It started with a simple idea: Let’s jump in the lake. At Nicole Novotny’s urging, she and a small group of friends, including Andrew Glatt, would get together on Thursday nights in 2021 near Belmont Harbor to swim and socialize. Soon enough, Glatt started swimming on Friday mornings at the ledge near Montrose Harbor. Novotny joined him, bringing coffee for their post-dip hangs, followed by a few more friends, a group of eight swimmers that quickly turned into 500. By this summer, Friday Morning Swim Club was attracting as many as 3,000 people, who would plunge into Lake Michigan together at 7 a.m., splash around with their favorite floaties, and then line up for coffee. What began as a lark had become something far more meaningful — a tradition that fostered a sense of community and a moment of ebullience in the city.

“It’s an hour of joy, and people just wanted to be a part of it.”

“We’re both routine-based people, and we loved the idea of kicking off each weekend this way,” says Glatt, a professional photographer who lives in Ravenswood. “We started inviting anyone and everyone, because we wanted other people to feel what we were feeling. You have to put your phone away to swim — it felt awesome to simply be present and connect.” Swimmers came from as far away as Australia, some telling the pair they had traveled to Chicago just to join in. “It’s an hour of joy, and people just wanted to be a part of it,” says Novotny, who lives in Printers Row. People brought dogs and kids and tubes and mugs, as Novotny hauled 30 gallons of coffee from her Lincoln Park shop, Printer’s Row Coffee Co., to give away each week. 

But then, in July, the city played Grinch. The Chicago Park District insisted that the group get a permit, which would have required lifeguards and cost around $3,000 a week, Novotny says. In August, Friday Morning Swim Club officially shut down for the summer. So she and Glatt organized alternative gatherings — one at a restaurant, another at a mini golf course. And they’re continuing to talk with city officials in hopes of resurrecting the club — and all those good feelings.

Video by Ross Feighery