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.
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.
McCarthy’s Restaurant and Irish Pub began when three families decided to pool their know-how. The clans each possessed their own expertise: one family had enjoyed previous successes in restaurant management, one in the field of culinary arts, and one family was filled with savvy business people. In tune with their strengths, they decided to form a three-way partnership that would give rise to McCarthy's. The fun-loving group wanted to create a pub rooted in Irish tradition while still appealing to a diverse clientele. Above all else, they knew that to achieve this goal they’d need to earn the trust of customers with indisputable great burgers, sandwiches, and classic Irish dishes. Today McCarthy's makes good on their vision by evoking a lighthearted mood through the green and dark-wood textures of a quintessential Irish pub and the scattered flat-screen TVs of a modern evil lair. Meanwhile, the echo of live music acts and karaoke frequently keeps patrons singing along to "Danny Boy" and humming Jeopardy! theme music.
Part restaurant and part concert hall, Austin's Saloon & Eatery houses both a sit-down dining room and a separate main stage showcasing local and national acts throughout the week. The restaurant's menu blends barbecue and inventive American fare with starters such as chicken wings ($7.95) and golden-fried beer-dough nuggets ($5.50) made to mimic the exact shape and alcohol content of most asteroids. Wrap hands and mouths around one of six burgers ($8.50+) or don a bib and dive into a barbecue combo platter ($17.95) pairing chicken and a half-slab of ribs, both cooked on a wood roaster.
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, 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.
Flatlander's pampers malt-pining palates by balancing a seasonal lineup of more than seven house-made brews with a diverse menu ranging from classic pub fare to gourmet entrees. Beer flights guide diners through five distillations and the on-site brewmaster ensures appetizers highlight each brews best qualities, matching seared asian ahi to the crispness of the Jackson Wit and spicy jumbo wings to the Flatlander IPA's training as a firefighter. Thick cuts of homestyle meatloaf and crispy morsels of fish and chips embody the roles of classic pub fare, subtly supported by gourmet-inspired castmates such as linguine pomodoro and USDA-prime center-cut filet mignon. An arsenal of 13 hearty burgers accessorized with toppings such as pulled pork, guacamole, or fried onions gratify any diet while bookended around a choice of USDA-prime chuck, ground turkey, veggie, or peppermint patties.
The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences introduces yearlings of all ages to the joy of live musical theatre, enchanting audiences with lavish musical productions of popular works. This season, the Marriott unveils a new musical entitled For the Boys, a story based on the Twentieth-Century Fox Film starring Bette Midler of two charming performers who entertained the American troops for more than 30 years. During Seussical, a young boy with a large imagination and unlikely friends brings together a cast of loveable Dr. Seuss characters that includes Horton the Elephant and the Cat in the Hat.