Best of list

Chicago’s Top 25 Parties & Galas of 2015

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.


Photo by Christopher Andrew

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.


VenueMoonlight Studios

Event Production: Canvas

Sound: Sound Investment AV

Catering: Haut Boxx

View more photos


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

CateringJewell Events Catering

Band: Maggie Speaks

DecorThe Flower Firm

View more photos


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.


VenueMorgan Manufacturing

Food: Davanti Enoteca, Moto, Purple Pig, SundaParamount Events

Band: Chicago Players

DJ: Betty Nguyen

View more photos


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


VenueThe Geraghty

Event Production: Kishbaugh + Partners

DecorKehoe Designs 

CatererParamount Events

PhotographerSheri Whitko Photography 

Video: Indirap Productions

View more photos


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

DecorHMR Designs

Silent Auction: Paddle8

Live Auction: Sotheby’s

Photographer: Kent Drake Photography


Photo by Sheri Whitko

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

PhotographerSheri Whitko Photography

DecorKehoe Designs

Food: Hilton Chicago

View more photos


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

Photographer: Sheri Whitko Photography


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.


VenueThe Geraghty

Decor and experienceKehoe Designs

View more photos


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.


VenueThe Field Museum

DecorHMR Designs

Music: Rich Daniels and The City Lights Orchestra

CateringBlue Plate


Photo by Jasmin Shah

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

CateringParamount Events

View more photos


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


Photo by: Sparenga Photography

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.


VenueThe Drake Hotel

DecorKehoe Designs

Photo by: Sparenga Photography


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

DecorRevel Decor

CateringLimelight Catering

Photography: Erika DuFour Photography


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


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

PlannerHMR Designs


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,, as well as renowned Chicago architect Helmut Jahn, who was in attendance celebrating the festival’s spotlight on Architecture + Space + Design.


Venue: Auditorium Theatre

Food: Whole Foods Market, Jewell Events Catering

Drinks: Wansas Tequila, EFFEN Vodka, Dark Horse Wine, Stella Artois


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 PartyCindy’s 

Food and beverage: Land and Sea Dept.

Dessert:  Vosges

Music:  Buddy Guy


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.


VenueCafé Brauer at Lincoln Park Zoo

Caterers: Limelight Catering, Wolfgang Puck, J&L Catering

DecorRevel Decor, Sound Investment AV, Hall’s Rental and BBJ Linen

MusicBeat Mix Music, Okyne Media

PhotographyRick Aguilar Studios, Lofty Weddings, Sprung Photo, Doug McGoldrick Photography

Videography:, Poetic Productions and Hendzel Productions

PlannerSQN Events, Greatest Expectations, Liven It Up Events


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


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


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


Photo by Alain Milotti

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

CateringJewell Events Catering

DecorHMR Designs

Band: Dr. Bombay

Event ManagementRevel Group

Photography: Robert Carl, Alain Milotti Photography and John Reilly Photography


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


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