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Alternative sites for catching thrills of Chicago’s Air & Water Show



♦ 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 18-19

♦ North Avenue Beach,
1600 N. Lake Shore

♦ Free

♦ Visit chicagoairand

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Updated: August 23, 2012 9:59AM

Chicago Air & Water Show fans who don’t mind splurging to get the best views have a number of alternatives this year. Although these VIP views do not come cheap, viewers who’ve tired of crowding onto lakefront beaches may be willing to pay for interesting upgrades.

This year’s event, the largest free show of its kind in the country, takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 18-19. Best sightlines are along the lakefront from Oak Street Beach to Fullerton Avenue. The show center is at North Avenue Beach, and Ohio Street Beach also offers good free viewing.

Air show headliners include the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights, the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs, and, of course, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Expert water skiers will show off their skills and stunts on the lake, as usual.

And fans can see part of the show on Aug. 17 when practice runs take place.

You don’t have to own a boat to watch the show from the water. Three cruise ships that dock off Navy Pier — The Odyssey, Spirit of Chicago and Mystic Blue — are featuring buffets and entertainment on board in addition to great views and lake breezes. Reservations are required for all cruises, which range in price from $39.90 for a preview cruise to $79.90 for the afternoon lunch cruise on Saturday, plus sales tax. Cruises are 40 percent lower for children. Information for the Odyssey, a 749-passenger cruise vessel with three climate-controlled decks, is at or (866) 305-2469; for the Spirit of Chicago, a four-story ship with three dining decks,, (866) 273-2469; and Mystic Blue, featuring the largest picture windows of all, or (877) 299-7783.

Restaurants in lakefront high-rise buildings provide good views from the right windows. Premier views can be secured for a limited number of early registrants in one of the private dining rooms in The Signature Room at the Ninety-Fifth in the John Hancock building. For $130, each guest gets a reserved seat, gourmet buffets and commentary during the show. A breakfast buffet will be served from noon to 2 p.m. that includes buttermilk fried chicken with hot sauces, smoked trout salad, New York strip sandwich and heirloom tomato salad with house-made mozzarella and basil.

A dessert buffet will be served from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., complete with all varieties of housemade delicacies and assorted seasonal fruit. Reservations may be made at or at (312) 280-0465. Show viewers willing to take a chance on getting window seats that are first-come first-served may take the elevator to the Hancock Building’s Signature Lounge at the 96th, opening at 11 a.m. each day. Food and drinks are a la carte.

Another VIP experience is available at the new outdoor WET sundeck on the 7th floor of the W Chicago Lakeshore at 644 N. Lakeshore, also home to Wave restaurant. Offering unobstructed views of the lakeshore, this event includes a DJ, unlimited food such as burgers and hot dogs and specialty cocktails.

Tickets will be sold in advance and at the door for $150 each day for adults, $25 for young people aged 13 to 20 and free for children 12 and under. Advance tickets may be ordered online only at

The WET deck will be open Friday with its regular a la carte menu for those preferring to watch the practice.

The air show portion can be seen a bit farther south from the 70-seat patio at Brasserie by LM at 800 S. Michigan. Cocktails and a “croque” menu, including three French-style toasted sandwiches — a croque monsieur, croque vegetable and croque salmon or a $25 brunch menu du jour will be served from 11 am. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, along with cocktails. Call for reservations at (312) 431-1788 or go to More casual viewing accompanied by food and optional alcoholic beverages can be had at the Sand Bar Beer Garden at the northeast corner of the North Avenue Beach Boat House. This pop-up restaurant will be open only during the Air and Water Show from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 17-19.

Set prices are $60 Friday for practice day and $75 each day of the show. Anyone buying 10 or more tickets gets a 15 percent discount. Tickets can be purchased at or at the door, if any remain. The all-you-can-eat buffet includes Black Angus burgers, barbecued chicken breast, all-beef hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, fruit salad, mixed green salad, housemade potato chips, cookies and brownies.

No coolers, personal beach chairs or pets are permitted. Tickets are non-refundable, since the event takes place rain or shine.

The regular Castaways Bar & Grill at 1603 N. Lake Shore at North Avenue Beach also will offer premium views for $160 including breakfast, lunch and an open bar. Limited tickets may still be available; e-mail

On Navy Pier, viewing with food and drink is highlighted at two spots: Riva Crab House at 700 E. Grand and The LandShark Beer Garden at the east end. Riva’s a la carte menu and themed cocktails and dollar oysters can be ordered. Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and reservations may be made at (312) 644-7482 or

Drinks and casual fare, such as pizza, brats and burgers, are on tap from a quick-service walk-up window at The LandShark Beer Garden. No reservations accepted.

Air show viewing from a floating dock on the Chicago River is an option at Quay Restaurant and Bar, 465 E. Illinois. The dock accommodates 120 seats. The regular menu will be served. Contact information is (312) 981-8400 or www.quaychi

Carolyn Walkup is a local free-lance writer.

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