An Inside Guide to the Best Secret Stuff in Chicago

Jim Vondruska/Thrillist
Jim Vondruska/Thrillist

Whenever you discover something in your city that seems too cool to be real, instinct tells you: keep it secret, keep it safe. So it’s no wonder some of the most fun things you can do in the city are also closely guarded secrets.
Then there are the secret societies, or events where you need to be on the guest list or know someone to even get in the door. Luckily, you know us. So here are 9 of our favorite secret things to do in the city -- and what you can do to check them out.

Serious drinkers society: Liquor Lab 

How to get in: Limited number of memberships available by application
This club hosts five-course meals where only booze is on the menu. Up-and-coming mixologists get a chance to experiment and drinkers get a chance to try cutting-edge cocktails from a constantly changing menu. Unlike Chicago’s hidden speakeasies, the location changes for each event, and the calendar of upcoming events is only accessible to members.

Spontaneous outdoor dinner club: Dîner en Blanc

How to get in: Members- and invite-only, but you can add your name to the waiting list
Thousands of people dress in white and come together once a year for a “chic picnic” in a public space. Its location is kept secret and revealed at the last minute to those lucky enough to go. After setting up their own table, diners enjoy a meal followed by a dance party. If you’re worried about being that one person with a stain on their pristine getup, you can still get your fix of covert cuisine at one of Chicago’s secret supper clubs.

Sofar Sounds

Concert for music lovers: Sofar Sounds

How to get in: Register online for a chance to be invited
Trying to listen to a band in a bar can be the worst whether you’re blockaded by a 7ft guy holding a sign or having beer spilled on you (hopefully not your own). This free concert series gives music fans a chance to focus on the tunes. The acts and location are kept secret and emailed shortly before the show. After arriving at the loft, store, or whatever the chosen venue is, the crowd sits quietly and listens to (usually local) bands perform unplugged-style versions of their songs. And you can still drink if you want -- each event is BYOB.

How to get in: Email the organizers
This secret society hosts “tea parties” (we’re assuming by “tea” they mean “beer”) and dodgeball matches in the dead of night in Wicker Park. All of the details are closely guarded secrets, including the group’s actual members and how to dodge a ball in the dead of night. The location of each match is kept secret, probably because neighbors aren’t thrilled about late-night rubber matches.


Conference for big thinkers: ORD Camp 

How to get in: Invitation-only, but limited applications are available
A handpicked group of the 200 best minds from the Midwest and beyond come together to geek out and spark new ideas at this annual unconference. The “un” means there’s no set agenda, and the attendees are also the presenters. So if you’re a “thought leader” or want to work on that TED talk, it’s not a bad place to start.

Flickr/Luiz Eduardo

Home for hackers: THOTCON

How to get in: Register online
Maybe leave your smartphone at home if you’re heading to this computer hacker conference. Information security professionals get together at a location kept secret from the media and the public to discuss computer security and even share some homebrew.

Gamers who get together: Killer Queen Mercury Squad

How to get in: Join the Facebook group
Killer Queen is an indie arcade game with a cult following that pits teams of five players against one another to gather berries, slay the enemy queen, and ride a giant snail into a goal (?!). The only publicly accessible cabinet in the city can be found at Logan Arcade in Logan Square, and since you need a team to play, this group brings gamers together for pickup games and tournaments.

SoHo House

Country club for creatives: Soho House

How to get in: Go with a member or get endorsed to join
No suits are allowed at this club for creative-type people in the West Loop. Members (and their lucky friends) get access to a rooftop pool, screening room, and other swanky amenities. Getting inside takes an inside man or woman (and cash).

Theater anti-company: Backroom Shakespeare

How to get in: Watch for location announcements
In Shakespeare’s day the actors were unrehearsed and the audience was drunk. This collective of actors takes the Bard back to the glory days by getting rid of directors and extensive rehearsals. All performances are staged in some bar, and those who know where to look can catch classic theater in a setting that takes it back to its roots.

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