Chicago’s charm in 3 neighbourhoods
NO TRAVEL assignment is ever straightforward, but reporting on the place you grew up presents specific challenges. Walking along the bungalow- and tree-lined streets in the Beverly neighbourhood of southwest Chicago, where I lived until second grade, a fog of memory followed me as I passed businesses my family used to frequent and the houses of old neighbours. The house where I lived as a child was foreign, and seemed tiny, like a dollhouse.
The other side of this mild nostalgic angst is the joy of discovery: The privilege of being able to explore old stomping grounds with fresh eyes. That’s exactly how I spent the better part of a week in Chicago, a city defined by its 77 distinctly demarcated community areas, which in turn houses dozens of additional neighbourhoods, each with its own particular nuance and local spirit.
I chose three – Beverly, as well as Lincoln Square and Roscoe Village – as the lenses through which I would rediscover the city that played such a large part of my childhood.
– Lincoln Square
I started in the northernmost destination of my Chicago adventure, the epicentre of which is where Western meets Lincoln and Lawrence avenues. A focus on local ownership “really makes Lincoln Square feel like its own small town”, said Elizabeth Bracken, a scenic designer and neighbourhood resident.
Cafe Selmarie, which opened in 1983 as a small bakery and coffeeshop, has grown along with the neighbourhood, which has come into its own as a destination for artists and young families. It’s a cute, all-day café but the ideal time to pay a visit is burger nights onWednesdays. I downed a thoroughly enjoyable burger dressed with Brie, bacon and caramelised onion, alongside a nutty, deep-amber Domaine DuPage French-style country ale.
Nearby is Gene’s Sausage Shop, a big, bright market and deli that’s hiding a secret: a wonderful rooftop where you can enjoy different beers, wines and snacks. It was a secret to me, anyway. I arrived there one weekend to meet up with some friends and it was packed with hungry revelers enjoying a sunny, breezy afternoon. “Number 46!” bellowed the young man behind the counter and I picked up my order of crispy potato pancakes, São Paulo Sandwich and pasta salad. I’d recommend everything but the sandwich, which was a sad couple of pieces of fried mortadella and provolone cheese. The food is incidental – it’s more about the good vibes and camaraderie.
Other highlights of that stretch include a cute toy store, Timeless Toys, with a weekly kids’ story time, and a cosy book store called The Book Cellar. Beyond plenty of books and multiple events and readings every week, the independent seller has beverages, including beer and wine, to accompany your browsing. I got an iced coffee for $2.20.
– Roscoe Village
I was energised enough to walk a mile and a half south to Roscoe Village. The “village” in the name says a lot; on the train overpass at the Ravenswood intersection are painted the words “The Village Within the City”. Its main drag is less than a mile and can be traversed in about 10 minutes – past small businesses, cute wood-framed and brick houses and plenty of families and pets strolling the main commercial drag.
Those small businesses include some great vintage and thrift shopping. Shangri-La Vintage gives a sense, unlike many other stores I’ve visited, of actually being carefully curated by the owner. “We’re dressing up like the Stranger Things kids for Comic-Con!” one shopper explained as she was pawing through some ’70s- and ’80sera shirts. I found a great Chicago Bulls hat from the glory days of the late ’90s for $13.
For those on a slightly tighter budget, and with a lot more patience, there’s Village Discount Outlet just down the street. While sections of the store looked like an earthquake had hit it, there are treasures and deals to be found throughout the considerable sprawl. I needed a pair of athletic shorts, and picked up one for a few bucks.
There’s quality sustenance to be found, too, when you need a break from shopping and garden-hopping. Turquoise Restaurant was marred by slow and indifferent service when I visited with my family but offered an incredible deal on brunch.
That wasn’t the only revelation of the trip. When I went down to 95th Street to explore my old Beverly neighbourhood, the discoveries kept coming. The Purple Cow, a bovine-themed ice cream parlor I remember as a favourite birthday party destination for neighbourhood kids, was long gone. But Top Notch Beefburgers, opened in 1942, was still alive and kicking.
The best discovery was a wealth of architectural gems and beautiful homes I was too young to appreciate (or even notice) as a child.
The real find was a copy of a hand-scrawled architectural tour, available in printouts on oversized pieces of paper. I spent the better part of an afternoon exploring not just the Frank Lloyd Wright landmarks but also those of Walter Burley Griffin, a one-time Wright employee who designed the Australian city of Canberra. Griffin’s Prairie School contributions are visible throughout the area.
Most eye-opening of all was the Vanderpoel Art Association, an astonishing assortment of American impressionist art crammed into a modest-sized room in the field house at Ridge Park. Full of day-campers and running kids, the rec building seemed an unlikely place to hold a priceless art collection, including works by GrantWood, Ernest Hennings and John H Vanderpoel himself. But, after straying into the gymnasium a couple of times, I finally found it: a plain room packed to the gills with striking art pieces.
The Original Rainbow Cone in the Beverly neighbourhood of Chicago, on September 19.