Immigrant Slavs, Puerto Ricans, artsy types, and a proliferation of cafés converge on the city's locus of cool.
By Elizabeth Kadetsky
The Scene Liz Phair and the Smashing Pumpkins got their start in the West Town club scene, which has been one of Chicago's last bastions of cheap beer for a century. A recent economic boom in the red-brick and Victorian-style neighborhood west of the Chicago River has since brought together artists, immigrants, and newly arrived families from upscale Lincoln Park.
The Backstory Eastern Europeans seeking a better life settled here in the 1870's. But over the past two decades, the drug subculture that took hold in the 1950's (described in detail in Nelson Algren's novels) conspired with political unrest, urban decay, and Division Street's daunting width. Now an influx of artists, refugees from Chi-town's inflated rents, has spawned the area's rebirth.
Local Fauna Nights are global-village block parties, with cars flaunting Puerto Rican flags and gallery-hoppers roaming around in T-shirts with ironic slogans.
The Epicenter Hipsters convene each night at RAINBO CLUB (1150 N. Damen Ave.; 773/489-5999); the bar's photo booth, red leather banquettes, and alternative music scene were immortalized in Stephen Frears's movie High Fidelity.
Restaurants COCO 2723 W. Division St.; 773/384-4811; dinner for two $45. French-trained Nuyorican chef Johnny Quiñones introduced West Town to sophisticated versions of traditional and modern foods from Puerto Rico, such as mofongo, a savory tart with a crust of mashed plantains and pork cracklings. GREEN ZEBRA 1460 W. Chicago Ave.; 312/243-7100; dinner for two $65. Haute restaurateur Shawn McClain's high-design spot pleases the organic crowd with ingredients from regional farms. Thanks to McClain's renowned martinis, it caters to lounge lizards too. Don't miss the Point Reyes blue cheese soufflé.
Shopping CASA DE SOUL 1919 W. Division St.; 773/252-2520. Nigeria-raised Kennedy Ashinze (who moonlights as deep-house and global DJ Kennedy Octane) op-ened his boutique this year. It stocks club gear, one-of-a-kind amulets from Africa, Vietnamese art, and vintage LP's and magazines. LE FETICHE 1939 W. Division St.; 773/252-5120. No one seems to mind if you browse in your slippers at this high-end shoe boutique. The focus is footwear as objet d'art, with Rem Koolhaas's architectural line, United Nude, as the centerpiece.
After Dark SONOTHEQUE 1444 W. Chicago Ave.; 312/226-7600. Self-styled international groove merchant Joe Bryl relocated from Chicago's notorious Vinyl disco to the luminescent DJ booth in this state-of-the-art sound space, which draws club kids as well as yuppies slumming on the West Side.
Know the names of these three revered acts: Stereolab, Smog, and Will Oldham. You may catch band members in a sneak performance at a local bar
A creative alternative to urban sprawl keeps the smart set inside the Perimeter—and is luring others back from the suburbs.
By James E. McWilliams
The Scene According to a local architect, this neighborhood east of midtown was until recently 10 square blocks you entered in ignorance and at your own peril. Thanks to the the mid-nineties redevelopment of the rickety 1881 Fulton Bag & Cotton Mill, Cabbagetown has evolved from a decaying blue-collar zone into a celebration of artifact and artistry; it's the destination for anyone nurturing a serious ambition to paint or write— and to see and be seen.
The Backstory Legend has it that Cabbagetown's name dates from the 1920's, when vegetables reliably dropped from the back of produce trucks as they skidded around the corner onto Carroll Street, affording mill workers living in rough-hewn company housing something extra for supper.
Local Fauna Fierce piercings, thrift-store gear, and sculpted facial hair are just a few of the images that reflect Cabbagetown's countercultural ethos. But as suburbanites buy up refurbished bungalows (the original mill houses), which—at least for now—are still a good deal, polo shirts and Porsches are increasingly juxtaposed with VW Bugs and belly rings.