Travel

The Coolest Pop-ups in Chicago Right Now

Get to these pop-ups before they disappear.

The Kimpton Gray Hotel
The Kimpton Gray Hotel
The Kimpton Gray Hotel

After another brutal Chicago second winter, spring is finally, thankfully, on our doorstep, and with its arrival comes a whole slew of bespoke, limited-time, pop-up experiences designed to get you out of your house and into a limited-time experience. Some of these will go on to be local institutions as brick-and-mortar, so brag that you had them in the early says, while others will disappear at the end of the pop-up’s schedule, so you can brag that you had them at all. In both cases, you should get out there ASAP.

Semicolon Bookstore
Semicolon Bookstore
Semicolon Bookstore

Narrative at The Kimpton Gray Hotel

The Loop
Through April
After opening in February in honour of Black History Month, the Semicolon-helmed Narrative literary pop-up on the ground floor of the beautiful Kimpton Gray Hotel has been extended not once but twice, and will now stay open through the month of April. The downtown pop-up has all of the charm of Semicolon’s flagship Halsted bookstore, but with added cozy hotel-inspired decor that mimics the design of your book-club-obsessed friend’s carefully curated bedroom, complete with a gigantic, plush bed. The bookstore itself features a wide and rotating variety of art, postcards, stickers, composition notebooks, and, of course, novels. Narrative’s selection highlights works by women of colour. Better yet, 100% of Narrative’s profits will benefit Parenthesis, Semicolon’s literacy-focused non-profit.

Duck Sel‘s pop-up dining series

Uptown
On-going
Duck Sel launched in 2021, the newest project from the tireless, Michelin-starred wunderkind Donald Young (Les Nomads, Temporis, Woodwind, Venteux), and it is one of the most fun and singular pop-up dining experiences you’ll ever have. These social, communal, multicourse meals are hosted at a secret location revealed to diners a day or two in advance of the event. The menu constantly changes, featuring all manner of local, foraged, dry-aged, fermented, and brûléed ingredients. Plus, the optional drink pairings are on-point and range from sake to champagne and back again. This April, they’re also offering a special seven-course Easter brunch featuring delights like Everything Spice Gougère with foie gras, pistachio and preserved rhubarb and a visually stunning Spring Roll with cured cod, daikon, and watermelon nước chấm.
How to book: Reserve via Tock

Wicker Park Farmers Market
Wicker Park Farmers Market
Wicker Park Farmers Market

Winter Market Series at The Robey Wicker Park

Wicker Park
April 2, 9, and 16
Bet you thought you had to wait until May for farmer’s markets to start popping up in Chicago. Not so! April marks the final month of the Winter Market series, hosted at the lobby of The Robey in Wicker Park. Your favourite Chicagoland farmers, butchers, bakeries, and artisans will be there from 10 am to 3 pm on market days.

TableMation studios
TableMation studios
TableMation studios

Le Petit Chef at Fairmont Chicago

Millennium Park
Weekends through May
If you’re looking for a truly unique pop-up outing, dig out your wallet for a reservation for Le Petit Chef, an immersive, animated, augmented-reality dining experience. “What do those words mean?”, you may be asking yourself. Well, the short version is that, using state-of-the-art dining table technology in collaboration with TableMation studios, Fairmont Chicago has turned a five-course tasting menu (with optional wine pairings) into a full-on Pixar movie, complete with the titular Petit Chef scampering around your table preparing your meal before your eyes. Truly, it’s unlike any dining experience you’ll probably ever have.
How to book: Make reservations via Tock

Cellared Beer Fest at The Northman

River North
April 22
This spring, The Northman is kicking off something they, and we, hope will be a regular yearly event-the, Cellared Beer Fest. Your $70 ticket will guarantee you entry into a celebration of cellared craft concoctions, including a tasting of over 40 beers, an appetizer buffet, live music, swag and giveaways from partner breweries, and raffle tickets to potentially win some incredibly rare cellared beers.
How to book: Buy tickets here

Koval X Mom’s Chicago at Guild Row

Avondale
March 31
In honour of Women’s History Month, Chicago superstars Kelly Ijichi and Lorraine Nguyen have partnered with Koval to take over Guild Row for an unforgettable night of gustatory delights. The one-night-only pop-up dinner features three courses (and craft cocktail pairings), from Mentaiko Pasta with lump crab, preserved citrus and chilli alongside a Koval Sour, to a Burnt Honey Cake served with whipped sour cream and yuzu curd, paired against an Espresso Martini.
How to book: Book for the 6 pm or 8 pm seating here

Handmade Market Chicago
Handmade Market Chicago
Handmade Market Chicago

Handmade Market at Empty Bottle

West Town
April 8
Don’t miss the final date of Handmade Market’s stay at Empty Bottle before they close their doors until the fall. On April 8 from noon to 4 pm, over 30 of the city’s best artisans, jewellers, crafters, sewers, tailors, and artists of all stripes will descend on the venerable venue, turning it into an indoor art festival. Grab yourself a mimosa, grab yourself some local handicrafts, and then stick around for the FACS show at 9 pm.

Replay Lincoln Park
Replay Lincoln Park
Replay Lincoln Park

Paddy’s Pub at Replay Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park
Through March 31, though it may be extended
Chicago’s favourite pop-up-slash-arcade-bar dusted off an old classic earlier in the year, bringing back their fan-favourite Paddy’s Pub pop-up for St. Patrick’s Day. Though their website currently lists the pop-up ending at the end of March, the Replay faithful will be aware that generally, these pop-ups get extended, meaning that there’s a decent likelihood that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans can get their Paddy’s fix into April. Even if the decor does indeed come down on the 31st, themed events are planned for early April, such as a “Flipadelphia” flip cup tournament, a live performance of “The Nightman Cometh“, and, most horrifyingly, “The Gang Beats Boggs” challenge, an all-day affair where Replay has challenged attendees to break Wade Boggs’ record of drinking 70 beers on a cross-country flight.
How to book: Reservations are not required for general admission, but tickets may be required for events. Check Replay’s events page for booking information.

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Sam Greszes is a Chicago-based writer who contributes to Kill Screen Magazine, GameSkinny, and ION Magazine.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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