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Inside McDonald’s Giant Modern Chicago Flagship, Now Open in River North

A solar pergola and lots of trees highlight rock ‘n’ roll’s replacement

McDonald’s River North flagship is open in Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

McDonald’s is in the midst of a brand rebirth, and as much as the company talks about improvements in its food, like fresh beef, they can arguably make a bigger customer impact through restaurant redesign. A new flagship location that opened this morning in downtown Chicago throws a multitude of modern amenities at customers. This new design features 27-foot windows and a mini-arboretum with trees poking out from the restaurant’s roof.

The company’s senior director of global design and development, Max Carmona, talked about McDonald’s desire to modernize but at the same time avoiding being sterile. Management is focusing on nature, and that’s why customers shouldn’t be surprised to see birds flying in from the roof to hang out in the enclosed glass arboretum in the middle of the new 19,000-square-foot restaurant.

McDonald’s was a brand associated with speed and during a Wednesday media event, architect Carol Ross Barney referred to the restaurant’s old mascot Speedee (he gave way to the clown in 1967). The chain isn’t slowing down, but speed’s not its No. 1 value anymore. They’re more interested in giving customers flexibility. If they want to lounge out with a laptop and a latte, they’ve got free internet and plush seating. Customers can also order with their mobile app. Using their phone’s GPS, once a customer nears the restaurant, staff will know and prep the meal.

Two plant walls hang over the dining room with built-in water hoses. For the arboretum in the middle of the restaurant, a ladder drops down so arborists can take care of the plants. Tree specialists developed a proprietary soil to ensure the trees thrive in their urban oasis, Carmona said.

There’s a solar pergola with 1,062 panels on the roof. The energy will power about 60 percent of the restaurant. McDonald’s has about seven to 10 LEED-certified restaurants in America. This River North location should earn the highest-certification the company’s ever received for an energy-efficient location, Carmona said.

In about three weeks, they’ll open a patio on the westside of the building and plant grass. The patio is by the dual-lane drive through. Motorists will still have to pay for parking. It’s River North, after all.

Take a stroll through the new flagship below that replaces the Rock ‘n’ Roll location. It’s now open.

McDonald’s, 600 N. Clark Street, open 24 hours every day.

In a few weeks, this space will have outdoor seating looking toward Ohio Street.
The entrance from the west; motorists will have to pay for parking.
The windows are 27-feet tall and most tables have cordless chargers for phones.
The brown leather seats are the same type West Loop customers see at McDonald’s corporate headquarters.
The tree room isn’t accessible to the public, but expect to see birds fly through.
The plant wall has hoses built-in in the back to keep roots moist.
The touchscreen kiosks are located in a row beneath the tree room.
The main counter where customers can bypass the screens and order.
A separate coffee counter which McDonald’s hopes will be busier in the morning with customers who don’t want a McGriddle.
No second floor for customers at this McDonald’s.
Once again, the drive-thru features two lanes.