Photo: Smartbar, by Raul Juarez

One of the best parts of being in the hospitality industry is personalizing that hospitality. It’s a great feeling to make folks feel welcomed and entertained; it’s fulfilling on a whole other level to do it in a way that’s uniquely ours. You can’t get the Catalyst Ranch experience anywhere else.

More than just colorful walls, our hospitality comprises three big pieces:

  1. Evocative environment
  2. Engaging experiences
  3. Our “Champagne Customer Service.”

The first two are intentionally offbeat; they’re unfamiliar in order to provoke new ways of thinking from your disorientation. The third, conversely, makes sure you feel safe and taken care of, so you can make courageous leaps of creativity. So while you’re in this new territory, you still feel at home.

We welcome you to our house.

We welcome you to our city.

Our staff provides Champagne Customer Service while you’re at Catalyst Ranch because we welcome you to our house, so to speak. But what happens when you leave 656 West Randolph?

Chicago is still our home turf, so for our clients coming from out of town—be it for a meeting, work retreat or wedding—we’d like to make you feel even more at home in what might be unfamiliar. We welcome you to our city.

Ranch Recommendations

We humbly offer a sampling of our favorite things in Chicago. Our hope is that it invites you further into this place we call home, to give you a one-of-a-kind view of the city of Big Shoulders. We’re so glad you’re here.

*And for folks who do live here: Hi, neighbor! Have a peek into the Ranch Hand’s Chicago. Perhaps there’s a gem in here you haven’t yet found!

Part 1: How We DO Chicago

Everyone knows Chicago is a great food destination. We have so many dining recommendations that they deserve their own list. Here first we cover our favorite things to DO.

For Part 2: How We EAT Chicago, click here!

*We’ve categorized these recommendations with a general occasion or time frame, but all of these can be enjoyed whenever you’re inclined.


The historic Chopin Theatre opened in 1918 and thrives to this day hosting theater, literary, music, film and social events. It is beloved by both local and international touring performance companies for its storied, vintage architecture and cozy vintage vibe. Sound familiar? Ranch staffer Kira fell in love with it this past year when she attended a locally-celebrated production of Sweeney Todd and noted a certain kinship with Catalyst Ranch: “I go to a lot of live plays/Broadway shows and the atmosphere at the Chopin Theater is so unique. The lobby and bar areas have Victorian style furniture, really cool antique artwork. The décor was really awesome, almost old style Ranch-y!

Where are my singers at?? Bobby Loves is a Lakeview staple and one of the most welcoming of all the watering holes in Northalsted (formerly known as Boystown). It gets crowded sometimes at this cozy karaoke place, but all the better to foster Bobby Loves’ encouraging party atmosphere! Ranch staffer Lyndon says, “My ideal Friday night starts off going to Karaoke at Bobby Love’s in Northalsted. It’s a really fun hole in the wall with really friendly staff and patrons and some of the best singers I’ve ever met in my life. After a few songs, I’ll walk through the rest of the NoHa area and find somewhere for some drinks and dancing.

The Metro is a storied music venue in Wrigleyville that hosts midsize touring acts of myriad genres, and SmartBar is the venerable dance music nightclub in the Metro’s basement level. It’s the Chicago music venue that Lyndon has been to the most, as he frequents Queen!, the Sunday night house music party where many of the city’s queer crowd end the weekend. And though Queen! usually occupies only SmartBar, Lyndon says, “on special nights [SmartBar and the Metro] are connected to make a multi-level experience with various DJs and areas to mingle and dance.


  • The Catcade – Cat Café, Rescue and Lounge
    1235 West Belmont Avenue

The Catcade has been occupying its storefront space on Belmont since 2017, but if you walk past their big windows without seeing their Space Invaders-style logo sign, you might think it’s just a cat heavy daycare. “But, wait, are those also humans I see hanging out with these cats??” Yes, you’d realize, it’s is a lounge where folks go to just BE with a bunch of cute felines. There are a few old-school arcade games, but the stars here are the animals. Says Ranch staffer Bryan: “If you’re a cat person, spending an hour at The Catcade is practically therapeutic. They’re all rescues and available to adopt, so you’re likely to find a buddy you’ll want as your next roommate!

  • Mission Control Arcade Bar
    1408 West Morse Avenue


If you felt The CatCade was a bait-and-switch, here’s an actual arcade, in the Glenwood Arts District, where the games are the main event, all in a neighborhood pub atmosphere. It’s one of Ranch staffer Mike’s favorite hidden gems: “It’s charming. They’re a newer arcade bar in the city, with some well loved arcade games, pinball and a good amount of other nostalgic games. If you have kids in tow, all ages are welcome on weekend afternoons, so families can visit without the evening bar crowd.Check out their Instagram to see when they host pop-up markets featuring local artisans and vendors.

  • AMC DINE-IN, Block 37
    108 North State Street, 4th Floor


One of our hardest-working staffers is Shawanda, who’ll manage the rollout of several groups’ meetings at a time. After running around the Ranch all morning, she knows very well how to rest her feet. “I never knew I needed a comfy chair until I started working at the Ranch! They have the best comfy chairs in Chicago. But outside of that, I love the seats at the AMC at Block 37. I went there for Mother’s Day and fell asleep in the recliner so fast, I missed the whole movie!” This AMC has tasty food and drinks delivered to your comfy recliner to make your movie viewing extra enjoyable, plus plenty of treats and shopping close at hand once you step out of the theater.


More often than not, the atmosphere at a farmer’s market is easygoing and genial, greasing the wheels of small talk between strangers and neighbors. You get a nice slice of whichever neighborhood whose market you’re ambling through, on top of meeting a slew of Midwest food growers and other artisans. For Ranch staffer Mike and his husband Dennis, it’s a must: “Our ideal weekend is getting up early to get a walk by the lakefront trail when its not as cold as Siberia, and grabbing some breakfast at our favorite li’l diner and then doing a pass at the Glenwood Sunday Farmers Market for a lunch we make at home.

Mike’s diner picks will be featured in the next Creative Juice installment, but at the market, he insists you get Stamper Cheese‘s smoked mozzarella string cheese. The Glenwood Sunday Market season resumes June 4.

When Mike’s strolling around Rogers Park up north, Kira can be found on the West side for one of her low-pressure Sunday go-to’s: soaking in the beauty at the Garfield Park Conservatory. “It’s just gorgeous, relaxing, so fun to walk through. The fern room is my favorite. But the whole place is simply wonderful. Surround yourself with plant life!” There’s plenty to explore in the two acres of greenhouse and ten acres of outdoor gardens of this historical landmark, including the grand architecture. Check their calendar for their numerous special events and exhibits.

And with the North and West covered, Bryan bikes southbound toward Hyde Park. If you’re up for it, he recommends you use his preferred means of getting there: by bike. Head south from Navy Pier on the Lakefront Trail (Thanks, Chicago Park District!), take a Lake Michigan selfie in front of the planetarium, then zen out for a few miles with the Hyde Park Art Center as your destination. “There’s nothing better on a sunny Sunday mid-morning than biking the Lakefront Trail with a pastry and art as your reward, thanks to the Art Center and its attached café.” Enjoy a number of exhibited artists, plus frequent interactive days, artist events and more.

In Part 2 of Ranch Recommendations, we’ll give you our hot spots for filling your belly! Stay tuned…

Click here to see our curated list of Meeting Add-Ons, for large groups needing diversion after meeting at Catalyst Ranch.

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