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.
“There were squatters upstairs, and you’d feel a little nervous walking across that park,” says Jason Hammel, who owns Lula with his wife, Amalea Tshilds. “I used to have a one-bedroom rental for $325 a month; it’s easily double that now.”
Today, Lula serves delicious, inventive brunches, lunches and dinners – most of which are sourced by local farms – that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. It’s got a vibe similar to that of Fat Rice, Chicago’s only Macanese restaurant, where a young couple has translated their travels from Macau and Portugal into a funky little oasis on the northern edge of the neighbourhood.
Did I mention Bang Bang Pie Shop, where they feature three flavours each day and make the best biscuits in the city? These buttery beauties – the size of a softball – have a sturdy crust with a rich interior. Smear on some homemade preserves, a flavoured butter or, better yet, pair them with some candied bacon and pour yourself a strong iced coffee. You’ll be ready to take on Congress with renewed vigour.
But Logan Square is about more than good eats. If the first lady and the kids are with you, be sure to take them to City Lit. It’s one of Chicago’s truly independent bookstores, just a few steps from Lula. Michelle will want to walk around the corner to check out Wolfbait & B-girls, a hip boutique that carries clothing and accessories by local artisans. Sasha and Malia will probably want to check out *play, a unique toy store and book shop not unlike something you’d find in D.C. neighbourhoods such as Adams Morgan or Georgetown.
That’s just the beginning, really. The Logan Theatre has been fully restored (showing first-run and cult films), the farmer’s market just kicked off what’s sure to be a lively season, and Reno is making what can best be described as Chicago-style artisan bagels, finished in their majestic wood-burning oven.
So next time you’re in town, give me a call. I’ll save a seat for you at Longman. Bourbon Summit, perhaps?
Logan Square is a 15 minute train ride from downtown (just $2.25 each way). From O’Hare International airport, ride in on the Blue Line train for 30 minutes and get off at the Logan Square stop. Arriving at Chicago Midway airport? Take the Orange Line downtown, then transfer to the Blue Line.
IF YOU GO
What to see:
Congress Theater DJ sets and touring musical acts make their way to this ancient auditorium on a regular basis. 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Logan Square Farmer’s Market It runs every Sunday until Oct. 27, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 3111 W. Logan Bl.
Logan Theatre This 100 year-old theatre recently went through a total renovation, and now shows mostly first-run movies, but also screen classics and cult favourites. Relax before or after a show in the quaint bar/lounge. 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Minnekirken Memorial Church Built in 1912, this church is one of the only in the U.S. where they still hold services in Norwegian (audio translator devices available) twice a month. 2614 North Kedzie Blvd.
Where to eat:
Lula Café This farm-to-table restaurant is the area’s crown jewel. Weekday brunches and lunches are easier to get a table; lots of industry folks go on Mondays, when they offer a three-course farm dinner for $38. 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.
Longman & Eagle This gastropub boasts inventive food and an extensive whisky list, featuring more than 150 bourbons. 2657 N. Kedzie Ave.
Fat Rice This one-of-a-kind restaurant fuses the pork, sausage and seafood of Portugal with the rice and seafood of Macau. 2957 W. Diversey.
Bang Bang Pie The pie offers change with the seasons, but the biscuits are always stellar. A half-dozen preserves and butters make for difficult choices. They have a huge backyard full of picnic tables to handle overflow in the summer. 2051 N. California Ave.
Billy Sunday Same owners as Yusho, but this time the emphasis is on hand-crafted cocktails (none more than $10) using hard-to-find spirits; a limited menu is also notable, if you’re in the mood for snacking. Open until 2 a.m. 3143 W. Logan Blvd.,
The Whistler The limited number of drinks doesn’t overtax the hipster bartenders at this low-key bar/gallery/venue/cocktail lounge. There is live music/DJs seven nights a week. 2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Revolution Brewery This was the first brewery in Logan Square, and if you want, bring in that growler, where they’ll fill it up if you want to get some beer to go. It’s a large, boisterous space with a decent menu. 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Scofflaw A gin-focused cocktail lounge where the drinks outshine the food, but it’s so ingrained in the neighbourhood, you’re likely to see a number of regulars sipping the night away. 3201 W. Armitage Ave.
Telegraph (and Reno) Telegraph is the more grown-up, wine-focused, erudite older sibling, who relishes serving whole fish and a few ambitious nose-to-tail entrées; Reno is the kid-sister next door, where a wood-burning oven cranks out homemade bagels in the a.m. and pizzas at night. Telegraph: 2601 N. Milwaukee Ave. ; Reno: 2607 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Where to stay:
Longman & Eagle The six chic rooms at this mini inn feature works by local artists. Starting at $85. 2657 N. Kedzie Ave.
Where to shop:
Wolfbait & B-girls Art Institute of <QL>Chicago grads run this quirky store <QL>that features the creations of more than 170 local artisans. Get that cool Chicago souvenir shirt or mug here. 3131 W. Logan Blvd.
*play This toy store carries hard-to-find products from smaller producers and manufacturers. 3109 W. Logan Blvd.
Shop 1021 A funky home and gift boutique, right next to a new Intelligentsia coffee shop that’s also worth checking out. 2650 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Saki Records Stop here for hard-to-find records, original art, magazines and a real cross-section of the area's creative culture. 3716 W. Fullerton.