"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, October 28, 2012

East Village

Classic West Side residential architecture in the East Village.
The Breakdown
An overview: Making up a small slice in the southern half of West Town, the East Village is just one example of why so many people flock to West Town for its culture, housing, and nightlife.  The East Village is often combined with its neighbor to the immediate west, the Ukrainian Village.  We could have easily combined the two into one entry.  However, there’s plenty to do in the East Village alone that’s worth an entry.  Furthermore, we’ll dedicate some time and space in the future to let Ukrainian Village have its moment.

Also, not everyone realizes what the East Village is, and that it’s a separate entity from the Ukrainian Village.  What it does have in common with the Ukrainian Village are their best traits.  Dive bars live side-by-side with popular hotspots.  Trendy dining shares streets with low maintenance taquerias.  Meanwhile, hipsters, blue-collar workers, and yuppies all comingle in the East Village’s numerous great spots.  Still, it has a different vibe from the Ukrainian Village and a more relaxed aura than its popular neighbor to the north, Wicker Park.

Lots of modern three flats
complement the more vintage stock.

The boundaries: The most commonly accepted boundaries for East Village are Division Street to the north, Ashland Avenue to the east, Damen Avenue to the west, and Chicago Avenue to the south.  However, many extend the neighborhood further south, accepting Grand Avenue as the southern boundary.  Since the lines aren’t formally determined, we’ll err on the side of giving East Village more area and refer to Grand Avenue the southern boundary.

Population make-up: The population of East Village declined a bit from 2000 to 2010.  In 2010, the neighborhood’s population was 11,650, which was down 8.6% from 2000. The racial make-up of the neighborhood, as of the 2010 Census, is 60.5% white, 31.1% Hispanic, 4.2% Asian, and 2.4% black.

A brief history: East Village, like its neighbor the Ukrainian Village, started out as farmland as Chicago developed.  After the Great Fire in 1871, it was settled by European immigrants, notably Germans, and then Swedes and Hungarians.  In the 1890s, it began to be occupied by Polish immigrants, which continued well into the 20th century, especially with an influx arriving after World War II.
Hey, you never know what you'll find
in the East Village.

The neighborhood began to fall into disrepair in the 1960s and 70s, due in part to the recently built Kennedy Expressway cutting through the surrounding neighborhoods.  Hispanics began to move increasingly into the neighborhood, starting in the 70s, and their influence on both the East Village and Ukrainian Village remains today.  However, the East Village is as diverse today as it’s ever been, with a combination of ethnicities and working classes.  Shops, bars, restaurants, and beautiful houses all line the streets of this small, but eclectic neighborhood.

Getting there: By L, your best bet is the Division Blue Line stop, which puts you at the northeastern tip of the neighborhood.  If travelling by bus, your north-south options are Damen (50) and Ashland (9).  If heading east-west, you can take Division (70), Chicago (66), and Grand (65).  Also, the northwest-southeast Milwaukee bus (56) will drop you off at the northeastern tip of East Village if you get off at Ashland.

Roots Handmade Pizza (1924 W. Chicago Avenue)
Roots.  Boo-ya!
Chicago is famous for deep dish and thin crust.  We all know about New York-style pizza too.  Even New Haven has their own style of ‘za.  But, how about Quad Cities style??  For those who were unaware of life in Illinois beyond Chicagoland, the Quad Cities are two small cities in Illinois, and two small cities in Iowa (sorry, East Moline) about three hours due west of Chicago, along the Mississippi River.  It’s a nice, quaint, part of Illinois that not a lot of people seem to know about, and have seemingly no reason to visit unless they’re going to John Deere corporate headquarters.  Well now, you don’t have to take I-88 west to the Iowa border just to get their variety of pizza.  And finally, what exactly makes pizza Quad Cities-style?  Well, for one, they use a dark-roasted malt for their crust.  It gives the pizza a little breadiness and crunch.  Also, they cut the pizza with…scissors.  Look, don’t judge from a distance.  Head over to East Village and try it for yourself!

Michael’s Take: Roots is good, solid pizza.  The malty crust isn’t revolutionary, but I tend to prefer my pizza with a slightly bready crust.  This gets the job done as it a little crunch around the edges, but light enough to not divert from the toppings.  Admittedly trying to eat a slice of pizza cut into a long, narrow rectangle doesn’t serve itself well to being held.  You really hafta cut off a bite or two before being able to pick up the rest of that bad boy.  What’s better than the pizza is the atmosphere.  In fitting with the West Town persona, it appears to be a converted garage.  Nice mix people of people, friendly service, good beer selection, it’s all good.  I’d like to have some of my buddies from the Quad Cities come try it out and let me know if it’s authentic QC-style pizza, but either way for a neighborhood pizza joint with an eccentric flavor, Roots is a nice place to drop into.

Laura:  I agree, the atmosphere was great. But, I hate to say it, the pizza just had WAY too much cheese. It was not even proportional at all. You know, when you’re left with that coagulating, chokingly thick glob of cheese that you just have to give up and pull off your bite.  Or, actually in this case, multiple bites.  When you eat pizza you do not want a mouthful of cheese! You want the perfect mix of crust, sauce, and, enough for flavor and maybe a little bit of texture, cheese! Anyway, I guess I’d go back, but I might actually ask for them to go easy on the cheese.

Anything Else We Missed: Here’s some chutzpah from Roots.  Not only are they trying to compete in the pizza department, but they also want to compete in another Chicago institution: the sausage.  They offer a classic Chicago dog, brat, and Italian.  However, they also flaunt a chicken chorizo, a frank & beans dog, and a gyro sausage.  Other entrees includes salads, sandwiches, and pasta.

This old garage became a lot tastier when they started serving pizza and beer.

Happy Village (1059 N. Wolcott Avenue)
Happy Village.  A bar your grandparents would approve of.
A tavern as real as the neighborhood it serves.  The front of the bar is modest, with décor seemingly unchanged in decades (save for the hi-def flatscreen TV).  Definitely representing East Village’s blue-collar ethos.  But if that doesn’t float your boat, then in nice weather you can head out back to their charming beer garden.  A tent and some really REALLY lovely fountains greet you, giving your inner white-collar persona some serenity.  So grab yourself a PBR tallboy and head out to Happy Village for a cold one.

Michael’s Take: Happy Village is one of those character bars, both in terms of the establishment itself, and the people who frequent it.  There’s a nice mix of people, and a small but diverse beer selection (standard domestics, local microbrews, and a few other craft brews).  If the weather is good, highly suggest heading out to the beer garden.  On a Saturday afternoon the place is only staffed by one or two people, so don’t just sit outside with an empty, expecting service.  After all, you’re an adult, you can handle waddling back up to the bar after your bathroom break.  There’s one definite major draw here though.  Please see “Anything Else We Missed” below.

The backyard water feature.  Another great hidden find in East Village.
Laura’s Take:  This is kind of a bizarre place. But I think people in East Village might like that. Things were a bit grimy, a bit shabby, and I’m not sure there was an intact tile in every place of the floor. But things were so very, very dive... that you just accept it and embrace the place. Well, that is, if you want to. The front bar area is connected to the ping pong room by a small doorway that I will describe more as a passageway. Off in the ping pong room, there are two small cafeteria style round tables to congregate around if there are other people playing at the time. Otherwise, and probably your best option, is to proceed through the back out to the garden. Here things get a little more interesting, and a lot more comfortable. Suddenly the space opens up, you no longer feel that a roof is sagging over your head, and you can even find a table next to an odd but inviting fish pond with a small waterfall feature. There are an abundance of plants and rocks to decorate the area and a pleasant atmosphere created by the waterfall sounds. One could enjoy oneself back there, making trips back to the bar for a few more cans every so often.

Anything Else We Missed: Ping pong!  The back room has two tables available to combat friends and foes alike in the sport of emperors.  Even on slower days, there’s a slight wait, so make sure to get your name on the board and wait your turn.

The Anthem (1725 W. Division Street)
The Anthem, we salute you!
When a sports nut marries a hipster and they have a kid and that kid turns 21, he/she goes to The Anthem.  And that’s seriously the vibe here.  You’ve got taps with Brooklyn ales, servers covered in tats and earrings from top to bottom, and you’ve got...college football.  But this isn’t a place with an identity crisis.  Rather, it might just be the perfect example of the kind of bar representative of the neighborhood it’s in.  Just like East Village itself, at The Anthem, hip meets Joe six-pack, and Goose Island meets Anheuser-Busch.  Oh, wait…

Michael’s Take: East Village is full of solid neighborhood joints, and this is another.  It’s a sports bar, it looks trendy, and it has a couple solid microbrews.  Again, like the neighborhood, the crowd gets diverse.  On Saturdays during football season they come out to support their alma maters, and you have several TVs to choose from in case your team is on but isn’t local.  Nice sports décor here too including two vintage side-by-side Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers pennants that I SWEAR were on my bedroom wall back in early 90s.  Gotta love Bucco Bruce and that creamsicle helmet.  Also, food is good and the portions are legendary.  I got a chicken Philly which came with sauteed onions (optional), and melted provolone (or Cheese Whiz if you're so inclined.  The sandwich is overflowing with juicy, slightly charred chunks of chicken.  The onions are cheese are a wonderful compliment.  When no sauce is necessary, you know your sandwich is getting the job done.  Also, knowing that waffles fries are French fries in their optimal form, The Anthem gives you a generous helping of these crispy beauties.  If you’re in the neighborhood or nearby and wanna catch the game, The Anthem is a good place to stop in.

Taking a seat at The Anthem.
Laura’s Take:  I felt extra welcome after we were greeted by the waitress. She really seemed to care whether we had been there before, and in my case since I hadn’t, she gave me a sincere welcome. She explained that the place is a sports bar, but to expect their locally sourced food to be slower, and taste a bit better, than expected. Although the food didn’t take too long, the being better than average part was definitely true. Going out on a limb, I actually ordered a salad for lunch. If you thought that sounded healthy, keep in mind that it was a Buffalo salad with creamy garlic dressing, cheese, fried onions.  Which were all delicious, fresh, and in the correct proportions. Nothing ruins a salad faster than too much dressing, too little chicken, too many extras. I really enjoyed the roasted red peppers in this salad, which surprised me because usually I feel that they are way too thick and slimy in most preparations. Here they cut them julienne style, very thing, and they were the perfect flavor with a little sweetness to offset the bite of the salad. Really great. On a Saturday at lunch, The Anthem epitomized to me what I expect as a low-key buzz on a weekend at a Chicago neighborhood bar.

Anything Else We Missed:  Heard burgers here are pretty tasty.  But if you just came to drink, they’ve got some specials for Chicago sporting events.  Select mixed drinks are a cool, crisp $5.  Also, domestic buckets are $16, but for an extra $3 you can add, yes, a bowl of Chex Mix.  “Wahhh wahhh wahhhhhhhh.” – Charlie Brown’s mom.

East Village: The Final Tally
Love those classic three flats.
East Village is a neighborhood in touch with its history.  Eastern European influences remain, while the hipster culture mixes with the neighborhood’s long-running Latin flavor.  The result is a charming rectangle of beautiful homes, exciting bars and eateries, and a diverse populous.  Although often overshadowed (or lumped-in with) its more well known sister neighborhood, the Ukrainian Village, the East Village has its own unique amenities that make it worth a visit.

The West Town community area is continuing to see great interest by young professionals looking for an experience different from the lakefront neighborhoods.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Wicker Park, Noble Square, Ukrainian Village, and East Village.  All these neighborhoods have seen strong variety in their demographics over the past one hundred years.  This is continuing today.  If the trend continues though, East Village and the rest of its West Town counterparts will continue to see a growth in vibrancy and cultural amenities.  As East Village continues to thrive, it is another great Windy City destination for a stroll, a meal, or even an entire day.

A couple great places to eat and drink in the East Village.

Old school in the East Village.
New school in the East Village.

Eight different neighborhoods make up the West Town community area: River West (dark blue),
Noble Square (orange), East Village (green), Ukrainian Village (yellow), Smith Park (magenta),
Humboldt Park (gray), Wicker Park (red), and Pulaski Park (light blue).

Chicken Philly, waffle fries, and a Schiltz.
Enjoy your veggie plate, chump!

Gooooaaaaallllll!  Competitive urination at The Anthem.

East Village (green) is an easy jaunt from The Loop (blue).


  1. Bah!!! You missed out on the Jucy Lucy (Velveeta stuffed burger) at Anthem! It's so good your friends won't mind that you sprayed them with cheese sauce upon that delicious first bite!

    That in and of itself is worth visit #2 to East Village (or at least a small detour from Ukrainian Village).

  2. Juicy Lucies are just awesome. Sorry we missed out on the Anthem's, but that's just an excuse to go back!