Last weekend, I drove to Chicago with my mom and my sister. I had never been there before, which seemed silly to me—I’ve traveled all over Europe but haven’t explored my own Midwest backyard.
My favorite part of the weekend was our evening spent in the John Hancock Center, which was recommended to me by a friend who has lived in Chicago for several years.
The building has an observation deck, but you can also visit the Signature Room or lounge to eat while overlooking the city.
The John Hancock Center
The lobby of the building felt like entering an upscale hotel. We followed the other visitors towards the elevator area at the back of the lobby.
You can set up reservations at the restaurant, but the lounge is less pricey and doesn’t require reservations—and we are not great at planning ahead—so we decided to go to the lounge.
The lounge is open to people under 21 only until 7pm.
95 floors up
We were not expecting the line! It wrapped around twice, past the elevator room and down the hall. Guards directed us where to go. We probably waited for around 20 minutes—the line moved pretty quickly. We were there on a Sunday; likely the weekend was busier than a weekday would have been.
If you visit the Signature Room, be sure to plan accordingly!
The guards counted off and directed groups of people into the elevators, which bring you first to the restaurant to let off any guests with reservations, and then up one more floor to the lounge.
When you reach the lounge, there is another long line to get a table. I’m guessing we waited for another 20-30 minutes. The line is placed at the back of the lounge, so while you can see the view through the windows to some degree, you are restricted by the other guests that are already seated.
One Signature Room secret is the women’s bathroom. After waiting in line for 45 minutes, you are just ready to take some pictures of the skyline. You are craning to see the lake and the city over the heads of the people who are eating as you move through the line.
If you’re with a group, you can hop out of line to use the women’s restroom (I can’t speak for the men’s), and inside, beside the sinks, is a floor-to-ceiling window with a stunning view.
You are given the option to wait for a table by the window. If you are fine with a table placed away from a window—you can still see the view, you just aren’t right next to it—you may be able to be seated more quickly once you near the front of the line.
I’ve been in quite a few tall buildings in Europe and New York, and usually I’m not passionate about the experience. But the Signature Room was something else. I had never been on a 95th floor before; it reminded me of the view you see from an airplane.
We were expecting the lounge to maybe have a bar and serve some dessert, but when we were finally seated, we learned it is basically a restaurant in its own right.
There were a number of light options on the menu, such as nachos and wraps. We ordered the margherita pizza, which was honestly fantastic. We split the pizza between three people, and it felt like a little bit of a stretch; two would have been preferable.
We finished our dinner off with a delicious slice of mousse cake topped with gold dust.
Both food and drinks were pricey, which is to be expected at a nice restaurant in a big city. To give you an idea of the prices, our small pizza was $18, and my mojito was $17.50. To see more, view the lounge menu here.
When we were finished eating, we stood in line again (a much shorter one—probably around 10 minutes this time) to take the elevator back down to the ground floor.
If you are planning to do an observation deck in Chicago, I would recommend the Signature Room. Being able to sit and look out at the city lights while having dinner in a bustling, atmospheric lounge was fun. I wish I had dressed up more, because it really was a nice place.
It didn’t hurt that the food was great, either.
Other reflections on Chicago
A few other highlights from my trip included seeing the historical stones on the Tribune building, visiting the incredible fairy castle dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry, trying Stan’s Donuts (I highly recommend the Biscoff Banana Pocket), and, of course, eating deep-dish pizza.
Chicago has a beautiful downtown and a large network of public transportation. It’s clean in a way that reminded me of London and big-city in a way that reminded me of Seattle and New York. It has quirky, unique tourist destinations, such as the famous Bean, and enough museums, theater, shopping, and greasy food to keep you entertained for days. But it’s a lot more touristy than I’m used to, and I missed the character and green spaces of my comparatively little Minneapolis. I’m glad that I had a chance to experience the main metropolitan hub of the Midwest and see Lake Michigan. And I’m glad that I got to leave behind the crazy traffic and return home to quiet Minnesota at the end of the trip.