"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, April 3, 2011

Lincoln Square/Ravenswood

The Breakdown
The south entrance to Lincoln Square.  Seriously though, DO enter.
The boundaries: The community area of Lincoln Square is bounded by Montrose Avenue to the south, Ravenswood Avenue to the east, and the North Shore Channel (that leads into the Chicago River) to the west.  The western half of the northern boundary is Bryn Mawr Avenue, between the North Shore Channel and Western Avenue.  From there, Rosehill Cemetery makes up the northeastern portion of the community area, extending along Peterson Avenue from Western to Ravenswood.

The neighborhood of Ravenswood is located mostly within the Lincoln Square community area.  There doesn’t seem to be definitive consensus on the boundaries, but according to the (now defunct?) Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, it’s Leavitt Street to the west, Clark Street to the east, Foster Avenue to the north, and Montrose Avenue to the south.

Population make-up: At the 2000 Census there were 44,574 residents living in Lincoln Square.  This has dropped to 39,493 in the 2010 Census, an 11.4% decrease.  In 2000, the ethnic make-up was 67% white, 26.5% Hispanic, and 13.5% Asian.  According to the Chicago Tribune’s Census analysis, the White and Black populations have increased while the Hispanic and Asian populations have decreased in the past ten years.  German was the largest population of ancestry in 2000, with over 5,600 Lincoln Square residents being of German descent.

"Free society is not, 
and shall not be, a failure."
-Abraham Lincoln, Chicago (12/10/1856)
A brief history: If you had to guess the largest ancestry population in Chicago, you’d think it’d be Polish, right?  Wrong.  How about Irish?  Try again.  Italian?  Nope, it’s actually German and Lincoln Square is Chicago’s Little Munich.  As in many Chicago neighborhoods, it began as an agricultural area.  Meanwhile, Ravenswood established itself after the Civil War as an exclusive suburb.  With the construction of the elevated train system, the area reaped further benefits in the early 1900s.  An industrial corridor along Ravenswood Avenue soon came to be, and much of the street still is still home to light industrial companies.  Post-World War II saw Lincoln Square being to develop itself as a commercial destination.

Some gentrification, along with great access to public transit, has made Lincoln Square an attractive neighborhood for families and young professionals.  Still, one-fifth of the community area has been designated a historic preservation district, meaning that even with future development, much of the historic character of the neighborhood will be maintained.  The public square (Lincoln Square) for which the community area takes its name is located at the intersection of Lawrence, Western, and Lincoln Avenues.  It contains numerous unique bars, shops, and restaurants, two of which will be covered in this entry.

Getting there: If you can get to the Brown Line, it’s a piece of cake.  There are Lincoln Square stops at Rockwell, Western, Damen, and Montrose in Lincoln Square (the latter two stop in the Ravenswood neighborhood).  To get to the eponymous square for which the community area is named, get off at Western.  You can also take the Metra (Union Pacific/North Line) to the Ravenswood station.

By bus going east-west, you can take Foster (92), Lawrence (81), and Montrose (78).  The Peterson Bus (84) also runs the northern border of Lincoln Square.  Running north-south your Lincoln Square options are: California (93), two Western buses (49 and 49B), and Damen (50).  Another option for Ravenswood is the Clark Bus (22).  Going northwest-southeast, you can take the Lincoln Bus (11).

Chicago Brauhaus (4732 N. Lincoln Avenue)
Don't be fooled by the empty tables.
This was ten minutes after the place opened.
Located right in the heart of the Square itself, the Chicago Brauhaus epitomizes the German heritage found especially in this neighborhood.  The room is dim, with the limited natural light highlighting the interior’s beautiful stained glass.  Among the featured German beers: Bitburger, Warsteiner, and Hofbrau; but your choices go well beyond those.  Expect a fun, lively crowd of young and old, and don’t be embarrassed to join in with them on “Ein Prosit” (you know, zicke zacke zicke zacke hoi hoi hoi!).  Prosit!

Laura’s Take: I went for it and got the liver dumpling soup.  It ended up being two huge liver meatballs in a delicious salty meat broth.  It was nice and hot, and the breads that came with it made it a meal. Not usually a liver person, I don’t know what came over me, but I was rewarded – the dumplings were only livery enough that you felt like you got what you asked for.  Otherwise they were really just good meaty texture and flavors. The Brauhaus seems to have a loyal following; it was busy for lunchtime before noon on one of the first tolerable weather days of late winter.  If we hadn’t been headed to the brewery, I probably would have gotten one of the German beers, which come in the 0,3 litre glasses you see in Europe… or of course, ridiculously huge looking litre steins.  This is AMERICA after all.

You LOVE when we show you what we ate
Michael’s Take: If you’re a vegetarian, this is gonna be a problem.  Otherwise, you’re in GREAT shape!  I went with the smoked thüringer, two connected, lightly pink-colored sausages.  For a side, it was hard to argue against sauerkraut.  So was it good?  Of course it was.  German food is good comfort food, and when you combine it with a great atmosphere and great beer, that’s a formula for a great meal.

Anything Else We Missed: Don’t come on Tuesdays, they’re closed.  The Brauhaus opens at 11 A.M. the other six days of the week.  However, if you come on the weekend, they only serve “dinner”.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have lunch here on Saturday or Sunday, it just means you’ll be ordering off the dinner menu.  It won’t run you too much more than you’d pay if they had their lunch menu available though.  Entrees run about $8-$10 for sausage platters, while the more expensive entrees are about $15-$20.  Our server was polite and attentive without being overbearing.
Chicago Brauhaus right next door to the Book Cellar

The Book Cellar (4736 N. Lincoln Avenue)
If I could juuust grab that Tolstoy...
Ahhh yes, another independent bookstore.  What’s stunning about this one is how ridiculously small their retail space is, yet anything you would look for in a Barnes & Noble can be found here.   They even manage to squeeze in a coffee bar. The Book Cellar compensates for this lack of space by stocking their shelves to the max, and creating narrow corridors between the shelves.  But even if you’re quasi-claustrophobic, a bookworm finding himself/herself in Lincoln Square should squeeze in at least a quick trip over to the Book Cellar.

Again, high horse here, please support businesses like these.  The purpose of this blog isn’t to get political, but it IS to bring attention to independent bars, shops, and restaurants.  Supporting small businesses not only fills up storefronts, it helps communities and neighborhoods create and maintain a unique identity.  Also, money spent at independent businesses gets reinvested throughout the community, whereas an on-line purchase does not.  There is no disputing the convenience or cost benefit of shopping on-line, and we’d be hypocrites if we said we never bought anything from the internet.  That being said, please consider making at least SOME of your purchases for holidays, birthdays, or just because you’ve been good, at independent retailers and show them that you appreciate their efforts to help make their town or neighborhood a great place to experience.

St. Matthias Catholic Church (2310 W. Ainslie Street)
OK, so reviewing a church isn’t really appropriate.  That’s not the point of this entry.  In Europe, churches/cathedrals are often big tourist attractions.  Tourists engulf the areas around Westminster Abbey in London, Notre Dame in Paris, and St. Peter’s in Rome.  What often gets glossed over in the Chicago media is the abundance of historic churches that feature stunning architecture.

While St. Matthias in Lincoln Square isn’t as widely recognized as Old St. Patrick’s (West Loop) or St. John Cantius  (West Town), it is a striking piece of architecture, both on the outside, and inside as well.  The stained glass windows are striking in their beauty, especially on a sunny day like the one we had.  The Church itself dates back to the 1800s, and is nestled on quiet street one block east of Western Avenue.  Whether you’re Catholic or non-religious but can appreciate spiritual architecture, St. Matthias is worth appreciating.

Metropolitan Brewing (5121 N. Ravenswood Avenue)
Open sesame!
You didn’t think we were gonna miss this, did you??  The thing is, unless you know exactly where the building is, you would miss it.  Obviously we were there for a tour.  If you want to see the facility during normal working hours, my best suggestion would be to fill out a job application.  The fine folks at Metropolitan produced their first batch for public consumption just over two years ago, and thanks to their efforts (among others), Chicago is quickly becoming a microbrewing hotbed.

Laura’s Take: So I was really shocked at how tiny Metropolitan Brewery is.  It really is just these guys doing their thing in a single warehouse-style building with a ceiling vaulted enough to accommodate their equipment.  The tour given by Doug went quickly but he gave one of the best explanations of how hops are used to various degrees that I have heard in any brewery, large or small.  Although the tour will cost you a few bucks and must be reserved online ahead of time, they make up for it with free beer the entire time.  You feel special when you show up to what seems like their secret location, enter the nondescript doorway, and suddenly the entire brewery operation’s guts are spilled out in front of you.  The operation is so small that you cannot purchase the beer on site, but the brewers will definitely talk to you after the tour and fill you in on locations near your hood where you can find their beers.
See those tanks?  That's where the flavor is.

Michael’s Take: Two Brothers, Half Acre, and coming soon Finch’s.  There’s also Argyle on the South Side.  But here’s what separates Metropolitan from the rest, is their focus exclusively on lagers.  If you think lagers are wimpy, you haven’t tried Metropolitan’s.  This isn’t your standard American pilsner.  Flywheel is crisp and flavorful.  My favorite though is Dynamo Copper Lager.  For those serious beer snobs (you know who you are) who “don’t care for lagers”, give Dynamo a try.  You will not be disappointed.

Anything Else We Missed: This isn’t the Miller Brewery, this isn’t the Anheuser-Busch Brewery either.  They offer limited tours, and you need to buy tickets ahead of time (please click on their name at the beginning of this entry to be linked to their website).  Tickets are $5 apiece and you get to sample four beers.  What you lose out in availability, you gain intimacy.  Tours are limited to about 30 patrons, and are delivered by the owners/brewers themselves.

Lincoln Square/Ravenswood: The Final Tally
Lincoln Square and Ravenswood have charm to spare.  While they don’t share the dense hustle and bustle of lakefront neighborhoods like Lake View and Lincoln Park, there exists a likeable modesty with enough diverse retail and amenities to warrant at least a visit from Chicagoans of all types and tastes.

The real highlight of this area is the public square, the Lincoln Square, which gives this neighborhood its name.  The abundance of unique retail and cuisine beckons those of all ages, and is probably as close to a European experience as you’ll find in the Windy City.  Although there’s a one-way street through it, traffic is slow and the space is pedestrian-friendly.  The square alone (and continuing retail strip immediately south along Lincoln Avenue towards Montrose) is worth at least a half-day’s visit and is something all residents of Chicago should experience while living here.  Taking a stroll down Lincoln Avenue on a Saturday afternoon will permit opportunities for wine tastings, chic apparel, and toys for children of all ages.  Meanwhile, Ravenswood boasts a well-kempt housing stock that is understandably alluring to young professionals and families alike.

There is a wonderful balance in the Lincoln Square area between the fast-paced and the calm, commercial and residential, the availability of public transportation and the availability of side-street parking.  With everything that Lincoln Square offers, whether you are alone or in a group, you can find a memorable Chicago experience here.

Lincoln Square outlined in red.  Ravenswood outlined in pink.  Please click for a larger map.

Stained glass inside St. Matthias Catholic Church


  1. "If we hadn’t been headed to the brewery, I probably would have gotten one of the German beers, which come in the 0,3 litre glasses you see in Europe… or of course, ridiculously huge looking litre steins. This is AMERICA after all."

    While you're correct that most portions in the U.S. dwarf those in Europe, the Germans don't mess around with beer. Outside of Düsseldorf and Cologne the standard size for a beer is 0,5L (when I studied in Germany in college, a waitress made fun of me mercilessly the first time I ordered a 0,3L beer), and the one-liter mug (called a Maß) is authentically Bavarian. Prost!

  2. keep up the good work, spreading positive(non-gangster) info on Chicago.
    good work on Lincoln Square blog.

  3. Does anyone believe Lincoln Square lost 10% of it's population?

  4. Can't believe I missed this, great review of Lincoln Square, I think it sums it up really well

  5. I lived at Wilson and Oakley from 1924 to 1938----doesn't look like it ha
    s changed that much :)

  6. Good info to know about the Chicago Brauhaus, sounds like a place Ill go soon:)