5 Ways to Be Productive (and Play) on Your Business Trip in Chicago

Where to meet over drinks on your next business trip to Chicago. (Photo: MaximShebeko/Thinkstock)

Visiting Chicago on business doesn’t have to be all about work. The Windy City boasts an array of hotels, restaurants and activities to boost your productivity and also help you unwind. With these picks, you’ll find inspiration and productivity both on the job and off.

  1. Best tech hotel: Renaissance Chicago. Merging the business of Chicago’s downtown Loop with the pleasure of State Street and the Theater District, the newly renovated Renaissance Chicago invites work and play in the ground floor lobby bar and convivial stadium seating area where creatives from the ad agency upstairs mix with Microsoft techies in town for meetings. If you have deadlines to meet, take your laptop to the swanky VIP lounge, a quiet place to sit and work conveniently located next to the lobby bar.
  2. Business lunch: Sepia. Discuss facts and figures without overspending at this Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by renowned chef Andrew Zimmerman, The rustic décor at Sepia provides a contemporary-yet-casual ambiance ideal for talking business. For a well-rounded midday bite, opt for the $20 “Pinto box,” a three-course meal served all at once in a stylish take on the Japanese bento box created by Chicago fashion designer Maria Pinto, for dining in or taking out.
  3. Business dinner: North Pond Restaurant. Head to Michelin-starred North Pond Restaurant for a relaxing evening in the hands of chef Bruce Sherman, known for serving honest food from local purveyors in a lovely Craftsman-style former Lincoln Park boathouse. You can enjoy views of the park and the city skyline while sipping a flavorful cocktail and indulging in New American dishes like marinated lamb with snap peas or a steamed bass filet over asparagus purée — both of which would be a pleasant end to a productive day.
  4. After work cocktails: The Violet Hour. A Wicker Park stalwart and the winner of the 2015 James Beard award for Outstanding Bar Program, The Violet Hour pours handcrafted cocktails in a chandelier-candle-and-Converse ambiance. This chic bar provides plenty of room for groups to mingle, as well as several more secluded nooks and crannies ideal for a more intimate drink. On the menu you’ll find classics like the Dark & Stormy and the Old Fashioned rubbing elbows with creative concoctions like the Tremulous Things I Said (a mixture of Dorothy Parker, lemon, Cocchi Americano, Marie Brizard Cacao, egg white and Underberg bitters).
  5. Extra play day: Evanston. For miles of unspoiled lakefront, unique shops and great restaurants, take the El train’s purple line 30 minutes north of downtown Chicago to Evanston, home of Northwestern University. Browse the Saturday morning seasonal Farmers’ Market or drop by cozy Hewn for hand-forged breads and pastries before heading to one of five sandy swimming beaches. After a bit of shopping and a pause at Vinic Wine for the Saturday afternoon wine tasting, try the authentic Italian pastas at funky La Macchina Café or the New American cuisine at Boltwood, named one of Chicago Magazine’s best new restaurants for 2015.