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31st Street Beach Spin Class Nights Are Part Health Club, Part Happy Hour

By Mark Konkol | June 17, 2014 8:42am
 Pier 31 owners Nikki Hayes and Kim Williams turned the 31st Street concession stand into a beach bar with a fitness bent.
Pier 31 at 31st Street Beach
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BRONZEVILLE — There's a hidden spot on the lake where you can get a little sun, treat yourself to a tasty cocktail and burn a few calories at spin class with sweeping skyline views.

And it's not on the North Side.

It's a bipolar beach deck — equal parts health club and happy hour on Mondays and Tuesdays — tucked away at 31st Street Beach.

"You can't really see us from the street, so it's kind of a secret except for people who know,” Pier 31 co-owner Nikki Hayes says. "But we're getting a lot of buzz on social media, and it's becoming a destination spot.”

I stumbled upon Pier 31, the tricked-out concession stand turned beach bar with North Side amenities and arguably better views, while walking my dog near 31st Street Beach.

While a few folks sipped fruity cocktails under beach umbrellas, Aaron Foster had his mobile spin class studio set up to lead spandex-clad ladies on a 50-minute work out that costs $20 and aims to burn about 600 calories — or the equivalent of two $5 margaritas.

"We really get a mix of people. Some do the spin class, and others enjoy watching people sweat while they drink margaritas,” Hayes said. "It's like watching Billy Blanks on TV.”

On Monday, Jonathan Speller sipped a margarita while his wife, Dr. Jada Speller, pedaled to R. Kelly tunes at spin class.

"I don't feel guilty at all. I run in the morning. She sleeps in,” he said between sips.

"I come to motivate her. She likes the stationary bike. She likes the instructor. I love the music. And this is the kind of thing we need on the South Side. We need more exercise.”

Hayes' business partner, Kim Williams, said the beach bistro's business plan centers on the idea that South Side beaches just don't have the same amenities you'll find at Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach up north.

"Everything fun and exciting and pampering for Chicagoans is on the North Side, and South Siders need pampering too,” Williams said. "The slogan here is, 'Pier 31, because everybody can't make it to Maui.' We want being on the deck to feel like you're on vacation on an island, a place to relax.”

Williams, a high-energy exercise nut with seven marathons under her belt, says the twice-a-week spin classes that started this year attract both folks working to improve their beach bodies and people who like to watch a good beach body at work.

"Half the deck is people sweating on 15 spin bikes, and the other half is people talking, eating and drinking while watching people spin,” she said. "It's a way to combine fun, sun and exercise. I love how it brings Chicagoans together.”

Foster, the tattooed spin instructor, says he's the only guy running a spin class on a Chicago beach.

"This is a way for people not to be cooped up in a gym. You're getting a true fitness experience on the beach,” he said. "And there's a great social aspect to it that's a lot of fun.”

After sipping sangria on the drinking side of the Pier 31 deck, Wendy Simmons and Kelly Crunch felt, well, inspired by the sweaty ladies on the bikes.

"We absolutely love it here … We're actually thinking about taking a classes,” Crutch said with a sly grin. "After we enjoy these sangrias.”

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