Have You Heard About Chicago’s Lake Parties?

The Chicago Scene Boat Party bills itself as a floating Mardi Gras. An aquatic Playboy Mansion would fit, too. A bacchanalia-on-boats bash takes place every weekend at the Playpen, an area of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, about a mile off the Oak Street beach. A seawall calms the waters here, and it’s a no-wake zone. Cue the gun show, fake boobs, and vodka sponsors—pretty much the exact opposite of what happens on Lake Wawasee. You have to see the photos, if only to behold a woman wearing a mermaid tail.

The Playpen attracts young, wealthy partiers throughout summer, but the Boat Party (August 4–7 this year) brings out the biggest crowd—sometimes 800 crafts, according to the city’s tourism office. At one point, the affair almost splashed into Indiana. Ted Widen, publisher of now-defunct Chicago Scene magazine, started the loosely organized event 17 years ago, and it has outlived the publication. In 2011, according to the Chicago Reader, the city tried to make Widen apply for permits and get insurance, and the thought of red tape acted as a buzzkill. He considered relocating to Indiana, but instead just canceled the event. The boats showed up anyway. Now, Widen chooses a mid-summer date and puts a flyer online, and the booze-cruise-in gets raging by noon. A stripper pole is a fixture.

Sound like your scene? A website called Boatbound rents watercraft for the day on the peer-to-peer model—we suggest anteing up for a captain.




Fernandez began writing for Indianapolis Monthly in 1995 while studying journalism at Indiana University. One of her freelance assignments required her to join a women's full-tackle football team for a season. She joined the staff in 2005 to edit IM's ancillary publications, including Indianapolis Monthly Home. In 2011, she became a senior editor responsible for the Circle City section as well as coverage of shopping, homes, and design-related topics. Now the director of editorial operations, she lives in Garfield Park.