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.
The Epicenter Residents have dinneroutdoors at AGAVE (242 Boulevard SE; 404/588-0006; dinner for two $60), where chef-owner Jack Sobel brings the Southwest to the Southeast with a culinary range that stretches from spicy añejo tequila shrimp to cayenne-spiced fried chicken. Then they walk—yes, Atlantans walk—along Carroll Street, which is lined with shops selling contemporary art and renovated houses painted purple, blue, and lime green.
Galleries CABBAGETOWN ART WORKSHOP 212 Carroll St. SE; 404/222-0644. Outsider-artaficionado John Dirga's reluctantly commercial novelty shop specializes in children's work and panoramic photography. ART FARM 835 Wylie St. SE; 404/584-2078. This collective produces performances by avant-garde groups such as the Jack in the Black Box Theatre Company, which recently put on My Lady/Malady, a play loosely inspired by the life of Tennessee Williams. UP THE ALLEY GALLERY Pickett's Alley, off Carroll St.; 404/222-0644. A permanent exhibition lets visitors snap photos of John Dirga's dogs in an ever-changing (Egyptian, Jedi) tableau. Whimsy, obviously, is the specialty.
Restaurants CARROLL STREET CAFÉ 208 Carroll St. SE; 404/577-2700; lunch for two $18. Executive chef Glen Williams's "epicurean fusion" creations include a wide range of quiches (the chicken-and-jalapeño version is best) and daily specials such as grilled rack of lamb with fresh onion marmalade. Canvases by Cabbagetown painters hang on the walls. 97 ESTORIA 727 Wylie St. SE; 404/522-0966; dinner for two $20. The vegetable samosas served in the blond-wood space sound exotic, but they match well with a pitcher of cold beer—choose from a list of 30 different brews.
Keep an eye out for local luminary Cat Power—a very moody indie singer-songwriter worshipped internationally by a cultish fan base
Innovative spirits and urban pioneers turn a once-dicey promontory into Denver's grooviest artists' residence
By Andrew Collins
The Scene Plenty of Denverites have never set foot in Highland, an off-the-main-drag enclave northwest of downtown. Still, the neighborhood claims more artists per capita than anywhere else in Denver, and indie pride has kept chain stores largely at bay.
The Backstory Scots who worked in the nearby silver mines established the district in the 1880's and built its Italianate and Queen Anne houses. By World War II, Highland had become Denver's Little Italy; a generation later, the same blocks began welcoming a new wave of Latino arrivals. Over the past decade, young artists, professionals, and families have snapped up the neighborhood's promising fixer-uppers and renovated lofts.
Local Fauna Neo-bohemians on $1,500 mountain bikes cycle past old-timers working under the hoods of pickups.
The Epicenter There are two Highlands: the coarser, red-brick east side,and the tidy, Victorian west side. Their hub is Highland Square, a cluster of restaurants and shops splashed across West 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.
Restaurants CORAL ROOM 3489 W. 32nd Ave.; 303/433-2535; dinner for two $50. In a mock-Polynesian den of bamboo and rattan, scenesters snack on such pan-Asian creations as citrus-and-soy-marinated hamachi served on top of mango-cilantro sticky rice. HIGHLAND'S GARDEN CAFÉ 3927 W. 32nd Ave.; 303/458-5920; dinner for two $85. Epicures flock from far and near to this 1890's bungalow for internationally inspired dishes. A favorite: hoisin-glazed sea scallops rest- ing on a bed of sautéed plums, figs, and ginger. LUCIA'S CASA DE CAFÉ 3301 Tejon St.; 303/433-4626; brunch for two $15. A java joint and de facto community center, tucked inside a vintage drugstore. Grab one of the mismatched chairs and dig into waffles and a silky vanilla malt.
Shopping FROLIK ON 32ND 3715 W. 32nd Ave.; 303/458-5575. The smart woman's clothing boutique. Frolik's 1905 cottage on Highland Square is a one-stop shop for Hanky Panky lingerie, versatile Blue Dot denim, and accessories such as Hobo handbags. ST. KILIAN'S CHEESE SHOP 3211 Lowell Blvd.; 303/477-0374. Purveyor of the city's best artisanal cheeses, from Oro Blanco goat cheese to gooey Epoisses imported from Burgundy. Belgian chocolates are also flown in fresh.
Galleries GALLERY SINK 2301 W. 30th Ave.; 303/455-0185. Warhol Factory alum Mark Sink runs this acclaimed photography showcase, representing a long and impeccable roster of emerging (Beth Yarnelle Edwards and Lori Nix) and established (Elliot Erwitt, Karl Blossfeldt) talents. 7 ZIP 37 3644 Navajo St.; 303/477-4525. New shows are mounted every three weeks in the gallery's storefront, and works by all 15 members of the Zip collective are displayed in back. Prices are deliberately kept low: many of these eclectic pieces go for under $100.
On Friday night, Navajo Street is reborn as an arts festival. Catch an art opening or the provocative Bug Theatre (3654 Navajo St.; 303/477-9984)
In a city where the Great Outdoors takes center stage, a clichéd image of Montana is being replaced by a cosmopolitan edge.
By Lynn Donaldson
The Scene A population boom (along with a steadily advancing army of strip malls) necessitated an additional interstate exit in the greater Bozeman area. Yet downtown (nicknamed Boze-Angeles) has managed to retain an authentically bohemian vibe. At the heart of the city, new residential buildings are springing up on abandoned lots, and empty warehouses have been converted into design showrooms.
The Backstory After the 1992 release of A River Runs Through It, urban exiles by the Humveeful began migrating to the Gallatin Valley in search of the lodgepole-pine lifestyle. Recently, funky restaurants and shops have supplanted that faux-West utopia. Now there's not a chain saw-carved trout in sight.
Local Fauna On Saturday mornings, world-class climbers, Sierra Club activists, film industry tycoons, and the occasional cowboy can be seen strolling Main Street before hitting the hiking trails.
The Epicenter Labrador retrievers and baby-joggers are always parked in front of the LEAF & BEAN (35 W. Main St.; 406/587-1580), a coffee and tea house owned in the early nineties by onetime resident Glenn Close.
Restaurants STARKY'S AUTHENTIC DELICATESSEN 229 E. Main St.; 406/556-1111; lunch for two $16. American Wildlands guides and businessmen in buttoned-up suits crowd the booths in this lunch spot. Take a window seat and order a pungent baked-salami sandwich. SAVORY OLIVE 105 W. Main St.; 406/586-8320; dinner for two $65. An Art Deco boîte tucked inside the historic Baxter Hotel, the Olive emphasizes sustainably raised meats.
Shopping RO SHAM BO 17 S. Tracy Ave.; 406/582-7584. Owners Priscilla Foster and Sue Fleming sell Himalayan wrapping paper and Montana-made, hand-stitched note cards. The result is a stationery store as rich as a gourmet bonbon. SHOEFLY 315 E. Main St.; 406/586-8492. Michelle Stash fills her boutique with Flirty Donna & Toots handbags, John Fleuvog footwear, and Anna clogs in Bubblicious shades of pink. This season's designs are displayed on stainless-steel shelves and a quirky 1940's X-Ray Shoe Fitter.
After Dark PLONK 29 E. Main St.; 406/587-2170. A relaxed wine and tapas bar that has given a much needed jolt to the downtown nightlife scene. Trade tales with a fly-fishing guide or eavesdrop on that Discovery Channel crew seated by the soaring windows.
Gallery SHACK UP 109 N. Rouse Ave., No. 2; 406/586-6336. Art openings here have the glitz and energy of a Hollywood premiere. Owner Stephanie Sandston, a former art director of feature films, fills her auto garage turned design store with Modernist furniture and made-in-Montana functional art, such as glass sushi plates by architect-artist Richard Parrish.
The look on the street is Carrie Bradshaw in cowboy boots. No need to pack a blow-dryer; the Keep it Wild philosophy extends from nature to hair, which is also left untamed.
WHERE TO EAT
Neighborhood transplant Chris Storey has extended the bootlegging theme of this 1 1/2-year-old bar and restaurant to the turn-tabling, which features local DJ's mixing samples in the tradition of Chicago's native house-music scene.
Dinner for two $35
1824 W. Division St.; 773/862-8686
Polish-born founder Leo Tybor envisioned an end-of-the-day respite for factory workers when he founded this diner in 1947, but in 1992, his successors began drawing artists with healthier, less grimy fare. When an imminent sale was announced this year, regulars demanded to know the fate of the beloved Georgia Rueben (a grilled sandwich on rye with smoked turkey and swiss cheese, coleslaw, and thousand island dressing). At last notice, the new owners plan to keep it, along with the kitschy interior design (check out the vintage postcards on the wall).
Lunch for two $18
1809 W. Division St.; 773/276-6509
Chicago-style fusion has invaded owner Chen Shing Lin's coastal-Chinese menu, which now includes Asian cannoli, wasabi mashed potatoes, tempura chocolate cake, and Hong Kongstyle bubble tea.
Dinner for two $40
2050 W. Division St.; 773/486-6700
Milk & Honey Café
The sandwiches may feature such tony building blocks as arugula and lemon-caper sauce, but the brick walls and tolerance for the all-day café buff are pure Chicago.
Lunch for two $18
1920 W. Division St.; 773/395-9434
WHERE TO SHOP
Collectors of ironic T-shirts can buy them here. The store's two pug dogs, along with some stuffed-toy doppelgängers, attest to West Town's status as pug capital of Chicago. Don't miss the chance to one-up the Ms. Pac-Man champion on the machine.
1913 W. Division St.; 773/395-2351
The supply shop of choice for herring and horseradish lovers, this omnibus Eastern European grocery carries eight Ukrainian-language newspapers and a bakery display anchored by a 14 inch loaf of challah.
2158 W. Chicago Ave.; 773/384-5562
Jennifer McCoy, a 25-year-old graduate of the neighborhood's Chicago Academy for the Arts High School, peddles bath products (some proceeds go to women in distress) and locally made accessories; she also holds knitting classes here.
1951 W. Division St., 773/252-4120
WHERE TO GO
Leather booths and a raw wooden floor tone down the atmosphere of this nightspot, where red developer lights beneath the bar highlight retro 8x10 photos from the owner's suburban Midwestern childhood. DJ's lampoon Texas and George Bush, and political themes from the punk-rock 80's resonate.
2210 W. Chicago Ave.; 773/276-1411
Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral
This 1903 landmark was built by the great skyscraper innovator Louis Sullivan. From the outside, the small stucco cathedral and its cupola have an understated, Candy Land look, but the sweeping interior, with its stained glass and rococo altar, is awe-inspiring.
1121 N. Leavitt St.
WHERE TO SHOP
This Crayola-colored pet boutique's fire hydrantlevel shelves burst with Wagwear sweaters, Planet Dog featherbeds, and collars in every style from polka-dots to patent leather—a perfect place for browsing bowsers to sniff and explore.
777 E. Main St.; 406/586-6160
Stark Raven Cycles
Carl & Loretta Strong's showroom is as sleek and aerodynamic as one of their own racing bikes. Up front, apparel, accessories, and a repair service hold the floor; in back, Strong frames—renowned for their flawless welding and alignment within .005 of an inch—are made by hand. If a future James Bond script calls for a bicycle chase, you can bet 007 will be on an ultra-high-end Strong titanium.
701 E. Mendenhall St.; 406/586-1201
In a 1960's shopping center, wedged between a laundromat and food market, this unexpected oasis offers hand-poured Pacifica candles with scents like Thai lemongrass and Mediterranean fig, as well as a full line of Pacifica Naturals skin care products.
538 E. Main St.; 406/586-0611
WHAT TO DO
Sage Spa Salon
Infused with a strong dose of zen, this mossy-toned cocoon provides an eco-posh backdrop for everything on the Aveda-based menu—from the $30 Sage Manicure with organic seaweed to the all-day Live Well package ($320).
424 E. Main St., Suite 1; 406/585-8282
WHERE TO STAY
Lumber Baron Inn
Over-the-top room themes make for maximum drama at this lavish 1890's mansion turned bed-and-breakfast. In the Valentine Suite, you can play Cupid in a leviathan Indonesian wedding bed. Doubles from $145
2555 W. 37th Ave.; 303/477-8205
WHERE TO EAT
This informal, chatter-filled café raises the art of home-style cooking to soaring new heights. Polish off a heaping platter of panfried, cornmeal-dusted catfish fillets, then finish with ginger bread slathered in fresh whipped cream.
Dinner for two $45
3472 W. 32nd St.; 303/455-1117
For the best red-chile carne adovada in Denver, head to this dive, which is hung with portraits of scowling, mustachioed revolutionaries Theres no booze, but the cantaloupe liquados (Mexican smoothies) hit the spot.
Dinner for two $20
2616 W. 32nd Ave.; 303/455-4389
WHERE TO SHOP
Posh overflows with stylish—if sometimes odd—objects for the home, from decanters to diaper bags.
3600 W. 32nd Ave.; 720/855-8279
One of three artist-owned galleries on the same block, this sunny storefront mounts a new show every three weeks and displays a sampling of works by its 15 members in back. Many of the eclectic pieces here are listed for under $100.
3644 Navajo St., 303/477-4525
Did you enjoy this article?Share it.