A new section of the Riverwalk draws a crowd Saturday

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Two new sections of the downtown Riverwalk opened Saturday. Saturday, May 23, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times)

With Jimmy Buffett on the speakers singing about it being 5 o’clock somewhere, two Peoria men sipped beers at a new tiki bar Saturday afternoon on Chicago’s newly expanded Riverwalk.

The tropically themed bar — built just three weeks ago out of a shipping container — began to fill up as locals and tourists noticed they could now get beer and drinks at a place that never existed.

“We stumbled upon this, and we’re ready for a beer because it’s noon,” Scott Keele, 54, of Peoria said with a laugh. “This is great. What a great way to do this, repurposing an old sea van and putting it right on a main walkway, which is going to be great. I love to see things like this pop up. I hope they’re successful. I’m sure they will be.”

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Scott Keele relaxes Saturday at the newly opened Island Party Hut on the Riverwalk. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Island Party Hut, just east of Michigan Avenue, opened Saturday, as did a new section of the Riverfront from State to Clark streets — all part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s planned $100 million Riverfront expansion.

Another section — stretching to LaSalle Street — is scheduled to open later this summer. By next year, the Riverwalk will reach Lake Street, city officials promise.

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Two new sections of the downtown Riverwalk opened Saturday. Saturday, May 23, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times)

Mark Stern, owner of the new tiki bar, said the city approached him about the space, and he and his business partners liked the idea of adding a tropical touch to the river.

“This was a great opportunity to help them create a fabulous Riverwalk,” said Stern, who also owns the sister boat company Island Party Boat and the Weather Mark Tavern. “The city really needed it, and we just think it’s going to be great. What we’re trying to create is a tropical island paradise in the middle of Chicago and the river.”

He said he plans to add picnic table and will expand if the demand’s there.

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Mark Stern of the Island Party Hut on the downtown Riverwalk. Saturday, May 23, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times)

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, runners, bicyclists and other passers-by checked out the new sections of the Riverwalk from State to Clark streets. Some had attended the city’s Memorial Day parade on Upper Wacker Drive and saw the activity below along Lower Wacker and decided to check it out.

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Two new sections of the downtown Riverwalk opened Saturday. Saturday, May 23, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times)

At the edge of the current extent of the Riverwalk, near Clark Street, Rachel and Mike Kuta watched construction workers doing work on the next section.

Rachel Kuta said she’s looking forward to some logistical additions, like another kayak outpost.

“The kayak place is going to be over in the new section,” said Kuta, who lives nearby at Marina Towers. “So now I’ll be right in the middle of all this.”

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Kayak’s going by the new sections of the downtown Riverwalk, which opened Saturday. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

More new vendors are expected to open in the coming weeks, including an outpost of City Winery.

In the new “Marina Plaza” section, six construction workers took in views Saturday of passing boats. Two of them brought their families to show them what they’ve been up to for months. Denver Doherty brought his baby daughter Brooklin, just 2 months old, and his wife Tricia.

“I’ve been here since Day 1,” said Doherty. “It’s nice to see people down here.”

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Workers and their families came to see new sections of the downtown Riverwalk, which opened Saturday. Brian Jackson Sun-Times

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