Unique Venues for Your Next Party

When Bonnie Shifrin was planning son Jonah’s bar mitzvah, one thing was clear: he didn’t want a dancing party, like many of his classmates and sister did, to celebrate the occasion.


He chose WhirlyBall amusement center on Fullerton Avenue in Chicago, where guests played bumper-car basketball and other action games.

“People are trying to be creative with fun, unique spaces these days,” says Shifrin, a Lincoln Park mother of three. “It doesn’t have to be the most elaborate or the most expensive, it just has to have new ideas.”

Robyn Bruns, an accredited bridal consultant and owner of Red Letter Event Planning, agrees.

“You want to differentiate yourself, especially if someone had the same event two weeks ago and you’re inviting some of the same people,” she says.

Where will you hold your next affair? Here’s some inspiration:


Brides are moving away from traditional hotel ballrooms and banquet halls in favor of more intimate and memorable venues, says Bruns.

Fashion designer Lara Miller and hubby Mike Finn, both art school graduates, envisioned a gallery-like environment for their August 2009 wedding. They booked Prairie Production, which doubles as photographer Michael Roberts’ West Loop studio. The 4,000-square-foot space is open and white, with a soaring glass wall that overlooks a deck and courtyard.

“We wanted something that was beautiful, but at the same time fun,” says Miller, who decorated minimally with large white balloons and white Chinese lanterns.

“The hotel is one-stop shopping, with more amenities and services,” says Bruns. “It’s easier on you, but harder to make a unique experience.”

More Ideas: The Onion Pub and Brewery, Barrington; Catalyst Ranch, West Loop; Cuneo Mansion & Gardens, Vernon Hills; historic community houses, athletic arenas, museums.

Children’s Events

Two years ago the Shifrins held daughter Jaclyn’s bat mitzvah at John Barleycorn in Wrigleyville.

“My mission was to find a bar that was happy to have our business between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.,” says Shifrin. “They have late-night business, so they were willing to make a deal.”

More Ideas: Legoland Discovery Center, Schaumburg; The Alley, Highwood; Joy of the Game, Deerfield; paint-your-own pottery; scrapbook-making; roller rinks.

Milestone Occasions

Guest lists have grown shorter for personal celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries, but party experiences have become more meaningful, says Bruns.

“Instead of a sit-down dinner for 100 people, they’ll invite 25 or 30 of their closest friends and do something interactive that reflects an interest they have,” she says.

Foodies, for example, might invite guests to a private class at Viking Cooking School in Glenview. Fashion-types will design handbags at 1154 Lill Studio in Chicago.

More ideas: wine tasting, botanic or architectural tour, spa treatments or volunteer work, high tea.

No Place Like Home

After checking out the options, if you still haven’t found the perfect venue for your event, host it at home. Chris Wright of House of Rental in Skokie, Wheeling and Glenview can deliver tents, dance floors, bubble machines, outdoor movie screens, props, backdrops and more to suit any theme. He’s set up formal weddings, luaus, petting zoos and carnival rides.

“You can pretty much create anything in your backyard,” he said.

For ideas on getting your house party-ready, see “Home Entertainment Systems”. For other great party planning resources, visit the Better List.

  Who We Are       NFP Support       Magazine       Programs       Donate