NFT Chicago Old Town / Near North

Old Town / Near North

Essentials
With its narrow, cobblestoned streets lined with Queen Anne-style homes and rehabbed cottages, Old Town's appropriate moniker perfectly encapsulates its nineteenth century charms. Only a few blocks to the south, the vast land where the Cabrini Green housing project stood waits for development.

Sundries/Entertainment
Wells Street provides the neighborhood's main drag with an array of new and old restaurants, shops and stores. The Spice House, The Fudge Pot and Up Down Cigar have been providing Old Town with their specialty items for over half a century, while new entries like Old Town Social keep the vibe fresh. Second City's See more.

>UP Comedy Club breathes new life into the city's historic comedy scene.




         


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Poetry: Deep in the Heart of Chicago

By Nina Williams
Chicago is home to a series of extremely gifted and innovative spoken word poets, but what is spoken word and how does one find it? Follow Nina Williams around to some of the most interesting neighborhoods in Chicago to find out what this scene is all about.
Read More...
Raw Fish Round Up

By Josannah Birman
Sushi: So sexy! Isn't it? That's what Josannah Birman would have us believe. From her intrepid reporting on fresh kill dishes and Mexican chefs, sushi springs forth as the fish-and-rice Oriental aggregation you always wanted but were too afraid to ask for. Have it fresh off a sleek tabletop, a naked woman or dehydrated into edible paper sheets. Sushi: So versatile.

Read More...
Bringing Out Baby

By Nina Williams
Just because you have a new little one in your life, doesn't mean your days of going out on the town are totally over. Join Nina Williams as she brings out the baby all over Chicago.

Read More...

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Hoosier Mama Pie Company
When I brought home an 8-inch pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company, my husband asked me, "Where's yours?" Needless to say, we split the sinfully rich chocolate cream pie because it's so decadent that you can only eat a little at a time. That's not true for all of the pies at Hoosier Mama--some of them are just a little too easy to eat, like the light maple pecan or the tart lemon meringue. Pastry chef Paula Haney whips out different flavors you may not have heard of, including a Hoosier sugar cream pie. Savory pies make the menu too, like a filling pork apple sage pie, chicken pot pie, and quiches (and if you really love pie, there's nothing better than having pie for both dinner and dessert). Consider the cupcake fad over--once you've had a slice of this, you'll realize it's all about pie now!



Posted By:  Nina Williams
Photo:  Nina Williams

Hoosier Mama Pie Company
This super cute pie place located in the Ukranian Village area on Chicago Avenue is a find. There are several delicious pies to choose from including brownie, strawberry rhubarb, and the American classic apple pie. They aren't cheap though. An 8" pie will run you about nine dollars, while a slice will cost you about four. There are other pastries available as well like muffins. Just a word of caution: the space is really small. There are three little tables set on the side, but it can get pretty crowded, so it's good idea to grab your treats and jet.



Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

3rd Coast Cafe & Wine Bar
3rd Coast is one of those delightful little bistros that someone needs to introduce you to--because it's tucked into a large apartment building, you may not notice it on your own. However, it's not a well-kept secret, because this is one of the area's best (and busiest) brunch spots, and you may find yourself waiting a little while for a table on Sunday mornings. It's worth the wait though, for fresh omelets or Texas cut French toast. Breakfast isn't its only specialty, even though it is served all day. The lunch and dinner menus also have some great dishes, and they're open until midnight, if you get the urge for a late dinner. Another bonus: a bar with a decent wine list. Plus, if you can't finish your bottle of wine, they'll cork it up to take home. With its high ceilings, beautiful woodwork, and friendly staff, this cafe definitely should go on your regular restaurant rotation.



Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jeremy Smith

Village Cycle Center
Not snooty. For anyone interested in pursuing a hobby that already has a devoted following, these two words are crucial to feeling like you belong even when you have no idea what you’re doing. After four years and two bikes, not a single person at Village Cycle has ever been snooty to me. And believe me, I have no idea what I’m doing. The bike scene in Chicago is active and extraordinary, but you’ll find very little trace of it here. Not that THEY don’t know what they’re doing: the salespeople have an answer to almost every question and never pressure you to make a purchase that day. The repair staff is equally helpful, and usually able to finish work in a day or two. Those looking to bond over tales of broken sprockets and broken bones would be more at home at Rapid Transit or Uptown Bikes (as if you didn’t know about those places already). Village Cycle is a better spot for those with a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of experience.



Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Quiltology
It's that time of the year when the crisp fall breeze finds its way under the doorframe and through the window casings into your apartment, where the landlord refuses to turn on the heat because the temperature is not yet regularly below 45 degrees. On a recent Saturday morning, as I sat on my couch enjoying a cup of tea and wearing every sweatshirt that I own, I thought to myself that a quilt might be nice. I thought it might also be nice to make that quilt myself. If only there was a place that could teach me how to do so... I burrowed into my sweatshirts and began googling. Quiltology is the result of that search. Not only do they offer classes in machine sewing and patchwork quilting, they also have a pretty extensive selection of fabrics for whatever you need to make to stave off hypothermia. A homemade quilt may be just the thing to keep you warm and foil your Dickensian landlord this winter.



Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

The Twisted Baker
Yes, Twisted Sister serves cupcakes. Just about every bakery does these days, but you should really go here for the cookies. They make over a dozen varieties of cookies and bar cookies, which you can buy by the pound, but if you're only looking for a quick snack, you can buy a couple for about a buck. And they're only a couple of bites each, so if you're watching your weight, you won't feel as guilty as if you'd downed a huge concoction from another bakery. The choices are also really interesting. Sure, you can have your standard chocolate chip or oatmeal, but when's the last time you had an ice box cookie? Or a corny lime? The oodles of options (not to mention free samples) will keep you coming back for more. They also make rich eclairs and tarts and cheesecakes that are so big, you'll definitely need to share.



Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

The Spice House
Someone name a pool game after me because I just discovered Chicago's greatest spice route. The staff at The Spice House didn't even blink at the long list of ingredients for a big Indian meal I was preparing. Did they have mango powder? Yes. Curry leaves? Of course. Asafoetida? They not only had it but they could actually tell me what it was (and that it smells like stinky feet). The staff was incredibly knowledgeable and in addition to helping me find everything I needed they recommended about a thousand things to try. You can order from a catalog or purchase their products online in addition to visiting the store, though I recommend the store experience for the unbelievable smells and samples. Most unbelievably, the spices here are about four times cheaper than what you would pay at the grocery store. Four times cheaper! Just think of all the crystallized ginger and fleur de sel you could afford if you do your shopping at The Spice House instead of at some generic box store where they don't know the difference between mahleb and marjoram.



Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Dining Room at Kendall College
Do you crave a fine dining experience, only to reject the desire on account of its potential to kill your wallet? Think again! The Dining Room at Kendall College’s culinary school is not just a place where you can get a great meal for a reasonable price, but it’s also a classroom where students can gain real-life restaurant experience. That said, you’ll have to be a little patient while your server tries to remember the specials of the day or what some of the desserts are made of, but the delicious food is well worth it. The menu is surprisingly varied and changes with each term. Also, they do offer prix fixe meals and alcohol specials. Because this is a classroom, it’s unfortunately only open at certain times of the year, and even then, they’re only open a couple of hours at a time. Check their website for opening days and hours.



Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

The Fudge Pot
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Fudge Pot has some of the richest chocolates, truffles, and fudge around. The chocolate-covered strawberries and bananas are divine and chocolate-covered cookies could not taste any better. But you might’ve been able to guess all of that on your own. Where the Fudge Pot really excels is in their special order molded chocolates. Want to give someone a box of chocolates? Try their chocolates packaged in a chocolate box. Have a friend who just got a new dog? Send her a chocolate version of her dog–you can even get it customized by breed. Careers, religions, cars–they’re all here. If you can think of an object, it’s quite likely they may be able to produce it in chocolate form, because the molded options are just about endless. You can even get many of them in lollipop form. The only challenge will be not eating your entire order before you leave the store.



Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Don’t you hate it when that fancy cookbook you bought calls for some odd spice that you just can’t find at the Jewel? Don’t worry, The Spice House will stock pretty much any spice you could ever want. They also create their own mixes based on famed Chicago-style food, which are great if you’re not much of a cook but would like to give your dishes a zestier flavor. Look for the Pullman Pork Rub, the Lake Shore Drive Seasoning, and the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza blend, among others, and they will liven up your cooking like nothing else. In fact, they’ve come up with so many great flavors that you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store trying to pick out the best of them. They also hold seminars and events to help you learn more about using spices. Along with the Old Town location, there are stores in Evanston and Milwaukee.



Posted By:  David Macey
Photo:  David Macey

Yeah, I know. A $20 cover and a two drink minimum for overpriced domestic bottles and watered down mixed drinks doesn’t sound like your version of a good time. Me neither, but forcing people to drink usually gets them to lighten up a little and eventually laugh. After all you just paid $20 to sit in a cramped room covered in headshots of comedians, you might as well laugh. In the biz they call this a “club crowd”; people who paid too much to get in and are now drunk usually means easy laughs. It’s a win-win. The comedians want you to laugh at their jokes and as someone who just dropped $50 you better fucking laugh or that comedian is getting hurt. Since Zanies is the stand up comedy hotspot in Chicago you are always guaranteed to get a good show. Unfortunately since Chicago is an improv town, Zanies can’t draw the talent that The Comedy Store in LA or the ironically named Improv in NYC can. When it comes to comedy prestige, however, nothing can beat Chicago, so lighten up, wet you whistle and let the ancient art form of one man one microphone.



Posted By:  David Macey
Photo:  David Macey

Old Jerusalem
I had a friend once who told me that Mediterranean food is defined by cuisine which hails from countries that were once ruled by Alexander the great. The Holy Land, apparently, is no different as the grub at Old Jerusalem in Old Town is your standard Middle Eastern fare. Falafel, schwarma, lots of pita bread, tahini, and especially grilled lamb. What is different about Old Jerusalem is the location, right in the middle of swanky Old Town. Don’t be surprised if you are seated between two business men in suits for a post-work bite or a young couple on a first date. Most importantly, however, is that Old Jerusalem’s location ensures that it gets the best looking clients of any falafel joint in the city. Just keep your straying eye on your date while you try one of their homemade desserts. Surprisingly the prices at OJ are still reasonable and it is one of the most affordable places in Old Town. A much better option than the chains up the street.



MK

Posted By:  Josannah Birman
Photo:  Josannah Birman

MK’s tremendously high ceiling, exposed brick, and dramatic arrangements of orchids give the space a refreshing ambiance. A welcoming hostess immediately shows that a nasty attitude will not be included in the price of the food. The smell of steak is intoxicating and does not allow a self-respecting carnivore to order anything else. Servers work in pairs which can sometimes result in confusion, but at MK they communicate well with each other so customers never have to do the neck-stretching waiter search. The lobster squash soup is incredible—but beware—it may be served lukewarm. Oysters are fresh, and juicy steaks are cooked with precision. Celebrating an anniversary might win you special treatment like crème brûlée with “happy anniversary” drizzled in chocolate or a gift certificate for your next visit. The steep bill causes eyes to bulge, but considering the spot-on service and satisfied fullness of your belly, it’s all worthwhile.



Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Mizu
Yakitori pretty much translates to “grilled chicken on skewers,” but Mizu offers up a lot of interesting options for this traditional Japanese cuisine. Along with chicken, squid, pork, garlic, asparagus, and many other items are also available grilled and ready to share. Mizu also offers sushi, sashimi, makimono, maki, teriyaki, and tempura, along with other tasty hot and cold plates, that allow you to mix and match your own perfect meal. The menu includes a decent sake list and specialty martinis like pomegranate, lychee, and passionfruit that go down almost too easily. If you’re in a group of 6-12, you can rent a private tatami room with a sunken table that allows you to mimic the traditional Japanese style of eating. The room does have a $50 fee, but if your party is on the larger size and you’re willing to take a gamble, simply make a normal reservation. If the room isn’t booked, they just might give it to your party for no charge. But if that trick doesn’t work, the chic, minimalist dining room also makes for a pleasant experience.



Posted By:  Lisa Shames
Photo:  Lisa Shames

Many years ago on a family vacation in San Diego, I spent the week wandering up and down the beach gathering shells that miraculously had a hole in them. Back home, crafty creature that I was, I strung these together with some colorful beads and—presto!—I was in the jewelry making business. That is, until I spilled all my beads onto our shag carpeting—see, I told you it was a long time ago—and my mother made me stop. Stepping into String a Strand brings me right back to those days. (Minus the sand and Pacific Ocean and shag carpet, but other than that, it’s exactly the same.) This Old Town store is filled with cool beads, stones, charms, and crystals from around the world, plus all the necessary ingredients to create beautiful, one-of-a-kind jewelry, including sterling silver chains and clasps. Don’t know your apatite from a peridot? No worries. String a Strand offers classes that’ll teach you all the jewelry making basics. In no time, you’ll be wowing your friends with your chic necklaces and earrings and, who knows, maybe you’ll start a little business, too. Just watch out for the shag carpeting.



Posted By:  Lisa Shames
Photo:  Lisa Shames

Up Down Cigar
“Do you mind if I smoke?” is definitely not a question you’ll hear anytime soon at Up Down Tobacco. With its huge wraparound humidor, its equally huge selection of cigars, pipe tobacco blending bar, and collection of domestic and foreign cigarettes, charismatic owner Diana Silvius has been a fixture since the mid sixties. Things get even smokier the last Tuesday of the month (May-September) at their cigar smoking parties held in the garden behind the store. Gave up stogies? There’s always the free food from local chefs and cocktails from the sponsoring liquor distributors to lure you in. A one-time registration fee of $25 for membership to the Chicago Cigar Connoisseurs—includes invite for you and a guest to all five parties, free cigars, solid brass Zippo lighter, and other special invites—is sort of required, although we just smiled and went on in.




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See Old Town / Near North...
Restaurants (23)
Nightlife (6)
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