Through Three Neighborhoods, Revisiting Chicago’s Charms


Cafe Selmarie, which opened in 1983 as a small bakery and coffee shop, has grown along with the neighborhood, which has come into its own as a destination for artists and young families. It’s a cute, all-day cafe (closed Mondays) but the ideal time to pay a visit is burger nights on Wednesdays. I downed a thoroughly enjoyable burger dressed with Brie, bacon and caramelized onion, alongside a nutty, deep-amber Domaine DuPage French-style country ale, all for $15. I picked up a loaf of banana bread ($4.15) for the road, and wasn’t disappointed.

Nearby is Gene’s Sausage Shop, a big, bright market and deli that’s hiding a secret: a wonderful rooftop where you can enjoy different beers, wines and snacks. It was a secret to me, anyway. I arrived there one weekend to meet up with some friends and it was packed with hungry revelers enjoying a sunny, breezy afternoon. “Number 46!” bellowed the young man behind the counter and I picked up my order of crispy potato pancakes ($6), São Paulo Sandwich ($9) and pasta salad ($3) to go along with a refreshing Wittekerke Belgian white beer ($6). I’d recommend everything but the sandwich, which was a sad couple of pieces of fried mortadella and provolone cheese. The food (cash-only on the rooftop, by the way), though, is incidental — it’s more about the good vibes and camaraderie of drinking on a rooftop with friends, and there was plenty of that to go around.

Other highlights of that stretch include a cute toy store, Timeless Toys, with a weekly kids’ story time, and a cozy book store called The Book Cellar. Beyond plenty of books and multiple events and readings every week, the independent seller has beverages, including beer and wine, to accompany your browsing. I got an iced coffee for $2.20.

If you’re feeling crafty, it’s worth stopping into the Gallimaufry Gallery, which has been run by Pat Rodarte and Michael Merkle for over 40 years (15 in its current location). They source pieces from artists both local and throughout the country. I picked up an attractive oversized market bag printed with a colorful map of Illinois for $19.50. “It’s like a little hamlet,” Ms. Rodarte said about the neighborhood. “The community is very supportive.” (She was somewhat less glowing when our conversation turned to local politics.)

Further down Lincoln, past the beautiful old Davis Theater (where I caught a matinee showing of “Dunkirk” one afternoon for $9), is the Old Town School of Folk Music. The Chicago arts institution, founded in 1957, has been in its Lincoln Square location since the ’90s and has become the artistic hub of the community. Thousands attend the school’s music classes every week — over half of them adults. From dulcimer to mandolin, from jazz to Celtic, Old Town casts a wide net.

I was lucky enough to stumble in on National Dance Day and a series of free classes. I joined Boogie McClarin in his House Dance class and received an education in house culture, which has strong Chicago roots, as well as a good workout. “Find whatever works for you: Find your Afro world house, or your vocal queer anthem house and listen to it!” a smiling Ms. McClarin directed our class of about 25 people. “It’s not just a 4/4 beat, any more than your heart beating is just expansion and contraction.” Clad in a flowing, all-white outfit and with an eye-catching streak of blond in her black curls, the Chicago native then gave a couple dozen of us an invigorating crash course in movement.

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Shangri-La in Roscoe Village.

Credit
Michelle Litvin for The New York Times

Roscoe Village

I was energized enough to walk a mile and a half south to Roscoe Village. The “village” in the name says a lot; on the train overpass at the Ravenswood intersection are painted the words “The Village Within the City.” Its main drag, along Roscoe Street between Western and Ravenswood Avenues, is less than a mile and can be traversed in about 10 minutes — past small businesses, cute wood-framed and brick houses and plenty of families and pets strolling the main commercial drag. A self-guided garden walk (organized by the neighborhood association), where locals opened up their backyards to curious wanderers with green thumbs, was a great way to explore the area by foot.

Those small businesses include some great vintage and thrift shopping. Shangri-La Vintage gives a sense, unlike many other stores I’ve visited, of actually being carefully curated by the owner. “We’re dressing up like the ‘Stranger Things’ kids for ComiCon!” one shopper explained as she was pawing through some ’70s- and ’80s-era shirts. I found a great Chicago Bulls hat from the glory days of the late ’90s for $13.

For those on a slightly tighter budget, and with a lot more patience, there’s Village Discount Outlet just down the street. While sections of the store looked like an earthquake had hit it, there are treasures and deals to be found throughout the considerable sprawl. I needed a pair of athletic shorts, and picked up one for a few bucks.

There’s quality sustenance to be found, too, when you need a break from shopping and garden-hopping. Turquoise Restaurant was marred by slow and indifferent service when I visited with my family but offered an incredible deal on brunch. For $20, diners get fresh bread served with honey and butter, hash browns, two kinds of omelets, sucuk (Turkish sausage) with eggs, meatballs, a cheese platter, crepes and fresh fruit. It’s an astounding amount of food, most of it quite good, so come hungry. (Did I mention you get tea or coffee, too?)

If you’re in the mood to go in a slightly different direction, The Region offers Northwest Indiana-style hamburgers — a style I wasn’t even aware existed. The distinguishing characteristic is that the burger is pressed thin on the hot griddle until its edges become crispy and caramelized. The 4-ounce Regionette ($5.50; a 7-ouncer is $8.50) made me wish I’d found out about this style sooner. The chili cheese fries ($5.50) with homemade chili were a delectable mess.

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Janson’s Drive-In in Beverly.

Credit
Michelle Litvin for The New York Times

Beverly

That wasn’t the only revelation of the trip. When I went down to 95th Street to explore my old Beverly neighborhood, the discoveries kept coming. The Purple Cow, a bovine-themed ice cream parlor I remember as a favorite birthday party destination for neighborhood kids, was long gone. But Top Notch Beefburgers, opened in 1942, was still alive and kicking; the $5.67 cheeseburger with a thick slice of tomato and raw onion hit the spot.

I was also happy to see that Rainbow Cone, another South Side institution, opened by the Sapp family in 1926, was still scooping their signature multichromatic treats. The colorful orange sherbet, pistachio, chocolate, strawberry, and Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts) cones are reason enough to make the trek south. (Don’t go in the winter, though — they close for the season.) A large cone ran me $5.39.

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A house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Beverly.

Credit
Michelle Litvin for The New York Times

The best discovery, though, was a wealth of architectural gems and beautiful homes I was too young to appreciate (or even notice) as a child. On Longwood Drive, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Raymond W. Evans house lords over the area atop a modest hill. The 1908 Prairie School structure (and its neighbors) are well worth a peek — just be respectful as it is a private residence.

I found a wealth of local architectural information at the Ridge Historical Society on South Seeley Avenue. The Tudor Revival-style Graver-Driscoll house, in which the Society is located, is worth checking out in its own right. But the real find was a copy of a hand-scrawled architectural tour, available in printouts on oversized pieces of paper. I spent the better part of an afternoon exploring not just the Frank Lloyd Wright landmarks (the H. Howard Hyde and Guy C. Smith houses on South Hoyne Avenue) but also those of Walter Burley Griffin, a one-time Wright employee who designed the Australian city of Canberra. Griffin’s Prairie School contributions are visible throughout the area, but are mostly focused on West 104 Place — a small street with at least a half-dozen structures bearing his design.

Most eye-opening of all was the Vanderpoel Art Association, an astonishing (and free) assortment of American impressionist art crammed into a modest-sized room in the field house at Ridge Park. Full of day-campers and running kids, the rec building seemed an unlikely place to hold a priceless art collection, including works by Grant Wood, Ernest Hennings and John H. Vanderpoel himself. But, after straying into the gymnasium a couple of times, I finally found it: a plain room packed to the gills with striking art pieces.

Alone, I pondered the works, and particularly enjoyed ones by Chicago artists like Wallace DeWolf and George Frederick Buehr. It was stunning — but not entirely surprising — that such treasures were modestly displayed and out in the open, available to all, yet scarcely noticed. It reminded me of Chicago itself, and why I’ll always adore it.

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