By Jill Harrington
Long the Rhoda to the Mary Tyler Moore that is Lincoln Park—Chicago's more famous neighborhood named for the former prez—Lincoln Square has quite the show of its own these days. It's about 25 minutes northwest of the Loop (accessible by the Brown Line on the El) and is now the city's destination du jour, helped in large part by the relocation of the Old Town School of Folk Music and the ensuing hordes of students. The neighborhood was full of gems just waiting to be discovered by the rest of the world.
German-Americans were the first to set up shop here (the main artery, Lincoln Avenue, wasalmost renamedSauerkraut Avenue), and their beer halls and delis still contribute to the area's old-world feel. Many store owners are Lincoln Square natives who have put heart and soul into their ventures: from a classic toy store to a laid-back teahouse, from an organic wine store to an alternative apothecary, Lincoln Square's one-of-a-kind businesses are a delight in this age of increasingly homogenized neighborhoods. The Square is ready for its prime-time slot.
Café Selmarie 4729 Lincoln Ave.; 773/989-5595; dinner for two $40. It's a tempting thought to camp out in the bakery and try one of everything on offer: raspberry marzipan torte, fresh breads, apple strudel. A single bite of the famed rum ball (the size of a baseball) and you, too, will be reciting the "Ode to the Rum Ball," a painting-poem created by local artist and devotee Jenny Steinman.Recently expanded, Selmarie also serves lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.
Daily Bar & Grill 4560 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/561-6198; dinner for two $40. Though martinis are the big draw here (seven kinds of vodka, three types of stuffed olives), be sure to try the food as well. The grilled salmon with bacon-and-chive mashed spuds is delicious. And save room for honey-vanilla ice cream like you haven't had since childhood.
La Bocca della Verità 4618 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/784-6222, dinner for two $60. Named for the stone landmark that the movie Roman Holiday made famous in America. Take a holiday of your own by sampling the classic southern Italian recipes kept intact by owner (and Rome native) Cesare D'Ortenzi—spigola al sale (sea bass encrusted in salt) and ravioli anatra (freshpasta stuffed with duck and sage and served in a tomato cream sauce.
Villa Kula 4518 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/728-3114. "Tea is the most important meal of the day," claims Martha Voss, owner of this distinctly casual teahouse, named after childhood fictional heroine Pippi Longstocking's house. Take an afternoon break and order the tea service for two: a three-tier tray of tea sandwiches, scones and pastries, and two pots of tea. Or come in the evening Thursday-Sunday and listen to live jazz piano. And buy some tea: the bestseller is Earl Grey ($3.50/ounce); the rarest variety is delicate Silver Needle white tea ($23 per two ounces) made from the top down-covered buds of the plant and harvested only two days a year in China.
Taste of the Teutonic
Chicago Brauhaus 4732 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/784-4444. The liveliest of the neighborhood's German brauhauses. The proof?Co-owner Guenter Kempf says he goes through about 150 kegs of Oktoberfest Spaten beer during the annual three-week fall celebration. Serving German beers year-round, the Brauhaus has live ethnic music daily, but things get uberfestive in October, with yodeling and dancing contests and hats with a feather for $1.50. Not to be overlooked is the hearty German fare (schnitzel and bratwurst) brought to you by waitstaff in lederhosen. It's campy, but undeniably fun.
Meyer Deli 773/561-3377. Lincoln Square's reigning German deli since 1954, is a cheap way to feel like you've been to Europe; Meyer carries eight different types of fresh liver sausages; Lieberkase, a German-style meatloaf; German coffees; Austrian jams; German beers such as Spaten and Hofbrau; European cheeses and chocolates; 15 types of rye bread—and it will ship any of it all over the United States.
Nervous Center 4612 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/728-5010. A coffee house with the feel of an artist's crash pad, the Center roasts its own coffee and has a huge selection of newspapers and 'zines to read while you sip and contemplate the sometimes strange sounds coming from the basement. Co-owner Richard Syska (in partnership with his brother Ken) admits they like "screwing with people's preconceptions. We are not here to give people what they want." A tip: if you're noncommittal about the evening's music, sit upstairs where there's no cover charge.
Old Town School of Folk Music (4544 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/728-6000) Always wished you could play the washboard?The Old Town School can help. They also offer lessons in playing the guitar, saxophone, or djembe drums, as well as gospel singing and Flamenco and hip-hop dancing, to name a few. Housed in a former library, the school has has only been open a year, and its impact on the hood can be measured by the hordes of guitar-packing pedestrians and the crowded restaurants before and afterconcerts, which are held every weekend. Recent headliners include guitar great John Prine and Barbarito Torres of Buena Vista Social Club fame. In town for just a few days and feel like jamming?Call ahead and see what's going on; depending on availability they may let you observe a class or rent an instrument and join in. Also check out the Different Strummer, the school's music shop, which sells new and used guitars, amps, percussion, sheet music, stands and world music CDs.
Museum of Decorative Art (4611 N. Lincoln Ave.: 773/787-4310) More shop than museum right now, the building features an ornate exterior facade of glazed terracotta tiles, designed by Louis Sullivan in 1922. Inside, owner Carol Schmidt stays true to the Art Nouveau roots, selling new and antique jewelry (check out her extensive collection of lockets), prints by Karl Blossfeldt and other artists, new and used books, vintage furniture, and new women's clothing—all reminiscent of the period 1870-1930.
Fine Wine Brokers (4621 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/989-8166) Chicago's organic wine connection—a growing trend in wines, says co-owner Gary Rohr. "People used to be skeptical—they would say 'oh, it's organic. Is it any good?' That's changing." For those who remain dubious, take note: the shop carries non-organic wines as well. Rohrhand-writes his own description of nearly every wine for sale. "I'm right often enough that people keep coming back for more." he boasts.
Gene Douglas Decorative Arts & Antiques (4621 1/2 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/604-5540) Douglas, a Lincoln Square native, opened his formerly just-for-wholesale showroom to the public a few years ago. Lucky us. The ever changing showroom is a visual treal. Assembled with the taste and forethought of a museum exhibition displays may include sterling jewelry, furniture, Chinese rugs, decorative lamps, a funky quilt, or a Josef Hoffmann arm chair.
Timeless Toys (4749 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/334-4445) "No 'fast-food' toys here," promises owner Harry Burrows, who opened the shop with his wife, Martha, when their son hit toy-playing age and most mass-market options left them cold. Here you'll find wooden rocking horses and stoves, books for all ages, and hand-sewn Halloween costumes.
Merz Apothecary (4716 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773/989-0900) Can you say "common cold" in seven languages?The diverse staff at Merz can, drawing a multicultural clientele through its doors. Founded in 1875, making it one of the city's oldest, continuously run businesses, this European-style drugstore carries an awe-inspiring range of European toiletries. Current owner Abdul Qaiyum, a native of Pakistan, travels the world looking for quality products—nothing, he says, "that you find at the local Walgreens." Qaiyum has also been dispensing homeopathic advice for years. "I'd be doing it even if it had never become so popular."
WALK LIKE A LOCAL Carry a guitar or a djembe drum over your shoulder and you'll look just like the hundreds of students who go in and out of Lincoln Square's Old Town School of Folk Music.