|Downtown isn't far from Noble Square.|
The boundaries: Noble Square’s boundaries are normally considered the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) to the east, Ashland Avenue to the west, Division Street to the north, and Grand Avenue to the south.
The Polish Triangle is a commercial corridor that is bounded by Ashland Avenue to the west, Division Street to the south, and Milwaukee Avenue to the northeast. It is surrounded by four different neighborhoods: Pulaski Park to the northeast, Wicker Park to the northwest, East Village to the southwest, and Noble Square to the southeast.
Population make-up: OK, let’s try something here. West Town is far too large and diverse for each neighborhood to share the same demographic characteristics, so we’re going to turn to the census tracts. The great majority of Noble Square is located within census tracts 2420, 2433, and 2434. The Polish Triangle makes up the southwest corner of census tract 2416.
In the census tract in which the Polish Triangle belongs, 2010 census figures list the population as 3,477. White residents make up 60% of the area, and 30% is Hispanic. The remaining 10% is split up among Asian (5%), Black (3%), and other races (2%).
In Noble Square’s census tracts the 2010 population was 9,952. It’s a relatively diverse neighborhood. The population was 52% White, 32% Hispanic, 11% Black, 3% Asian, and 2% from other races. Currently there is no income data available.
As a whole, West Town has seen an increase in its White and Asian populations, while seeing decreases in its Black and Hispanic populations, between 2000 and 2010. In the past ten years, the West Town community area’s population has dropped nearly 6%, from 87,435 (2000) to 82,236 (2010).
|The Polish Triangle. |
Where Ashland, Division and Milwaukee meet.
The Polish influence in Chicago is everywhere. That influence still exists in places like Avondale and Archer Heights. General knowledge has it that Chicago has the world’s second-largest Polish population, behind only Warsaw. The Polonia Triangle however, is considered the city’s original “Polish Downtown”. In the late 1800s, multiple Polish organizations located at the three-street intersection, and stunning Polish Cathedral style churches (St. Stanislaus Kostka and Holy Trinity Church) were erected just down the street. Although the Polish influence on the neighborhood is far less than 100 (or even 50) years ago, it still lingers in several establishments, two of which we’ll cover in this entry. Currently there is a movement to improve the visual appeal of the Polish Triangle, perhaps formally designating it as Wicker Park’s southern gateway. Still, day or night, it doesn’t lack for activity.
Getting there: By elevated train, the Blue Line will take you there. The Division stop drops you right off at the Polish Triangle and Noble Square’s northern boundary. To access Noble Square’s Chicago Avenue commercial corridor, take the Blue Line to Chicago and it’s about a five-minute walk west, just over the Kennedy Expressway.
By bus there are a few options as well. Going east-west: Division (70), Chicago (66), and Grand (65). Going north-south you’ll need to take the Ashland bus (9). Going northwest-southeast you can also take the Milwaukee bus (56).
The Noble Grape (802 N. Bishop Street)
Just one of the small shops beckoning you off the street in this trendy strip of Chicago Avenue in Noble Square. It may just seem like another wine shop, but what they lack in space, they more than make up for in product quality.
Michael’s Take: Were this in my neighborhood, I would be a regular customer. For a tiny little boutique it not only carries a great wine selection, but a couple terrific shelves of microbrews and spirits (many of which are hard to find outside of Binny’s). Service is polite and attentive; they seem happy you’re there and eager to help. Kind of a weird side note: the register prints out one the nicest-looking receipts I’ve ever seen. Their logo is big and they break down your purchase clearly by price, city tax, and county tax. I mean, you care about this kind of stuff, so I thought I’d let you know…
Laura’s Take: GREAT selection of different (read: non grocery store variety) wines for good prices. And they do have the upper crust as well. I wish I had a wine shop like this near home.
Anything Else We Missed: OK, on Wednesdays and Fridays they have complimentary wine tastings from 6-8pm. Hey South Park P.D., whatdya think of that??
Podhalanka (1549 W. Division Street)
There’s a little dive on the Polish Triangle that’s every bit worth the stop. Podhalanka doesn’t seem have a website, but going in blindly won’t have you the slightest bit disappointed if you’re a meat and potatoes person.
Michael’s Take: Ahhh, just like Grandma used to make. My mom’s parents both emigrated from Poland to Chicago shortly after World War II. As a young boy if there was one thing I could count on, it was that I was never leaving Grandma and Grandpa’s on an empty stomach. My grandma’s masterpiece? Her sauerkraut-stuffed pierogis.
They may not have the sauerkraut variety at Podhalanka, but you can choose among meat, cabbage, and potato & cheese. My recommendation is to request them to give you some of each. Not health food by any means, but these dumplings took me back to my childhood. The pierogis are fat and covered in melted butter. One serving is plenty for a full meal. Also, the white borscht was fantastic. The slightest hint of sourness with hearty chunks of sausage mixed in.
|There might have been space left for one more pierogi,|
but that void was quickly filled by a dollop of sour cream.
Everything was served with basic, humble ware and a humble manner to match. No frills, just home cooking that you will recognize as such even if you have never eaten Polish food per se (as I hadn’t). You will not feel that you’re in a trendy place…. the décor is pretty astonishingly dated and old. However, there is a reason its online ratings are almost perfect – what an unexpected treat near downtown Chicago.
Anything Else We Missed: We were served a homemade juice on the house (referred to as “compote” on the menu). It was blueberry with rose hips – it tasted vaguely like a dilute tea. Not the most electrifying beverage, but charming in its honesty and a cute part of the visit for us.
Chopin Theatre (1543 W. Division Street)
For the uninitiated, Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) is Poland’s greatest composer. His piano pieces are today as widely performed as anything penned by Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart. Back in Poland he has his name and face on airports, currency, and chocolate bars. It goes without saying that his impact on the Polish psyche came over to America along with the hundreds of thousands of immigrants. In the Polish Triangle there is a great historical theater that has gone through many changes in its history that bears his name. The Chopin Theatre hosts a wide array of artistic events, and we saw The Hypocrites perform their take on Georg Büchner’s enigmatic Woyzeck.
|"So you're here to see the play too, huh?"|
Although this was the first time I have seen Woyzeck live on stage, I am familiar with the work due to Werner Herzog’s masterful 1979 film. The Hypocrites’ version is brief (just over an hour), yet powerfully disturbing. It’s a story that doesn’t settle in with the viewer until well into the performance. The acting is very good, but is trumped by its haunting, brutal imagery and often-manmade soundscapes. Their work is a challenging piece, and for those with an aversion to blood should probably be avoided. But for the curious, this interpretation of Büchner’s unfinished masterpiece is well worth the price of admission ($28 per ticket).
|One of lounges within the Chopin Theatre.|
The play was rather violent at times, as evidenced by the fact that there was enough blood on the ground that the lead actor had to catch himself from a complete wipe-out toward the end of the play. You will not leave with anything resembling a warm fuzzy feeling, or even that much more insight about humanity (in my opinion), but if you like these sort of challenging experiences, go for it.
Anything Else We Missed: The Chopin Theatre was built in 1918 and has served numerous purposes over the past century. However, it was re-opened in 1990 under its current incarnation where it hosts music, film festivals, and other various artistic endeavors in addition to live theater.
Frontier Lounge (1072 N. Milwaukee Avenue)
Michael’s Take: If you’re just stopping in for a beer, there’s a good selection on tap and in bottle. Also, the prices are reasonable. I mean, a 16-ounce can of Half Acre Ambrosia for $5? To quote the great philosopher John McEnroe, “you can NOT be SERIOUS!!!” Only hitch, the place isn’t that big and since it’s the new kid on the block and has gotten some serious buzz, it gets PACKED. Even if you just plan to sit at the bar, you may be expected to wait a bit.
|Celebrity sighting: Brian Urlacher.|
|Couldn't even get the |
whole list in one shot.
Anything Else We Missed: Yes, oysters. Tons of them. Lake Michigan may not be the hotbed of seafood that the Atlantic and Pacific are, but Chi-town can certainly get it, and here’s a place to have it (approx. $2 - $3 a pop, minimum order of 3). However, if seafood isn’t your thing, we think you just might be able to find something else on the menu to satisfy your craving.
Noble Square/Polish Triangle: The Final Tally
|Eckhart Park offers a great view of the skyline.|
|A look from above. Noble Square is in orange. The Polish Triangle is the small purple wedge in the top left.|
|The beautiful, yet unoccupied,|
St. Boniface Church
|Holy Innocents Church|
|Holy Trinity Polish Church|