DEEP DIVE CHI: Explore Your Inner Hipster in Wicker Park

By John Frame, Class of 2017

By John Frame, Class of 2017

A new monthly column devoted to exploring one of Chicago’s many unique neighborhoods.

Wicker Park has a rich and diverse history. Once the Polish center of Chicago, the neighborhood saw a rapid increase in LatinX populations in the ‘60s and ‘70s due to the completed construction of the Kennedy Expressway and expansion of the Blue Line “L” trains. Displaced from rising rents in nearby Lincoln Park and Old Town, Latin folks migrated to Wicker’s more affordable and accessible Location. Due to such rapid movement and turbulent economic times, Wicker Park began to steadily decline. However, that only fueled the opportunity for wealthier business folks to seize cheap land and property, beginning a consistent process of gentrification.

Today, Wicker Park is still a culturally diverse neighborhood—somewhat quirky and hipster-centric, but with remnants of its Polish and Latin history. The hustle and bustle of the neighborhood is concentrated on the Milwaukee Avenue strip, easily accessible from the Damen or Division Blue Line stops.

Hipsters wait or a Sunday brunch seat at Bongo Room. Photo courtesy of Party Earth.

Hipsters wait or a Sunday brunch seat at Bongo Room. Photo courtesy of Party Earth.

To explore, start your day with a blast from the 1980s past at The Wormhole Coffee (1462 N Milwaukee Ave). Creative drinks made with locally roasted HalfWit beans and finished off with intricate foam toppings butt heads with lived-in sofas and cramped window seating for great people-watching. The atmosphere comes complete with a model DeLorean for all the Back to the Future fans!

Once you’re nice and caffeinated, check out The Bongo Room (1470 N Milwaukee Ave) for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Simple faire like red velvet pancakes and omelets sit side-by-side with tastier creations such as lemon brioche French toast and BLT eggs benedict. Bongo can be pretty busy on the weekends, so prepare for a wait.  

After brunch, head to Ragstack (1459 N Milwaukee Ave) for some thrift shopping. There is a lot of “vintage” denim jeans and jackets, and a fair amount of tasteless men’s overalls. Whatever floats your boat!

If art is your thing, stroll on over to Thr3e Birds Gallery (1323 North Milwaukee; entrance on Paulina St) with cute robots on the front door waiting to greet you. Located in the back of Lenny & Me consignment shop, the gallery features work from local artists with spotlights changing every two months.

Adorable robots greet art-seeking patrons at Thr3e Birds Gallery. Photo courtesy of ArtSlant

Adorable robots greet art-seeking patrons at Thr3e Birds Gallery. Photo courtesy of ArtSlant

You’re likely hungry again after doing absolutely nothing productive, so check out Big Star (1531 N Damen Ave)--a lively, funky Mexican “street food” joint that serves up some of the best tacos in the area. Then make a pit stop at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (1505 N Milwaukee Ave) for ice cream and frozen yoghurt in unique flavors like sun popped corn or honey butterscotch. And if you’re feeling a bit nostalgic or competitive, Emporium Arcade Bar (1366 N Milwaukee Ave) boasts a bunch of classic arcade games, 60 types of whiskey, and tons of beers on tap.  

To end the night, get your “‘90s dance” on at Crocodile (1540 N Milwaukee Ave; Saturday night), a small but super fun nightclub with really great music and a pretty diverse crowd. I recommend just staying close to the first floor bar while belting out your favorite TLC or Mariah Carey hit with a little bumpin’ and grindin’ thrown in the mix. Enjoy!

John is a second-year who is always exploring Chicago. Catch him if you can!