Rules of the River: What you need to know to safely navigate the Chicago River

By Brian Zarley | Staff Writer

Patience, planning and keeping your head on a swivel—according to Chief Warrant Officer Matthew James, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor, that’s what boaters need to remember to safely navigate the Chicago River.

That, and their life jackets. While the constant stream of boats can seem chaotic and intimidating, there is a method to the madness.

“If you basically picture it like a big highway, that’s generally what the river breaks down to,” said Captain Gabe Argumedo, who has been piloting Chicago’s First Lady on the river for 10 years, and working on it for 14. “The most important thing on the river is to keep that traffic flowing.”

Whether going up or down the river, boaters should keep to the right—or starboard—side. Slower traffic and smaller vessels should stay further right allowing the larger, faster commercial vessels to safely pass them. This also frees up the slightly deeper middle of the river for larger vessels. Unless in an emergency, boaters should not drop anchor. Keeping the boats moving helps ensure a safe and efficient flow for everyone on the river.

While traveling, boaters need to maintain a safe speed—the river is a no-wake zone—and pay attention to the flow of traffic around them. “You shouldn’t be going so fast that you can’t stop your vessel and avoid a collision if one became imminent,” James said.

The locks have an order for loading, Argumedo said. Commercials vessels are first priority, followed by government, recreational, and then cargo and fishing boats.

Boaters should wait to the north side of the turning basin for the lock chambers to clear. A system of signal lights—red means no traffic; yellow means commercial vessels may enter; green means recreational vessels can enter—tells boaters when to steam into the basin. Recreational boaters should be aware that the current is particularly strong this year, especially going from the river to the lake, due to the difference in water level, Argumedo said.

Life jackets are required once a boat enters the locks. The Coast Guard strongly recommends their use at all times, especially with the cold waters of the river and Lake Michigan. “We try to draw the equivalent between a life jacket and a seatbelt,” James said.

Navigation lights are crucial for safely traveling on the river, even with the bright lights of downtown. In fact, the glare and abundance of light sources can make spotting a boat—or a boat’s lights—even more difficult.

“They’re extremely important,” Argumedo said. “That is going to tell us exactly what kind of a boat, or what direction they are going, versus not having lights at all.”

With common sense, traffic awareness and vessel vigilance, boaters can make the most of their time on the water.

Published June 5, 2018

Proposed Aon Center Observatory will put tourists over the edge

By Stephanie Racine | Staff Writer

Aon Center will soon be able to flaunt its jaw-dropping views with an observatory, glass elevator and “pod ride” that is coming to its 82nd and 83rd floors.

On May 14, The Chicago Loop Alliance and Alderman Brendan Reilly met with community members at The Mid-America Club to discuss plans for an observatory to cap the Aon Center tower located at 200 E.Randolph St.

Representatives from developers 601W Companies, architectural firms SCB and The Hettema Group, and engineering consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates presented designs for the observatory, highlighting the effect the family-friendly attraction will have on Chicago’s tourism industry.

“[The observatory] would also have a very positive impact on the area,” said Mark Karasick, managing director of 601W Companies. “We commissioned a study which found that more than $900 million in direct economic impact will be generated over the next 20 years due to this venture.”

Slides shown at the meeting detailed how the new observatory will transform Aon Center into a world-class destination and help maintain the building’s financial health and iconic real estate status.

To get to the top, visitors will take the external glass elevator—which will be the tallest in the U.S.—traveling at 1,200 feet per minute. The elevator will be accessed via a separate entrance pavilion on the east side of the building that takes visitors down escalators to a walkway at lower level three near Lower Randolph Street, according to SCB design principal Martin F. Wolf. Once at the base of the elevator and on the way up, “views will be quite spectacular,” Wolf said.

Visitors will experience floor-to-ceiling views with interactive multimedia attractions, along with other activities, snacks and drinks, according to Phil Hettema, president of The Hettema Group. They can also check out the Sky Summit pod ride which will lift visitors seated in a see-through capsule over the south edge of the building.

“You will get an absolutely unforgettable view of Millenium Park,” Hettema said. “We just want to give you an experience that’s unlike anything anybodyhas ever seen.”

Many of the residents at the meeting voiced concerns about the tourist attraction’s impact on traffic in New Eastside.

Peter Lemmon from Kimley-Horn and Associates shared the results of a traffic study and proposed widening sidewalks by the pavilion entrance along Columbus Street by 15 feet to accommodate the increase in foot traffic, re-striping crosswalks and establishing a dedicated bus zone. Both Reilly and Lemmon assured residents that options to improve traffic in the area, both related and unrelated to the Aon Observatory, are being considered.

More information about the Aon Center Observatory can be found at aoncenterobservatory.com

Published June 3, 2018

We all scream for…

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

Ice cream season has officially begun and we’ve set out to find the tastiest, most interesting flavors in the city.

Whether you’re chasing down your local ice cream man, looking for a treat while watching a ballgame or headed out for a date night centered around what’s atop your cone, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re looking for variety, Jeni’s Splen did Ice Creams, 1419 N. Wells St., takes the cake—and the cake-flavored ice cream. The team at Jeni’s focuses on the atmosphere and experience just as much as the flavors and quality of their creamy cups and cones.

The company describes their design as “really great ice cream served perfectly in a sparkling and beautiful space, with attentive and in-the-moment service,” and they
aren’t exaggerating.

Jeni’s is sold in a sleek, orange and white shop adorned with twinkling white lights, and a team of employees who are willing to let you sample as many flavors as your heart desires.

Despite the sampling, it’s hard to pick a flavor from their long list. But luckily, you don’t have to. Jeni’s offers ice cream “flights”—scoops of three flavors for $6. (Pro tip: an additional scoop is just $1, so spring for the $7 option to try four flavors. That’s what we did—twice.)

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams offer an array of delicious flavors, with four scoops served in a tray as part of their “ice cream flights” for $6. Photo by Taylor Hartz

With two four scoop flights, totaling $14, we enjoyed brambleberry crisp, goat cheese with cherries, honey pie, ricotta toast with jam, coffee with cream and sugar, wildberry lavender, salty caramel and blueberry lemon frozen yogurt. That’s right—cheese in ice cream. Isn’t that something we all want to try?

Goat cheese with cherries was a perfect mix of savory and sweet with chunks of perfectly flavored fruit, while strictly sweet flavors like honey pie were buttery and delicious.

Though the flavor options could be talked about all night, the texture of these scoops is a whole other topic to explore. Jeni’s ice cream is unbelievably smooth compared to most ice cream brands, it makes you wonder what you’ve been doing all your ice cream-loving life.

Each scoop offers “a uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body, with bright flavor and clean finish,” according to Jeni’s. The company doesn’t use any synthetic flavorings, dyes or pre-made mixes, but instead opts for stabilizers and emulsifiers that create a unique consistency and leave you with a clean palate after every bite.

If you’re looking for a romantic, inexpensive date idea this summer, you can’t beat the iconic Riverwalk. Strolling along the Chicago River is a must-do in the warmer months and there are plenty of fun destinations popping up along the path for drinks, dinner and dessert.

At Frost Gelato, 151 W. Riverwalk, you can check out a stunning display of whipped, swirled, colorful gelatos adorned with exotic flowers as you choose from their lengthy list of flavors to put the cherry on top of your night out by the water.

On their regular menu, gelato lovers can choose from more than 60 flavors, ranging from bubble gum and toasted marshmallow to marble black cherry and cinnamon apple pie.

The shop also features flavors of the month to keep things even more interesting. The specials for May included margarita, mango green chilli and spicy chocolate.

Margarita isn’t the only drink-inspired flavor they’ve got either, with flavors like root beer, pina colada, green and chai teas, Guinness, Bailey’s buttercream, eggnog and espresso offered daily.

As if the extensive list of gelato flavors didn’t make the decision hard enough— there’s more. The shop also has a few dozen sorbet flavors for those with a fruitier palate. In
addition to blackberry, kiwi and green apple, the shop offers some unexpected fruit flavors, like papaya, pear riesling and strawberry champagne.

Frost Gelato isn’t open yet for the season, as it is revamping its space for a new, bigger location on the Riverwalk—the “Water Plaza” section between Wells and LaSalle streets.

They expect to open their doors by mid-July.

Just a few blocks away in River North, stop by Firecakes Donuts at 68 W. Hubbard St. for a snack that’s even sweeter than ice cream. At Firecakes, you can still get your ice cream fix, wedged between two donuts. That’s right, the specialty here is a donut ice cream sandwich—a slab of vanilla, chocolate or coconut ice cream in between two glazed donuts covered in hot fudge.

Last but not least, we checked out Cone Gourmet Ice Cream at 1047 W.
Madison St. Flavors like the bright blue Cookie Monster are a perfect way to brighten up your summer day with a little color, while flavors like “snickering apples” (Snickers ice cream with apples) and “leprechaun tracks” are one of a kind.

We tried the super sweet “Netflix and Chill” and the tart orange “Zootopia” filled
with rainbow sprinkles. “Delicious.”

The shop also offers a variety of hand-scooped ice cream sandwiches and has non-dairy options, like watermelon sorbetto, available every day.

All ice creams at Cone can be served in a cup, on a cone, or on cookie cones or waffle cones and can be smothered in a variety of toppings, like gummy worms, graham crackers, Irish flake pieces or reeces, or be served “shamrock style,” covered in Lucky Charms.

Also, don’t miss their other cool treats like the frozen banana or frozen cheese- cake on a stick.

Published June 4

Markets and food halls– a veggie friendly guide

Chicago French Market, Revival & Latinicity

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

Vegans, vegetarians, plant-based eaters and veggie enthusiasts across the city celebrated when Chicago started 2018 as the third friendliest city in the world for vegans and vegetarians. In an international ranking by Meetup, the ChicagoVeg Meet- up group earned the city the third highest spot worldwide, coming in only behind
New York and London.

ChicagoVeg, also called Chicagoland Vegetarian, Vegan, & Raw Foodist Community, has close to 6,000 members and hosts more than 30 events every year. Each event helps members explore new dining options, learn new recipes and connect with like-minded eaters.

On April 21, the group converged on the Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton. Located in the West Loop, the indoor market is a quaint, charming food hall with an eclectic mix of dishes, desserts and drinks. On the Saturday afternoon, the group hosted a “food tour” of the market, offering discounts and suggestions for the variety of vegan and vegetarian options the market features.

Attendee and co-host Denice Shuty shared her discovery. “I came upon the French Market one day in the Loop doing my typical Google search for ‘vegetarian restaurants near me,’” she said.

“When I got there, I couldn’t believe how many artisan food stalls there were—and
so many vegan/vegetarian choices.”

For those looking to start off with some fresh fruits and veggies, The Loop Juice
was a great first stop. This juicery’s menu features more than a dozen juice combinations, blended right before your eyes, and a mouthwatering menu of “smoothie bowls”—a blend of chilled fruit served in a bowl, topped with everything from agave nectar and shaved coconut to seasonal fruit and granola.

As the group ventured further into the market, David Costello, who started a vegan diet just one month ago, said he was enjoying the opportunity to explore some new dining options downtown.

Costello came from Evanston with his friend, Matthew Johnson, who recently switched to veganism as well. Both converted to veganism after watching the documentary “What The Health” on Netflix and becoming concerned about their health and the environment.

Raw at the Chicago French Market. Photo by Taylor Hartz

David said he was happy to find restaurants in the French Market that fit his new lifestyle and especially enjoyed eating at Raw, where he got a sampler of dishes including vegan ravioli and burgers.

At Raw, every item is plant-based and vegan. The “grab and go” style eatery has more
than 100 menu items “on a spectrum from really dense green juice to tiramisu,” said
co-owner Carol Jones.

Jones and her partner opened Raw eight years ago with the idea to sell easy-to-find vegan options. “Basically everything we make has a convenience factor,” Jones said, encouraging customers to buy in bulk as their entree selections stay fresh for up to five days.

At the Revival Food Hall, 125 S. Clark St., New Eastsiders can find a similar dining destination closer to home, with a modern market-style spot that features more than a dozen vendors.

The food hall garnered praise from Donna Lee, owner of Brown Bag Seafood Co.,340 E. Randolph St. “It’s a super lively, fun place that’s very fast paced, and there are options at every single shop for vegans and vegetarians,” she said.

Brown Bag Seafood Co., which originated in New Eastside, has a new location in the Revival Food Hall that specializes in Veggiebox and Powerbox—vegetable grain blends of brown rice, quinoa or wheat berry as well as salads that can all be served vegetarian or have a choice of fish added.

Black Dog Gelato at Revival. Photo by Taylor Hartz

Lee’s recommendations include the salads at Union Pizza and of course the Veggiebox at Brown Bag, but her favorite is Farmer’s Fridge. “When I’m eating vegetarian I really like their avocado toast,” Lee said.

If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, check out Black Dog Gelato for flavors like goat cheese cashew caramel, fresh strawberry or vegan blood orange or raspberry sorbets.

Latinicity, 108 N. State St., has a similar feel to the French Market, with a latin spin. The Latinicity food hall and lounge features eight innovative kitchens, a Mexican restaurant, a cafe and a full bar.

For a sweet vegan dish, try the plantains from Saladero Latin Grill, while vegetarians can opt for the corn empanada served with fresh, delicious guacamole. Ensalata offers a full make-your-own salad bar with a variety of ingredients, while Machefe Taqueria gives customers the option to design-your-own taco, although the veggie blend has a bit of a kick and is not for those who don’t like spice. To incorporate more flavor, try adding fresh avocado or sliced pineapple to your taco.

Fried plantains, sweet potato tacos and a corn empanada at Latinicity. Photo by Taylor Hartz

For a final stop, Pueblo Mexican restaurant offers the best dessert at this hall with their red kuri pumpkin flan.

If you’re considering a lifestyle change to vegetarian or veganism, or are already abiding by a veggie-based diet, there are plenty of choices for dining out in Chicago’s food halls. To explore more options, check out one of the ChicagoVeg group’s monthly “dine-out” MeetUps, where members meet to try out a new restaurant. The group’s next event will take place on May 6 at Soul Vegetarian East on East 75th Street.

1 3 4 5