The Run Down

There's been a big flurry of development along the Chicago River over the past few years. A lot of the attention has been on downtown's river walk and future mega developments like Lincoln Yards, but there's a whole host of smaller projects popping up along the river. For this guide, we're visiting a few outdoors spots that are taking advantage of their proximity to the North Branch of the Chicago River and we'll get on the water ourselves. Here are the details.

1. Whiskey Barrel Aged Coffee @ Hexe Coffee

2. Riverwalk @ Lathrop Homes

3. Kayak @ Rockwell on the River

1. Hexe Coffee

For the coffee connoisseurs out there, this first stop is for you. We’re at Hexe Coffee, on the bustling six-way intersection at Clybourn, Damen, and Diversey, and just a block from the banks of the river. This is one of the newer entrants to Chicago’s independent third wave coffee scene and they’ve got a serious coffee roasting operation to back it up.

It’s the type of place that ages their coffee beans in whisky, wine, and gin barrels to experiment with all types of new flavors and aromas. This is something craft beer brewers have been doing for awhile, but Hexe is part of this new trend to adopt these techniques for coffee.

While the coffee bar is at a busy and heavy-trafficked intersection, their patio is on a raised pavilion above street level and its sectioned off by a wall of green space.

Here’s another shot of the patio from the sidewalk ramp leading to the entrance. During the day, patio makes for a nice spot to get out of the house and do some work. In the evening, the string lights that criss-cross the space are turned on and the mood shifts as cocktails, wine, and beer make their appearance on the menu.

The rest of this guide has us doing a good bit of walking and paddling, so a hearty breakfast and some caffeine are what this trip calls for. They’ve got a whole host of pastry options, but this egg, cheese, and sausage biscuit is where it’s at. The biscuit is what makes or breaks any good biscuit sandwich. This one was dense, flaky, and most importantly, kept it’s integrity with every bite.

2. Riverwalk @ Lathrop Homes

As you made your way to Hexe Coffee earlier, you may have noticed that it was part of something much bigger. Behind Hexe Coffee is a 34-acre depression era public housing complex that sits along the river. For years it was neglected and buildings were left vacant, but finally in 2017, they broke ground on a massive mixed-income redevelopment effort.

Part of the site’s redevelopment plan was to make the river more accessible to the community. In late 2019, the project unveiled a 1/2 mile riverfront walking path designed by the same group behind the 606 Trail and Maggie Daley Park.

This is the south end of the trail, right below the Diversey St. bridge. Start here and head north.On a beautiful summer day, you’ll see groups of kayakers from the trail. A little bit of foreshadowing for our next stop.The end of the trail takes you to a small, secluded observation area with a bench overlooking the water. In all, the trail only takes 15 minutes to walk if you take your time, but keep your eye open in the future as there are ambitious plans to eventually connect this all the way to downtown.

3. Rockwell on the River

Our next stop has us sipping on beer and getting on the water. About a mile up the river is the Rockwell on the River Venue. It’s a river front complex with offices, it’s own marina, and home to the Metropolitan Beer Brewery and a few other venues.

A lot of this block is still under construction, so you might be confused when Google Maps tells you that you’ve arrived. Don’t Worry, you’re in the right place. Follow the signs through these passageways until you reach the front entrance that will take you to the marina.

Here’s a shot of the complex from the other side of the river. This summer, WaterRiders is operating a kayak rental operation from the marina. They are set up right at the edge of the water. Above them is Metropolitan Beer Brewery Patio. Here are some useful notes to get you started.

– All rentals need to be booked in advance. Booking details here.
– It’s $40/person for two hours on the water

After you finish up your kayak trip, you’ll be back at the marina and just a few steps from Metropolitan’s patio that overlooks the river. After a 2 hour kayak adventure you deserve a beer or 10.