In Evanston, it all begins with Northwestern University, the Big Ten School with the Ivy League student body. The community has all the arts, culture, dining, and exuberant recreation attending a college town. Although planners must seek Evanston event venues elsewhere (venue rental isn't possible at Northwestern), the school provides fringe benefits in the form of guest speakers and experts, including performers from one of the country's best conservatories of music.
While Midway International Airport seems closer to Evanston as the crow flies, O'Hare International Airport is actually the best for reaching the North Shore. Travel time can be as little as 25 to 30 minutes. Evanston is also connected to downtown Chicago by the "L" on the Purple, Red, and Yellow lines and by Metra, the regional rail system. Travel time is 30 to 35 minutes. It is actually closer to stay in Evanston and go to Wrigley Field to see the Chicago Cubs than to stay in downtown Chicago.
Conference venues in Evanston are hotel-based. The largest such venue is the 269-room Hilton Orrington/Evanston, which has a ballroom that can seat up to 550 people and a 12,000-square-foot IACC-certified conference center that includes 12 dedicated conference rooms, an 80-seat tiered amphitheater, four additional break-out rooms, and a 10-person executive boardroom. In addition, all of Evanston's major hotels have undergone recent renovations. Most recently, the Hilton Garden Inn completed renovations on all 178 guest rooms and offers 5,000 square feet of meeting space.
Evanston has some interesting venues for special events. Small groups can host a party at the Charles Gates Dawes House, an 1894 French Chateau-style mansion that was the home of the Vice President of the U.S. under Calvin Coolidge. And at the historic The Woman's Club of Evanston, there is a two-story ballroom with hardwood floors and an adjacent enclosed sunporch able to host up to 250 for a sit-down dinner — as well as the Tea Room and Music Room combination, which can host a banquet for up to 150 people. For an edgy urban style, groups of up to 125 people can rent the 3,000-square-foot SPACE (Society for the Preservation of the Arts and Culture in Evanston), a fully equipped, audio-visual music venue.
Downtown Evanston event venues are electric with dining and nightlife possibilities. More than 80 restaurants serving dozens of cuisines are within a few blocks. Among the options: Farmhouse, a Midwestern craft beers tavern and farm-to-table restaurant. Beers, spirits, and a small plates menu are offered at 27 Live, a lounge and live event venue with a variety of options for groups. These take their place among the city’s more interesting restaurants that offer space for private functions.
Evanston's abundant dining scene makes eating fun for meeting delegates, and a dine-around is easy to arrange. For steak and seafood served with live jazz, there is Pete Miller's. At Tommy Nevin's Pub, home-style Irish-American comfort food is served with classic tavern ambience. Quince at the Homestead serves contemporary American cuisine in a lively, comfortable atmosphere. Bistro Bordeaux is an authentic French bistro famous for its ever-changing preparation of foie gras using seasonal ingredients from local purveyors. Prairie Moon Restaurant serves regional American dishes and is known for its unique selection of small-batch and craft beers. And Pensiero Ristorante, which serves contemporary Italian cuisine, is located in the historic Margarita European Inn, an antique-filled, 45-room boutique hotel that was built in 1927 as the Margarita Club for Working Women and features a roof deck that can be used for private functions.
Evanston's location on the shores of Lake Michigan means a waterfront with year-round activity, especially vibrant in the summer with swimming, sailing, kayaking, and waterskiing off sandy beaches that are framed by stately, architecturally significant homes.