There's something sexy about a blacktie event. Every guy thinks he’s James Bond, even if he’s stuffing himself into a tux he purchased two presidential administrations and 20 pounds ago. Admit it, the first time most of us ever donned a tux we caught our reflection and internally whispered, “Bond, James Bond.”
Ladies experience the same kind of thing, but it’s a little less 007 and a lot more Cinderella. Rushing out the door with her agitated escort tapping his patent-leathered foot, a woman’s greatest hope is that her hours of preparation will not go “pumpkin” before she gets home.
Back in the day Chicago’s black-tie season lasted only a few months each fall. North Shore swells trundled downtown in sensible, wood-paneled station wagons, box-stepped to the saccharine strains of The Lester Lanin Orchestra (think Lawrence Welk on muscle relaxers) and returned home in time to catch David Susskind and nod off to sleep satisfied in the knowledge they’d done their part for the widows and orphans.
Today there’s no end to it. It seems that every weekend there’s another ball, gala, benefit, dance, fling or fill-in-the-blank-a-thon. Generally these are great events for worthy causes, but there are some where, at the point of a gun, not a single attendee could tell you what the event actually benefited (and that includes the organizing committee).
Because there are so many events, organizers have had to become increasingly creative in their choice of venue. Sure, hotel ballrooms are still packing ’em in, but increasingly creative planners have turned to spaces that are better known for their daytime uses.
A. Finkl & Sons Co. Jarrow Building
Who would have ever thought that a factory where sparks fly (literally) would be such a draw? There aren’t many operational steel mills in America from which you can throw a baseball and hit a $5,000,000 home. This is one of them. Tucked behind the Clybourn Corridor, haunting warehouses look more like the scene of a movie mob hit than a martini bar, but somehow it works.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Definitely a warm-weather venue, but if it’s too hot or humid the natural musk of the inhabitants can become a factor, and I’m not just referring to the animals. There’s nothing quite like sipping on a mimosa while a gibbon judgmentally stares back at you.
Similar vibe to the zoo, but if you’re having dinner in the aquarium halls, order the chicken.
Navy Pier Grand Ballroom
Unlike our other entries, this was built as an event space a century ago. But it deserves mention here because unlike the festive rehab of everything else on the pier, the ballroom sits more than half a mile offshore, and feels like an island lost in time. Warning: The lake water is not as warm as it looks after two vodkas.
Very transity. Cool space that harkens to the glamorous era of the 20th Century Limited. I can’t imagine that the millions of travelers who passed through in their Mad Men skinny ties ever envisioned this space being populated with hors d’oeuvres waiters hustling platters of stuffed shrimp. I wonder if there will ever be a day when we can attend a soirée in Terminal 3 at O’Hare.
The Field Museum
The cavernous main hall makes it almost impossible to hear the person sitting next to you, but the drama of being surrounded by prehistoric mammoths is certainly more interesting. The irony is never lost on me that while I’m eating dinner, over my shoulder there’s a T-Rex posed in a position to eat me. If that’s not natural history, nothing is.