Wicker Park – Chicago’s Coolest Neighborhood
Wicker Park is a common topic for Chicagoans who love to debate whether it used to be the coolest place in the city or how its lost its touch throughout the decades. Everyone loves claiming to have been part of the cool Wicker Park culture that was prominent up until the 90s, but not many can prove it. Either way, Wicker Park still serves as a hotspot of music, nightlife and fashion in Chi-Town to this day regardless if it ‘lost its touch’ or not.
Founded in the 1870s by the Wicker brothers, Wicker Park quickly became one of the many Western neighborhoods in Chicago where immigrants would flock to and prosper. The majority of migrants who settled in Wicker Park were Polish and German, although there were also significantly large groups of Italian, Greek, Ukrainian and Czech settlers too.
The European settlers who came to Wicker Park redefined and characterized it with large, European-style houses, villas and apartment buildings. However, decades later this suburb would be settled largely by people of Puerto Rican heritage, who became and still remain the majority population of Wicker Park. All that ethnic settling and mixing gave birth to one of the most diverse neighborhoods of Chicago, and with it a plethora of different restaurants, sights to see and other activities all stemming from one ethnic group or another.
History and example-worthy multicultural thriving aside, Wicker Park remains as one of the most was a home to many art movements and was a particular hotspot for it from the 70s to the 2000s, which is why it’s home to many art-centric institutions. Travelers who have an eye for art should look out for the Society of Arts and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art located on Chicago Ave.
An ideal example of Wicker Park’s artsy character is a peculiar establishment known as ‘Intuit’, which dubs itself as a ‘center for intuitive & outsider art’. Located on 756 N Milwaukee Ave, this gallery/gift shop features a slew of folk art, including watercolors by famed local artist Henry Darger. Art buffs will love seeing the re-creation of Darger’s studio in the back of the gallery, which is strikingly accurate as it includes teetering sacks of old magazines he read and balls of twine. A must-visit for any art buff venturing throughout Wicker Park.
There’s also a good selection of music venues in Wicker Park, such as Rodan, Debonair Social Club and Double Door which are all located on Milwaukee Ave. There’s also the infamous Empty Bottle venue which served as a stage for many up and coming bands and artists like the Smashing Pumpkins, located on Western Ave.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a real-life James Bond, there’s an actual spy and surveillance equipment shop on Milwaukee Ave known as Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co. This cool little shop sells everything you’ll ever need for some quality espionage, including fake moustaches, voice amplifiers and other crazy gadgets that you’ve only seen in spy movies.
And if you’ve ever wanted to see some of the most intriguing, bizarre and eccentric theatre plays in the world then you’ll certainly have to pay a visit to House Theatre on Division Street. The traditional theatre guidelines are disregarded here, and replaced with an infectiously creative mix of quirky, funny and touching stories written by amateur playwrights that will give you something different to enjoy. You’ll definitely enjoy a laugh or two here, especially if you’re keen on theater plays.
And of course, there are many-a wonderful eateries to indulge in or have a bite at around Wicker Park – Bite is an ideal eatery located right next door to Empty Bottle which is perfect for a pre-show meal. Coalfire Pizza over at W Grand Ave serves some of the most authentic, best tasting Pizzas on this side of the windy city, and they come at affordable prices too, ranging from $14-$18 per pizza.
Wicker Park is the area of Chicago you’ll want to go to if you want to escape the surface-level glitz and glamour tourist traps. It has something for everyone, but the musicians and artists will definitely get the most out of it.