"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lakeview East

The Breakdown
Eastward on Belmont Avenue.
The boundaries: For our purposes, the community area of Lake View consists essentially three neighborhoods: Lakeview East (the southeastern portion), West  Lakeview (the southwestern portion), and Wrigleyville (the northern portion).  Our boundaries for Lakeview East are Roscoe Street to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, Diversey Parkway to the south, and Sheffield Avenue to the west.

Within Lakeview East, you also have North Halsted, more commonly known as "Boystown".  The City of Chicago's official tourism website defines Boystown as a triangle with Belmont Avenue to the south, Halsted Street to the west, and Broadway to the east.  Halsted and Broadway come together to the north at Grace Street.

Population make-up: 2000 Census figures for the entire Lake View community area lists the population as approximately 80% white, 10% hispanic, and about 5% black and 5% Asian.  Lake View has the 2nd-highest population of the 77 community areas (behind Austin) at nearly 95,000 residents.  Furthermore, it is the 2nd most dense (behind Rogers Park), averaging about 30,000 people per square mile.

Historical populace:  Lake View looks a little different today than it did in the 1850s with a heavy population of German, Swedish, and Luxembourgan immigrants or with a heavy influx of working-class residents as in the early to mid-1900s.  Today, Lake View's neighborhoods are among the most (if the THE most) popular for young professionals.  There is an abundance of dining, shopping and nightlife options, especially along Broadway and Clark Street.  Furthermore, it is in easy proximity to Lake Michigan and the Loop, and is relatively more affordable than Lincoln Park, immediately to the south.  Lakeview East also has a strong gay/lesbian presence, and has hosted the annual Chicago Pride Parade for 40 years.

Getting there: Undoubtedly one of the reasons Lakeview East is such a hot neighborhood for young professionals is the ease of public transit to/from the neighborhood.  There are Brown and Purple Line stops at Belmont, (beef) Wellington, and Diversey.  The Red Line also stops at Belmont.  There are east-west buses along Belmont and Diversey.  North-south buses run along Sheridan, Broadway, Halsted, Clark, and Sheffield.  Maybe best of all, express buses 143, 145, 146 take you down Lake Shore Drive from Lakeview East directly to downtown Michigan Avenue.

Paris in Chicago (3310 N. Halsted St.)
Paris in Chicago boasts a cozy, intimate atmosphere.
Keep an eye out for Paris in Chicago;
it's easy to miss if you're not looking for it. 
I had never seen this place in 4 years of living in Lakeview, 3 of which I spent in Boystown.  It's located on Halsted, just north of Aldine, and it didn't look like much from the outside.  On entering, you have one option: down a small staircase into what I would sum up as a casual, eclectic, Parisian dining area.  One room.  So we've all seen that cute bistro with black and white vintage shots of Paris on the wall, cute shelves arranged in asymmetrical patterns, token French cookbooks lined up along the wooden paneling, Oriental rugs, red walls, and huge mirrors that give the place its je ne sais quoi, right?  If that wasn't cute enough, this place has an electronic fireplace above one of the tables!  Arrive before noon and the chances of it being free are probably good.
Who says that you can't put cheese on fish?
Michael Symon, we scoff at thee!
Laura's Take:
I had Le Norvegian, a toasted open faced sandwich with salmon and monterey jack cheese melted  on top.  Who says you can't pair fish and cheese?  This lunch was perfect.  It came with a classic mixed greens salad with a good home-made vinaigrette.  The best part, though, had to be the Parisian-ness of the waiter and chef, who I presume was the café owner - he had a laptop and refreshment out at a table in the dining room to pass the time between customers, and he was the only one working.  He greeted us with hospitality as his first customers of the day and was even using French!  His dining room felt incredibly warm and inviting, partly because it was such a petite little space, but mostly because of the care that had been put into the decor.  The "kitchen" is adorably unique: it's in the front of the restaurant as a lofted alcove on the garden level under the street windows.  After taking our order he set about making the food in a confident, deliberate manner.  In the middle of doing our sandwiches I happened to catch him out of the corner of my eye tasting a sauce he was making, smacking his lips and giving himself a satisfied nod.  By the time we were finishing up, another table of friends had come in to meet for lunch, but otherwise we had had the place to ourselves.  It was a very cute, warming stop on a cold day.  It would be a great place just for coffee or tea as well ... I got the feeling that many stop in for that purpose.  I am SO GLAD we found Paris in Chicago!
Michael's Take: 
Paris in Chicago is a really nice little spot.  We just got back from a short stay in Paris three months ago, and to find a place like this was a great way to relive lounging in a comfy Parisian café, even if only for an hour.  The food is affordable and pretty good.  My sandwich consisted of a buttered, crisp French roll with gruyére cheese and a sliced hard-boiled egg.  May not sound like much, but it was more than satisfying.  The salad was simple: leafed greens tossed in a light vinaigrette.  Again, hardly extravagant, but a perfectly light complement to the sandwich.  Don't go here if you're in a hurry.  In the true spirit of Parisian dining, the pace is deliberate, and getting the check does require you to grab the waiter's attention.  L'addition s'il vous plait.  DO go here if you want to relax for an hour or two, maybe enjoy a French pastry or croissant, and sip on a café latte or one of their 12 uniquely flavored teas.  The atmosphere definitely bumps this establishment up a notch.
Anything Else We Missed:
Overall, exposed pipe and the one-room loft feel give this cafe a modern look, but it is based the old world, evidenced by the wooden rafters in the kitchen, the menu itself, the pastry case, and the tea sets.  Speaking of which.... if you are a fan of tea, brace yourself.   There was a list of 12 unique brews, of which we sampled the roasted almond and the chocolate cake, a red African rooibos blend. A variety of green and herbal teas was also on the menu. As for food, I was initially worried given the signage for coffee/tea and pastries because speaking for myself, I was pretty hungry for brunch.  But I found a well-rounded menu of sandwiches, quiches, soups, and specials that really seemed like Paris - for one, almost every sandwich, meat or cheese or vegetarian, included butter.  Everything is clearly made on the premises.

The best tavern this side of Midlothian?  We think so.
Duke of Perth (2913 N. Clark St.)
Take a stroll down Clark Street and when you hit Oakdale, you've reached your destination.  Otherwise, you've probably passed this place dozens of times and not realized it.  It's small enough to miss, and awesome enough that you've been missing out if you don't already know about it.  Here is one of the more unique bars in Chicago, and if it's not one of the best, then I'm at a loss.  For unique beers that you just can't find anywhere else, and a famous collection of aged Scotch Whiskey, this should be a destination if you find yourself in Lakeview.
Laura's Take:
This is easily one of my favorite bars in the city.  I had been here in the past and was happily introduced to the phenomenon that is Scottish beer at room temperature.  This stuff is meant to be enjoyed leisurely, definitely not meant to stay or even be served cold.  I haven't really gotten it served that way since Duke of Perth as everyone seems to serve it just shy of frozen, probably to kill the taste or lack thereof. Their Scottish brewery of choice here is Belhaven (est. 1719), and they have a nice selection of their beers on tap. [I don't know why these beers are not more popular/available - they are awesome.]  This season, the chalk board announces additional hot beverages such as buttered rum, sc(hot)ch toddy, hot chocolate with booze of your choice, and hard cider.  We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of stouts.
Do you see all those bottles on the top shelf behind the bar?  They're all Scotch...ALL OF THEM...and there's more...
A fireplace was roaring across from the bar.  We chatted with the bartender, or maybe it was the other way around.  She wasn't afraid to chime in when she liked what she heard, even when it was something, I think, about Cuban politics. Just two days before Christmas this neighborhood place was a refuge from the holiday rush.  In warmer months the beer garden in back is highly recommended.  All in all, this place is that authentic, traditional, neighborhood place you are looking for, but this time it's Scottish!
Michael's Take:
Awesome.  This is a great place to sit down and have a beverage.  They have 5 varieties of Belhaven on tap, and my suggestion would be to try the Stout or the Wee Heavy.  Still they have English beers as well on tap, and for the less adventurous they still have PBR.  The place isn't very big, and that includes the dining area in the back, and the beer garden behind it.  Oh yes, and they're also famous for their Scotch whiskeys, many of which are aged for decades.  Warning, this is NOT the place to try and "see" if you like Scotch.  A flight here (about 3 shots worth) will run you from $25-$50.  That being said, if you DO like Scotch, this IS the place and you will surely not be disappointed.
Anything Else We Missed:
Oh yeah, between all the whiskey and beer, you can also get a bite to eat here.  Entrees are about what you'd expect, between $7-$10 an entrée.  And oh yeah, they have like...a TON of Scotch here.  Service here is friendly, and our bartender has mastered the art of pouring the stout completely to the top without spilling anything over the side.  Hey, in this economy, every little bit can go a long way.

Unabridged Bookstore (3251 N. Broadway)
Can't find the book you're looking for?
Don't worry, it's probably in the next shelf over.
The flavor of East Lakeview is not easy to summarize.  Some may describe it as trendy, but it also has depth.  Case in point is the Unabridged bookstore, which, sadly, would probably not survive today in a less densely populated area.
Laura's Take:
I think the book selection is carefully chosen, well-displayed, and geared toward its audience, and for those reasons it is fascinating to browse.  They have a unique array of books on subjects benign and exotic.  There's a shock factor and a dose of humor involved in some of the things on the shelves... do not bring your grandmother here.  Mini-reviews of selected books are pasted underneath on the shelf, another touch that makes it a pastime just to browse.  Refreshingly, we had no trouble returning a purchase from almost a year ago for full store credit.
Michael's Take:
I apologize if I'm getting on my high-horse here, but there's something that needs to be said about places like this.  The independent neighborhood bookstore (like the independent neighborhood music shop, or the independent neighborhood video store) is quickly going the way of the dodo bird.  This is unfortunate as shops such as Unabridged greatly add to the character of the neighborhood.  It is completely understandable why someone would want to shop on-line.  It's often cheaper and far more convenient, and I'd be a hypocrite if I said that I never did it myself.  That being said, it's places like Unabridged that desperately need the support of the local population.  People who own independent retail stores such as these often work long hours and don't make it rich doing what they (hopefully) love.  Also, buying on-line results in no sales tax for the community, whereas the money spent in shops like these get re-invested back into the City.  So, if you can get something in a shop such as this for only a couple bucks more than on-line, please consider doing so and keeping places like Unabridged Bookstore open for business.
Anything Else We Missed:
We've been here numerous times, and it's always a pleasure to come back.  The staff here is polite and helpful.  The selection of unique books is outstanding for such limited space.  In the lower level, there are endless shelves of books just dedicated to travel.  Also, in catering to the culture of the neighborhood, there is an extensive gay/lesbian section.

L&L Tavern (3207 N. Clark St.)
"I'm taking a dive." -from Livin' Thing by ELO
L&L Tavern in all its glory.
Laura's Take:
Don't you worry -- a real dive bar can also be found in this area: I'm partial to L&L Tavern on the northwest corner of Clark and Belmont.  Do not come here looking to be noticed; it is a diverse off-beat crowd and everyone for themselves.  I like the vibe here, unexpected for its location.  On a recent Saturday night only one other table was occupied.  In a past experience with an old friend from out of town, the whole bar collectively watched the news broadcast (got anything else to do?) and the bartender went out of his way to make personal recommendations about wines (I know, of all the things to order here).

Michael's Take:
I've used the bathroom in here once.  It was really "divey".
Anything Else We Missed:
From the outside it may not seem like much, but on the inside...well, it still doesn't seem like much.  That being said, how much of an institution is this place?  Well for one, it has its own Wikipedia entry.  Although I can't find any proof, apparently Stuff Magazine named it one of the best dive bars in America.  And as if THAT wasn't accolade enough, BigStupidIdiot.com came out and named it one of the 20 WORST bars in America.  Everyone's a critic.

The iconic signature of North Halsted.
Lakeview East: The Final Tally
Great job so far, Lakeview East.  The neighborhood is bustling at any time of the day.  The density and culture contributes to a section of Chicago that feels safe around the clock, and getting here is a piece of cake.  The streets of Clark and Broadway are loaded with boutiques, restaurants, and bars.  There is a strong live theater presence in this neck of the woods, with the Playground Theater and the Briar Street Theatre (home of Blue Man Group), both on Halsted.  Sadly, the Lakeshore Theater at Belmont and Broadway has recently closed, but should re-investment occur, it would make another great addition to an already substantial performing arts area.  One drawback, parking here can be an absolute nightmare, especially on the weekends.  Please support your local CTA and take the "L" or bus to get out here.  Thanks for some great times, Lakeview East.  We look forward to hanging out with your slightly more shy and modest sister (West Lakeview), as well as your loud and obnoxious brother (Wrigleyville).

1 comment:

  1. good to know that it feels safe in the neighborhood around the clock