Wicker Park in Chicago
Wicker Park is the vanguard of music, nightlife, and fashion in Chicago. This article also includes the sly, enjoyable Ukrainian Village, immediately south, and pieces of the greater West Town area.
Among the most pointless topics of debate in Chicago life is whether Wicker Park has changed, is full of yuppies now, isn't what it used to be, etc. The answers are simple: yes, maybe, and who cares? Just like the Velvet Underground would have been playing stadiums if everybody who claimed to have seen them in 1967 actually did, if everybody who claims to have been there when Wicker Park was cool actually was there, it would be a city roughly the size of Cleveland. Wicker Park is uniquely well-served by transportation among West Side neighborhoods, with the CTA's Blue Line elevated train and the major arteries of North, Milwaukee, and Damen all converging upon the center of the area.
Wicker Park was founded by the Wicker brothers in the 1870s, and it became part of the row of prosperous immigrant neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago — the German and Polish beer barons of Wicker Park were neighbored by the farmers of Bucktown, the Ukrainians in their titular Village, the Greeks and Italians of the Near West Side, and the Czechs of Pilsen. The brewery fortunes left two legacies that survive today: gorgeous, European-style mansions and apartment buildings, and a truly world-class set of dive bars. By 1900, Wicker Park had become Chicago's Polish Downtown. The city's oldest and most prominent Polish settlement, Polish Downtown was the political, cultural, and social capital of not only Poles in Chicago but for Polish Americans throughout North America. The area around Polonia Triangle at the intersection of Division, Ashland and Milwaukee Avenue played host to almost every major Polish organization in the United States.
After the economic decline of the West Side, Puerto Ricans became the majority population in Wicker Park. With them came the other two elements that would turn the neighborhood's commercial fortunes around: low rents in those great buildings, and an art scene that became known for exciting new work. Artists and musicians from outside the area moved in, finding cheap studios in places like the Flatiron Arts Building and good venues to exhibit and perform like the Double Door and the excellent Empty Bottle. Among many others, the Smashing Pumpkins were formed in the area, and Liz Phair's album Exile in Guyville re-cast the Rolling Stones' Main Street in Wicker Park; on the visual arts side, the long-running Around the Coyote festival continues as an annual gathering of the neighborhood's artistic highlights. (Years later, the John Cusack film High Fidelity attempted to capture Wicker Park in all of its elitist, obnoxious, trend-setting glory, and was generally well-received. However, when MTV's The Real World arrived in 2001, it sparked off a memorable neighborhood-wide fit.)
Of course, all vinyl pants must split in the end, and by the mid-90s, real estate prices were on the rise, and bar stools were colonized by conversations about who had been priced out (the Puerto Rican artists, for one) and where the next hot scene would be (opinions vary). Demand for housing in proximity to Wicker Park turned its neighbors Bucktown and Ukrainian Village into hot residential properties, and the boundaries between neighborhoods have become less meaningful with time. There are still a few Ukrainians in what's affectionately known as The Uke, but there are only a few places where their paths cross with the condo conversion kids: aside from the sidewalks in front of the astonishing churches in the area and in line at the terrific old bakeries, all style becomes equal at the historic Division Street Bath House.
Today, a few national chains have settled in among the independent fashion boutiques in Wicker Park, but it still raises a righteous middle finger to the glossy shopping on the Magnificent Mile, still offers the best places to get a cheap beer, and still has residents who, per capita, care more about quality music and restaurants than anywhere else in the city.
The O'Hare branch of the CTA Blue Line has stops in West Town (Chicago, Grand), Ukrainian Village (Division) and Wicker Park (Damen). The Damen stop is particularly useful, as it's right at the epicenter of Wicker Park and the border of Bucktown, and a short walk south to Ukrainian Village and the nightlife on Division.
If you're going further afield in Ukrainian Village than Division — say, to the Empty Bottle (see Drink) — get to know the relevant bus routes, as the CTA trains don't run particularly close.
- 9 Ashland is an all-nighter that runs within walking distance of the shops and bars in Wicker Park (on Milwaukee) and the nightlife on Division.
- 49 Western runs down Western Avenue for nearly the full length of the city, passing through the western edge of Ukrainian Village. It's an all-night route.
- 50 Damen runs through the heart of Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village, but lacks night-owl service.
- 56 Milwaukee is the king of the West Side, running through the center of Wicker Park and along the eastern fringe of Ukrainian Village.
- 65 Grand runs from downtown to West Town, connecting with the Grand Blue Line stop, and the southern fringe of Ukrainian Village.
- 66 Chicago runs from the Near North through West Town (connecting with the Chicago Blue Line stop) and Ukrainian Village, and onward to Austin. It's also an all-night route.
- 70 Division is vital for the nightlife on Division, connecting to the Blue Line at the Division Blue Line stop.
I-90/94, that shining exemplar of Chicago gridlock, runs close to Ukrainian Village — exit at Division and head straight west, or make a right off Division on Milwaukee to reach Wicker Park.
This isn't one of the worst parts of the city for parking, but it can still be a challenge, and there are no public lots or garages in the area. Be patient and circle the side streets. Many upscale restaurants offer valet parking for $10 or so. Permit-only parking is in place on many side streets, so check street signs. Damen in particular has some oddball no-parking hours.
While the art scene has largely moved on from Wicker Park, many of the galleries in the Flatiron Arts Building have First Friday open hours (6-9PM).
- Flatiron Arts Building (address: 1579 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 312 335-3000
This triangular behemoth was built in 1913 by the great Holabird & Roche, one of their few major products outside the Loop. The first floor is all retail, but the second and third floors have small art studios and galleries. Aside from the First Friday open hours (above), a few studios and galleries also have Saturday and Sunday afternoon hours.
- Holy Trinity Cathedral (address: 1121 N Leavitt) +1 773 486-6064
open: Open for visits Sa 11AM-4PM
Orthodox church in Ukrainian Village, designed by Louis Sullivan in 1903. It was funded in part by Czar Nicholas II; today, it thrives as a neighborhood parish.
- The Polish Museum of America (address: 984 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 384-3352
price: $5 adults, $4 children
open: F-W 11AM-4PM
Library and exhibitions on Polish heritage, both in Chicago and in Poland. It is home to the largest collection of memorabilia relating to Ignace Paderewski, and the museum is purportedly haunted by the once famous pianist.
- The Society for Arts (address: 1112 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 312 486-9612
This building was originally designed as a bank by Whitney & Williams when it was built in 1920. The society houses non-profit art galleries which focus on promoting cultural communication between Europe and the United States. The society also hosts film festivals exploring European cinema, art exhibitions, and concerts.
- St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church (address: 2238 W Rice St) +1 773 276-4537
No shortage of magnificent Ukrainian churches in this part of town — this soaring example was built in 1913 on the model of St Sophia's in Kiev. The eye-catching thirteen onion domes stand for Christ and the 12 apostles. The one weekly English-language mass is at 11:30AM on Sundays.
- Sts Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church (address: 2247 W Chicago Ave) +1 312 455-0178
This huge, golden-domed, Ukrainian Catholic church has been a local landmark since its construction in 1973. The church was built during a brief neighborhood schism over a move to use the Gregorian instead of the Julian calendar. How to upstage a church modeled after Kiev's St Sophia's? Build one modeled after Istanbul's Hagia Sophia! It is well worth a visit to marvel at the magnificent interior and iconostasis. Even if you come by when it's closed, you can appreciate at the mosaic over the entrance depicting the baptism of the Ukrainians by the parish's namesake saints. Most masses in Ukrainian.
- Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (address: 2320 W Chicago Ave) (directions: 66 Chicago bus) +1 773 227-5522
open: W-Su 12-4PM
This is a superb, lovingly curated collection of abstract and minimalist art by major Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American artists. The three permanent galleries represent not only Ukrainian heritage, but also one of Chicago's best and most underrated experiences for art lovers of any ethnicity.
- Ukrainian National Museum (address: 2249 W Superior St) +1 312 421-8020
price: Free, suggested donation $5
open: M-W by appointment, Th-Su 11AM-4PM
Almost certainly the best collection of Ukrainian ethnographic exhibits (musical instruments, traditional costumes, folk art, etc.) in the United States. Historical exhibits cover issues such as the famines under Stalin and the fallout after the Chernobyl meltdown. The museum also hosts an impressive library and archives for researchers, as well as occasional Ukrainian-related art exhibitions.
Music venues are the main attraction here, particularly the Double Door and the Empty Bottle (see below).
- Chopin Theatre (address: 1543 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 278-1500
An experimental theater complex encompassing two stages, a cafe, and a gallery. Many works in translation from Eastern Europe have made their US debut here, although the theater keeps strong ties to Wicker Park and local history as well.
- ["> Quoth Saul Bellow: "And down in the super-heated subcellars these Slavonic cavemen and wood demons with hanging laps of fat and legs of stone and lichen boil themselves and splash water on their heads by the bucket. There may be no village in the Carpathians where such practices still prevail. Division Street Russian and Turkish Baths] (address: 1914 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 384-9671
price: $20 entry includes two towels and soap; massage $30/$60 half-hour/hour
open: M-F 8AM-9PM, Sa 7AM-9PM, Su 6AM-8PM
- The Show Below (FRI/SAT) (address: Crocodile - 1540 N. Milwaukee) (directions: Damen Blue Line Stop) 888.864.4924
open: 9-10:30 PM
Every Friday and Saturday, performers from all over Chicago and the rest of the country come together to put on a free show in the heart of West Town. “The Show Below” is a great way to sample local comedy or catch up-and-coming acts. Each night features sets from three visiting guest groups and the house ensemble, The Crocodile Players. The show is free and the bar gives out free personal pizzas when you purchase a drink.
“The Show Below” is lucky enough to book performers from all over Chicago (including: Second City, iO, the Annoyance, ComedySportz and The Playground), but our main goals is providing opportunities for young, independent and out of state groups. Regulars performers include: Jake (4DaysLate, "Jersey Shore: The Musical), JJ Dart (Cornservatory’s ‘Improv Gladiators’), Sit Still (Chicago Improv Festival) and Super NBA Jam Tournament Edition (NPR, ‘Sound of Young America'). Plus, local favorites, Octavarius still stop in to perform guest sets with us every so often!
- [www.societyforarts.com Society for Arts] (address: 1112 N. Milwaukee Ave) 773.486.9612
Aside from numerous exhibition projects organized in the U.S. museums and galleries, the Society operates its own two galleries at this location focusing on contemporary European Art. The exhibits here range from painting, sculpture, graphics and photography to three dimensional installations, and include gallery talks and lectures by visiting artists and scholars. A mecca for the avantgarde, the Society's luxury 70-seat gallery theatre showcases the best independent film and video productions and works by promising new filmmakers from around the world.
- Multikulti (address: 1000 N. Milwaukee) 773-435-9432
Multikulti is a collaborative avantgarde multi-cultural arts venue. Hosting jam sessions, live music, film screenings and an art gallery, the 3,500 sq/ft facility includes an office / multimedia production studio, a community room / performance venue, an arts and material crafts studio, a conference room, kitchen, and the the Chicago Community Darkroom.
The intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen is the indie Magnificent Mile. Start at the six corners and explore from there — you'll find plenty of cutting-edge fashion boutiques heading north on Damen, and more in both directions on Milwaukee, along with national chains like American Apparel and the Levi Store.
You're also liable to do well searching for vinyl records here, both in Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village.
- The Boring Store (address: 1331 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 772-8108
open: 12-6PM daily
Most certainly not a secret-agent supply store, as the Chris Ware signs take pains to stress. Inside, proceeds from the sale of perfectly normal items like cough silencers support a non-profit writing/tutoring center for kids founded by Dave Eggers of McSweeney's fame.
- Myopic Books (address: 1564 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 862-4882
open: M-Sa 11AM-1AM, Su 11AM-10PM
Justly beloved used book store with cats, clutter (80,000 books worth), and great hours. They occasionally host Experimental Music Mondays and poetry readings on Sundays, but with three floors, there's always a quiet corner.
- Quimby's Bookstore (address: 1854 W North Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 342-0910
open: M-F 12-10PM, Sa 11AM-10PM, Su 12-6PM
Lots of edgy books, indie comix, and hip zines (hand-stapled and well-polished alike). If somebody out there is publishing about it, Quimby's probably has it.
- Alcala's Western Wear (address: 1733 W Chicago Ave) +1 312 226-0152
open: M,Th,F,Sa 9:30AM-7PM, Tu-W 9:30AM-6PM, Su 9:30AM-5PM
One perfectly reasonable reaction to the trendy fashion in Wicker Park is to go country. Alcala's has been in the neighborhood for a long time, back when the Mexican cowboy look ruled the local scene. The big, family-owned store has a ton of leather boots & jackets, not to mention 5,000 hats.
- Beadniks (address: 1937 W Division St) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 276-2323
open: M-F 11AM-9PM, Sa 11AM-10PM, Su 11AM-7PM
Beads for the true bead fiend, both ready-made and ready to be made. There are classes for beginners on Tuesday nights (7-9PM, $60), and occasional workshops — check the calendar.
- Kokorokoko (address: 1112 N Ashland Ave) +1 312 421-2799
open: M-Sa 12PM-8PM, Su 12PM-6PM
Men's and women's vintage clothing from the 80s-90s.
- Penelope's (address: 1913 W Division St) +1 773 395-2351
open: M-Sa 11AM-7PM, Su 12-6PM
Good-looking clothes — Penelope's carries younger, hip brands for men and women, but it's quality stuff, made to last. They have some good handbags, messenger bags, and cool gifts as well.
- Saint Alfred (address: 1531 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 486-7159
open: M-Sa 12-8PM, Su 12-6PM
Collectible sneakers both classic and modern are sold here, along with cool kicks and other gear by local designers.
- Silver Room (address: 1442 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 278-7130
open: M-Th 11AM-8PM, F-Sa 11AM-9PM, Su 11AM-6PM
Need a great gift for someone back home (or yourself)? Silver Room has cool stuff for men and women — good purses, hats, jewelry and accessories. The staff make shopping here a pleasure.
- Una Mae's Freak Boutique (address: 1528 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 276-7002
open: M-F 12-7PM, Sa 11AM-8PM, Su 11AM-6PM
Vintage clothing store run by nice people. Una Mae's has been around for a while, and they have great items for men and women, particularly from the 1960s and 70s.
- Dusty Groove America (address: 1120 N Ashland Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 342-5800
This record store is regarded as one of the best in the country for R&B, soul, and jazz.
- Permanent Records (address: 1914 W Chicago Ave) +1 773 278-1744
open: Su-Th 11AM-8PM, F-Sa 11AM-9PM
This may be the friendliest, most down-to-earth record store in Chicago. They stock mostly vinyl and used CDs, but will order anything on request, and have a rack of vintage clothes at the back of the store.
- Reckless Records (address: 1532 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 235-3727
open: M-Sa 10AM-10PM, Su 10AM-8PM
Hipster music shop with plenty to sell and no particular interest in selling it to you (there's a reason High Fidelity was set here). Zines and vinyl spruce up the CDs and DVDs.
- Odd Obsession (address: 1822 N Milwaukee) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 276-0894
open: M-Sa 12-10PM, Su 12-9PM
Ultra-eccentric video rental store. YouTube pales, cuts its hair and goes to law school next to the rarities found here. It’s cheap, too.
- Rapid Transit Cycling Shop (address: 1900 W North Ave) +1 773 227-2288
open: M-Th 10AM-8PM, F 10AM-5PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 12-5PM
Plenty of streets in the area have nice, wide bike lanes, and considering the state of parking, this is a great place to have a bike. Rapid Transit is a family-owned shop that sells equipment and can do quick repairs.
The twin low-price culinary delights around here are the bakeries of Wicker Park and the delis of Ukrainian Village, many of which have been in business for several decades. The Uke also has some great Ukrainian grocers, particularly on Iowa Street.
- Alliance Bakery & Cafe (address: 1736 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 278-0366
open: M-Sa 6AM-9PM, Su 7AM-9PM
Just a look at the whirls of frosting and gingerbread fortresses in the window tends to bring a smile. The tarts, cupcakes, and coffee back that up. Alliance has been here for more than 80 years. There's a pleasant, inviting cafe next door with free WiFi.
- Caesar's Polish Deli (address: 901 N Damen Ave) (directions: 66 Chicago bus) +1 773 486-6190
open: Tu-F 10AM-6PM, Sa 8AM-noon
A great place for self-catering, Caesar's has a wide selection of home-made pierogies, with both savory and sweet fillings, as well as a good selection of fresh foods, and prepared products imported from Poland.
- Chopper's (address: 1659 N Ashland Ave) +1 773 227-7800
open: 7AM-10PM daily
A great hot dog and burger place with what may be the best milkshakes in Chicago.
- Harold's Chicken Shack #36 (address: 1361 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 252-2424
open: Su-Th 11AM-midnight, F-Sa 11AM-1AM
Westward the course of the fried chicken empire makes its way, to Wicker Park. Some say this outpost makes compromises for the upscale surroundings — wheat bread, moist towelettes, a general lack of bulletproof glass — but even if they do, it's still the best cheap fried chicken you'll find here or anywhere north.
- Kasia's Deli (address: 2101 W Chicago Ave) (directions: 66 Chicago bus) +1 773 486-6163
open: M-F 9AM-7PM, Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 10AM-2PM
Some call these the best pierogies in Chicago — high praise, indeed. The cabbage rolls are also highly recommended. If you like what you eat but live out of state, take comfort: Kasia's will deliver the good stuff anywhere in the USA.
- Letizia's Natural Bakery (address: 2144 W Division St) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 342-1011
open: 6AM-11PM daily
Breakfast sandwiches, espresso and baked goods with good, healthy cooking. If you enjoy Letizia's, come back later for Enoteca, the wine bar under the same management next door.
- La Pasadita (address: 1132, 1140, and 1141 N Ashland Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 278-0384
open: 9AM-3AM daily
Gradual expansion over the past thirty years has led to the curious appearance of three identically named establishments within the same half-block of Ashland. All three are family-owned and make tasty Mexican tacos and burritos, with slight variations in the menus. The newest location at 1132 N Ashland is somewhat Americanized compared to the other two.
- Penny's Noodle Shop (address: 1542 N Damen Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 394-0100
open: Su, Tu-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-10:30PM, M closed
Excellent Southeast Asian dishes and cheap for such large portions.
- Podhalanka (address: 1549 W Division St) +1 773 486-6655
Real Polish food at the old Polish triangle of Ashland, Milwaukee, and Division. Podlanka has one of the best cabbage soups in town; pierogies, potato pancakes, and many other delights await. Locals, from construction workers and students to nuns fill the place. The prices are great.
- Sultan's Market (address: 2057 W North Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 235-3072
open: M-Sa 10AM-10PM, Su 10AM-9PM
Few restaurants smell as good as Sultan's Market, and the prices are absurdly low for the amount of satisfaction you'll get. Cheese and egg pitas make a nice complement to any falafel sandwich, and they also do a fine shawerma. Cash only, ATM in the back.
Sushi is everywhere in Wicker Park — there's no shortage of style, but only a few places offer substance to match.
- Aki (address: 2015 W Division St) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 227-8080
open: M-Th 4:30-11:30PM, F-Sa 4:30PM-midnight, Su 4:30-11PM
Good, traditional sushi in a humble, trend-free setting. You're paying for the food here, not the design. There are a few chicken options on the menu as well.
- Bite (address: 1035 N Western Ave) (directions: 49 Western bus) +1 773 395-2483
open: M-F 7:30AM-11PM, Sa 8AM-midnight, Su 8AM-10:30PM
The food is all right (and vegan-friendly), but Bite is right next door to the Empty Bottle, perfect for a pre-show meal. (There will be lines, but they're never as bad as they look.) Alcohol can be brought over from the Empty Bottle's bar.
- Bob-san (address: 1805 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 235-8888
open: M-Th 4:30-11:30PM, F-Sa 4:30PM-12:30AM, Su 3:30-10:30PM
Bob-san has the best and most festive sushi around, along with a menu of Japanese fusion dishes. For a dose of pure energy, try the oyster shooters: oyster, quail egg, hot sauce, and sake.
- Bongo Room (address: 1470 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 489-0690
open: M-F 8AM-2:30PM, Sa-Su 9AM-2PM
Great breakfast, with two stars: the design-your-own omelets and the big, delicious praline banana pancakes.
- Coalfire Pizza (address: 1321 W Grand Ave) +1 312 226-2625
price: Pizzas $13-18
open: Tu-Th 5PM-10PM, F 5PM-11PM, Sa noon-11PM, Su noon-10PM
In the pizza wars between Chicago-style, Brooklyn, Naples, and gourmet-trendy, Chicago of course wins. But the pizza wars are truly a fraud, overlooking pizza (more precisely, apizza) from the humbler city of New Haven, which may indeed may be the best of them all. Chicago's new coal-fired pizza oven serves some of the best apizza outside New Haven, and while it may seem irreverent to eat pizza from Connecticut while in Chicago, you'd honestly be hard pressed to do better.
- Crust (address: 2056-58 W Division St) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 235-5511
open: Su-W 11AM-10PM, Th-Sa 11AM-1AM
Great pizza on artisan flatbreads. All ingredients are locally-grown and 100% organic — the first to be certified as such in the Midwest.
- Dee's Place (address: 2114 W. Division St.) 312-341-6117
open: Mon.-Thurs. 5 pm - 10 pm, Fri. - Sat. 5 pm - 12 pm, Sun. 11 am - 10 pm
The relaxed environment specializes in soul food,reminds you of southern cooking at its best. Its friendly staff and great jazz and blues music beginning at 8:30 pm every Friday and Saturday night is one of the hot spots in Wicker Park. Do not miss the southern style Sunday Brunch 11 am - 3 pm. The place is a full service B.Y.O.B establishment with free Wifi. It is a great place for tasteful southern dishes and music. Do not forget to order the homemade peach cobbler and banana pudding.
- The Handlebar (address: 2311 W North Ave) (directions: On a bike, preferably) +1 773 384-9546
open: M-W 11AM-midnight, Th-F 11AM-2AM, Sa 10AM-2AM, Su 10AM-midnight
A vegetarian friendly restaurant and beer garden in Wicker Park, and the headquarters of Chicago's bicycle culture.
- Jerry's Sandwiches (address: 1938 W Division St) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 235-1006
Indecisive beware: there are 100 sandwiches on the menu at Jerry's, and you're welcome to customize even further. The seating is comfortable, and there's beer, too.
- Oberweis Ice Cream and Dairy Store (address: 1293 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 276-9006
open: 11AM-10PM daily
The ice cream and milkshakes aren't cheap...but they're made from milk that's all natural, hormone-free, and really good — and that is an understatement.
- People Lounge (address: 1560 N Milwaukee Ave) +1 773 227-9339
open: Su-F 5PM-2AM, Sa 5PM-3AM
Spanish tapas restaurant with friendly staff and DJs spinning world music most nights. You can travel the whole of Spain and you'll still be blown away by the flan here.
- Piece Brewery & Pizzeria (address: 1927 W North Ave) +1 773 772-4422
open: M-Th 11:30AM-1:30AM, F 11:30AM-2AM, Sa 11AM-3AM, Su 11AM-1AM
Thin-crust pizza and micro-brews. Live music most Fridays, karaoke on Thursdays at 9PM, and a recent sensation — live band karaoke on Saturdays at 11PM. The kitchen usually isn't open past 11:30PM or so, though.
- The Smoke Daddy BBQ (address: 1804 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 772-6656
open: Su-W 11:30AM-11PM, Th-Sa 11:30AM-1AM
Jazz, swing, bluegrass and BBQ on Division. Smoke Daddy has live music seven nights a week, with big sandwiches and huge rib platters. They offer a BBQ Veggie sandwich if you're trying to coerce a vegetarian friend to come along.
A few of the places named above, particularly People Lounge and the sushi restaurants, could easily become Splurge affairs depending on how many drinks accompany your meal.
- Mirai (address: 2020 W Division St) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 862-8500
open: M-W 5-10:30PM, Th-Sa 5-11:30PM
Future style and fresh sushi in formidable amounts, with a second-floor sake lounge. If price is no concern, Mirai is the place to revel in pure atmosphere (and raw food).
Other parts of the city have their charms, but when it comes to drinking in Chicago, there's no contest: this is the place. And while there are plenty of places left for those-in-the-know, Division Street may have taken over from the more touristed (and generally obnoxious) Rush Street in the Near North for sheer numbers in nightlife.
Anyone on the wander in Ukrainian Village should be advised: "Zimne Piwo" is Ukrainian for "cold beer." Plenty of apparently nameless bars make themselves known with those words under an Old Style sign.
- Beachwood Inn (address: 1415 N Wood St) +1 773 486-9806
open: M-F 4PM-2AM, Sa 3PM-3AM, Su 3PM-2AM
A good, down-to-earth dive bar — dark, kind of dirty, offering cheap beer and a solid jukebox. Nothing trendy here, just the kind of neighborhood bar that brought people to Wicker Park in the first place.
- Club Foot (address: 1824 W Augusta) +1 773 489-0379
open: Su-F 8PM-2AM, Sa 8PM-3AM
Friendly punk/rock/ska hipster bar with games and pop knick-knacks in Ukrainian Village.
- Gold Star (address: 1755 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 227-8700
open: Su-Th 4PM-2AM, Sa 4PM-3AM
An old, speakeasy-era bar among the Division nightlife that now caters to a younger crowd, but hits all the marks: cheap beer, a good jukebox, pool, and cheap beer. (Also cheap beer.)
- Happy Village (address: 1059 N Wolcott Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 486-1512
open: M-F 4PM-2AM, Sa-Su noon-2AM
Yeah, it's a ping-pong dive bar. God bless America, and the beer garden too, which is the best on (well, off) Division — like walking into a backyard family reunion.
- Innertown Pub (address: 1935 W Thomas St) +1 773 235-9795
open: Su-F 3PM-2AM, Sa 3PM-3AM
It's hard to say exactly what sets it apart, but with the fall of Tuman's, any survey of Ukrainian Village residents would place the Innertown first among dive bars. (Excepting the neighbors, that is, who are trying to get it closed down.) It's not easy to find but it's a landmark, so follow the noise or spend the cheap-beer savings on a cab.
- Phyllis' Musical Inn (address: 1800 W Division St) +1 773 486-9862
open: Su-F 3PM-2AM, Sa 3PM-3AM
Everyone feels welcome at the Musical Inn. Outdoor seating is packed on Division in the summer, which is why this is one to know — few people are aware that a great beer garden lurks behind the tall stone fence next door to Phyllis', which looks like a garden variety dive bar at first glance. (Befitting the name, there are bands here sometimes.)
- Rainbo Club (address: 1150 N Damen Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 489-5999
open: Su-F 4PM-2AM, Sa 4PM-3AM
An old bar — the classic neon sign tips that right away — with a few literary references in its history. In a neighborhood of hipster dives, this is the hipster dive, but at least you can say you've been.
- Debonair Social Club (address: 1575 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 227-7990
open: Tu-F 9PM-2AM, Sa 9PM-3AM, Su closed
The emo-rap electro kids like it here. There are two floors of video walls, color lightboxes, ferocious deployments of lacquer, and DJs who fly around the room. It's all a little stressful, but perhaps you're into that sort of thing.
- Double Door (address: 1572 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 489-3160
open: M-F 8PM-2AM, Sa 8PM-3AM
No music venue in Chicago has a better location than the Double Door, right at the six corners of Wicker Park and the Damen train stop. The sound system is good, too. It's run by the owners of the Metro in Lakeview, which means that the roster of bands can seem like the Metro's leftovers — jam bands, local bands, and the occasional 90s alt-rock refugee.
- Empty Bottle (address: 1035 N Western Ave) (directions: Western Blue Line, transfer to 49 Western bus going south) +1 773 276-3600
price: $10-15, Mondays free
open: M-W 5PM-2AM, Th-F 3PM-3AM, Sa-12PM-3AM, Su 12PM-2AM
To Chicago as the Knitting Factory is to NYC, the Empty Bottle hosts a mix of touring indie-rock veterans, local bands, and occasional appearances by American and Dutch avant-garde jazz. The sound and the room are OK at best, but the people who work here (and their great taste in music) make it exceptional. They also program events in Logan Square and Portage Park, among others. If you're hungry before a show, step next door to Bite (see Eat).
- Funky Buddha Lounge (address: 728 W Grand Ave) (directions: Grand Blue Line) +1 312 666-1695
price: Cover usually $15-20
open: M-F 9PM-2AM, Sa 9PM-3AM, Su 8PM-2AM
There's a little bit of everything at this ever-changing West Town dance lounge, with trendy Asian-ish decor surrounding poetry slams, live jazz, comedy, rock, chill-out DJs, and the inevitable VIP room. There's no dress code, but if you've got fashion, this is the place to wear it.
- The Hideout (address: 1354 W Wabansia Ave) (directions: Just east of Elston, just north of North Avenue) +1 773 227-4433
open: Tu 7PM-2AM, W-F 4PM-2AM, Sa 7PM-3AM
One of the finest drinking and hollering establishments in the U.S., the Hideout hosts the best in alt-folk, bluegrass, Americana and just plain hillbilly music. The place is a bit hard to find, hidden as it is next to the city's main north-side refueling station for garbage trucks, but it's more than worth the trouble. Of special interest to old-timey fans is the regular Tuesday night appearance of Devil in a Woodpile.
- Rodan (address: 1530 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 276-7036
open: Su-F 5PM-2AM, Sa 5PM-3AM
Upscale club with a younger, artsy crowd — yes, that's a reference to the flying Japanese monster. Good DJs spin throughout the week with video art projected on the wall, and there's a fusion menu of bar food. It's stylish, but laid-back and worth the visit.
- Subterranean (address: 2011 W North Ave)
price: Cover usually $5
open: M 7PM-2AM, Tu-F 6PM-2AM, Sa 7PM-3AM, Su 8PM-2AM
A laid-back club with diverse music and crowd. DJs spin in the lounge and indie rock appears in the Cabaret. Drinks are worth the price, and there's a bonus: once you stumble outside, you're surrounded by great after-hours dive eateries.
- Blind Robin (address: 853 N Western Ave) (directions: 49 Western bus) +1 773 395-3002
open: M-F 4PM-2AM, Sa noon-3AM, Su noon-2AM
Just a couple blocks south of the Empty Bottle, this is a good place to chill after a show — good beer selection, friendly bartenders, and plenty of board games. The same owners run Lemmings and Green Eye Lounge in Bucktown.
- Geisha Sushi (address: 1265 N Milwaukee Ave) +1 773 252-2020
This sleek, industrial-themed sushi spot features an extensive sushi and maki menu as well as contemporary Japanese entrees. Great happy hour specials 5PM-8PM daily. Live DJ and dancing Th-Sa starting at 10:30PM.
- Mac's (address: 1801 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 782-4400
A sports bar, but not in a meathead sort of way, and not at all like the post-fraternity college sports bars in Lincoln Park. Good food, TVs, and beer.
- Small Bar (address: 2049 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 772-2727
open: M-F 3PM-2AM, Sa 11AM-3AM, Su 11AM-2AM
The biggest beer selection in the area, save for the Map Room in Bucktown. The staff are friendly, and soccer is almost always on television.
- Tuman's (address: 2159 W Chicago Ave) (directions: 66 Chicago bus) +1 773 782-1400
open: M-F 3PM-2AM, Sa 12PM-3AM, Su 11AM-2AM
No longer the Alcohol Abuse Center that defined an era in the Ukrainian Village, but the new owners have kept the name and overcome local resentment with food, flatscreen TVs, and an all-around decent neighborhood bar.
- The Violet Hour (address: 1520 N Damen Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 252-1500
open: Su-F 6PM-2AM, Sa 6PM-3AM
Named after a line in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, The Violet Hour is hidden away — there's no sign, and no name on the door. Inside, though, is a marvelous, decadent, Alice-in-Wonderland plus speakeasy vibe. It's a great place for a date. The cocktails are $11-12, but they won't disappoint — certified mixologists take up to four minutes to make them. And if you've never had a banana peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich deep fried and dusted with bacon crumbs, here's your chance.
- House of Two Urns Bed and Breakfast (address: 1239 N Greenview Ave) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 235-1408
price: Rooms from $99-179
Offers full breakfast, free parking, and charming rooms. Most have private en-suite bathrooms; all guests have access to free WiFi, kitchens, laundry and wonderful deck/garden areas.
- Ruby Room (address: 1743-45 W Division St) (directions: Division Blue Line) +1 773 235-2323
price: Rooms from $155
A handful of B&B-style rooms above a rejuvenation spa in an 1896 building, with amenities geared toward relaxation — lush, comfortable decor, but no television or telephones. But it's right in the midst of the lively Wicker Park scene, so you won't miss them...much. Two-night minimum stay on weekends.
- Wicker Park Inn (address: 1329 N Wicker Park Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line) +1 773 486-2743
price: Rooms from $129
B&B with five beautiful rooms on-site and three apartments across the street for nightly rentals. Friendly staff can help you get the lay of the neighborhood.
Wicker Park keeps a slightly rough appearance, but that's mainly for the enjoyment of the younger residents. Use common sense while out and you'll have nothing to worry about. (Don't leave valuables in cars, though.) Ukrainian Village is much the same, but stay alert around alleys while walking on side streets. In that distinctly Chicago fashion of invisible barriers respected on both sides of the law, crime stays almost exclusively on the west side of Western Avenue. But if you parked on the west side of Western, take care while walking back to your car after dark.
The following libraries provide free internet access:
- Bucktown/Wicker Park Library (address: 1701 N Milwaukee Ave) (directions: Damen Blue Line or 56 Milwaukee Bus) +1 312 744-6022
open: M,W noon-8PM, Tu,Th 10AM-6PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM
One block north of the North/Milwaukee/Damen intersection.
- West Town Library (address: 1625 W Chicago Ave) (directions: 66 Chicago or 9 Ashland bus) +1 312 743-0450
open: M,W 10AM-6PM, Tu-Th 12-8PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM
- If you're looking to check out one of the city's best collections of commercial Art Deco architecture by greats such as Z. Erol Smith, head north to Belmont-Central in what is one of the few intact streetcar shopping districts in Chicago and an Eastern European culinary heaven.
- Pilsen is the most-quoted inheritor of Wicker Park's original bohemian mantle, and makes for an interesting contrast.
- Looking for traces of the neighborhood Nelson Algren wrote about in Wicker Park's heyday as the center of Chicago's Polish Downtown? You'll find the sausage shops and old-style Polish restaurants that carry on as if health food and celebrity chefs never happened in Jackowo — Chicago's Polish Village.
- If, on the other hand, it is the demise of Wicker Park's Puerto Rican community that you are lamenting, retrace its migration west along Division Street into Humboldt Park on the Far West Side — the best Puerto Rican food in the city awaits.