The Absolute Best Ways to Celebrate New Year's Eve in Chicago

Toast to the end of 2020.

One good thing about 2020? You finally have a good excuse not to go out on New Year’s Eve. Homebodies will find plenty to like with Chicago’s tamped-down edition of New Year’s Eve, with everything from virtual galas to live-streamed comedy. If you’re still itching to leave the not-so-friendly confines of your seemingly shrinking domicile, you can still celebrate safely with drive-in concerts and movies, romantic outdoor dinners, immersive light displays, and boozy cocktails experiences. Here’s everything fun you can do in Chicago this New Year’s Eve. Cheers to a better tomorrow.

Book a romantic table by the fire with Geja’s NYE Package

One of Chicago’s most romantic restaurants is offering limited outdoor seating with a covered fireplace as part of its New Year’s Eve Package featuring a three-course dinner and bottle of champagne. You can also ring in NYE from the comfort of your home by ordering their NYE @Home Fondue Experience.

Party in your car at House Party at the Drive-In New Year’s Eve Bash

What better way to close out this weird year than a New Year’s Eve party from the comfort of your car? Stop by SeatGeek Stadium’s House Party at the Drive-In New Year’s Eve Bash for a full lineup of live house music performances with food/drink and a fireworks show to bid farewell to this shitshow of a year. Masks and social distancing required, obviously.

Rock a virtual NYE ball at New Year’s Eve at the Drake

One of Chicago’s most iconic NYE galas goes virtual for 2020 with a live video performance from members of DJ Firm to pair with takeout holiday dinners from local restos like Gibson’s and Tavern on Rush over Zoom. This year’s event from Chicago Scene will benefit several local charities, with full details here.

Stream some live virtual comedy with New Year Zeve from Zanie’s

This live NYE comedy event will be streamed from Zanie’s to your couch with performances from three of Chicago’s best standup comics, hosted by Calvin Evans. So yeah, maybe not everything in 2020 was a complete disaster. Book tickets here.

Book a holiday-themed hotel room for a festive NYE staycation

The ever-popular Frosty’s pop-up Christmas bar morphs into a socially distanced hotel experience at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel for 2020, with fully decked-out rooms alongside in-room themed holiday cocktails, games, Christmas movies, holiday dinner take-out, and more. If that’s not enough, you can also book the appropriately jolly “Santa Suite” at Swissotel for some naughty (or nice) NYE fun.

Spend NYE watching “Batman Returns” at a drive-in movie theater

Ordinarily, seeing "Batman Returns" at a drive-in movie theater isn’t exactly our idea of a crazy fun NYE. But in 2020, we’ll most certainly take it. Park your ride at Chitown Movies for a family-friendly special afternoon screening with mulled wine and other food/beverage available for purchase.

Sip “campers cocktails” paired with S’mores at Camp Lottie’s

Bucktown neighborhood hang Lottie’s has decked out its side patio in full camp regalia for its new “Camp Lottie’s” experience, where guests can reserve private heated tents and hang out amidst fire pits, string lights, and a canteen menu with classic pub fare, S'mores, hot cocktails, and coolers of beer. There are certainly worse ways to ring in 2021.

Stream a live concert

New Year’s Eve is typically a big day for concerts in Chicago, but obviously that ain’t happening this year. Instead, stream a virtual concert from The Avett Brothers or get ready to dance at #DanceAway2020. And while there won’t be any raging festivals to hit for NYE, Tomorrowland is curating a fairly impressive NYE lineup featuring EDM heavy hitters Major Lazer, David Guetta, Diplo, and more. Looking for something more local? Explore virtual options from local venues like The Hideout, Empty Bottle, Lincoln Hall/Schubas, Experimental Sound Studio, and more.

Ring in the new year with a holiday light display

From Lincoln Park’s iconic ZooLights and the Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic to the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination and Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape, there’s no shortage of brilliant holiday light displays across the city and suburbs extending into the new year. You can also check out Let It Shine in Northbrook for some bonus NYE fun.

Say good riddance to 2020 at the New Year’s Eve Virtual 5K

Chicago Sport & Social’s annual New Year’s Eve 5K takes to the interwebs for 2020 with a weeklong virtual 5K to benefit Direct Relief from December 26 through January 3. Check out details here.

Order a cocktail kit and get boozy at home

It’s no secret that it’s been a rough year for Chicago bars. Help them out—while spicing up your NYE—with a cocktail kit order from upscale offerings by folks like The Aviary and Violet Hour to more down-to-Earth booze creations such as Big Star margaritas and Twisted Spoke Bloody Marys. You can also go tiki with tropical creations from 3 Dots and a Dash, which certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Grab some weed for a 420-friendly NYE

Is there some sort of law stating that you can’t just chill at home with some fine legal green from Chicago’s top weed dispensaries and watch drunk Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon do their thing on the TV? No, there most certainly is not.

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Jay Gentile is an award-winning freelance journalist specializing in travel, food & drink, culture, events and entertainment stories. In addition to Thrillist, you can find his work in The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN Travel, Chicago Tribune, Lonely Planet, VICE, Outside Magazine and more. Follow @thejaygentile