Enjoying a Drink with a View at the John Hancock Building


siglounge2The John Hancock Center on Michigan Avenue is the sixth-tallest building in the US and is home to the highest residential space in the world. The 100-floor building measures 1500 feet tall including its antennae and is one of the most famous examples of the structural expressionist style of architecture.

Inside the Center are offices, 700 residences, and several restaurants, including the 95th floor Signature Room Restaurant. The 94th floor observatory, over 1000 feet above street level, is enclosed by a mesh screening for open-air views of the city.

Approaching the John Hancock Center from Michigan Avenue, one of the first things you may notice is that the building entrance is set pretty far back from the sidewalk. This is because, unlike most buildings in downtown Chicago, the Hancock Center only uses about 40% of its available ground-floor site space. Looking up, 1100 feet up, you’ll also notice the distinctive black steel beams that criss-cross the building’s exterior.

Devised by architects Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, this ground-breaking engineering design means that interior columns are not necessary to support the building. Virtually all of its weight is supported by the x-bracing, which acts like a skeleton and eliminates the need for interior columns that waste precious indoor space.

The bracing also help stabilize the building, reducing the amount of sway tall buildings experience during high winds. The beams, which used enough steel to make 33,000 cars, contrast with over 11,000 glare-proof extra-thick window panes, giving the building its unique appearance. The unique design of the building also reduced the amount of steel needed, saving approximately $15 million.

When the building was completed in 1969, it was the second-tallest building in the world. Construction  took five million hours over 36 months, with over 2000 workers at one time. About three floors were created per week, which was an extremely quick pace.

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The John Hancock Building doesn’t have quite the superlative power of the Willis Tower Skydeck. It may not be the city’s tallest building from which to take in the views, but it does offer something the Skydeck doesn’t: the chance to enjoy a cocktail or two as you look out over the city.

General admission to go up to the observatory level is $15 per adult, but why spend that much on an elevator ride when you can spend it on a delicious drink? Skip the observation deck and instead head up to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the building, where for the price of a cocktail, you can linger as long as you’d like. The lines, both for the elevators and to snag a table, can be long, but they generally move quickly. That’s because the elevators are among the fastest in the US. They reach the 94th floor in less 40 seconds, traveling at about 20 miles per hour.

Because they don’t fly higher than around 500 feet, you won’t see many birds once you reach the top of the building. You will see an abundance of spiders, though. Keep any eye out for them spinning webs and clinging to the windows of the building. It’s suggested that spiders grow larger up here, feeding off small insects that are carried on the winds and get stuck in the webs. It’s the unhappy task of the window washers to remove them several times a year when they clean the windows, a job that takes nearly 2 weeks to complete at a rate of 30 seconds per window.

If you really feel like a splurge, try dinner at the 95th floor Signature Room restaurant, but be warned: sometimes the food isn’t as good as the views.

If you’ve made your way to the 96th floor Signature Lounge, be sure to check out the women’s bathroom. One wall is vertigo-inducing floor-to-ceiling glass that provides a near-vertical look down to the street. Sorry guys, your bathroom is not nearly as exciting.

Hours: The Lounge is open at 11am every day and closes at 12:30am Sunday- Thursday and at 1:30am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Admission: There is no cost to enter the lounge. Appetizer prices range from $11 to $22 and drink prices start at $12.50.

Getting there: The John Hancock building is located along the Magnificent Mile, on the corner of Michigan and Chestnut. The nearest el stop is at State and Chicago, less than a 10-minute walk away.

Photo by justinjohnsen