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Where to Watch the Air and Water Show: Leave the Beach, Grab a Beer

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | August 15, 2014 5:24am | Updated on August 15, 2014 7:30pm
 Air and Water Show, 2012.
Air and Water Show, 2012.
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Flickr/ Arnie Grever

CHICAGO — The Chicago Air and Water Show hits the city at high speeds this weekend. The sonic booms will be hard to avoid citywide.

Since you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em, but that doesn't mean you have to cope with the chaos at the official North Avenue Beach watch party.

Check out our roundup of alternative watch spots that feature perks locals will love, from full-on festivities to low-key, below-the-radar hangouts. Most include beer.

Lizzie Schiffman says there's plenty of places to grab a drink and a bite and relax ... while planes soar by above you:

For a front row seat: Castaways is the "official air show Center," which means you can't just snag a table and camp out for the day on the down low. Instead they're selling tickets to the public — for Friday's practices, only — for $120 per person. Tickets include a reserved seat on the rooftop, breakfast and lunch and an open bar from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Call 312-662-2500 or email Andrea Frankos at the restaurant to reserve a spot.

 Thousands flocked to Lake Michigan beaches for the Chicago Air and Water Show, which typically attracts more than 2 million people.
Thousands flocked to Lake Michigan beaches for the Chicago Air and Water Show, which typically attracts more than 2 million people.
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DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer

For a lakeshore view away from North Avenue Beach: The sandy shores of Lake Michigan are without question one of the clearest views of this weekend's sky-high displays — but North Avenue beach, the official viewing site, tends to be jam-packed during the weekend. That's why locals in the know congregate at less-official beachfront spots citywide. Avoid the chaos by hitting beaches and parks that jut out into Lake Michigan farther south of the action, like Promontory Point in Hyde Park, 31st Street Beach at Burnham Park and even the Adler Planetarium area nearby on Northerly Island. Montrose Harbor up north tends to draw a crowd, but traveling south along the lakefront closer to Belmont Avenue and Trapeze School Chicago affords a bit more elbow room and "knock-you-off-your-feet fly-bys," according to one DNAinfo staffer who camps out there every year. Beware, though — open containers are a no-no on public city property.

For a bird's-eye Blue Angels view: Located on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center, the Signature Room is one of the only places where viewers can eat and drink while watching aircraft at nearly eye-level. The sky-high eatery will host a viewing party from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday featuring a buffet, extensive bar package and private dining rooms available. Tax and tip are included in the $130 per-person ticket cost. Tickets can be bought by calling 312-280-0465.

For a show with a soundtrack: If you want to watch the show while listening to something other than the occasional deafening "boom," Joe's Bar on Weed Street has live music Friday and Saturday on its rooftop bar at 940 W. Weed St. Local country/rock outfit Simple Remedy performs at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and musician Scott Hamilton will play a free set of acoustic covers.

For a low-budget look: The second annual Bridgeport Air & Water Show takes the spirit of the weekend to the South Side of the city, offering free kites, free fishing lessons and free views of the sky from the high points in Palmisano Park. Confirmed food trucks for the evening include Meatloaf-A-Go-Go, Porkchop, Bridgeport Pasty and Flirty Cupcakes for a low-budget dinner option, free show included.

For choppers served with cocktails: To take in overhead views in style, hole up at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago's THE dec Rooftop Lounge and Bar at 160 E. Pearson St., open from noon-midnight Saturday and noon-10 p.m. Sunday. No special tickets are required, but guests lucky enough to snag a table can stall for hours over bratwurst sliders, popcorn shrimp and cocktails like the blood orange sidecar.

For a weekendlong affair: If you're going to commit to both days of the weekendlong air show, it might be worth splurging on an overnight stay at Hotel Lincoln, a 184-room hotel less than a mile from the official beachfront viewing area. The sweet part of this deal is access to the J. Parker, the hotel's 13th floor rooftop lounge: a block of tables is reserved for hotel guests, available on a first-come, first-served basis. The tables open to the public are all booked Saturday, with a few still available Sunday with reservations. Advance rooms this weekend start at $279.

For a show with a side of sausage: Admit it: If you were braving the bustle on the beach, you'd be packing potato salad or a nice kielbasa for your picnic. Go straight to the source and set up shop at Lincoln Square's Gene's Sausage Shop's rooftop beer and wine garden, open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. The low-key hangout has a mostly unobstructed view of the sky, and plenty of food and drink to justify luxuriating on its communal wooden picnic benches all day. Kick back and watch jets hit supersonic speeds — with a side of schnitzel.

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