Chicagoans are known for throwing incredible events—ranging from intimate cocktail parties to 1,000-person galas. Boasting a mix of stunning décor, surprise celeb appearances and out-of-the-box locations, here are 25 parties from 2015 that were truly unforgettable.
December 31, 2015
Voyager is an annual New Year’s Eve experience produced by the creative production company, Canvas. Each year, the Canvas team takes over a venue and uses installation artwork, projection mapping and tier-one musical acts to transform a Chicago venue into an otherworldly planet. Voyager 2016, hosted at Moonlight Studios, sold out at 1,300 people, and included more than 100 artists and musicians including Chicago’s own Hebru Brantley, and was included in ABC’s live NYE coverage. The concept has a unique backstory: It’s based on NASA’s twin Voyager space probes that were launched into space in the late 1970s.
Venue: Moonlight Studios
Event Production: Canvas
Sound: Sound Investment AV
Catering: Haut Boxx
April 25, 2015
A celebration of the Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibit, Wild Wild Whirl proved to be a wild time. Guests mingled with exotic animals, including a flamingo, a penguin and a cheetah (named, respectively, Warren, Trout and Moyo) amidst a live auction and a seated dinner in a tent decorated by The Flower Firm. The evening was emceed by Eric Ferguson, of The Mix: 101.9fm’s “Eric and Kathy” fame, and featured the band Maggie Speaks. In total, the gala, co-chaired by Romana Malinowski and Sarah Opler, raised more than $1.4 million in support of the zoo’s animals and the Chicago Zoological Society’s education and conservation efforts.
Venue: Brookfield Zoo
Catering: Jewell Events Catering
Band: Maggie Speaks
Decor: The Flower Firm
February 20, 2015
This year, Bright Pink celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Tickled Pink celebration, proceeds of which benefitted the organization’s breast and ovarian cancer prevention efforts. Chicago’s best and brightest showed up to paint the town pink, including Val Warner of Windy City Live, DJ Megan Taylor, Jessica Zweig and Mark Beier. The culinary portion of the evening featured chef stations from 50 of Chicago’s most revered restaurants, among them Davanti Enoteca, Moto, Purple Pig and Sunda. But the highlight was the dancing; live music from the Chicago Players and Betty Nguyen kept attendees grooving all night. Luckily, late night snacks from Paramount Events, Home Run Inn Pizza and Taco Bell ensured no one went hungry.
Venue: Morgan Manufacturing
Band: Chicago Players
DJ: Betty Nguyen
PEAK6, an asset risk management firm, tasks Chicago’s own Paulette Wolf Events to reinvent its anniversary celebration every year. The annual event is focused on a particular theme highlighted with a big-name entertainer (who is always a secret) in a unique space. The 2015 Western-themed bash featured a mechanical bull, a lasso and gunspinning demonstration, a whiskey bar and a surprise performance by Amerian Idol judge and country legend Keith Urban. View more photos
Venue: The Geraghty
Event Production: Kishbaugh + Partners
Decor: Kehoe Designs
Caterer: Paramount Events
Photographer: Sheri Whitko Photography
Video: Indirap Productions
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART’S BENEFIT ART AUCTION
October 23, 2015
Approximately 500 of the world’s most esteemed artists, collectors and gallerists, including Nick Cave, Neil Bluhm, Theaster Gates and Kavi Gupta, came to bid on silent and live auction works displayed throughout the MCA’s galleries. Guests enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while perusing the silent auction, before making their way into a kaleidoscopic tent enveloping the MCA’s sculpture garden, designed by HMR Designs. Post-auction, guests enjoyed a family-style dinner, the highlights of which were maple-glazed heirloom squash salad, petite lobster rolls, beef carpaccio, braised short ribs and Iroquois polenta cake, all by Limelight Catering, and paired with Owen Roe Cabernet Sauvignon and Rickshaw Chardonnay. Afterwards, dessert was presented in the Marjorie Blum Kovler Atrium, and attendees placed their final bids. In all, the event raised $3.7 million for the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art
Catering: Limelight Catering
Decor: HMR Designs
Silent Auction: Paddle8
Live Auction: Sotheby’s
Photographer: Kent Drake Photography
October 15, 2015
This annual luncheon is known for being one of the highlights of the Chicago social season. The featured guest for 2015 was Maya Rudolph, who followed in the footsteps of celeb speakers such as Sally Field, Diane Keaton, Rob Lowe, Goldie Hawn, Fran Drescher and the late Joan Rivers. In addition to a moving speech from Rudolph (whose mother passed away from cancer at the age of 31), the highlight of the 1,000-person event was, as always, the “Purse-sue the Cure” silent auction, which featured new and collectible handbags from preeminent retailers, upscale boutiques and private collections.
Venue: Hilton Chicago
Decor: Kehoe Designs
Food: Hilton Chicago
December 11, 2015
Groupon celebrated its 7th anniversary with a 007-themed holiday bash, during which all the Groupon employees were assigned interactive “missions” that brought the James Bond-inspired theme to life. (One mission? Yelling out five words that rhyme with “Bond” in 30 seconds.) Alongside models dressed as spies, Groupon employees sipped flutes of champagne throughout the night and enjoyed a special performance by Salt-N-Pepa.
Venue: Aragon Ballroom
Audiovisual Production: Sound Investment AV
Catering: Foodstuffs Catering
Catering (Food Truck): Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
Decor, Furniture Rentals: Event Creative
DJ: DJ Spider
Entertainment: Jam Entertainment and Creative Services
August 8, 2015
The Geraghty opened in August of 2015 with Tom Kehoe, president and founder of Kehoe Designs, rappelling from a skylight to welcome his guests to the all-inclusive venue. The 25,000-square-foot space not only transformed into an over-the-top magical experience, but a special tribute to his Kehoe Team, key partners in the organization, his father Lou Kehoe and his mother Mickey Geraghty, who was the inspiration behind this venue that bears her maiden name. Other event highlights: BMX bikers, skateboarders and a live hand-painted mural to welcome each guest as they entered the venue. There was also a performance by Norwegian singing/songwriting duo Nico & Vinz, branded hot air balloons, a glowing LED Wall with an interactive projection and dramatic stage lighting to complement changing color washes throughout the venue.
Venue: The Geraghty
Decor and experience: Kehoe Designs
THE FIELD MUSEUM WOMEN’S BOARD’S GALA
October 23, 2015
The annual black-tie fundraiser, which raised more than $2 million, celebrated the Museum’s new permanent exhibition, the Cyrus Tang Hall of China, and drew more than 550 corporate, civic and philanthropic leaders from throughout Chicago and the region. From illuminated lanterns and bamboo centerpieces, to dim sum treats and dinner by Blue Plate, the museum was decorated like a Chinese imperial palace for the event. Throughout the night, the partiers enjoyed green-screen photo booths, a pop-up store showcasing Chinese silks and porcelain pieces. Other highlights included gorgeous floral chandeliers, a moving bamboo wall and cherry blossoms galore.
Venue: The Field Museum
Decor: HMR Designs
Music: Rich Daniels and The City Lights Orchestra
Catering: Blue Plate
EAT YOUR WORDS, AN 826CHI GALA
October 28, 2015
Not many people get a chance to see Jeff Tweedy sing live. And even fewer get to see Tweedy give a live acoustic performance—just him and his guitar. But that is exactly what happened at the foodie-focused 826CHI Gala. 826CHI, the literacy program started by award-winning author Dave Eggers, threw an intimate bash featuring food stations from Chicago’s best restaurants (Momotaro, Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Boka, among others) in an industrial loft-like space in the Fulton Warehouse District. Famous authors mingling with famous chefs and famous musicians? We’ve never been to any event quite like this.
Food: Boka, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Local Foods, mfk., Momotaro, Trenchermen, TWO and Punch House
Music: Jeff Tweedy
Photography: Guts and Glory, Jasmin Shah
August 21, 2015
Normally a party where you have to bring your own table, chairs, tablecloth, napkins and food doesn’t sound like an event worthy of this list. Did we mention that the location isn’t disclosed until the last minute? But it’s a different story with the annual Dîner en Blanc-Chicago. Like similar events held in more than 50 cities in more than 20 countries by the non-profit group based in Montreal, Chicago’s Le Diner is a night to remember, and last year’s, which hosted some 1,500 all-white-clad guests, was no exception. With Alexander Calder’s massive red “Flamingo” sculpture looking on, guests waved their white napkins to signal the beginning of dinner. Sparklers indicated guests were free to mingle and dance, while the sounding of trumpets marked the end of evening—until, that is, the 2016 event.
Venue: Federal Plaza Square
Catering: Paramount Events
ROCKIT BAR & GRILL RE-LAUNCH
May 2, 2015
Rockit Bar & Grill, the River North bar and restaurant that opened 12 years ago, starting the Hubbard Street restaurant trend, hosted a launch party for its redesigned venue. Named “Beard & Boxing,” the bash was co-hosted by (and benefited) the James Beard Foundation just before its Awards Ceremony that same evening. With the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather boxing match on televisions throughout the space, Rockit was packed with screaming energy. Rockit co-owner Billy Dec welcomed his celeb friends, including rapper Common and actress Aimee Garcia. He was even seen high five’ing James Beard President Susan Ungaro.
Venue: Rockit Bar & Grill
Photo by: Kevin Hartman
THE PAWS CHICAGO FUR BALL
November 13, 2015
Pet lovers and four-legged friends alike showed up and showed out at Chicago’s premier canine-friendly black tie event. Co-chairs Melissa and Michael Canning and Corey and JP Marchetti hosted nearly 700 guests and more than 200 pups (all sporting gowns and tuxedos, naturally) at the appropriately titled Fur Ball, emceed by ABC7’s Roz Varon. The live auction, led by David Goodman and featuring items like a South African safari and dinner with Mike Ditka, raised $249,500 for a grand total of $1.6 million for Chicago’s largest no-kill animal shelter. Throughout the evening, furry guests enjoyed paw pedicures and massages from Paradise 4 Paws, recess on an indoor lawn and a doggy feast of chicken and vegetables served in crystal. Their human counterparts took advantage of the Fotio Photo Booth and pet/owner portraits by Caricaturist Ali Cantarella.
Venue: The Drake Hotel
Decor: Kehoe Designs
Photo by: Sparenga Photography
ABOVE THE RAILS GALA
June 5, 2015
The grand opening of the long-awaited “The 606” proved just how excited Chicagoans were about its opening. Even Mayor Emanuel was in attendance. The 950-person, sold-out bash was held along the elevated path, as well as on the grounds of the McCormick Tribune YMCA, where a 20,000-square-foot tent was erected for the evening. Decor featured metal arched “bridges” connecting tables that were inspired by the project’s goal of connecting neighborhoods. Table decor featured simple greenery and wildflowers in reclaimed wooden boxes that reflected plantings found along the trail. During the after-party, multimedia artist Shala created a piece that he encouraged guests to sign, which sold for $8,000 at the live auction.
Venue: The Bloomingdale Trail & McCormick Tribune YMCA
Event planning: Revel Global Events
Decor: Revel Decor
Photography: Erika DuFour Photography
SHEDD AQUARIUM’S BLU: FROG WILD
July 25, 2015
More than 1,050 young philanthropists attended Frog Wild in support of Shedd Aquarium’s Amphibians exhibit. The fête, hosted by co-chairs Jay Healy, Alexis Geocaris Sutton and Christina Talarico, along with the 80-member Auxiliary Board, began in the aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium, featuring marine décor by Event Creative. Shortly thereafter, NBC’s The Voice’s John Martin performed on the Lakefront Terrace and guests enjoyed an aquatic show featuring penguins, beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins, with an emphasis on Shedd’s training and animal care. BLU guests were then encouraged to check out the Amphibians exhibit, plus the Waters of the World galleries where they experienced tastes of more than 20 Chicago restaurants, as well as music by The Salt & The Sea. The fun continued with a surprise fire show by Pyrotechniq, live portraiture by Artbeat Live’s Elliott From and tunes by DJ KJ alongside a firework display. In all, the event raised more than $415,000 in support of the Shedd’s animals and conservation efforts.
Venue: Shedd Aquarium
Decor: Event Creative
Music: The Salt & The Sea Fire Show: Pyrotechniq
Live portraiture: Artbeat Live
DJ: DJ KJ
Dessert: Stan’s Donuts, More Cupcakes, Nespresso
After Party: Filini Bar in Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel
April 2, 2015
One of Chicago’s top events of 2015, last year’s Discovery Ball raised $2.9 million for the American Cancer Society. The 2015 event, themed “Accelerating the Cure,” featured comedian Paul Reiser as the headliner and ABC’s Kathy Brock as the emcee. More than 700 black-tie clad guests were treated to a pre-event reception, silent and live auction, dinner and dancing.
Venue: Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel
Planner: HMR Designs
CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL OPENING NIGHT
October 15, 2015
The stars came out for the 51st annual Chicago International Film Festival kickoff, featuring the Chicago debut of the critically acclaimed Italian film Mia Madre. Highly regarded cinephiles, including leading filmmakers and esteemed actors, came out to celebrate the art of the moving image. Guests included director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and Chaz Ebert (Publisher & Contributor, RogerEbert.com), as well as renowned Chicago architect Helmut Jahn, who was in attendance celebrating the festival’s spotlight on Architecture + Space + Design.
Venue: Auditorium Theatre
Drinks: Wansas Tequila, EFFEN Vodka, Dark Horse Wine, Stella Artois
CHICAGO ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION’S GRAND OPENING PARTY
May 27, 2015
When you spend millions of dollars over three years to renovate a 125-year-old Chicago landmark building, its grand opening is sure to attract a who’s-who of the city. And that’s exactly what happened when the 241-room, world-class Chicago Athletic Association opened its doors last May. On hand at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, where guests were treated to champagne and bites from local chocolate shop, Vosges, was John Pritzker, one of the driving forces and financial backers of the project, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Later on, the party moved upstairs to rooftop restaurant Cindy’s. But plenty of action was to be found in the White City Ballroom, where surprise guest Buddy Guy performed with his band.
Venue: Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
After Party: Cindy’s
Food and beverage: Land and Sea Dept.
Music: Buddy Guy
LOVE IS LOVE, A CELEBRATION OF ONE YEAR OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN ILLINOIS
May 28, 2015
In celebration of marriage equality, STAND UP for Equality gathered some of Chicago’s best and brightest caterers and craft cocktail makers, all focused on the theme “Love is Love.” Caterers included Limelight Catering, Wolfgang Puck, J&L Catering and Entertaining Company. Meanwhile, Revel Décor, Sound Investment, BBJ Linens and Hall’s Rental Company set the lovey-dovey atmosphere with colorful yet elegant décor. The joyous affair did STAND UP proud: proceeds benefitted Equality Illinois.
Venue: Café Brauer at Lincoln Park Zoo
Music: Beat Mix Music, Okyne Media
Videography: KGADesigns.com, Poetic Productions and Hendzel Productions
CHICAGO ARTISTS COALITION’S ANNUAL STARVING ARTIST BENEFIT
June 25, 2015
At the cleverly named Starving Artist benefit for Chicago Artists Coalition, five of Chicago’s most exciting visual artists were paired with equally promising chef counterparts. Formento’s Tony Quartaro, Trencherman’s Pat Sheerin, The Bristol’s Sean Pharr, Venue One’s Shawn Doolin and representatives from Shake Shack joined creative forces with artists Marissa Lee Benedict and Amber Ginsburg, Andrew Rosinski, Maurene Cooper, Tori Terzakis and Stacia Yeapanis to cook up edible “installations.” The evening also featured performances by Power of Cheer and Erin Kilmurray/The Salts, video art by Lilli Carré, Theodore Darst, Kayla Anderson and Snow Yunxue Fu, as well as tunes by DJ Swaguerrilla..
Venue: Venue One
Music: Power of Cheer and Erin Kilmurray/The Salts
DJ: DJ Swaguerrilla
Photography: Spot My Photos
SWIFT & SONS OPENING PARTY
October 15, 2015
Three days prior to the highly anticipated opening of this West Loop steakhouse from the same owners behind some of Chicago’s most beloved restaurants—Balena, Formento’s, The Bristol, Girl & the Goat and Boka, among others—450 guests got a sneak peak of Swift & Son’s creative appetizers, boutique beef and delicious sweet treats, as well as its stunning interior from New York-based design firm AvroKO. It was standing-room-only inside the spacious restaurant, where members of the Chicago Bears, Bulls and White Sox mingled with the city’s food lovers and industry professionals.
Venue: Swift & Sons
GRAND OPENING PARTY FOR VIRGIN HOTELS CHICAGO
April 16, 2015
When you kick off your opening party with a reenactment of the iconic parade scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” complete with a float, music and Sir Richard Branson leading the sing-a-long, you know you’re in for a good time. And that’s exactly what happened at the packed party celebrating the first hotel of the Virgin brand, which happens to be located in a 26-story art deco landmark building in the heart of the Loop. Later in the day, the celebration moved inside the hotel, where Branson and guests, including Haim, Ryan Hemsworth and A-Trak, and models Charlotte McKinney and Jaslene Gonzalez, had access to fetes on various floors—from Moet and specialty cured meats by West Loop Salumi in the ground floor’s Two Zero Three to boozy milkshakes handed out by roller skate-wearing servers at Miss Ricky’s to sushi and stunning city views at rooftop lounge Cerise.
Venue: Virgin Hotels Chicago
ZOO BALL AT THE LINCOLN PARK ZOO
July 10, 2015
Themed “Artic Blast” in a nod to the Lincoln Park Zoo’s soon-to-open Polar Bear and African Penguin exhibits, the annual black-tie gala attracted more than 850 guests and raised more than $1.1 million. The arctic motif extended to a shimmering design scheme, including animal ice sculptures and an ice bar elevated by polar bears carved from ice. A top-notch silent auction, savory feast and cocktails (including one titled “The Aurora Borealis”), and dancing to the sounds of Dr. Bombay added up to a memorable evening of philanthropic splendor.
Venue: Lincoln Park Zoo
Catering: Jewell Events Catering
Decor: HMR Designs
Band: Dr. Bombay
Event Management: Revel Group
Photography: Robert Carl, Alain Milotti Photography and John Reilly Photography
RH CHICAGO, THE GALLERY AT THE THREE ARTS CLUB OPENING PARTY
September 30, 2015
From the over-the-top invitations (decorated with a thick metal key) to the historic space to the food from local culinary star Brendan Sodikoff, the RH Chicago opening was a one-of-a-kind event. The bash brought in more than 1,000 influencers from the worlds of architecture, design, entertainment and art; all the invitees happily perused the 6-story, 70,000-square-foot space. Celebs in attendance included Sophia Bush, Bill and Giuliana Rancic, and Christina Hendricks—all of whom mingled with Restoration Hardware CEO Gary Friedman.
Venue: RH Chicago, The Gallery at the Three Arts Club
Photography: Jeff Schear Visuals, Wire Image, BFA, The BMP Film Co.
Food: Brendan Sodikoff + Hogsalt
Planner: JKLS PR / RH
DJ: Brendan Fallis
MOMENTUM AWARDS DINNER
October 8, 2015
More than 750 of the best and brightest in Chicagoland’s entrepreneurial community came out to support 1871, a hub for more than 300 ground-level tech startups, at the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center’s awards dinner. Featuring Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner as speakers, the evening showcased nominees for four different awards: the Chicagoness Award, the Corporate Champion Award, the Entrepreneurial Champion Award and, most importantly, the Merrick Momentum Award. Of the seven Momentum finalists—Avant, elevate Digital Media, Raise, SMS Assist, Sprout Social, ThinkCERCA and Vibes—Avant and SMS Assist tied for the night’s highest honor. In typical startup fashion, the event was no-tie, and enterprising guests attended the Next Wave After Party post-dinner to celebrate their collective ingenuity.
Venue: Radisson Blu Hotel
Planner: Carmel Creative
Centerpieces: Ivan Carlson
After-party DJ: John Tolva and Jake Trussell