"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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The Breakdown
Modern mixed with old-school in Bucktown.
The boundaries: Bucktown is a neighborhood within the community area of Logan Square.  Although Bucktown is seemingly always connected with Wicker Park (they share a Chamber of Commerce as well), Wicker Park is actually located within the West Town community area.  The unofficial but commonly accepted triangular boundaries of Bucktown are Western Avenue to the west, Bloomingdale Avenue to the south, and the Chicago River to the northeast.  Some say the northern boundary ends at Fullerton Avenue, instead of where Western and the Chicago River meet.

Population make-up: Hard to say officially.  As of the 2000 Census, the Logan Square community area was 26.3% white alone and 65.1% Hispanic.  However, Bucktown makes up less than half the geographic area of Logan Square (the eastern portion), and is bordered by mostly the majority-white community areas of Lincoln Park and North Center.  Also its equally trendy cousin, Wicker Park, borders it to the south.  Meanwhile, the remainder of Logan Square is bordered by the community areas of Hermosa, Avondale, and Humboldt Park, which are predominantly Hispanic in population.

Despite recently becoming a popular area for young professionals, Logan Square’s population dropped 12% from 2000 to 2010, from 82,715 to 72,791.

A brief history: Bucktown became a part of Chicago in 1837 and the land was purchased in 1870, along with a soon-to-be appropriately named land just south of it, by Charles and Joel Wicker.  The neighborhood grew to be an eclectic mix of nationalities: Germans, Eastern Europeans, Scandanavians, and Africans.  Its odd name supposedly comes from the numerous goats (a buck is a male goat) that were raised by early Polish settlers of the area.  Today it has become a very popular neighborhood for young professionals and hipsters alike.

Getting there: Rail won’t get you to the heart of Bucktown (basically Damen and Armitage), but it’ll put you within walking distance.  You can take the Blue Line to Western, but remember there are TWO Western stops on the Blue Line.  Make sure to get off at the one on the O’Hare branch and not the Forest Park branch.  The Western-O’Hare Blue Line stop will put you on the western edge of the neighborhood.  You’ll only be about two blocks south of Armitage.  You can also take the Metra to Clybourn.  Two Metra lines stop here, the Union Pacific North and the Union Pacific Northwest.  This stop will put you on the east side of Bucktown about one block south of Armitage.

Of course, bus is always an option too.  Going north-south, the Damen bus (50) runs through the center of the neighborhood.  Also going north-south is the Western bus (49) and there are a couple stops on the Ashland bus (9).  Going east-west the Armitage bus (73) runs through the heart of Bucktown.  Also, there are the buses along Fullerton (74) and Diversey (76 – assuming you’re considering that stretch of Diversey a part of Bucktown).  There is also a northwest/southeast bus along Milwaukee Avenue (56).

6° on Damen Avenue
6 ° (1935 N. Damen Avenue)
When six degrees is also the temperature, this miniature place would be the perfect hideaway.  It’s right on the main drag in Bucktown but you might miss it if you’re not looking for it.

Laura’s Take: We stopped in for a pre-brunch beverage on the weekend.  The Hawks were on TV, brunch was being served at the bar, and tables were full throughout the restaurant. The menu and atmosphere pretty much deliver what you would expect from what seems to me a trendy sort of name.  Six degrees … I’m interpreting this to mean six degrees of separation.  I think they want their joint to be a meet-and-greet hub in a poshified neighborhood.  It would take a few more return trips to determine whether they are successful in this.  I have to say, though, that their mimosa's champagne:OJ ratio was quite satisfactory. (It was champagne with a splash of OJ to top it off).

Michael’s Take: Small, cozy, intimate…ok, so those all more-or-less mean the same thing, but you get where I’m going with this.  Although we didn’t stick around for food, the portions that we were spying on down the bar looked massive.  Our bartender was friendly and attentive.

Anything Else We Missed: Apparently YES!  The horseshoe.  While Chicago’s gift to the culinary world has been deep-dish pizza, the Italian beef, and hot dogs run through the garden, our state capital (Yup, Springfield…please visit the other bar in Bucktown we visited for a point of reference) has given us this.  It’s meat, served on Texas toast, topped with cheese fries.  And they have it at 6 Degrees.  Niiiiice.

Toast (2046 N. Damen Avenue)
Hey, it's .... Toast!
Just look for the perfectly browned piece of toast marking the entrance to this popular brunch destination.  Wear your best hipster attire – you’ll be showing it off in the alcove for the next hour while you wait for your table.

Laura’s Take:  Toast seems like a place that would be featured on “Unique Eats” on the Cooking Channel.  I mean, I guess their unique eat would be toast.  They had a bunch of different types including cinnamon raisin and wheat (among others).  Whatever your favorite brunch item, sweet or savory, it will be on the menu.  I’m not sure that the food lives up to the wait time, but then again, I just got a salad.  Our server was very sweet and friendly, and she would take time out to chat with familiar customers even though the place was crazy busy. I think they are going for a friendly, homey atmosphere even if that means that brunch may turn into the most time-consuming thing you do that day.  Next time I go back I would probably try the pancakes – they seemed good.  One final note… I am about 90% sure that the male model in a fashion ad that popped up on my computer screen next day was at Toast the day before.

Cobb salad; El Bucktowno.
Michael’s Take: Well geez, they have a sandwich called “el bucktowno”, so I pretty much knew what I was going to get right off the bat.  For a place so hip, so trendy, SO Bucktown, I was hoping this sandwich wouldn’t be a disappointment.  It wasn’t.  Thick and perfectly cooked chicken breast.  The best part was the change of pace from lettuce, tomato, and white onion.  Instead, you get squash, zucchini, and red onion.  Great change of pace there.  Our server was polite and helpful.  Only drawback: slow kitchen.

Anything Else We Missed: There’s another location (the original) on Halsted, just north of Armitage, in Lincoln Park.  The Bucktown location is very small, and very popular.  Expect at least a half-hour wait, but probably longer, and that’s at 2:00 in the afternoon.  It closes at 3:00 on weekdays and 4:00 on weekends, so give yourself time.

The Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Avenue)
Where is it...where is it...where...there!  Boo-yah!
This bar has been around since 1992, when the neighborhood was something much different from what it is now. The Map Room’s traveler theme benefits in terms of a beer selection that goes beyond what you see in most beer bars.  Keep in mind that they don’t serve food, but remember you will get complimentary pretzel rods in a beer glass at your table!

Michael’s Take: GREAT beer selection (over twenty on tap, many of which even the proudest connoisseur hasn’t yet sampled) mixed with maps and old copies of National Geographic (going back pre-1950 here).  My personal favorite, the Chicago neighborhoods map betwixt the restrooms.  Great balance of atmosphere, bringing together dive bar elements with sleek and modern ambiance.  I've read online that the service can be stuffy, but my limited experience was a positive one.

So many options at The Map Room.
Laura’s Take: I could easily see this becoming a habit if I lived nearby.  I’m pretty much going to let the menu (and the maps) speak for themselves.  The maps, I mean, come on that's unique, and with the monstrous selection of beers you’ve never heard of, you're gonna wanna stay.

Anything Else We Missed: Beer not your thing?  Great news, they serve Intelligentsia coffees and teas.   Is beer your THING?  They offer a “beer school” where you can the finer points of beer consumption.  Everybody wins at the Map Room.

Bucktown: The Final Tally
Bucktown is one of many liveable northside neighborhoods.  At the same time, there is a little bit of an industrial, offbeat and upcoming note in the air. (We may be biased because we walked over the industrial river corridor that lies to Bucktown’s east on our way there... see below).  The storefronts don’t really punch you in the face; rather you get the feeling that you are discovering something when you find your spot.  Bucktown is said to have more artists than any other area in the Midwest. There are certainly a multitude of galleries and theaters that we did not have the chance to try but have a lot to do with the neighborhood’s identity. This historic, essentially residential quarter has reinvented itself as a hotspot for those who enjoy its edgy character.

Bucktown from above.

The skyline to the south where Cortland Street crosses the Chicago River, 
forming the eastern gateway to Bucktown.

The mighty (and charmingly industrial) Chicago River 
from the Cortland Street bridge, looking northward.

St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church

Covenant Presbyterian Church

It's an international affair at The Map Room.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Laura and Michael,

    Nice work!

    Having written Wicker Park From 1673 Thru 1929 and Walking Tour Guide and being a long time resident of Wicker Park, you get high praise for getting the Bucktown boundaries correct!

    Our Urban Times is the only newspaper that covers (roughly) from Fullerton to Grand and the River to Sacramento. We are online only.

    I would love to talk with you. Please send me your contact info to editor@OurUrbanTimes.com.