The Chicago Air & Water Show, VIP style
By Carolyn Walkup August 15, 2012 3:16PM
Team Oracle performs at 2011's Chicago Air & Water Show. | File photo
& WATER SHOW
◆ 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 18-19
◆ North Avenue Beach, 1600 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
◆ Admission, free
Updated: September 18, 2012 6:09AM
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 Lake Michigan’s beaches may be willing to pay for interesting upgrades.
Billed as the largest free show of its kind in the United States, the Chicago Air & Water Show will take place from Aug. 18-19.
The best sight lines 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 from $39.90 for a preview cruise to $79.90 for the afternoon lunch cruise on Aug. 18. Cruises are 40 percent lower for children.
Information for the Odyssey, a 749-passenger cruise vessel with three climate-controlled decks, is at odyssey.com or (866) 305-2469; for the Spirit of Chicago, a four-story ship with three dining decks, spiritofchicago.com, (866) 273-2469; and Mystic Blue, featuring the largest picture windows of all, mysticbluecruises.com 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 Center.
For $130, each guest gets a reserved seat, gourmet buffets and commentary during the show.
A breakfast buffet will be served from noon-2 p.m. and include 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 2:30-3:30 p.m. with a variety of house-made delicacies and assorted seasonal fruit.
Reservations may be made at signatureroom.com/upcoming-events or (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’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, 644 N. Lakeshore Drive, also home to Wave restaurant.
Offering unobstructed views of the lakeshore, this event includes a disc jockey, 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 ages 13-20 and free for ages 12 and younger.
Advance tickets may be ordered online only at brownpapertickets.com/event/257048.
The WET deck will be open Aug. 17 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, 800 S. Michigan Ave.
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.-2 p.m. Aug. 18-19, along with cocktails.
Call for reservations at (312) 431-1788 or go to brasseriebylm.com.
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 boathouse.
This pop-up restaurant will be open only during the Chicago Air & Water Show from 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 17-19.
Set prices are $60 Aug. 17 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 castawayschicago.com/sandbar 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, house-made potato chips, cookies and brownies.
No coolers, personal beach chairs or pets will be permitted. Tickets are nonrefundable since the event takes place rain or shine.
The regular Castaways Bar & Grill, 1603 N. Lake Shore Drive 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 to email@example.com.
On Navy Pier, viewing with food and drink is highlighted at two spots: Riva Restaurant, 700 E. Grand Ave., 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.-3 p.m., and reservations may be made at (312) 644-7482 or rivanavypier.com.
Drinks and casual fare such as pizza, bratwursts and burgers will be on tap from a quick-service walk-up window at the LandShark Beer Garden. No reservations will be accepted.
Air show viewing from a floating dock on the Chicago River is an option at Quay Restaurant & Bar, 465 E. Illinois St.
The dock accommodates 120 seats. The regular menu will be served. Information: (312) 981-8400, quaychicago.com.
Carolyn Walkup is a local freelance writer.