Are you in the mood for a little romance?

John Hancock

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 7, 2000

You think romance and you think of New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, right? Fuggedaboudit. They’re long gone.

But summertime’s here and that’s even better. Think about it. There’s no one pressure-cooker day on which to pin all your romantic hopes and dreams, and you don’t have to stroll arm-in-arm swaddled in down-stuffed outerwear.

There are plenty of ways to spend an enchanted, summer evening in the Chicago area, whether it’s dining at a top-notch restaurant, gazing at the stars from the city’s most awesome vantage point or slow dancing with your sweetheart.

Don’t believe us? To help you with setting the romantic summmertime mood, we’ve assembled our list (in no particular order) of 10 of the most romantic places and spaces in the Chicago area. This is our list (and it was a monstrous task to whittle down all the possibilities); you undoubtedly have dozens of ideas of your own. Enjoy!

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Tru

Imagine going to a restaurant, opening up a menu and being surprised by these words above the list of entrees: “Marry me!” or “Happy Birthday!” At Tru, these specialties are available if you make arrangements in advance.

It’s this flair for going a step above the norm that makes this year-old, Lettuce Entertain You establishment one of the most romantic (and tasty) restaurants in the city. But even without the personalized menus, you’ll feel special.

The understated elegance of Bill Johnson’s design work and the attentive staff is equal to the mouth-watering creations by co-owners Rick Tramonto and Gail Gand, who are chef and executive pastry chef, respectively.

The tables are placed far enough apart so that you can speak in a normal tone without worrying about being overheard. And unlike many establishments where the music is played so loud that you may as well be in a nightclub, the music here is understated and played at a low enough volume that your dining partner won’t have a problem hearing what you say, should you decide to whisper.

Nice touches: the billowy white curtains, velvet purse “chairs” and staff members who accompany you to and from the restroom.

* Tru is at 676 N. St. Clair (312-202-0001). Lunch seatings usually start at noon Monday-Friday. First seating for dinner begins around 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.

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Horse-drawn carriage rides

Sure, a horse-drawn carriage is romantic when there are holiday decorations dotting Michigan Avenue. But the summertime has its advantages, too–like no snow.

Whether it’s the storybook fairytales we all grew up reading or just the novelty of riding around in a carriage powered by something other than fuel, a horse-drawn buggy ride is romance personified.

“About 25 percent of our customers get engaged during carriage rides,” says Debbie Hay, who has run Antique Coach & Carriage Co. for the past 15 years. “It happens all the time. Sometimes it just happens spontaneously. Others plan it out and make prior arrangements to have a dozen roses hidden away in the buggy. It can be really romantic.”

* Carriage stands are located at several North Michigan Avenue locations. Some companies take reservations. Prices vary. Call for more information: Antique Coach & Carriage Co. (312-787-1349); Royal Carriages Ltd. (312) 567-9233; The Noble Horse (312-266-7878); Chicago Horse & Carriage (312-944-9192).

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The Point at Adler Planetarium

“There’s something about being under the stars that appeals to people,” says Dawn Cappel, a spokeswoman for the Adler Planetarium. “We’ve had people propose here. We’ve had weddings. It’s just a really romantic place. It’s a natural, when you think of it. You’ve got the stars and the mythological Venus and Mars thing happening. It’s a romantic notion and I’ve heard from several couples that their proposals were spontaneous and as a direct result of the setting.”

One draw of the Point–that grassy area by the sun dial–is that it affords arguably the most beautiful view of the city. Though folks can’t drive around the perimeter anymore, they can still enjoy the postcard-perfect scenery.

And for romantics who’ve grown weary of stargazing on their feet, there are little mushroom stone sculptures on which they may perch.

* The Adler Planetarium is located at 1300 S. Lake Shore (312-922-7827). Hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday-Wednesday and Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Friday. Admission is $5 to the Platnetarium; it costs nothing to see the view from the Point.

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Buckingham Fountain

Picture this: Buckingham Fountain at night when the lights are aglow. The perfect destination for a romantic stroll, the fountain (based on a fountain in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in France, and who knows more about l’amour than the French?) is one of the city’s best-known landmarks.

Fountains have long held an air of romance about them (think Fountain of Trevi in Rome), and this is one of the most romantic spots along the lakefront to just stop and take in the ambience of summertime in the city.

* Buckingham Fountain is located in Grant Park at Congress and Lake Shore Drive.

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John Hancock Observatory

It’s easy to get a little light-headed when you’re 1,000 feet and 94 floors up in the air. On a clear night, the panoramic view from the observatory is simply breathtaking. Heck, even on a cloudy day, the view is pretty darn good.

Most romantic spot: the screened-in, open-air walkway on the south side of the building at sunset. The view, the glowing city lights and the warm breeze–spectacular. The Observatory was the site of a “Brady Bunch”-style wedding last year, as well as countless proposals.

One man even flew in his girlfriend’s family, intending on proposing to her at the Observatory with all of them present. His plan was to have staff members bring flowers up to the observatory once his girlfriend arrived. But there was a catch. She had an ear infection and couldn’t ride the elevator all the way up. (They still got engaged–just not at the top of the Hancock.)

If you want to continue the evening with a fabulous view of the city, head on up one floor for a meal at the Signature Room at the 95th (312-787-9596), or to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor.

* The John Hancock Observatory is located at 875 N. Michigan (312) 751-3681. Hours are 9 a.m.-midnight daily. Admission is $8.75.

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Lincoln Park, Garfield Park conservatories

For those of you who enjoy the outdoors best when you’re indoors, take your innamorata to the Garfield Park Conservatory. With eight greenhouses sprawling across nearly two acres of land–all under glass–there’s plenty to see, and also plenty of places in which to lose yourselves. For instance, there’s a discreet pathway in the Palm House where you can sit on a bench, surrounded by palms and away from prying eyes.

Take a walk down Horticulture Hall and check out the gorgeous flower exhibits and imagine having your wedding there. Recently, two artists got married there during the Conversatory’s Flamingo Collection show. Everything in the room was pink–the trees, shrubs, foliage.

From the sidewalk running through the hall, guests can see the front of the Conservatory, where a Monet Garden will be planted (and open to the public later this year).

If you like your flowers in a slightly more intimate setting, head for the Lincoln Park Conservatory. During the holidays, there are garden railway exhibits and winter flower shows. But it really doesn’t need any added attractions to complement the lush view (and aroma) of the hydrangeas, crocus, tulips and daffodils. The conservatory is a peaceful haven for lovers looking to spend a lazy afternoon surrounded by natural beauty.

* The Garfield Park Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park, (312) 746-5100. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

* The Lincoln Park Conservatory is located at 2400 N. Stockton, (312-742-7736). Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

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Ballroom dancing at Navy Pier

There’s nothing like being held by your partner as you dance in each other’s arms . . . unless you don’t know how to dance, that is. But heck, that can be easily rectified. Navy Pier’s Dancing Under the Stars offers free lessons at the east end of the Pier.

Live music will be provided by such bands as the Stanley Paul Orchestra, Orchestra of the Americas and the Dick Judson Orchestra. Taught by choreographers such as Tina Mangos, the lessons are from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, with the dance floor open to novices, experts and anyone in between from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Dancing Under the Stars continues through Aug. 29.

Also running on Tuesdays through Aug. 29 are Salsa Nights at the Navy Pier Beer Garden. Featuring the live music of some of the area’s local Latin bands, couples may Merenge, Cumbia and Mambo from 6 to 10 p.m. Free.

And if you want to cap the evening off with a view to a kill, take a ride on the Ferris Wheel (10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; $3.50). The ride is mild enough to enjoy the scenery without palpitations, but just scary enough to give you a excuse to cling to your date.

* Navy Pier is located at 600 E. Grand (312-595-7437).

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Ravinia Festival

Even if your significant other is commitment-phobic, his or her heart will soften with a trip to Ravinia. Unlike most venues where outside food is considered contraband, you’re allowed to bring in your own picnic baskets. And frankly, there are few things more romantic than lying on a soft blanket, enjoying a nice glass of wine with some cheese and fruit and listening to live music as the stars twinkle overhead.

One couple who met at Ravinia even sponsored a garden just south of the Martin Theatre. Morry and Dolores Kohl Kaplan — both trustees of the venue — put up a plaque in the garden that reads, “Ravinia — where we met.”

* Ravinia is located at 400 Iris Lane, Highland Park (847-266-5000). Ticket prices vary.

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The Kaz Bar

Think all bars have to be sticky and disgusting? Think again. Un-named until a few months ago, the Kaz Bar in the House of Blues Hotel is a chic and romantic place to share a few drinks, eat some good food (the menu’s from Bin 36 next door) and just hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

Designed by Cheryl Rowley, the bar exudes hip, lush ambience. The luxurious sofas are cushy and conducive to cuddling, and the tables are spacious enough so that you won’t worry about spilling a thing.

The bartenders there who’ve seen it all have witnessed an engagement or two. But more than anything else, the Kaz Bar is a wonderful place to be engaging.

* The Kaz Bar is located in the House of Blues Hotel, 333 N. Dearborn (312-245-0333). Hours are: noon-midnight Monday-Friday; 1 p.m.-2 a.m Saturday, 1 p.m.-midnight Sunday.

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Japanese Gardens at Chicago Botanic Garden        

There’s a reason why newlyweds pay the $50 fee to have their wedding photos taken at the Japanese Gardens in the Chicago Botanic Garden. Lovely, tranquil and yes, incredibly romantic, the grounds are inspiring and picture-perfect.

The Botanic Garden–which opened to the public in 1972–in general is a romantic place, which is why one man recently called ahead to plan a proposal.

The Japanese Garden actually is comprised of three separate islands with beautiful pathways, delicate bridges and gorgeous rock gardens. It’s these exotic touches, as well as the spectacular foliage that transport you to a different world.

* The Chicago Botanic Garden is located at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, (847) 835-5440. Hours are 8 a.m. to sunset, daily. Admission is free. Parking is $7 per car; $5 per seniors on Tuesday.

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