"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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The Breakdown
Belmont Avenue serves as the main artery through Avondale.
An overview: It’s easy to say one neighborhood or another is the “next hot Chicago neighborhood”. Hell, we’ve even alluded to it in previous posts.  But if you had to put your money down on the next haven for young professionals, hipsters that are neither young nor professional, small plate restaurants featuring twelve kinds of pork belly, and the latest 200+ microbrew tavern that seats 12 comfortably, Avondale is your best bet.  We say all the aforementioned in jest, we love all those things (even the hipsters), and Avondale is starting to get them.  It’s essentially the one remaining north side neighborhood that hasn’t truly gentrified, but it’s well on its way.

Avondale the look and feel of a Logan Square or Humboldt Park, historic beauty and urban grit living side-by-side.  It’s diverse, featuring a predominantly Hispanic contingent, but also carrying a growing young white population mixed with an older European populace.  Avondale’s residential streets are also an interesting blend of housing stock.  You will often find a North Side-esque two-flat next door to a South Side-esque bungalow.

It’s not yet made to be on a postcard, but Avondale has its charms.  The neighborhood is certainly accessible via public transit, which will help it grow as a destination for young residents and visitors alike.  And even if you haven’t heard of Avondale, there’s a good chance that you’ve been at an establishment there…and were told that you were in Logan Square.  As you’ll see below though, a handful of Chicago favorites are located in Avondale.  So now you have no excuse to not visit, even though you now realize you probably already have.

Note: Just…can’t…help…but feel like we’re missing something.  Ahhhhh yes, Hot Doug’s!  Yes, Hot Doug’s is in Avondale.  No, we did not review it for this blog for the simple fact that it’s been a long while since we’ve eaten there, and we did not want to have to wait in line two hours like last time to write this entry.  That being said, our feelings are wildly mixed between “totally not worth it” (Laura) and “TOTALLY worth it…if you’re willing to wait in line for two hours” (Michael).  Let your tolerance for lines make the decision for you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Roger Ebert: Thoughts On His Passing

I have to admit, initially I was taken aback by the outpouring of grievances across the country on the passing of Roger Ebert.  Unquestionably he is, and has been for decades, our nation’s pre-eminent master of cinematic journalism.  What surprised me is how many people really truly seemed to care about his death.  It’s as though we have lost a Hemingway, a Picasso, an Einstein.  This past Sunday night I stayed up for over two hours, reading and watching tributes to Mr. Ebert.  It all makes sense to me.  We have lost one of our geniuses.

Now, why in a blog dedicated to neighborhoods am I waxing poetic about the loss of a film critic?  Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that beyond our day jobs, Roger and I share the exact same passion.  We are advocates for, and lovers of, our city.  Ebert could have had any newspaper job on the planet.  With their proximity to abundant filmmaking, New York and Los Angeles would have made more sense than Chicago.  Instead, the larger-than-life cinema guru chose to live here.  Sure a whopping salary didn’t hurt, but it’s not as though his writing hasn’t been in high demand for decades, especially after winning the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for film criticism.  I mean, does America’s second-most-read critic, whomever that may be, have half the readership as Mr. Ebert and his website?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wicker Park

The Breakdown
Six Corners: The Heart of Wicker Park
An overview: Your opinion of Wicker Park likely hinges upon your opinion of hipsters.  Perhaps you think they’re great because they bring unique shops and eateries to the community, embrace ethnic diversity, and are extremely fun to look at.  Or, you might just think they’re just PBR-drinking, excessive hair gel-wearing, “hey look at me” kind of folk who don’t have real jobs.  You can debate the merit of hipsters all you want (although we happen to be in the former category), but you cannot debate the impact they’ve had on Wicker Park.

Wicker Park has gone in the past 25 years from being considered a relatively seedy (if not dangerous) ‘hood to one of Chicago’s premiere destinations for the arts, entertainment, and nightlife.  The beating heart is at the intersection of Damen, North, and Milwaukee.  The Flatiron building overlooks galleries, taverns, indie shops, and people on top of people.  The energy is 24/7.

Wicker Park continues to grow as a destination not only for hipsters, but the young professional community as a whole.  Its access to the Blue Line makes it very easy to get downtown and vice-versa.  This blog entry, to this point, may be our longest.  We haven’t even scratched the surface.  Wicker Park has just too many destinations, too much historic architecture, and too many eccentric individuals to be confined by one entry.  Unquestionably we’ll be back again at some point.

A Couple Notes: Wicker Park and Bucktown often get lumped together as one neighborhood.  They certainly have similarities and share a border at Bloomingdale Avenue.  However, they also have their own personalities and vibes as well.  We visited Bucktown back in March of 2011.  For that entry, please click here.  Also, this is the entry where we’re going to introduce a rotation of guest writers to give their take as well.  So thanks Tom and Dana for being our guinea pigs, if our page views drop dramatically we’ll know where to find you!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chicago's Abandoned Movie Palaces

Chicago magazine recently did a beautiful pictorial exposé on Chicago's great abandoned movie palaces.  The piece, which is introduced by Roger Ebert, displays the interiors of these early movie theaters, showing past glory often muddled by decades of decay.  It wasn't that along ago that crowds of thousands would line up down the street to see the showing of one particular film.  Nowadays, with few exceptions, the multiplexes showing dozens of films throughout the day on dozens of different screens have rendered these architectural masterpieces obsolete of their original purpose.

So what is the purpose of this brief article?  First and foremost, to draw attention to oft-forgotten pieces of Windy City history.  Although these particular buildings are in great disrepair, there are organizations out there fighting for funding to help these structures be restored to their former glory.  If you're interested in supporting a historic Chicago cause, there are opportunities here with these movie palaces. Secondly, there are also many historic theater venues that are still in operation, several of which have been recently restored.  The Logan Theatre (Logan Square), Portage Theater, and Patio Theater (both in Portage Park) show that there is still a place in Chicago for grandiose arts venues.  They serve as anchors to commercial centers and community gathering places.

Although we don't have many images, we'd like to share where these theaters are, and how you can help.  So here are Chicago's abandoned (and hopefully soon-to-be-restored) move palaces.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Little India/Devon Avenue

The Breakdown
How educated are the residents of Little India?
Let's just say even the cell phones have PhDs.
An overview: Like Greektown, Little India represents a cultural stretch of road (Devon Avenue), within a neighborhood (West Rogers Park), within a community area (West Ridge).  West Ridge itself is a hidden gem of an area.  Besides hosting a large subcontinent population, West Ridge is also home to East Asians, Eastern Europeans, and one of the country’s largest Hasidic Jew demographics.  With so much ethnic flavor to offer, we felt for the sake of one entry that we’d keep our focus on Little India this time.

Devon Avenue, starting at California and heading eastward, is an electric blend of Chicago architecture and south Asian flare.  It’s a nonstop barrage of Indian/Pakistani shops, services, restaurants, and grocers.  Despite being a destination for south Asian culture, Little India isn’t just for Indians and Pakistanis.  Anywhere you go, whether sitting down at a restaurant, or just walking the streets, all the ethnicities of Chicago are represented.  Demographically speaking the area around Little India is one of the City’s most diverse areas.

To just call the area Devon Avenue would be a misnomer considering the wealth of other culture along this stretch of northern Chicago roadway.  Also, to just call it Little India would be another misnomer as there is a substantial representation of Pakistani culture along Devon as well.  However, without an official name for the area around Devon and Western Avenue, we will default to its common nickname of “Little India” for reference.

Monday, January 21, 2013

West Loop Gate

The Breakdown
An overview: Didn’t we already do the West Loop?  How is this different?  Well, yes, we did indeed cover the entire West Loop back in May of 2011.  However, we chose to come back and focus on the neighborhood’s eastern-most section for two main reasons.  First of all, our 2011 entry neglected the portion east of I-90/94.  As this entry will show, there are many wonderful things to do in such a small geographic area.  Secondly, we’ve had an incredible two years exploring your neighborhoods.  Now, we want to take you on a tour of ours.

Like Greektown, West Loop Gate is a neighborhood within a neighborhood within a community area.  As stated above, West Loop Gate is the easternmost portion of the West Loop neighborhood, which itself encompasses a relatively centralized (though spanning much of the east-west length) portion of one of the City’s largest community areas: the Near West Side.  Despite officially being a part of the Near West Side, West Loop Gate really serves more as an extension of the Loop, rather than a portion of the greater West Loop or Greektown.

But it hasn’t always been like that.  Relatively new as an in-demand place to live, West Loop Gate is continuing to grow taller and denser, much like its residential loft and high-rise bearing cousin the South Loop.  And as more and more people desire its location and fashionable condos, West Loop Gate’s lifestyle options continue to grow and expand with it.