The Riverwalk’s first annual Fall Fest will offer special attractions and discounts to visitors of all ages on the weekend of October 7- 10. Anchored by an Autumnal village at Wheel Fun Rentals, the good times will extend to nearly a dozen participating restaurants and vendors along the bank.
“We’ve got a 14-foot inflatable slide and then, like, a bouncy house and a variety of different games,” says Dwight Brathalt, one of two partners who operate Wheel Fun Rentals.
In addition to the fleet of pedal-powered surreys offered throughout the summer, Wheel Fun Rentals has adorned its location with “1,600 pumpkins and 30 bales of hay and a bunch of cornstalks and a variety of decorations.” Winding into the shadows underneath a nearby thicket of trees, the natural bright orange and dull brown hues transform the space into an eerily beautiful harvest hamlet.
The whole scene is too good for Island Party Hut, a short walk east, to resist.
“We’re gonna be doing things in combination with the pumpkin patch,” says partner Steve Majerus. “If you have a pumpkin patch ticket, you get 15% off your total bill, including booze and food.” To make sure that kids have their share of spooky fun, the Hut will also supply markers and paint so they can decorate pumpkins while the grownups get into the spirit of things.
Unlike most vendors along the Riverwalk, Fall Fest marks the beginning of an extended season for Island Party Hut. The tropically-themed rumming hole plans to remain open until December 21 — the darkest day of the year marked by the Winter Solstice. It will dial up the warmth by adding walls and heaters to the party tent and celebrate the onset of winter with a big bash on December 21st.
Between Halloween and Christmas, the Hut will embrace the holidays with a Christmas tree lot — “so you can have a drink while you shop for your tree,” says Mr. Majerus — and offer boat rides on the Island Time, a 65-foot, 90-passenger Skipper Liner.
Although the plans are subject to change depending on the weather, Mr. Majerus is optimistic that the impending fall will be as comfortable as the previous one. “Last year, we closed on November 1,” he explains. “November was beautiful. We wish we could have been open the whole time.”
But until then, it’s all about fall. Additional vendors participating in the fest include Cyrano’s Café, between the Hut and Wheel Fun Rentals. On Sunday October 9th, the riverside bistro modeled after Monet’s garden will host a farmers market stocked with soups, baked items, and pies prepared under the experienced hand of Chef Didier Durand. The McCormick Bridgehouse Museum, just west of Michigan Ave., will offer discounted admission and, right next door, O’Brien’s Restaurant will “do a little cider” and offer seasonal entrees.
“We want to really showcase the vendors,” says Michelle Woods, Assistant Project Director for the city’s Department of Fleet and Faculty Management. She has been helping to develop the Riverwalk since 2002, when “Mayor Daley said we should capture more land along the river, like Daniel Burnham had said,” she remembers.
With the help of Congress, Ms. Woods and the city redefined the river’s navigational channels to make way for the destination that it is today. When Mayor Emanuel took office, the location found another champion. “Mayor Emanuel came in, he loved it, and he got construction financing,” she says. “The new portion would not have been built if it wasn’t for his leadership.”
From Lake Street to Columbus Drive, the Riverwalk is a cozy natural path nestled in an urban metropolis. The sense of community that comes to all who enter is unlike anything on earth.
“As a business owner, you’re always worried about yourself,” says Wheel Fun Rental’s Dwight Brathalt. “But down here, it seems like everyone’s in it together.”