The Chicago area is home to more than 9 million people, dozens of neighborhoods, and an infinite number of different perspectives.1 As such, it’s impossible to generalize when talking about sections of the Windy City. Instead, you have to look at each part of this bustling metropolis as its own micro-city.
That’s exactly what we’re doing here with River North, Chicago. In the River North neighborhood, the urban feel of downtown slowly transitions to a more laid-back, residential atmosphere. It’s a best-of-both-worlds part of the city that offers culture and convenience in equal measure.
Whether you’re a newcomer to the area or a long-time Chicagoan, this guide can help you navigate the busy streets of River North.
Where is River North?
As you might have guessed, the River North neighborhood sits on the north side of the Chicago River. Hemmed in by Chicago Ave to the north, Michigan Ave to the east, and the picturesque Chicago River to the west and south, River North or River North Gallery District is one of Chi-town’s most central hotspots.
This vibrant neighborhood is well situated, with some of Chicago’s most happening areas a short transit ride or drive away. The communities surrounding River North include:2
- Near North
- Gold Coast
- Old Town
- Goose Island
- West Town
The history of River North, Chicago
Rebuilt into an urban center after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the River North area quickly became the industrial heart of Chicago. In fact, in the early 1900s, the neighborhood was not-so-affectionately known as “Smokey Hollow” due to the constant pollution from nearby factories and trains.3
In the 1920s, the neighborhood gained a different claim to fame: A high-profile mafia scandal. At the corner of State and Superior streets, Dean O’Banion—the notorious mobster (and rival of Al Capone)—was assassinated at his flower shop, leading to a five-year gang war that rocked the city.4
As industry and organized crime disappeared from the area, the warehouses eventually converted into apartments, restaurants, clubs, and art galleries. You can still feel the traces of River North’s storied past in its industrial architecture.
Life in River North
Today, River North is known more for art and entertainment than manufacturing and mob bosses. As one of Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods, River North has no shortage of events to attend or new eateries to try.
Here are some of our top picks for activities, food, and drinks in River North.
What to do
There’s never a dull moment in Chicago’s River North. Whether you like to be in the action or simply see the sights, you’ll have no trouble filling your days with some of these top activities:
- Marvel at THE MART – Once the largest building in the world, THE MART is two city blocks of retro design and retail space. During the winter months, it’s the perfect place to while away a cold Chicago day.
- See the city from the water – This is one of those touristy things that even locals should experience once. On a warm day, rent a kayak from one of the many outfits by the water, and check out the unique views of Chicago from its namesake river.
- Shop ‘til you drop at The Magnificent Mile – While the Mag Mile is technically the border of River North, it’s still a must-see destination here. With more than 450 retailers and enough cafes and restaurants to feed an army, the Magnificent Mile is one of the city’s prime people-watching spots.
- Visit a local art gallery – Only Manhattan boasts more private art galleries than the River North area of Chicago.5 Try the Zolla Lieberman Gallery, the Addington Gallery, or Gallery Victor Armendariz to sample some of the best collections in the city.
Where to eat
Looking for the best restaurant to dine in while in the area? You’ll never go hungry in River North Chicago. From cheap eats to fancy feasts, there are several restaurants in River North you can choose to dine in, including:
- Tzuco – Opened by the Michelin-starred chef Carlos Gaytán, Tzuco showcases a side of Mexican food that goes beyond tacos and tostadas. For a delicious, unpretentious fine dining experience in a stunning location, look no further than Tzuco. Vegetarian options are available but limited.
- Sunda Chicago – Ever tried Filipino food? If not, you’re missing out. Luckily, this Chicago River North spot is the perfect place to sample some of Southeast Asia’s most underrated cuisine for the first—or fiftieth—time. Other pan-Asian favorites are on the menu, too, but the Filipino-inspired choices like Lumpia, Pork Belly Steamed Buns, and Pancit Canton won’t disappoint (although vegetarians and vegans may struggle to fill up here).
- Vermilion – A staple of the Chicago food scene, this Indian-meets-Latin spot has been serving up imaginative dishes for more than 20 years. The gorgeous interior has “date night” written all over it. Plus, vegan options are available—if you can score a reservation.
- Mr. Beef On Orleans – No list of River North Gallery District eateries is complete without Mr. Beef. Sure, it may be touristy—especially after the success of The Bear, the TV show inspired by this fast food joint—but it’s an institution that serves tasty, affordable eats. In a neighborhood known more for upscale dining, that’s a win. Vegetarians should probably look elsewhere.
Where to drink
With so many offices, apartment, and warehouse buildings scattered around, River North is the perfect place for an exciting nightlife. Whether you’re looking for a quiet post-work drink at a local watering hole or an elevated cocktail experience before hitting the town, this is one of the best places in Chi-town to wet your whistle.
Some of the must-visit River North bars include:
- Arbella – Serving up some of River North’s best cocktails and mocktails, Arbella is an atmospheric choice in the heart of the neighborhood. With an unheard-of Saturday Happy Hour (5 pm–7 pm), this is the spot to kick off the weekend with reasonably-priced drinks. Plus, for $20, the bartender will make you a custom drink based on your favorite spirits and flavor profile—all you have to do is ask.
- Miki’s Park – This Korean-inspired bar puts a welcome twist on some of your favorite cocktails, including the “Seoul-ito” and the “KPop-a-loma.” If you need something to nosh, Miki’s has your back there too, with some delicious nods to Korean street food. And how could we forget about Thursday night karaoke?
- Three Dots and a Dash – A tiki-themed speakeasy in the middle of River North—what more could you possibly need? Named after the famous cocktail (and the letter “V” in Morse code), Three Dots and a Dash serves delicious, occasionally gigantic tropical drinks in a tastefully tacky setting.
Where to go out
River North is sometimes called “Chicago’s Adult Playground,” and it’s easy to see why. The neighborhood caters to party-goers of every mood, so you’ll always find a spot that suits the vibe for the night. Here are some fan favorites:
- The Bassment – This late-night weekend club features live music, signature cocktails, and tasty shared plates. It’s the kind of venue everyone in the city knows about, yet it manages to retain its underground charm. The $10 entry fee is well worth it.
- Headquarters Beercade – Headquarters Beercade may lie just beyond the “official” borders of the River North neighborhood, but it’s still very much a part of the area. And while the vintage pinball and arcade games are the centerpiece, the food, and drinks aren’t bad, either. A night at HQ is like the birthday party you always wanted as a kid—but better.
- Blue Chicago – For a more low-key night out, this blues venue is the best place to enjoy live music while still holding a conversation. Music usually begins at 9 pm; don’t forget to bring some cash for cover.
Why River North is one of Chicago’s best neighborhoods
Aside from all its excellent restaurants, bars, and venues, River North is also a great location to visit thanks to its:
- Walkability and transportation – Getting around River North is a breeze. All modern conveniences are within walking distance, as are other Chicago neighborhoods, like The Chicago Loop (downtown Chicago) and Streeterville. Public transit is also excellent; wherever you are in the neighborhood, you’re only a few blocks from an L train station or a bus stop.
- Safety – River North is in a relatively safe part of Chicago. While you should always keep your wits about you, the area has so many people out and about at all times that many feel a “safety in numbers” here.
Explore River North with Common
There’s truly so much to love about River North: the attractions, dining scene, and nightlife are all world-class. But all these amenities come at a premium price, meaning that finding affordable housing in this part of Chicago is no easy feat—unless you have Common.
With coliving spaces in the heart of River North at The 8o8 by Common, Common allows you to live close to the action while keeping your expenses manageable. Plus, with private bedrooms, fully furnished living areas, free onsite laundry, and regular cleaning services, you get even more amenities on top of what’s outside your door. The 8o8 by Common also offers studios and 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, if you’re looking to upgrade from roommate living.
Ready to make the move? Find out firsthand why coliving in Chicago is the best way to experience River North and the rest of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods.
- Statista. Population of the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro area in the United States from 2010 to 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/815172/chicago-metro-area-population/
- City of Chicago. Chicago Neighborhoods. https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/doit/general/GIS/Chicago_Maps/Citywide_Maps/City_Neighborhoods_1978_11x17.pdf
- River North CHGO. Some Facts Around the History of River North. https://www.rivernorthchgo.com/news/some-facts-around-the-history-of-river-north
- TimeOut. How River North changed from the city’s industrial center to a booming art district. https://www.timeout.com/chicago/blog/how-river-north-changed-from-the-citys-industrial-center-to-a-booming-art-district-110615
- River North CHGO. About. https://www.rivernorthchgo.com/about