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, 1579 N Milwaukee Ave (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, 1121 N Leavitt St (70 Division bus), ☎ +1 773 486-6064, . 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.
- Intelligentsia Coffee, 1850 West Fulton Street, ☎ 888-945-9786, . Coffee lovers who have been enjoying Intelligentsia coffee in popular cafes on both coasts of the United States can now tour the company’s main roasting facilities. Discover the scientific method behind the creation of a perfect cup of coffee, learn how Intelligentsia Coffee sources their beans, and see how the beans are roasted correctly. Two tours are offered daily, one at 10:30AM and the second at 12:30PM. $20.
- The Polish Museum of America, 984 N Milwaukee Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 384-3352, . 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. $5 adults, $4 children.
- The Society for Arts, 1112 N Milwaukee Ave (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, 2238 W Rice St (66 Chicago bus), ☎ +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, 2247 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago or 49 Western bus), ☎ +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, 2320 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago or 49 Western bus), ☎ +1 773 227-5522, . W-Su noon-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. Free.
- Ukrainian National Museum, 2249 W Superior St (66 Chicago or 49 Western bus), ☎ +1 312 421-8020, . 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. Free, suggested donation $5.
Music venues are the main attraction here, particularly the Double Door and the Empty Bottle (see below).
- Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St (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. $12-22.
- Multikulti, 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. Typically ask for a $5 donation.
- The Show Below (FRI/SAT), Crocodile - 1540 N. Milwaukee (Damen Blue Line Stop), ☎ 888.864.4924. 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. Performers come from all over Chicago (including: Second City, iO, the Annoyance, ComedySportz and The Playground), but the mission 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 every so often! FREE.
- Society for Arts, 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.
Promises, promises: Wicker Park
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, 1331 N Milwaukee Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 772-8108, . M-Th noon-6PM, F-Su 11AM-5PM. 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, 1564 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 862-4882, . 9AM-11PM daily. 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, 1854 W North Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 342-0910, . M-Th noon-9PM, F noon-10PM, Sa 11AM-10PM, Su noon-7PM. 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, 1733 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago bus), ☎ +1 312 226-0152, . M,Th-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, 1937 W Division St (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 276-2323, . M-Sa 11AM-9PM, 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, 1112 N Ashland Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 312 421-2799, . M-Sa 12PM-8PM, Su 12PM-6PM. Men's and women's vintage clothing from the 80s-90s.
- Penelope's, 1913 W Division St (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 395-2351, . M-Sa 11AM-7PM, Su noon-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, 1531 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 486-7159, . M-Sa noon-8PM, Su noon-6PM. Collectible sneakers both classic and modern are sold here, along with cool kicks and other gear by local designers.
- Silver Room, 1442 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 278-7130, . M-Sa 11AM-8PM, 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, 1528 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 276-7002, . M-F noon-8PM, Sa 11AM-8PM, Su noon-7PM. 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, 1120 N Ashland Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 342-5800, . 10AM-8PM. This record store is regarded as one of the best in the country for R&B, soul, and jazz.
- Permanent Records, 1914 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago or 50 Damen bus), ☎ +1 773 278-1744, . 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.
- Reckless Records, 1532 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 235-3727, . 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, 1822 N Milwaukee (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 276-0894, . M-F 2PM-10PM, Sa-Su noon-10PM. 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, 1900 W North Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 227-2288, . M-Th 10AM-8PM, F-Sa 10AM-6PM, Su noon-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.
Hipsters: A field guide
Residents of other neighborhoods in Chicago know Wicker Park by one word: "hipsters." Nearly every review of a bar or restaurant in the area will mention these dread creatures, who are known to viciously hang out at places in Wicker Park, relentlessly passing judgment on passers-by, possessing terrifying quantities of concentrated scorn that can destroy the self-esteem of anyone who crosses their path without a sufficiently ironic second-hand t-shirt. Their secret knowledge of music and the blue ribbons won by the Pabst brewery makes them effectively invincible on this, their home ground. Should you encounter one, retreat to the nearest bar with a fake-Irish name. Alternatively, just relax — as it turns out, hipsters come to these places to have a good time just like everyone else.
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, 1736 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 278-0366, . 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. $3-7.
- Caesar's Polish Deli, 901 N Damen Ave (66 Chicago bus), ☎ +1 773 486-6190. 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. $4-8.
- Chopper's, 1659 N Ashland Ave (9 Ashland bus), ☎ +1 773 227-7800, . 7AM-10PM daily. A great hot dog and burger place with what may be the best milkshakes in Chicago. $3-7.
- Harold's Chicken Shack #36, 1361 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 252-2424. 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. $3-6.
- Kasia's Deli, 2101 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago bus), ☎ +1 773 486-6163, . 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. $3-8.
- Letizia's Natural Bakery, 2144 W Division St (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 342-1011, . 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. $4-12.
- La Pasadita, 1132, 1140, and 1141 N Ashland Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 278-0384, . 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. $3-6.
- Penny's Noodle Shop, 1542 N Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 394-0100, . Su, Tu-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-10:30PM, M closed. Excellent Southeast Asian dishes and cheap for such large portions. $6-8.
- Podhalanka, 1549 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☎ +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. $5-10.
- Sultan's Market, 2057 W North Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 235-3072, . 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. $3.50-8.
Sushi is everywhere in Wicker Park — there's no shortage of style, but only a few places offer substance to match.
- Bite, 1039 N Western Ave (49 Western bus), ☎ +1 773 395-2483, . 9AM-2AM daily. 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. $9-14.
- Bob-san, 1805 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 235-8888, . 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. $12-22.
- Bongo Room, 1470 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 489-0690, . 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, 1321 W Grand Ave (65 Grand bus), ☎ +1 312 226-2625, . Su,Tu-Th noon-10PM, F-Sa noon-11PM, M closed. 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. Pizzas $13-18.
- The Handlebar, 2311 W North Ave (On a bike, preferably), ☎ +1 773 384-9546, . 10AM-1AM daily. A vegetarian friendly restaurant and beer garden in Wicker Park, and the headquarters of Chicago's bicycle culture. $9-12.
- Jerry's Sandwiches, 1938 W Division St (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 235-1006, . Su-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM. 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. $12.
- People Lounge, 1560 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 227-9339, . 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. $8-15.
- Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, 1927 W North Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 772-4422, . 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, 1804 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 772-6656, . 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. $12-24.
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, 2020 W Division St (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 862-8500, . 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). $30-60.
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, 1415 N Wood St, ☎ +1 773 486-9806. 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.
- Gold Star, 1755 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 227-8700, . Su-F 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, 1059 N Wolcott Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 486-1512. 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, 1935 W Thomas St, ☎ +1 773 235-9795. 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, 1800 W Division St, ☎ +1 773 486-9862. 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, 1150 N Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 489-5999. 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, 1575 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 227-7990, . 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, 1572 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 489-3160, . 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. $3-20.
- Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave (49 Western bus), ☎ +1 773 276-3600, . 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). $10-15, Mondays free.
- Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W Grand Ave (Grand Blue Line), ☎ +1 312 666-1695, . 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. Cover usually $15-20.
- The Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia Ave (Just east of Elston, just north of North Avenue), ☎ +1 773 227-4433, . 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, 1530 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 276-7036, . 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, 2011 W North Ave (Damen Blue Line), . 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. Cover $15.
- Blind Robin, 853 N Western Ave (49 Western bus), ☎ +1 773 395-3002, . 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 - CLOSED, 1265 N Milwaukee Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +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. $18-30.
- Mac's, 1801 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 782-4400. M-Th 4PM-2AM, F-Su 11AM-2AM. 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.
- Tuman's, 2159 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago bus), ☎ +1 773 782-1400, . M-Th 4PM-2AM, F,Su noon-2AM, Sa noon-3AM. 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, 1520 N Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 252-1500, . 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.
- Holiday Jones, 1659 W. Division (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 866 639-0573, . Upscale boutique Chicago Hostel Located in Wicker Park. Clean, friendly, and affordable. Private and shared rooms. Free WiFi, breakfast, parking. Restaurant in building Rooms from $129.
- House of Two Urns Bed and Breakfast, 1239 N Greenview Ave (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 235-1408, . 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. Rooms from $99-179.
- Ruby Room, 1743-45 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 235-2323, . 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. Rooms from $155. (41.903175,-87.671564)
- Wicker Park Inn, 1329 N Wicker Park Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☎ +1 773 486-2743, . 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. Rooms from $129.
- IHSP Chicago Hostel, 1616 North Damen (Damen on Blue Line), ☎ 3127314234, . checkin: 2 PM; checkout: 11 AM. Budget accommodation, Roof top deck, Free Wifi.
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, 1701 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line or 56 Milwaukee Bus), ☎ +1 312 744-6022. M,W noon-8PM, Tu,Th 10AM-6PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM. One block north of the North/Milwaukee/Damen intersection.
- West Town Library, 1625 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago or 9 Ashland bus), ☎ +1 312 743-0450. M,W 10AM-6PM, Tu-Th noon-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.
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