At the historic Highland Park Theatre, families and film buffs happily munch handfuls of fresh popcorn as spine-tingling thrillers, uproarious comedies, and rich, moving dramas play out on the big screen. The venerable North Shore movie house dates back to 1925, when it operated as the 1,200-seat Alcyon Theatre, which had a single screen that showed silent footage of cowboys racing on horseback, swashbucklers crossing swords, and complex romance plots communicated through drawn-out games of Pictionary. Today, powerful sound systems in the building's four theaters broadcast the dialogue of crowd-pleasing Hollywood blockbusters, as well as critically acclaimed independent films and imported foreign masterpieces.
Established in 1990, the bar and grill formerly known as Pete's Pizza took on its new nommé de cuisine in 2008 after extending the menu to encompass burgers, sandwiches, pasta, and Greek fare from chefs Spiro Theodoropoulos and John Patouhas. The hugely varied pub fare weighs down tables in the expansive, relaxed dining room. In the adjoining bar, raucous games of darts, pool, and sudoku wait to break out. During warmer weather, diners take in fresh air on the stone patio that also provides the ideal amount of give for toe-tapping to the sporadically scheduled live music.
Behind a red-brick storefront and striped awning, Viva Le Vine's vintners curate a collection of vintages both affordable and high end, pairing them with cheeses and other finger foods. Wooden racks hoist obsidian bottles of reds and whites, and the wine bar dispenses pours and sampling flights alongside microbrews, seasonal cocktails, and martinis. Cushy, black leather furniture and high-top tables dot the brightly lit interior and an upright piano stands against the wall for impromptu instrumental renditions of Gangsta's Paradise. A painting of colorful donkeys stares down enviously from rich burgundy walls at rich plates of succulent chocolates and naan covered in hearty toppings. The shop hosts live entertainment, numerous tastings, and trivia events throughout the year.
Hundreds of LEGO pieces scatter across C&A Robot Factory?s worktables, where kids follow plans or their own imaginations to build everything from programmable robots to remote-controlled vehicles. During the center's projects and camps, children work through projects that explore science, math, and creativity. They might build a LEGO space station, program the movements of a solar-powered robot from a selection of new models in WeDo classes, or use salt water to power a LEGO car. The stop-motion-animation project?where kids assemble LEGO bricks into a movie set and then take hundreds of photographs that are edited together to become a short movie?stretches the potential applications of LEGOs even further.
Creative opportunities, however, aren't limited to structured projects. During open-play sessions kids can use C&A Robot Factory?s thousands of LEGO blocks to assemble buildings or the world?s most uncomfortable carpet. The LEGO Ville area lets toddlers play as well, surrounding them with Duplo blocks, cars, and trains.
At Downing's, diners can gobble up a Guinness beer brat, savor Corona-battered cod, or bite into a maple-bacon burger made with beer-infused sirloin. Inventive uses for alcohol aren't the only way the chefs add creative spins to their traditional Irish eats and handheld pub dishes. For instance, you can order a burger topped with fresh mozzarella, pesto, and fresh tomatoes?all the makings of a caprese salad. Downing's takes burgers so seriously that an entire section of the menu is labeled "Not Burgers." It features italian-beef sandwiches and chimichurri beef tacos. Diners can also partake of a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which oozes with warm strawberry jelly between slices of bread dusted with powdered sugar.
Between bites of hearty pub food washed down with beer and spirits, pool players can start their own leagues at Downing's. The pub?which offers alfresco seating in warmer months?also keeps things hopping with weekly musical performances, five flat-screen TVs, and parties to celebrate such holidays as Halloween, Saint Patrick's Day, and Franklin Pierce Fan Club Day.
Sam Elias knows that being cooped up during long winter days can make people stir-crazy. So in 1993, after moving from Florida, land of palm trees and beaches, to Chicago, land of frigid winds and gray slush, he founded WhirlyBall as a way for people to release pent-up energy even as snow was falling outside. During each competitive WhirlyBall game, which combines aspects of basketball, hockey, and jai alai, players zoom across an indoor 50'x80' court in motorized cars called WhirlyBugs. They wield plastic scoops to toss a wiffle ball back and forth to their teammates before throwing the ball through an elevated goal. Refs keep watch during the games, eliminating score arguments that would otherwise end in sunrise duels. To fuel up for a bout, players nibble teriyaki chicken satay, gourmet pizzas, and prime rib, and swig draft beers, which vary by location.
All three WhirlyBall spots boast off-court diversions such as video games, pool tables, foosball, and air hockey. The Vernon Hills location hosts an indoor rock-climbing wall, and both the Chicago and Vernon Hills locations invite guests into multilevel Lasertron laser-tag arenas, which fill with fog and flashing lights as combatants duck, aim, and invoke Geneva Convention protocols regarding armed conflict.