Everything You Need to Know About Chicago's Thanksgiving Parade

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

“What’s up, Doc?” Chicago’s annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, that’s what. Just in case this annual shindig, now in its 85th year, fell off your radar, allow us to bring you up to speed faster than you can say “pass the gravy.” Legendary Looney Tunes ringleader Bugs Bunny has been tapped as this year’s grand marshal, and there’s also a new presenting sponsor — Uncle Dan’s outfitters — in 2018. Have we whet your appetite? Dig out your elastic waistband pants and prepare to gorge on a feast of parade morsels coming your way.

Randy Escalada/flickr
Randy Escalada/flickr
Randy Escalada/flickr

When is the parade?

That’s an easy one: The parade officially starts Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 8-11 a.m.

What’s the route?

You can put away the GPS. The parade route runs straight up State Street, kicking off at Congress Parkway and heading north to Randolph Street.

Prepare to be sandwiched amidst a couple hundred thousand strangers (closer to 500,000 if temperatures are unseasonably warm), all jockeying for position along the mile-long route. If you want to nab a front-row view, organizers say to arrive well before 7 a.m. For a little elbow room, try the corner of State and Van Buren, where a pocket park offers a small opening. People with special needs will find a designated area at State and Jackson.

Want to separate yourself from the pack? Though the event is otherwise free, you can plonk down $60 per person for a VIP experience in the TV Zone, near Randolph and State, which is the only place along the route to catch the performances being staged solely for television. Not to shatter your delusions of being treated like Queen Bey, but the VIP Area consists of general admission bleacher seats, private portable restrooms and the option to buy food and drinks. Kids two and under are free but they have to sit on your lap — think of it this way, at least your legs will be warm. Speaking of which…

Randy Escalada/flickr
Randy Escalada/flickr
Randy Escalada/flickr

What should I wear?

Flip-flops and a tank top would be ill-advised. It is Chicago, after all. In late November. Prepare to lose feeling in your hands and feet, especially after standing still for hours on end. Uncle Dan’s (bought in 2017 by Marcus “The Profit” Lemonis to join his Camping World family) would probably be really really happy if you piled on gloves, hats, and scarves.

How do I get there?

For the love of road rage, take public transportation. It doesn’t get more convenient than the CTA ‘L’ stations at Van Buren and Randolph, which practically bookend the parade route, or the slew of Red Line subway stops on State Street itself. Metra will also get you pretty darned close to the action. If you absolutely have to drive, or Uber/Lyft, be warned that street closures begin at 5 a.m., not only on State Street, but also the east/west streets intersecting State, from Roosevelt to Wacker.

Why should I go?

Come on, Scrooge, get in the holiday spirit. If Santa Claus can schlep from the North Pole to make a cameo, you can trek from North Center or Northbrook.

Highlights will include festive floats, giant inflatables, marching bands and appearances by parade mascot Teddy the Turkey, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Chicago Blackhawks, and equestrian groups to name just a few of the anticipated 5,000 participants. Performances will feature, among others, Ballet Folklorico Sones Mexicanos and the cast of — how timely is this? — “WaistWatchers The Musical!”

 Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

What if I want to make a day of it around town?

Most shops and restaurants in the vicinity of the parade will be closed for the, you know, national holiday, but God bless capitalism, some things will be open. If you’re feeling lucky, try booking a reservation at the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe St., for the hotel’s Thanksgiving brunch buffet (11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.) or turkey dinner (5-10 p.m.). Macy’s Walnut Room, 111 N. State St., also hosts a wildly popular Thanksgiving buffet (5-9 p.m.).

Treat yourself to a less traditional feast AND a movie at the AMC Dine-in Block 37, 108 N. State St., which is screening the holiday classic “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

While loads of retailers, including State Street stalwarts H&M and Nordstrom Rack, are backing off from Thanksgiving hours at their brick-and-mortar outposts, Old Navy is bucking this trend. The store at 150 N. State St. has posted hours of 9am-noon on Turkey Day, great news if you need to pick up an extra layer for parade viewing (shhh, we won’t tell Uncle Dan’s).

Heck, why not skip Thanksgiving altogether and head straight to Christmas. The Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza will be serving up Yuletide cheer 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Of course, you’ll want to capture some selfies to show your followers you’re having the most amazing holiday ever. The best backdrops: the iconic Chicago Theatre sign, which literally screams “Chicago,” Macy’s Christmas window dressing and the “Hamilton” marquee at the CIBC Theatre (18 W. Monroe St.). Don’t throw away your shot.

How do I watch the parade if I don’t want to get off the couch?

Fine, party pooper, it’s totally possible to have your pumpkin pie and eat it too: The parade will air live on WGN-TV Channel 9 and WGN America. A live stream will be available at

For the most up to date information, follow the parade on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Patty Wetli is a contributor to Thrillist. 


Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.


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