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If These Walls Could Talk: 10 Historic Chicago Venues for Your Memorable Celebrations

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photographer: Ann & Kam Photography & Cinema | planner: Shannon Gail Events | floral design: Steve's Flower Market | venue: The Rookery

by Jessica Terson, Writer

With world-renowned museums and architectural landmarks, Chicago is a cultural mecca with spots perfect for hosting celebrations as unique as you are. These Chicago venues capture the imagination with stunning designs and interactive exhibits — all rooted in the city’s rich, storied history.  

Host a dinner party next to a World War II submarine at Museum of Science and Industry or experience a “first look” on The Rookery’s iconic oriel staircase. The Art Institute of Chicago offers a backdrop of world-famous paintings, while the Shedd Aquarium adds exotic beluga whales and dolphins to the guest list. With so many extraordinary venues in Chicago, you’ll want to find multiple reasons to celebrate.

Biggs Chicago

Outdoor shot of Briggs Mansion in Chicago
Biggs Mansion

Opened: 1874

Biggs Mansion boasts an interesting history, just like the city of Chicago itself. Originally commissioned by architect John DeKoven as a private residence, the historic estate was completed in 1847, just three years after the Great Chicago Fire. For the next 25 years, DeKoven’s lavish dinner parties routinely made the society pages. Since then, Biggs Mansion has been home to two illustrious Chicago restaurants and a catering company. Now, nearly two centuries later, Biggs Mansion is proud to house Biggs Cigar Emporium. While most days this private club caters to cigar enthusiasts, it’s also the perfect place to host an elegant event. With 15-foot ceilings, seven Italian marble fireplaces, and tiered chandeliers, guests are bound to feel transported to the days of DeKoven’s glamorous galas. Two stately pool tables and handsome leather couches contribute to the sumptuous décor. Even corporate meetings become a celebratory event in the secluded business room. Whatever the event, don’t forget to enjoy one of the 80 types of fine cigars from the ground level retail shop.

Biggs Mansion 1st Floor Capacity: 100 (standing)

Biggs Mansion 2nd Floor Capacity: 100 (standing)

Biggs Mansion Total Capacity: 200 (standing)

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Shedd Aquarium

Dining table in front of aquarium at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
Shedd Aquarium | photographer: WASIO photography Chicago

Opened: 1930

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, a National Historic Landmark, recreates the beauty of an ancient Greek temple with its white marble and terra cotta ornamentation. This world-renowned aquarium boasts breathtaking features such as a majestic glass dome adorned with Neptune’s trident and real marine fossils in the limestone floor. The Shedd Aquarium is proud to be the first inland aquarium with permanent saltwater exhibits. Of course, this world-class museum is more than just a tourist destination; it’s also one of the most exceptional event venues in the country. From May to October, enjoy an outdoor celebration along the lakefront at North Terrace.

The Bill and Stephanie Sick Lakefront Terrace is picture-perfect with views of both the city skyline and Shedd’s immaculate gardens. Guests can marvel at the Shedd Aquarium’s signature 90,000-gallon Caribbean Reef exhibit in the Caribbean Reef (Rotunda) and Aquarium (Galleries). For larger parties, Kovler Family Hall stuns with its soaring ceilings and sea life ornamentation cast in bronze, marble, and terra cotta. For an unrivaled celebration, host a reception in Abbott Oceanarium. Instead of the traditional wedding arch, imagine a backdrop of beluga whales and sea lions. We especially love this Hope Weis Consultants-planned unique Chicago wedding where a group of playful dolphins showed up to witness the exchange of vows.

North Terrace Capacity: 70 (seated) – 85 (standing)

Carribean Reef & Aquarium Galleries Capacity: 600 (seated) – 1000 (standing)

Abbott Oceanarium Capacity: up to 800

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Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Blue lit room at Museum of Science & Industry Chicago
Museum of Science & Industry Chicago | photographer: Merlo Media

Opened: 1933

For the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, architect Daniel Burnham created an opulent “white city” of Neo-Classical buildings. While only two of these original buildings remain on site, one plays host to the state-of-the-art Museum of Science and Industry. With over 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, the Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. It’s also the perfect place to host your next exclusive event. With large Ionic columns and impressive caryatids, this Beaux-Arts masterpiece is guaranteed to impress guests before they even walk through the doors.

Cocktail receptions and corporate events become unforgettable affairs in the Rotunda space. In addition to customizable lighting and a 120-foot copper-domed ceiling, the Rotunda features a real 727 airplane, a historic steam locomotive, and 1,400 feet of winding model railroad track. We also love this intimate gathering where guests celebrated beside the legendary World War II U-505 German submarine. Guests can wine, dine, and even remote control their own Mars Rover in the Henry Crown Space Center. For corporate presentations, consider the Giant Dome Theater. With a five-story domed wraparound screen, there’s no such thing as a bad seat in the house. Outdoor galas are a delight in the South Portico where guests can enjoy the Jackson Park Lagoon.

Henry Crown Space Center Capacity: 150 (seated) – 300 (standing)

U-505 Capacity: 200 (seated) – 700 (standing)

Rotunda Capacity: 1,200 (seated) – 5,500 (standing)

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Mayne Stage

String lights hanging at Mayne Stage in Chicago
Mayne Stage | photographer: Danielle Simone Charles

Opened: 1912

For over a century, Mayne Stage has been serving Chicago in a variety of incarnations. The space originally opened as The Morse Theater in 1912. In the 1930s, the space was renovated with an Art Deco theme and renamed the Co-Ed Theater. From 1956 until 2008, the facility functioned as a synagogue and later a shoe repair shop. Now, after a multimillion dollar restoration, the property is one of Chicago’s hottest event venues. This historic space includes a Theater, Mezzanine, and Lounge, all with a personalized marquee and state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems.

The Theater features booth seating, café tables, and a grand stage. This Joseph Leigh Designs-planned Bacardi corporate event transformed the stage into a real-life boxing ring. The Mezzanine offers unobstructed views of the ground floor and stage. A built-in bar makes it an ideal space for a cocktail reception or VIP dinner. The Lounge can be rented out separately for an intimate gathering. When rented in combination with the other spaces, it makes a perfect bridal party retreat or back-of-house space.

The Theater Capacity: 50 (seated) – 50 (standing)

The Mezzanine Capacity: 50 (seated) – 75 (standing)

Mayne Stage Capacity: 220 (seated) – 275 (standing)

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Café Brauer

Floral arrangements and exposed brick at Cafe Brauer in Chicago
Cafe Brauer | photographer: T & S Hughes Photography

Opened: 1908

It’s no wonder that Café Brauer is one of the most sought after event venues in Chicago. For those looking to escape the bustle of a major metropolis, Lincoln Park Zoo’s gorgeous café beckons animal lovers and party-goers alike. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this iconic building is a classic example of Prairie School-style architecture. A soaring, skylit roof, stained-glass windows, and Tiffany-inspired glass chandeliers make this venue one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Chicago. The twinkling lights installed for this romantic evening wedding from LOLA Event Productions perfectly illuminate Café Bauer’s ethereal beauty. Guests can also admire the Chicago skyline from two adjacent open-air terraces. The Nature Boardwalk, a prairie pond ecosystem thriving with native plants and wildlife, tempts guests to wander out under the stars. From weddings to corporate fundraisers, Café Brauer promises to deliver a celebration of paramount glamour.

Café Brauer Capacity: 300 (seated) – 400 (standing)

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Art Institute of Chicago

People gathered at Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago | photographer: Matthew Kaplan Photography

Opened: 1879

Built in 1893 for the World’s Fair, The Art Institute of Chicago is a work of art in its own right. This opulent Beaux-Arts building, in addition to featuring some of the most important paintings and sculptures worldwide, is a spectacular venue for any large-scale celebration. Step past the Museum’s iconic bronze lion statues created by Edward Kemeys and enter one of 14 stunning event spaces.

We especially love the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room. With main-floor and balcony-level seating, there’s plenty of room for both dining and dancing. Molded plaster capitals, ornate stenciled decorations, and art glass attest to the room’s palatial opulence. Fullerton Hall is equally stunning with its stained-glass dome designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Griffin Court, one of the most coveted event spaces within the Art Institute, is perfect for large-scale receptions. We love the way projected light at this exquisite wedding reception transformed Griffin Court into a celestial wonderland. A floor-to-ceiling glass wall lets guests enjoy views of Pritzker Gardens.

Columbus Court Capacity:  200 (reception only)

Fullerton Hall Capacity: 200 (seated) – 350 (standing)

Griffin Court Capacity: 500 (seated) – 900 (standing)

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Navy Pier

Event space with domed ceiling at Navy Pier in Chicago
Navy Pier | photographer: Kehoe Designs

Opened: 1916

From the very beginning, Navy Pier has been Chicago’s go-to event venue. Built in 1916 and originally known as “Municipal Pier,” the space has held numerous expositions and pageants. The space owes the inspiration for its ambitious design to renowned urban designer Daniel Burnham who laid out his vision for the city in “Plan of Chicago.” Today, Navy Pier comprises over 50 acres of gardens, parks, restaurants, shops, and exhibition facilities. In addition to being Chicago’s number one tourist attraction, it’s also the most visited destination in the entire Midwest.

The historic Aon Grand Ballroom lures tourists and merry-makers alike with its 80-foot domed ceiling and panoramic views of Chicago’s lakefront. The 18,000-square-foot space is perfect for fundraisers and large-scale galas. The Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier is a favorite with brides and corporate event planners. This six-story glass atrium with a 50-foot arched ceiling is a lush paradise with live palm trees and soothing fountains. For large exhibitions and trade shows, consider Festive Hall. With 170,000 square feet of space and an eight truck dock for seamless loading and unloading, this hall is a natural favorite. Meanwhile Lakeview Terrace is a good fit for breathtaking receptions and more intimate exhibitions. This urban loft space features floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping views of both the city skyline and Lake Michigan. We love how Revel Decor transformed the space into a seaside retreat for this nautical-themed corporate event. Top off an evening of celebration with a photo in front of Navy Pier’s iconic ferris wheel and marvel at Daniel Burnham’s vision brought to life.

Lakeview Terrace Capacity: 400 (seated) – 1,000 (standing)

Aon Grand Ballroom Capacity: up to 1,400

Crystal Gardens Capacity: up to 1,500

Festive Hall Capacity: 8,505 (seated) – 8,505 (standing)

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The Rookery

Bride and groom on winding staircase at The Rookery in Chicago
The Rookery | photographer: Cristina G Photography

Opened: 1888

One of Chicago’s most beloved architectural masterpieces is also a dazzling event venue. The Rookery is a designated Chicago Landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by renowned architectural partners Burnham and Root — and later redesigned by luminary Frank Loyd Wright — The Rookery is perhaps the best surviving example of the early commercial skyscraper. The two-story sky-lit lobby transforms weddings and cocktail receptions into personal history-making celebrations. Bronze chandeliers with prismatic glass and gilded white marble columns are the epitome of elegance. We are wowed by this modern glam wedding from Clementine Custom Events, which used chic white draping to create an intimate space within the towering venue. The oriel staircase is an iconic spot for wedding first looks and other picture-perfect moments.

The Rookery Capacity: 170 (seated) – 400 (standing)

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Lyric Opera of Chicago

Large floral centerpieces at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago | photographer: Elena Bazini Photography

Opened: 1929

Lyric Opera of Chicago is a world-renowned concert venue and historic Chicago landmark. Built in 1929, the building is a hybrid of Art Deco and Art Nouveau designs. High ceilings, balconies, and hand-detailed ornamentation make it the ideal place for epic celebrations. For a legendary entrance, guests can walk off the red carpet into the glittering Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Grand Foyer. The mezzanine makes for a stunning cocktail reception space with breathtaking views of the lobby. We particularly love how Paulette Wolf Events utilized the grand stage for vows then transformed the space for the reception at this Lyric Opera wedding. For breakout rooms and additional storage space, host an event in the Graham Room. The piano also makes for a perfect photo op.

Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Grand Foyer Capacity: 150 (seated) – 1,100 (standing)

Sarah and Peer Pedersen Room Capacity: 72 (seated) – 100 (standing)

William B. and Catherine Graham Room Capacity: 150 (seated) – 238 (standing)

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Chicago Cultural Center

White table with white flowers at Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Cultural Center | photographer: Olivia Leigh Photographie

Opened: 1897

The Chicago Cultural Center is a gorgeous Chicago Landmark Building. Constructed in 1879, the country’s top architects used polished brass, imported marbles and fine hardwoods to create a cosmopolitan “people’s palace.” Mosaics of mother-of-pearl, Favrile glass, and colored stone distinguish this event venue as an architectural wonder. The Chicago Cultural Center also boasts the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome and soaring, coffered ceilings. For banquets and receptions, we especially love Preston Bradley Hall. Twenty-five Tiffany glass chandeliers and stunning views of Millennium Park make this room a fairytale retreat from the everyday tumult of a major metropolis. We adore how this winter wedding from Big City Bride utilized the space’s neutral palette to create a chic and romantic, all-white reception.

Preston Bradley Hall Capacity: 360 (seated) – 700 (standing)

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