Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Guide to Living in Chicago

My friend Chuck just posted something similar about L.A.

I have been a resident Chicagoan for five years, living within the city limits, but have been dancing outside those lines like a concertgoer at a port-a-potty all my life. So here it is, Megan's Guide to Living in Chicago, the second city.

Far North Side: Uptown, Rogers Park, Andersonville, Edgewater

I don't know much about these areas simply because I don't go past the Irving Park exit on Lakeshore Drive. I know that Andersonville has some amazing Swedish bakeries. Oh and these areas are all along the lake and happily ethnically diverse. However, my friend lived in Uptown for a while and though it is much cheaper to live there, she said she couldn't take her dog for walks at night in some areas. Such is life in all big cities. Make the trip to the burbs in only 15 minutes!

Far Mid-North Side: North Center, St. Ben's, Roscoe Village, Ravenswood, Lincoln Square

This is my hood. I live in North Center. It's a nice mix of being about a mile away from Wrigley Field and being far enough away to avoid the non-existent parking and constant traffic of drunk people in the summertime. It's a family-oriented area and if I ever have a family, I would park them in a huge five bedroom lot in Ravenswood, with a ginormous wrap around porch and a yard. It's a little quiet for me, but there are tons of great restaurants down Irving Park Rd. and Montrose Ave. Lincoln Square is the "home of the Bierstube" so if you like drinking beer from a boot and eating pretzels as big as your head, "Prost!". Moderately expensive.

North Side: Wrigleyville, Lakeview East & West, Lincoln Park*

This is my favorite area of the city. I lived in Lakeview East for two years and Lincoln Park, right on the border of Old Town for one beautiful year. My years in Lakeview were the best, I think. Sharing a tiny apartment right on Halsted St. next to Clark St. Dog and Binny's Beverage Depot. Everything was right outside my door, the lake just a short bike ride or walk from my front steps. Again, close enough to Wrigley to feel the fever and be amidst a sea of blue and red, but far enough away to avoid the real crowds and tourists. Lakeview and Wrigleyville are both younger neighborhoods, so if you don't mind a kegger or two next door on game days, you'll be fine. You can find apartments dirt cheap in these areas if you look hard enough, but they won't be super nice.

*Lincoln Park encompasses the following areas: Depaul, Old Town, Lincoln Park, and Park West. Lincoln Park is probably one of the most expensive areas to live outside the Loop or Gold Coast. It's 'old money', with huge graystones sweeping across streets lined with trees and kids on big wheels in Lacoste polos. Its yuppie central, beware. Old Town though is great, very artsy, close to the lake, unique apartments, great restaurants and shopping. However, once you go south of North Ave., not so nice. Parts of Cabrini Green still loom over Division and Larabee along with a slew of other Section 8 housing. Depaul is nice and you can find a cheap place there because it's mostly students in the area. Park West don't even try to afford. Plus it's all old women with small dogs yipping at your heels yelling about you biking too fast.

Near North Side: Gold Coast, River North, Mag Mile, Streeterville, State Parkway, River West

For the longest time, Near North was the only place I wanted to live. In a fabulous, loft right on the River, where I could see the architecture tours floating by, pointing out my building, tourists staring in awe at the interesting people who must live there. A lot of people don't know that the River North area has the largest concentration of art galleries outside of Manhattan. However, if you're a starving artist trying to make it big, it will be hard for you to live in this area. Club kids and trust fund babies have started to inhabit the lofts and condos here and you will hate it.

The Gold Coast is absolutely beautiful. Tree-lined streets with statuesque brown and graystones hulking over immaculately kept historic sidewalks. Every other street, Oak, State, Walton has a different designer boutique you can spend your hard earned divorcee dollars at as well as Chicago's only Lamborghini dealership for miles. You can actually feel the horse-drawn carriages and women with parasols that once walked these cobblestone streets. Gorgeous. For the amazingly wealthy.

No one actually *lives* on the Mag Mile, one of the craziest, busiest streets in Chicago. Lined with tourists, you can find Water Tower Place, the Hancock Building, our flagship Marshall Field store turned Macy's, and the Drake Hotel. Steer clear of Niketown and FAO Shwartz or suffer getting sucked into the vortex of tourists that gather in front, cameras pointing toward the sky.

The Loop: Loop, Printer's Row, South Loop

The Loop is mainly for the masses of working people in Chicago. Skyskrapers, tower after tower after tower reaching toward the sky. Thousands of well-dressed people file out of Union Station and Ogilivie in the morning, trudging to whatever corporate job they chose months, years, decades ago. Though there are tons of restaurants and shops and theaters open during the day, The Loop is dead on the weekends and nothing is open on Sunday. Nothing. Crickets chirping.

Printer's Row and South Loop have only recently started to be built up. When I first moved into the city, I almost rented a condo on 14th and Michigan Ave. in a brand new construction building. We finally decided against it, because there was absolutely NOTHING in the area except the random scary warehouse and homeless person. Not a very habitable environment for two fresh out of college aged girls. However now I wish I had that condo on 14th & Michigan. South Loop is vibrant and bustling, tons of brand new affordable lofts have been built in the midst of trendy restaurants and quirky coffee shops. Printer's Row is what is sounds like. Originally the buildings were printing and publishing houses turned residential lofts. Expensive, but historic and the Printer's Row Book Fair in the summer is awesomely amazing if you are at all literary.

Near South Side: Dearborn Park, Museum Park, Prairie Avenue Historic District

I really love this area. I have been reading "Sin in the Second City" by Karen Abbott which is all about the famous brothels and whorehouses in the Levee District during the early twentieth century. After taking a tour of the Prairie Street mansions with my dad last year, I can tell you this area is rich in history and worth a walk through. Not so livable, as everything out there is a historic landmark of some sort, but I did see some nice new row homes going up. Kind of cool to think you could be walking the same streets that Marshall Field and George Pullman once strode. Dearborn Park and Museum Park are where Soldier Field, McCormick Place and the Museum Campus span: Field, Adler & Shedd. Not residential at all.

West Side: Humboldt Park, Bucktown, Wicker Park, East Village, West Town

Many of my friends live in Bucktown or Wicker Park. Several years ago it was considered the new 'cool' area to live and much more affordable than the north side. Now so many people have moved there and so many trendy restaurants and bars have opened that it's not as affordable, but its still pretty damn cool. Most people would say that 'hipsters' and 'anti-yuppies' flock to this area. Bucktown is great for a night off from the frat guys and trixies of Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville, when you just want to drink and mingle with the intelligentsia of Chicago. Hey, you're emo? Bucktown loves you, too. Still some shady areas so watch out.

Near West Side: Tri-Taylor, University Village, Medical Center, Greektown, Little Italy, Fulton Market District

In my opinion, Near West is going to blow up in the next ten, fifteen years. Right now there are sketchy areas and it's still a little dirty in parts, but I see the potential. Greektown is what it sounds like. University Village and Medical Center are named for being so close to UIC, so many students live there. Its affordable because it is still not considered a hot area, but nice because the university has subsidized most of the housing. Tri-Taylor and Little Italy are like walking back in time. Take a walk down Taylor Street and you'll get the full Italian-American experience. Oh the smells, oh the food. Ridiculous. Housing not so good, but getting better. Al's Beef, people. Al's Beef! Fulton Market is also growing. I would consider it to be similar to River West or River North with the trendier lofts and condos going up in all the old warehouses. Still kind of isolated though, so if you need to be in the thick of it, might not be for you.

Lower West Side: Pilsen

Cool, up and coming artsy area, huge Mexican infuence still present. You can find great lofts for cheap, but you are still in the middle of nowhere.

South Side: Chinatown, Bronzeville, Hyde Park

Wentworth and Archer have literally the Rolls Royce of authentic Chinese restaurants of anywhere in the city. You have not lived if you haven't tried a ham and egg bun from one of the many bakeries in the area. I don't know about living there, but you should at least visit once in your Chicago experience. Hyde Park I also don't know much about, but if it's good enough for Barack Obama, it's good enough for me. Lots of cultural stuff to do out there.

Souf Side: Bridgeport, Beverly, Evergreen Park, Morgan Park, Mt. Greenwood

Not to be confused with "south" side, the SOUF side is where, according to the residents, you can find the TRUE Chicagoans. This is Ditka's DA BEARS South Side. Polish sausage South Side. South Side Irish South Side. It's Comiskey and U.S. Cellular, Sox Park South Side. The real, blue collar, Bud Heavy drinking, church going, Western Ave. loving South Side. God love 'em. I do!

Oh and any neighborhood you find yourself in in Chicago, it takes twenty minutes to get to the highway.

This now concludes our tour through Chicago's neighborhoods. Questions welcome.


Anonymous said...

Cool guide! You should post it on

Anonymous said...

I sent this to my boyfriend, he's a souf sider and you described him quite well for never having met him!!

Lara said...

Oh bless your heart for including Evergreen Park as part of "Chicago." After 4 years at Southport & Roscoe I now own a home in EP and secretly lament that I now live in the burbs.

philippine real estate said...

This is a great guide to living in Chicago. Thanks!

Paula M

Anonymous said...

thank you

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About to re-locate to the Windy City and Elmwood Park has been mentioned......any thoughts?

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