restaurant, you can do just that. Take, for example, Chicago’s Fioretta, which opened in April. Packed with Italian American eats, the 30-seat private dining space feels like a world unto itself, dressed in blue velvet drapery, wraparound banquettes, hexagonal mirrors, and warm sconces, as Lucas Stoioff, cofounder of DineAmic Hospitality, describes.

Or there’s Kindling Chicago. It opened earlier this year and is continually wowing guests through its 17,000 square feet of varied dining atmospheres, two bars, games, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Soon, it’ll add a second-floor outdoor terrace to its offerings. With “fire cooking” as its claim to fame, Abbey Arp, senior event sales and catering manager, adds that the restaurant also features The Birch, a reservation-only, boardroom-inspired private dining room that seats 10 and offers a prix fixe menu.

Perhaps vino is more your thing, especially if you and your attendees want to sip wine and socialize in a warm, inviting space. In this case, plan your event at Chicago Winery. Debuting last November, the winery has space to spare, including the 1,100-square-foot private dining room, the 3,000-square-foot main event space, and the 2,100-square-foot terrace, shares Rachel Sackheim, chief revenue officer. She also says, “While not every event will call for it, we have the option to incorporate team-building activities, centered around our winemaking, which add a truly unique twist to any event.”

Maybe you want to take attendees on a trip that’s out of the bustling city. Head to Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille in Vernon Hills when it opens in early 2024 with an 11,000-square-foot restaurant space, a wine wall, and of course, steaks galore. The 2021-built restaurant The Graceful Ordinary is in St. Charles and presents an “elevated tavern” feel, as co-owner and Event Manager Megan Curren describes it. Thomas & Dutch in Evanston opened this past March and resides in the Hilton Orrington/Evanston, the oldest hotel in the city, according to the cofounder of the restaurant, Thomas (TJ) Callahan.

Imaginative Venues

Completing renovations in April, Chicago’s Morgan Art Complex offers a whopping 150,000 square feet of space and refreshed visuals in its century-old building. The main venue expanded to nearly twice its size, and a smaller space called the West-wing was added as well. Additionally, flooring has been replaced throughout, and an ADA-compliant elevator has been installed. Featuring striking art crafted by notable artists, it’ll be as if you’re also taking your attendees to an art museum.

“Because we are new to the venue pool, we are unique and new to guests,” says Executive Director Beth Peterson. “Our newly renovated venue is truly perfect for meetings and events because it’s highly customizable and versatile, allowing your event to come to life in the exact way you would like it to come together.”

This September, look forward to a venue that will give guests an unforgettable experience out in the country. Haven on the Farm will be a Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” dream come true, with 10 stunning acres just outside of Peoria. A 100-year-old home and carriage house will flank the 7,000-square-foot barn, complete with salvaged lighting and an antique bar. Displaying rich history and farmhouse aesthetics, the venue is sure to create down-on-the-farm ambience for any event. Founder Ashley Wurzer puts it best when she says, “Haven on the Farm is all about an experience.”

Color Factory venue
A group dinner at Color Factory Chicago. || Courtesy of Color Factory

Inspiring Experiences

Sometimes, a meeting and dinner doesn’t feel like quite enough. You want to treat attendees to an experience they’ll always remember and provide Instagram-worthy visuals to boot. For a team-building activity, meeting, or event that will truly take your guests places they won’t forget, consider these one-of-a-kind venues.

Consider Color Factory Chicago, an interactive art museum that is splashed in every hue of the rainbow. Completed last June, the impressive exhibit took three years to build. It has 20,000 square feet of space filled with whimsy, from the Chicago River-themed ball pit, confetti raining from the ceiling, and a built-in photo system that captures professional-quality photos of guests at 12 different locations throughout the exhibit.

“Custom-made sweets and treats from local vendors allow guests to engage all their senses,” adds Alannah Henry, event sales manager. She continues to say that planners can customize the space and the experience as much or as little as they would like, “with confidence that the event will be uniquely memorable and highly photographable.”

Whether it’s team building through making your own wine, sitting in a ballroom bedecked with crystal chandeliers, admiring beautiful farmland, or diving into a ball pit, the theme remains the same—a meeting or event should make meeting-goers feel relaxed, delighted, and even whisked away to an experience that’s everything but every day.

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