Where's the best perch for seeing Chicago's iconic architecture and signature cityscape? The answer to that question is attracting a lot of investment from the city's tallest buildings, according to a new Tribune article, which notes that the John Hancock Center is currently upgrading its observatory, recently renamed 360 Chicago, with stadium benches that allow for a more relaxed view of the sunset. Not to be left behind, the Willis Tower Skydeck will also see some yet-to-be-revealed improvements, according to a spokesman from new owners the Blackstone Group. The Trump Tower is even upgrading its Terrace. While its fair to say the Hancock and Willis Tower offer some of the city's best panoramas, these upgrades suggest they'll continue to attract a good portion of the city's tourist traffic. If you're looking for inspiring views without dispiriting lines, here are some suggestions. It's by no means a complete list, so add any suggestions in the comments.
Cityscape Bar at the Holiday Inn-Mart Plaza (350 West Mart Center Drive)
The name, perhaps, is a bit of a dead giveaway, but this unique location at the crook of the river atop the Sun-Times building provides a prime vantage point for photographing the Loop without massive crowds. What this 15th-story bar can't offer in terms of fancy mixologists it more than makes up for in atmosphere. (the irony of directing people to a hotel, considering the title of this post, is understood)
University Hall at UIC (601 South Morgan Street)
It's fitting the exposed concrete skeleton of this Walter-Nesch designed campus icon looks like a street grid, since views from the top let you looks across countless Chicago blocks. While it's not public access per se, a Flickr pool shows what's possible once you get inside. Even better, the images are somewhat tinted due to the colored glass (#earlyfilter). For a view from the south side, the IIT Tower is also worth checking out.
Cindy's at the Chicago Athletic Association (12 South Michigan Avenue)
This new restaurant atop the renovated hotel just squeezed by, because judging by its popularity, crowd-free isn't the first word that comes to mind. The 11-story building itself, with new interiors and Henry Ives Cobb's imposing façade, offers quite a bit of eye candy, but the view of Millennium Park from this rooftop restaurant is hard to beat. For those who have traveled to other sky-high restaurants in the Loop, such as the Metropolitan Club in the Willis Tower, Cindy's offers a new perch to look at the city's front yard.
Cite at Lake Shore Tower (505 North Lake Shore Drive)
Designed by Mies acolytes John Heinrich and George Schipporeit in the '60s and still one of the tallest residential buildings in the world, Lake Point Towers was built with stylish curves in part to block residents from seeing inside each other's homes. The facade doesn't keep those inside, however, from enjoying one of the best views of the city from the only skyscraper east of Lake Shore Drive. Cite, the French restaurant on the 70th floor, is known for having food that doesn't match the view; to be fair, that's a pretty high bar.
J. Parker at Lincoln Hotel (1816 N Clark Street)
Most of these picks focus views at or near the Loop. This rooftop restaurant and bar above a boutique hotel lets guests scope out the park and northside high rises. Plus, the newly installed retractable roof allows for all-season access.
∙ John Hancock Center's Tilting Observatory Is Pretty Frightening [Chicago Curbed]
∙ Blackstone's Bonkers Price for the Willis Tower is $1.3 Billion [Chicago Curbed]