The malling of Michigan Avenue and Oak Street — Chicago's favorite shopping hubs — might not bother mall rats and label victims. For those who prefer a less predictable experience, there's Bucktown—Wicker Park, just 10 minutes by car (or a 15-minute ride on the El). The working-class neighborhood, once heavily Polish, has been transformed by the boutiques that now line the intersecting North, Damen, and Milwaukee Avenues. Parking won't be a problem (bring plenty of change to feed the meters), but checking out everything in a single afternoon might be. Rest assured that should your stamina wane, Bucktown now has its very own Starbucks. As one resident observed, "There goes the neighborhood."
SASABEE 1849 W. North Ave.; 773/862-7740. Until Sasabee opened its doors last year, Chicago's beauty-product junkies had no local place to get a fix. Now they're likely to overdose. Sasabee's sparse, Cubist shelves are stocked with dozens of upscale lines, including Fresh and Jules & Jane, Erbaviva for babies and expectant moms, Mason Pearson hairbrushes, Tocca perfume and candles, and Philip B botanical hair-care products and fragrances. At the sleek checkout counter, the piles of Piave toothbrushes, delicious lip glosses, and Get Fresh mints will have you kissing pretty.
LILLE 1923 W. North Ave.; 773/342-0563. A smart home-furnishings shop like Lille isn't what you'd expect from someone whose previous life was in finance. But owner Lydia Lando caught the interiors bug and began sourcing contemporary designers in Australia, Japan, Italy, even Canada. The store isn't overflowing with merchandise, but what's here is fabulous, with a focus on color and graphic design—candy-hued resin bowls and vases, pillows with geometric patterns in outlandish combinations, journals covered in vintage fabrics, and a few pieces of furniture.
NICHE 1566 N. Damen Ave.; 773/489-2001; www.citysoles.com. The appropriately named Niche is filled with high-end, high-style women's and men's shoes formerly unavailable in this zip code. On-trend labels like Robert Cler- gerie, Espace, Free Lance, Enrico Fantini, and Patrick Cox are all here, with prices up to $400 a pair. This spring, look for wedge heels in cork or wood for women; for men, athletic-influenced sandals with sporty soles, fun textures, and, believe it or not, toe rings.
EMBELEZAR 1639 N. Damen Ave.; 773/645-9705. Had enough of stark, ultra-spare home-furnishings shops?Step into Embelezar (Portuguese for "embellish") and be enveloped by the cozy, sweet-smelling space packed with a sophisticated range of slipcovered and upholstered furniture, antique Indian panels, Fortuny silk lampshades, and gift items galore: journals, photo albums, soaps, incense.
P45 1643 N. Damen Ave.; 773/862-4523; www.shop45.com. Anyone fond of Fred Segal or Barneys Co-op will feel right at home at P45. Owners Jessica Darrow and Tricia Tunstall roam the globe for of-the-moment clothes from designers who aren't yet household names. This spring they fell in love with the eighties preppy look: seersucker, knee-length skirts, khakis, and plenty of navy-and-white stripes. P45 also offers a well- edited selection of shoes, jewelry by Me & Ro, and great bags. While prices are on the higher end, the sizes run small (if you're a double digit, you may be disappointed).
TANGERINE 1659 N. Damen Ave.; 773/772-0505. If the styles in P45 made you salivate, but the prices would blow your budget, take a spin through Tangerine. It's more affordable (and more size-friendly). Instead of eighties-style one-shouldered party dresses, Tangerine explores the Town & Country side of that decade. Eternally preppy Lacoste polo shirts and dresses crowd the racks (which are arranged by color for easy mixing and matching), T-shirts and sweaters are stacked on tables, and fun bags line shelves throughout the store. Spring brings sixties shift dresses, knee-length shorts in bright colors, and a hint of camouflage.
PAGODA RED 1714 N. Damen Ave.; 773/235-1188; www.pagodared.com. You could power-shop right by Pagoda Red's easy-to-miss entrance, set back from the street and down a short walkway. But those who do notice the beautiful statue-lined entryway are in for a treat. Behind the big doors lie two floors (8,000 square feet) of gorgeous Asian relics—beds, chairs, armoires, screens, lamps, statues, textiles, and smaller collectibles—and a knowledgeable, friendly staff to guide you through it all.
STITCH 1723 N. Damen Ave.; 773/782-1570. One-stop shopping for super-chic contemporary home furnishings and gifts, displayed in a deceptively minimalist way. You'll find clean-lined wenge-wood furniture from Italy, pottery by the ever-popular Jonathan Adler and Klein & Reid, Dransfield & Ross accessories and decorative pillows, and an impressive array of leather goods (bags, briefcases, wallets).
PAVILION ANTIQUES 2055 N. Damen Ave.; 773/645-0924. This gem of an antiques shop rivals anything New York can offer—especially if your tastes run to anonymous Modernist French pieces from the early 20th century through the 1950's. The stars—Prouvé, Adnet, Perriand—are here, too, thanks to the owners' frequent trips abroad in search of furniture, light fixtures, and odd and unusual objets, such as old hat molds, scientific equipment, even a much-needed grain thresher. Most items are priced between $900 and $3,000.
THE RED BALLOON CO. 2060 N. Damen Ave.; 773/489-9800. The only kids' store in the neighborhood is owned by Jennifer Pope, who used to produce commercials. She originally carried secondhand furniture and accessories, but now she also has four lines of bedding, classic books such as the original Curious George, and all-American clothing like bandanna-print rain boots, linen camp shirts, and nautical-striped rompers and sneakers.
ROBIN RICHMAN 2108 N. Damen Ave.; 773/278-6150. The clothing at Robin Richman's vest-pocket shop is mostly European and fashion-forward, possibly too forward for the average shopper. Still, Richman's clientele flocks here for her hand-knit sweaters, plus designs from Europe and Japan and shoes that range from feminine to funky. Her bug and butterfly jewelry collection adds whimsy to the mix.
GYPSY 2131 N. Damen Ave.; 773/395-6999. The lofty space feels like a luxurious country house where it's hard to tell the old from the new. There are period armoires displaying colorful Moroccan glasses, French country-style dishes, engraved silverware, and funny little soaps shaped like sheep. Gypsy's back room is decorated to resemble a bedroom, with crisp linens, an iron bed, and a hutch crammed with covetable bath products.
JEAN ALAN 2134 N. Damen Ave.; 773/278-2345. For years, Jean Alan—a former movie-set decorator—has been a secret home-design source for the style pack. Alan, known for working wonders with textiles and trims, offers a strong selection of retooled furnishings, such as a pair of fifties club chairs upholstered in mohair. Accessories (lamps, pillows) are sewn from fabulous fabrics she has amassed over the years.
BROOKE JAMES LTD. 1460 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773/252-4620. In a word, pretty. Brooke James sells feminine furniture and home accessories, with a predominantly white/off-white color scheme and a vintage look (some are true antiques). Beds, cabinets, dishes, and glassware—at exceedingly reasonable prices—blend perfectly with any "shabby chic" interior.
MODERN TIMES 1538 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773/772-8871. Contrary to its name, Modern Times is a showcase for other eras—from the 1940's to the fashionable 70's. You'll find furniture, pottery, silver and glass, jewelry, and clothing—when it's open, that is. Call ahead, since hours of operation seem as uncertain as the times in which we live (though the owners claim they're closed only on Monday and Tuesday).
A number of stylish restaurants have opened around Bucktown—Wicker Park to satiate shoppers after a day of retail therapy.
At Mod (1520 N. Damen Ave.; 773/252-1500; dinner for two $60), the whimsical décor — a mirrored, neon-orange vestibule, lime and orange pendant lamps, plastic partitions with giant holes in the dining room — is as colorful as the food. Try the "ham and eggs" appetizer — ciabatta crostini draped with prosciutto and topped with an egg and a dollop of olive oil — or the "Texas truck-stop" rib eye.
Sushi doesn't get any fresher than at Mirai (2020 W. Division St.; 773/862-8500; dinner for two $70), where fluke, spiny lobster, eel, and shrimp are pulled from saltwater tanks and prepared on the spot. Nurse a post-shopping cocktail on one of the space-age chairs in the upstairs sake lounge while a DJ spins house music.
Artists and "suits" pack Rambutan (2049 W. Division St.; 773/772-2727; dinner for two $80) to sample colorful, Filipino-American tapas.
Flavorful standouts such as char-grilled calamari and pork chops stuffed with fontina cheese, prosciutto, and wild mushrooms are on the Italian-inspired menu at the low-lit — and loud — Settimana Café (2056 W. Division St.; 773/394-1629; dinner for two $60). —Nadine Ekrek