Swimmers gather at Montrose Harbor for Friday Morning Swim Club.
Swimmers gather at Montrose Harbor for Friday Morning Swim Club. Credit: Provided/@FridayMorningSwimClub

UPTOWN — Andrew Glatt and Nicole Novotny invited a few friends to jump into Lake Michigan on an early Friday morning two years ago.

The crew was only eight people, starting their weekend off with casual conversation while bobbing and treading in the water. Glatt and Novotny decided to make it a tradition, returning to Montrose Harbor every Friday. The weekly plunge among friends gradually spread — friends would invite friends who would invite more friends the following week. Within months, those eight friends grew to hundreds of swimmers. 

From there, Friday Morning Swim Club was born.

In the two years since, Swim Club has amassed thousands of attendees. Commuters on DuSable Lake Shore Drive can’t help but notice the crowds of Divvy bicyclists on the Lakefront Trail, draped with inflatable floaties over their shoulders and pool noodles sprouting out of their bags. Thousands of attendees crowd the harbor at Montrose Beach around 6:45 a.m. every Friday. Swim Club even earned a pin on Google Maps, marking exactly where swimmers meet to take their Friday morning plunges.

Swimmers gather at Montrose Harbor for Friday Morning Swim Club.
Credit: Provided/@FridayMorningSwimClub

In a time of Internet virality, event organizers Glatt and Novotny say the popularity of the event is actually rooted in old-fashioned word-of-mouth. “We literally didn’t have an Instagram for the first year,” said Glatt, a Chicago-based freelance photographer. “It wasn’t like a TikTok that blew up over night and suddenly there were 700 additional people. It was more that week-over-week everything doubled.”

What was once less than 10 swimmers has notably reached new heights in the past few weeks — RSVPs on the event’s Instagram page exceeded 2,000 for the July 14 swim. At the event’s peak, organizers estimate as many as 2,400 people showed up for a Swim Club meetup. 

Every Friday at 7:05 a.m., attendees meet at the southern peninsula of Montrose Harbor to jump into Lake Michigan. With 20 gallons of free coffee provided by Novotny’s brew company, Printer’s Row Coffee, swimmers line up for a fresh cup with their most impressive and decorative mugs for a chance to be featured as the “Mug of the Week,” a weekly promotion on the events’ Instagram page.

“It’s mostly the tradition that keeps me coming,” said Cesar Avila, a four-time attendee who first visited Swim Club last summer. “This is a special spot for me to watch the sunrise, and I usually bring friends to join me here.”

At the core of Swim Club’s values is a chance to develop face-to-face community, encouraging swimmers to “get off their phones and into the water.” Glatt and Novotny actively discourage product pitches or professional content equipment at the Swim Club meets and have limited external brand collaborations in order to preserve the original intentions of interpersonal connection.

The organizers said in its two-year run, they’ve heard firsthand testimony of how Swim Club has impacted the lives of those who have visited. Attendees have developed lifelong friend groups, established yearly traditions and improved their mental health through community-building.

“What’s so great about what’s happening is just the simplicity of it,” said Novotny, who is also a graphic designer in addition to running her own coffee company. “There’s no agenda or expectation. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it and what people really like to take from it.”

While many are taking the jump into the lake, seemingly just as many stay to sit on the shore. Swimmers and spectators alike said they were captivated by the skyline views and gleaming water of the early mornings. 

“I’m definitely not a morning person, but I like swimming in the sun and the energy of the crowd,” said Helen Enda, a day-time real estate technologist on her second Swim Club experience. “Nobody that doesn’t want to be here is here.”

Inflatable floating devices at Friday Morning Swim Club.
Inflatable floating devices at Friday Morning Swim Club. Credit: Provided/@FridayMorningSwimClub

Another undeniable gem of the Swim Club lore is the inflatable floating devices. From plastic flamingos to weiner dogs to sticks of butter, participants have an unspoken showcase of the most unexpected floaty they can get their hands on. Along with the apparel, merchandise and an interactive social media strategy, the Friday Morning Swim Club brand promises to welcome you with open arms and make you feel at home. 

“It feels like a uniquely Chicago thing — no other city is doing something quite like this,” said Jessie Goldberg, who works remotely every Friday and makes sure to join Swim Club before clocking in.

Glatt and Novotny said despite the increased popularity, they are in no rush to expand Swim Club beyond its current iteration.

“Our stance on where it’s going to go from here will always remain: We don’t know but we’re going to keep it simple,” said Glatt. “We’re gonna keep doing it as long as it continues to provide a space for people.”

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