hlgraf

The Upscale Bohemian’s Cityguide

04 Cities

 

 Chicago’s Best Kept Secret:

Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village/East Village, The Hipster Triangle with a Storied Past

 

Many years ago, in the now distant mid eighties to early nineties when Earwax was mecca for the upscale bohemian movement not a medical condition, The Bongo Room was THE best hang for Sunday brunch and the most HEAVENLY pancakes ever created with a 45 minute wait instead of the now requisite 2 hours on the weekends and Jeremy Piven didn’t know about it yet so there were no tantrums of “Don’t you know you should really treat me like the GOD that I am!! My family created a method acting dynasty in this second rate town you douche so gimme some pancakes… NOW! ” as we all hid suppressed giggles behind forks heaped high with banana pancakes laced in wedding cake design precision with sticky hazelnut sauce, before The Double Door was ever featured in a movie or a reality show because the genre didn’t exist ( : D ) and you had to run to your car at the end of a Pere Ubu show because being mugged was part of the experience, yes in those Halcyon days I used to define Wicker Park in the following terms “whatever, they took a bunch of liquor stores, strung them together and called it a neighborhood” but in the same breath I would concede “ yeah sure there are some pretty streets. If you are willing to buy and hold for 10-15 years… maybe…”

Truth is it only took the world 5 years to discover what we already knew back in 1985 and it only took me another 10 years to buy into neighboring East Village because I had missed the Wicker Park tidalwave! (Honorable mention for making it my days off hang and for going to many midnight shows at The Blue Note/The Note and Double Door midnight shows alone) I reluctantly retired my derisive one liner once I became aware of the hidden gems and storybook streets of these historic neighborhoods. It’s the closest thing Chi-town has to NY’s Greenwich Village/Soho and certainly has some of the coolest people and homes with a past. (Unlike the banal yuppie boxes of the West and South Loop created by indifferent developers with cheesy ½ granite in “sandstone” covering every conceivable surface but for the Krapmade cabinets and Pergoliscious floors the developers so adroitly value-engineered right down the delicate throats of Banana Republic clad members of the junior league… but I digress…

Wicker Park, Urkanian Village and East Village have direct connections to the rebuilding effort of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.Ukrainian, Polish, Swedish, Russian and German immigrants created these neighborhoods in the European tradition and it is no accident that several streets and churches and are now landmark status.

Below are a few highlights and a highly recommended walking tour…

Winchester St is one of my favorite streets in East Village. This is a very pretty street which has gracious mansions and new construction built in a compatible scale. In addition Wood St also has an upscale feel. The East Village and Ukrainian Village were generally working class and housed many of the servants and support staff of the Industrial Barons who lived in Wicker Park.

Hoyne St in Wicker Park was nicknamed “The Beer Baron’s Row.” One drive down this street and its neighboring blocks like Pierce for example, will confirm the intentions of the original owners; unbridled wealth and the American Dream were here to stay.

Caton Ave in Wicker Park in my opinion is the crown jewel of Wicker Park (2nd runner up, Wicker Park Ave.) This street is so special and so hidden the homeowners on this Street will now hate me for spoiling the secret cachet of this storied enclave. Caton Ave was conceived and constructed specifically to show the throng of Europeans visiting for The World Colombian Exposition of 1893 that we too know a bit about refinement and craftsmanship. The street is breathtakingly beautiful as each home outshines the next in glistening cut glass, craftsmanship and cupolas. Truly an extraordinary achievement!
I know this because a friend of mine (a designer/architect of course) had acquired one of these architectural masterpieces back in the seventies. He bought it for a song because quite frankly that’s all he could afford at the time and he didn’t mind the gangs as neighbors. Of course by the time I saw Caton Ave. (the mid-nineties) the price of admission was at least a million. I had the sense that I was seeing the street just as the Parisians must have seen it over 120 years ago. Truly exquisite…

“The Church of the Angels” Holy Trinity Cathedral was constructed in 1903 and was funded in part by Russian Czar, Nicholas II. This is bar none the most beautiful Church I’ve found in America. One look inside and you’ll be convinced that you’ve suddenly been transported to Prague!

 In 1989, the “Around the Coyote” festival was launched to help working artists and micro-galleries in the neighborhood gain a level of local and international prominence. This 501(c)3 non-profit was established with the mission to “bring to the art community a professional organization that will help artists network and exhibit their art.” For decades, the festival was housed in the historic Flatiron Arts Building in Wicker Park typically held in October. (Chicago’s Artist Month.) As of 2008 “Around the Coyote” revised its preferred locations for the annual festival and was held coincidentally with Looptopia in May in Chicago’s Loop. A soulless transition I can only surmise was approved in order to drain any lifeblood or purpose that remained in the movement. I Assume that merging Coyote and Looptopia (??) was a strategic move to sell more art after a supersize meal at the Bennegans no??

A 30 second guide to the neighborhoods

1300-1700 Milwaukee Ave is the new Greenwich Village (funny, funky indie shops, bars and restaurants)

1600-1800 Damen is the new Soho (They’re Heeeeerrrrre Marc by Mark Jacobs, Nanette Lapore, BCBG Max Azria, Joes Jeans see what I mean?)

Chicago Ave and Division Btw Ashland and Western is mecca for original, quirky and inspired offerings. The Wicker Park of 10 years ago and very much NY’s Lower East Side of today…

A highly subjective list of the best of the best. If you don’t agree with me, I suspect you have no taste…

Upscale Designer Boutiques on Damen

 

Joe’s Jeans

Neighborhood: Bucktown/Wicker Park
1715 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
773-252-1715
A huge array of Joe’s fabulous fitting men’s and women’s premium denim has arrived!

BCBG Max Azria

Neighborhood: Bucktown/Wicker Park
1714 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
773-292-9485
High style and glamour is forever changing the face and crunchy roots of Wicker Park

Marc by Marc Jacobs

Neighborhood: Bucktown/Wicker Park
1714 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
773-276-2998
Vegas has one, L.A. has two, New York City has three on Bleeker Street alone — now Chicago has its very own Marc boutique featuring fashions for men and women. The decor is decidedly downscale, starting with cheap finds piled in metal bins near the front such as fingerless gloves, condoms, compacts, leather bracelets and plastic rings all under $10. Fashionistas do not despair, this is still Marc J not Urban Outfitters! Further back in the store one can find fabulous shoes and plenty of other signature Marc pieces for upwards of $200-$600.

Unique restaurants and food experiences

The Smoke Daddy Rhythm and Bar-B-Que
Neighborhood: East Village / Ukrainian Village
1804 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622 773-772-6656
Venerable Ribs and BBQ joint that doubles as a renowned Jazz venue. Scene of hideous date with protracted nightmare relationship guy! Can’t tell you a thing about the food but a lotta people like it…the ribs should’ve been a red flag…boring food=boring guy!

Mirai
Neighborhood: East Village / Ukrainian Village
2020 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
773-862-8500
This stylish Wicker Park restaurant/lounge is a popular option for cocktails, avant garde sushi and late-night libations in the uber-mod, futuristic upstairs lounge. Conversely the scene of 1st date with very cool, promising guy…who is now married…to someone else.

The Bongo Room
Neighborhood: Wicker Park
1470 N Milwaukee Ave
(between Evergreen Ave & Honore St)
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 489-0690
Go. Trust me. Just go. Preferably on the weekdays for instant seating or go on the weekend, register with the hostess and take a tour of the neighboring shops since you’ll have roughly 2 hours on your hands for exploration…

Letizia’s Natural Bakery
Neighborhood: East Village / Ukrainian Village
2144 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
773-342-1011
Really really great, healthy, honest, Italian bakery/café. I was their best customer in the morning for truly authentic Italian lattes and the most incredible biscotti Ive ever had…ever… bar none…not even in Italy or Spain did I find anything close to this thick, chocolate clad, slab of deliciousness!

Earwax Cafe
1561 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Tel: (773) 772-4019
Good to know that a huge array of obscure indie films for rent, indifferent servers and café society are still in fashion and meet here regularly to get art and commerce done.

Jam
Neighborhood: East Village / Ukrainian Village
937 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
773-489-0302
Restaurateur Jerry Suqi and chef Jeffrey Mauro are on a mission “Breakfast hasn’t received the culinary attention it deserves,” says Suqi, who owns Chickpea and was behind flashy nightspots like Sugar and La Pomme Rouge. Mauro has been at Trotter’s and North Pond, as well as Suqi’s La Pomme Rouge. Look for fabulous fare such as malted custard French toast with macerated stone fruit, lime leaf cream and crushed pink peppercorns, and the signature Jamburger, two beef patties layered with smoked tomato sauce, butterkase and a fried egg. A subdued decor is equally innovative with mirrors and ornate sconces on the walls and concrete tables set off by green placemats and Plexiglas chairs.

 

Unique Fashions and Accessories Men/Women

John Fluevog Shoes
1539 N Milwaukee Ave
between Damen Ave & North Ave)
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 772-1983
http://www.fluevog.com
The shoes here are like artwork in this wicker park fashionista salon. Comfortable artwork with an accent on originality, urban grunge and quality. There are styles to pique the interest of any kind of fashionista from Marilyn Manson to Heidi Klum.

 

P. 45
Neighborhood: Bucktown/Wicker Park
1643 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
773-862-4523
This boutique blazed the trail in making Damen Avenue the designer destination it is today. Opened in 1997, it carried then-fledgling designer Rebecca Taylor. Years later, this gallery like space remains the leader of on-trend dressing. Lines such as 3.1 Phillip Lim, Development and Sretsis are typical offerings on any given day.

 

Strut
Neighborhood: East Village / Ukrainian Village
1744 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
773-227-2728
Strut refers to the runway in this cutting edge women’s boutique! Wicker Park sensibility, Ukrainian Village prices…

Habit
Neighborhood: Bucktown/Wicker Park
1951 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
773-342-0093
Great concept, great design. This is a boutique devoted to featuring emerging designers and their one of a kind fashions for women. Once they hit the big time, they are no longer carried in this highly original salon.

Bonnie & Clydes
Neighborhood: Bucktown/Wicker Park
1751 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
773-235-2680
Edgy yet light-hearted fashions for women. 2006 Project Runway winner Jeffrey Sebelia’s line, Cosa Nostra, resides exclusively here. Barbie-infused bags and jewelry by L.A.-based Trina Tarantino has gathered a cult following spurred on by celebutantes like Paris Hilton. Books on artsy-cool topics such as pop surrealism are also prominently featured in this
chic establishment.

 

Unique Gifts/Spa/Beauty sources

The Boring Store
Neighborhood: Wicker Park
1331 N Milwaukee Ave
(between Hermitage Ave & Paulina St)
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 772-8108
http://www.826chi.org
This is one of those cool things I don’t think you’d find outside of Wicker Park. A “cover” for a tutoring non-profit, this store is full of spy gear… like cameras that squirt water, a can of Pepsi that doubles as a safe, etc. You won’t find any high tech gear here.It’s a good cause. They offer a lot of the toys for sale to benefit the actual program of helping children improve their writing.

 

Mojo spa boutique/nail spa
Neighborhood: Wicker Park
1468 N Milwaukee Ave
(between Evergreen Ave & Honore St)
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 235-6656 http://www.mojospa.com
Here’s what you do: go to Bongo, get your name and cell number in with the hostess, get a mug of Bongo Room coffee and proceed next door to Mojo for a delectable sugar spa pedicure or a scrumptious slab of homemade lemon pie soap! All those people bitching on Metromix about the 2 hour wait for Bongo take heed…better yet you’re right… Bongo’s overrated, don’t come!

P.S. they also give away homemade gourmet doggie treats.


Bless you Mojo ownerAmanda!

  

  

 

Mongo Home
Neighborhood: Bucktown/Wicker Park
1753 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
773-486-6200
Mongo Home is the retail lovechild of two of my absolute favorite and renowned salvage houses: American-focused Urban Remains in West Town and international Architectural Artifacts in Ravenswood. Plenty of pieces have their own story, from a set of lights from London’s Playboy Club to leaded glass French doors from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Stuart hasn’t mellowed one bit on pricing but then again, how can you put a price on history???
P.S. A mongo is New York slang for any thrown-to-the-curb item that’s retrieved and repurposed. It seems infinitely appropriate here…

Modern Times
2100 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 243-5706
http://www.moderntimeschicago.com
If its good enough for Issac Mizrahi it’s good enough for me! Long standing bastion of Mid-Century décor. Great mid century furniture and accessories for the urbane sophisticate.

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