FROM: Concerned Chicago resident
RE: Neighbourhood worth checking out
I know that whenever you come back to Chicago for fundraisers or press conferences you typically high-tail it down to your house in Hyde Park. Maybe you do the occasional tourist thing, spending time walking up and down Michigan Avenue, strolling through the vast halls of the Art Institute or Millennium Park. Yet I feel a certain civic obligation to tell you about Logan Square. There’s a vibrancy and an energy there I haven’t felt since I first moved to this city 20 years ago.
As a South Sider, I know you’re already dubious. This ethnically diverse enclave on the city’s Northwest Side reminds me of Bucktown and Wicker Park 10 years ago, with its mix of artists, Gen-Y enthusiasm and hipper-than-thou bars and restaurants. The energy is palpable, and not just in the ironic tattoo parlours, geeked-out comic shops and offbeat coffee shops roasting their own beans. Logan – the grand, European-style boulevard – serves as a major artery and entry point, also playing host to one of the city’s best farmer’s markets on Sundays in the summer. I don’t have the advantage of a police-escorted motorcade, but the area is an easy 15 minute train ride from downtown.
I know you and Michelle love to eat (stories of your meals at Topolobampo and Spiaggia are legendary among the food cognoscenti). I’m passionate about food too, and suggest you start at Longman & Eagle, across the street from the Blue Line stop. This gastropub opened two years ago and has already garnered a Michelin star. I know your cook Sam Kass used to work at avec, but the food here is just as solid. Think wild boar sloppy joes and frog’s legs done “Buffalo” style, soaked in hot sauce and served with a blue cheese foam.
But to be honest, the whisky program overshadows the food here. You want to buy American? They have more than 150 bourbons to choose from, and all of the cocktails are just $8. Last Thursday at 4 p.m. every stool at the bar was taken by dudes in baseball hats and gals with tattoos. I told the bartender I wanted a “brown and stirred” (kind of a bartender’s choice). He came back a few minutes later with one of the smoothest drinks I’ve had since my trip to Louisville: a nine-year-old single barrel Knob Creek bourbon, paired with Mûre blackberry cordial, Fernet-Branca and a bit of Old Fitzgerald 100-proof, high-wheated bourbon.
I was so wiped out, I could have easily stayed in one of the six upstairs guest rooms, which have refrigerators stocked with local beer and soda and cassette players loaded with mix tapes. It’s an unusual mix of pub, bar and inn, but it works. “The bartender is your concierge,” Bruce Finkelman, one of the owners, tells me. “It’s like a pension in Europe; it’s integrated within the community.”
A little history: Logan Square was settled by Scandinavians 100 years ago. But at the time, the boulevards of Paris were in fashion, so the city planners laid out this neighbourhood with one, long, dominant boulevard that terminates at a circular park, with a road ringing the border. The park was designed in 1918 by Henry Bacon (yes, the same Beaux-Arts architect who did the Lincoln Memorial) to celebrate the centennial of the state joining the Union; a single, eagle-topped doric column by Evelyn Longman stands majestically in the middle of it, a sort of bohemian beacon.
In the early 20th century, Logan Square was the terminus for the city’s train system, but after the Second World War people started fleeing to the suburbs. The Poles moved in, and later, in the 1960s and ’70s, it was mostly Cuban. In fact, when Lula Café, one of my favourite places for brunch, opened 14 years ago, there was an old Cuban bodega next door that sold cigars and porn.