welcome to lincoln square

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Welcome to Lincoln Square. This neighborhood is located on the northwest side of the city near Lawrence (4800 north) & Western (2400 west). It is comprised of several smaller neighborhoods, Ravenswood (Gardens & Manor), Bowmanville and Budlong Woods. I will get more into the history later in this post when we get to Welles Park. First let’s get to what Lincoln Square specifically has to offer. There is a lot to go over so I’ll cover Ravenswood at another time.

One of the main reasons I live here is because I don’t have a car and so much is accessible by walking & public transportation. IMHO, the best way to explore this big, beautiful city. Btw, if you love your neighborhood as well please contact me to give me a tour and I’ll feature your neighborhood.

I use cta trip planner at all the time. It’s easy. Add your starting point and then your final destination. It will give you multiple routes to get you where you want to go. The Ventra app is pretty reliable. Besides letting you know when the bus, ‘L’ or Metra train is coming you can also purchase tickets. 

Hop on the brown line and get off at the Western Avenue stop. Just another ‘L’ stop? Not quite. As you exit the train and go down the stairs, take a look to the left of Dunkin Donuts. There it is! A piece of the Berlin Wall. Pretty cool. It was given to the citizens of Chicago thanking us for our role in the demise of the Berlin Wall from the citizens of Berlin. I just showed one of my friends recently who lives here. She had no idea. 

Head out of the station using the east exit. Head under the ‘L’ tracks towards Lincoln Ave. Let’s head south (take a right) on the west side of Lincoln Ave. 

There is quite a variety of shops, restaurants & small businesses in Lincoln Square you’ll want to explore.

Quake: Store with new & used collectible toys, games, action figures & lunch boxes from many genres. 4628 N Lincoln Ave.

The Davis Theatre: Recently renovated movie theatre with restaurant/bar Carbon Arc Bar & Board. Lots of stuff going on here besides just watching movies. Weekend brunch & cartoons for the kiddos and game night & drag bingo for the adults.

davis theatreOpened in 1918 as the Pershing Theatre it originally showed 1st run films but by the 1930’s showed German films. In the early 60’s 2nd run films were featured and in the 80’s it was divided into 4 screens. I remember coming here with my sister a long time ago for $1 shows. It was a dump & homeless people used to fight while the film was playing. Big improvement.

Fork: Great for brunch, lunch, dinner. Anytime. This place has been consistently good for a long time. Kid friendly & outside seating.

The Daily: They have tater tots and a good beer selection. Great outside patio for small & big groups. Dog & kid friendly. 

Old Town School of Folk Music teaches and celebrates music and cultural expression rooted in the traditions of diverse American and global communities. One of the many cool things about this place is that it started out as the neighborhood library. Hild Regional Library, a beautiful, art deco building opened in 1931 as the second regional library in the Chicago Public Library system. This was part of a new concept introduced by Chief Librarian Henry Legler which was to create hubs “regional libraries” for area branch libraries. It was named for Frederick H. Hild, Chief Librarian of the CPL from 1887 to 1909.

Hild’s ultimate accomplishment was the construction of the city’s Central Library on Michigan Avenue, now the Chicago Cultural Center. Thank you Mr. Hild, for one of my favorite buildings in the city!

Old Town School of Folk Music facade
Old Town School of Folk Music facade

It stood empty for 12 years then in 1998 OTSFM moved in. It had a major renovation but a few significant pieces of the old library were preserved. Go inside to check out the pair of WPA murals that were salvaged.  One is in Maurer Hall on the first floor and the other is on the second floor. Also, check out the great photos of musicians that performed here and other interesting art. Even more great things about OTSFM: World Music Wednesdays (which I highly recommend), Global Dance Party, music & dance lessons for both kids & adults and Square Roots summer festival.

I’ve been to many recitals of friends who took guitar lessons here and my Uncle took banjo (5 string) lessons in the 60’s at the original building of OTSFM at 909 W. North Ave. This is where the careers of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and John Prine were launched. The name makes more sense to me now since this is in Old Town. Another great neighborhood we’ll get to later.

Across the street is OTSFM second building. 

The Grafton: Good ol’ Irish pub. Reminds me of Beverly, where I grew up. Try the meade. Live music, good beer selection & good people. Old Town School of Folk Music students and professionals play in an open Irish folk jam every Sunday night.

Bistro Campagne: Friendly, neighborhood French bistro. I had my birthday brunch here a couple of years ago. Quaint & delicious. Go for the all-you-can-eat mussels & frites on Tuesday nights and pre-fixe on Wednesday nights. Lovely outside seating.

Miku sushi: New place run by Tank Sushi vets (previously in this spot). Good sushi and beautifully designed interior.

Gideon Welles: Craft beer bar & kitchen on the corner with a nice outside patio. Who is Gideon Welles? Read on to find out.

Here we are at Welles Park. Wonderful park, pool, fitness center & playground. I’ve frequented Welles Park a lot from Aqua Fitness classes to Shakespeare in the Park. History of Welles Park: Developed from an 8-acre site in 1910, it was named for Gideon Welles who was a Secretary of Navy appointed by President Lincoln in 1861. The Harlem Globetrotters were coached by Abe Saperstein who first taught at basketball at Welles Park. In the 1920s, he renamed a semi-pro basketball team from the south side of Chicago and took them on the road as the Harlem Globetrotters.

gazebo in welles park
gazebo in welles park

This area was first settled by Germans & English truck farmers (a farm devoted to the production of vegetables for the market). Poles were attracted to the seasonal work available at a flower factory which started out as a pickle factory. Then, the Greeks came after being displaced from the expansion for the Eisenhower Expressway and University of Illinois campus Chicago UIC campus. 

In 1850, Bowmanville was one of the first residential subdivisions developed by a local hotel keeper who disappeared before his customers discovered he did not own the land he sold.

In 1857, this area was vast farmland producing celery, pickles & flowers. Local farmers proclaimed it as the nation’s celery capital. The Budlong brothers opened a successful pickle factory in 1857 and expanded into the flower business with the opening of Budlong Greenhouses in 1880. The Ravenswood Land Company (est. 1868) was a group of real estate speculators who purchased 194 acres of farm & wooded land. Considered an affluent “suburb” of Chicago, it became popular when the Ravenswood elevated line was constructed in 1907. It became popular for those wanting to live away from the busy, polluted city to a quiet area with affordable, brick housing. 

If you look south, down Lincoln Avenue (previously named Little Fort Road) you can see the Sears Tower (er, uh, Willis Tower). Shops, taverns & businesses sprouted up along this path from the traffic of the truck farmers bringing their goods to sell downtown.

Just south of Welles park on or near Montrose is a cluster of great restaurants/bars.

Best. Steak. Tacos. Ever. Taqueria El Asadero. Always busy, cash only. 2213 W Montrose Ave. Just named Best Taqueria Runner-Up in the Reader.

Royal Thai: Good food, reasonable prices, byob.

Lou Malnati’s pizza: Great new space, street parking. This is one of my favorite places to bring family, friends & clients from out of town for pizza. Good selection of local beer.

More great places south of here but I will go over them when I cover North Center.

Across the street from Welles Park is Sulzer Regional Library. Built in 1985, named after Conrad Sulzer, a pioneer settler of Ravenswood he was a Swiss immigrant who owned land at Montrose & Clark.

Though I don’t hang out to peruse the books like I used to, I do reserve a lot of books online and pick them up here. In this digital age, to me, there is nothing like reading a real book to recharge your  batteries and take a break from screens. Please utilize your local libraries, they need our support! Plus they no longer are charging overdue fines on most materials. 

Cross Sunnyside and head back north on the east side of Lincoln Avenue. As you are nearing Warbler look behind you to see the swan mural. 

swan mural
swan mural south side wall of parking lot

Warbler: Yum. Just went here for dinner. Delicious, fresh, order the cauliflower appetizer. Slightly more casual than sister restaurant Gather next door. Good vibe. Great patio/outside seating.

Gather: Family-style to share. Come for Sunday dinner with friends. Delicious.

Essence of India: Heard good things about this place but haven’t been here yet since Devon is my go-to for Indian. Will try it soon.

Taco in a bag: Meh. Rather go to Taqueria El Asadero Good for kids, maybe? 

Luella’s: Excellent shrimp po’ boy. byob

This is one of my favorite buildings and it’s architecturally significant. If you’re an architecture geek like me you can take one look and guess the architect. The beautiful, natural ornamentation is a dead give away. Louis H. Sullivan, of course! Think Target (former Carson, Pirie Scott) facade on the corner of State & Madison. Krause Music store was his last commission. William P. Krause hired architect William Presto to design a music store with apartment above. Presto then hired Sullivan to design the facade. It was completed in 1922. It once was a funeral home. In 2006, the building was purchased by Studio V Design who had the facade restored & interior renovated. 

Since 2007 the Grind was a great coffee shop with a nice patio in back at 4613 N Lincoln Ave. They are closed now but I heard Dollop is taking over the space. Stay tuned.

Secret Closet: Second-hand store. Great things about this place, everything; window displays, bags, clothes, shoes & jewelry. 4617 N Lincoln Ave

Sacred Art: Art gallery & gift boutique. Handmade, local, independent. 

Laurie’s Planet of Sound: Local rock & pop resource for new & used CDs & vinyl, plus buy-backs for previously owned items. 4639 N Lincoln Ave

Yogurt Square: Yummy, fun creations. Nice outside patio shared with Oromo Cafe. 4701 N Lincoln Ave

Oromo Cafe: One of my friends adopted her daughter from Ethiopia. Oromo is the name of her tribe. Pretty cool. Innovative craft lattes, small plates, salads & sandwiches.

We’ll stop here before continuing heading north on Lincoln. Lincoln jogs west to Western. Take a look at the mural & maypole. Painted by artist Lothar Speer & local students in 1991. The 3,000 sq. ft. mural captures the charming German landscapes of the Black Forest & Lake Constanza while a multicultural group of kids play together. The 30 ft. Maypole erected on the SW corner is a collaboration of efforts & funds from the Hofbraeu Brewery of Munich, the Glunz Brewery family, the Himmel family & the German Day Association. This is where Maifest & Octoberfest happens. Great fun with lots of lederhosen, dirndls, polka, brats & beer. Prost!

I always look forward to the farmers markets on Tuesday mornings & Thursday evenings that take place in the parking lot under the mural May through October.

mural of germany and maypole

From here you can almost see the Dank Haus German American Cultural Center at 4740 N. Western Ave. They offer a wide variety of German programs: german language school, cooking, films, art, etc.

A couple of good restaurants on Western Avenue near here.

Pannenkoeken Cafe: Bright, family-friendly breakfast restaurant & coffeehouse. Their specialty is dutch pancakes. I have a friend who is Dutch. These are almost as good his. 

Baker Miller: Homey bakery using its own flour in baked goods & offering grain-focused cafe eats plus a toast bar. Get the breakfast biscuit. Yum.

Continuing north on Lincoln this part of Lincoln Square has been around since 1912 specifically Stanley Brown Jewelist. In 1923 Lincoln Square officially became part of the city of Chicago. This area wasn’t greatly affected by the Great Depression due to its successful business district complete with banks, a hotel and a variety of shops. The Chamber of Lincoln Square promoted its commercial identity in 1949. A statue of Abraham Lincoln by sculptor Avard Fairbanks was installedIn 1956 at Lawrence, Western & Lincoln. This is a young Lincoln without his beard. In 1978, after a controversial rerouting of local traffic, the pedestrian mall was developed. 

Huettenbar: Old school German bar. Grab yourself a hefeweizen and a seat by the open windows.

enjoy an urban general store: Eclectic cards & gifts.

Planet Access Company Store: Bought my favorite Matt & Nat wallet here on sale. Socially responsible brands. 100% of store proceeds support adults with intellectual disabilities.

Cafe Selmarie: Delicious, contemporary American menu with an amazing pastry selection. Great for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. This place has been consistently excellent for a long time. Lovely outside seating in the heart of the square.

Giddings Plaza is the heart of Lincoln Square. Local musicians from OTSFM playing. Kids running around. Love this spot. Always something going on.

Make sure you check out Apple Fest usually in October. The apple pie from Chopping Block is to die for. Lots of good cider, music & activities for the kiddos.

Heading beyond the square continuing north on Lincoln Avenue.

Chopping Block: Upmarket retailer specializing in cooking tools, gadgets & pots & pans plus culinary & wine classes. I took a knife skills class here with a friend. It was fun & delicious but I don’t recommend going to the bar beforehand.

Timeless Toys: Old-time store packed with retro wooden toys, creative playthings, puppets, outdoor games & books.

Stanley Brown Jewelist: I am a fan of old school wristwatches and this is where I get my batteries changed. Family-run shop selling custom & ready-made wedding rings & jewelry, plus watches & more since 1912. 

on this site in 1897 nothing happened
see if you can find this sign somewhere in the neighborhood

Savory Spice Shop: Spice specialist with a variety of blends as well as extracts, sauces & specialty foods. Bought Mexican hot chocolate for a friend here. They said it was delicious. 

Barba Yianni: Homey Greek restaurant with a full bar, indoor & outdoor seating, & belly dancing performances.

Art Tango: Argentinean fare, classic cocktails & tango dancing featured in a swanky, 1920s-inspired setting. Loved it when it was on Ravenswood, haven’t been to this location yet. 

Fleet Feet: I used to take a free yoga class on weekend mornings & partake in fun runs a while back.  Go-to running store with knowledgeable staff. 

Garcia’s: Neighborhood spot for Mexican dining & drinks in a casual space. Nice sidewalk patio. 4760 N Lincoln Ave

Gene’s Sausage Shop: Love this place. Especially on a warm summer day enjoying the rooftop with an authentic brat & an icy cold Radler. They have a great deli. My favorite staples: grass fed beef, potato pancakes & kolaczki (delicious Polish sour cream cookies). This place has a special place in my heart (& stomach) since my heritage is (mostly) Polish on both sides and my godmother Gertrude was German. I remember the first time I came here it was called Meyer Delicatessen (look up, they kept the neon sign) and it felt like I was in Germany. 

Enjoying beers & brats with my brother visiting from Austin, TX.

They had a u-shaped counter and the most adorable German ladies in their dirndls & kerchiefs helping you. Gene’s still has a bit of that old world feel especially on the second floor. I’ve gotten lots of interesting products chosen by the pictures since the labels are Polish or German. Excellent extensive craft beer/cider collection.

The Book Cellar: Love this place. Come have a snack, a glass of wine & buy a book. Go see The Kate’s the all female comedy once a month on Friday nights and other great events. Check calendar here. 

Merz Apothecary: Old-fashioned apothecary with modern day products. Like walking back into time. Very helpful staff.  

This is the end of the tour. I hope you enjoyed exploring Lincoln Square with me and hope you come back soon. If you would like a tour or know someone coming to Chicago for a visit, they can find me at www.ToursByLocals.com – Search for Mimi in Chicago.

Thanks for joining me. Here’s a link to my post on another Chicago neighborhood to explore, Lakeview. Only 75 to go!

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