A decade or so ago, you could have called it “Wild West Town,” except there weren’t any dirt roads or a leathery sheriff in the picture. Today, West Town is one of Chicago’s 77 officially designed community areas that’s filled with artists, musicians, immigrants, singles and young families who like its proximity to downtown as well as the neighborhood nooks of eclectic shops, visionary restaurants, friendly bars, turn-of-the-century architecture and a museum or two.
Hoosier Mama Pie
1618 1/2 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
You’ll be walking off some calories so start the tour with a hot cup of (roasted in Chicago) Metropolis coffee and a slice of one of the 10 different sweet pies, freshly baked muffins, scones, savory pies or quiches at this neat, little spot. Choose among seasonal fruit pies, cream pies, Chess pies including the classic with vinegar and specialty pies like the Fat Elvis crammed with chocolate, peanut butter and bananas in a graham cracker-peanut-pretzel crust. While plunging a fork into your pie, gaze across the street. It’s the architecturally significant Goldblatt’s building (1625 W. Chicago) built in 1921-22 and 1925-28 by Architect Alfred S. Alschuler. When it’s time for a caffeine refill, stop in Atomix at 1957 W. Chicago Ave, a coffee bar that looks like the set decorator of “Lost in Space” had at it.
Alcala’s Western Wear & the new Alcala’s Boutique
1733 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
You’ll feel compelled to stop in Alcala’s to try on and snap pictures of yourself in any of 5,000 hats and 8,000 pairs of boots. There are spangled Western shirts, jeans galore, chaps, bolos, buckles and belts, too. This stretch of Chicago Ave. is a vintage picker’s dream with shops such as Seek Vintage (1432 W. Chicago), Dovetail (1452 W Chicago), Very Best Vintage (1919 W. Chicago) and Krispyfringe (2130 W. Chicago). Other shops of note include what could be the best record store in the city, Permanent Records, at 1914 W Chicago Ave.; RR#! (814 N. Ashland), a gift store housed in a 1930s pharmacy; and Vigilante Press for graphic novel and comic book fans (1931 W. Chicago Ave.).
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
756 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642
Remember how you couldn’t stop yourself from entering Alcala’s to try on cowboy hats? Some people feel that way about creating art, whether they’re trained or not, and Intuit is really the center for this intuitive, self-taught and outsider art. There are more than 1,000 pieces in the permanent collection, various changing exhibitions and workshops. Expect everything from the whimsical to powerful or politically charged. You’re touring in what has been know as the “Polish Downtown” so consider a stop at the Polish Museum of America, just two blocks north of Intuit. One of the oldest ethnic museums in the country, the space holds works in various media by Polish artists, traditional folk outfits, WWII artifacts and a ton of Pope John Paul II stuff.
Related: Best Permanent Exhibits In Chicago
1433 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642
West Town is truly a melting pot. Wander into The Architrouve, housed in an 1880s edifice, a gallery that showcases Chicago artists of all ilks from painters to dancers. The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) offers Ukrainian-American abstract and minimalist works from the 1950s through 1970s (2320 W. Chicago Ave.) and a sense of the immigrants’ experience. See what more than half of the population is feeling at Woman Made Gallery on Milwaukee Ave., and Veranda8 is a nomadic gallery displaying and promoting contemporary Indian artists. Consider your visit to the area during the annual West Town Art Walk, held in autumn (Oct. 4-5, 2013).
1132 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642
West Town, no doubt, had umpteen butcher shops and homey restaurants that came along with its immigrants, and you can get the best of that Midwestern past at TWO, named for its repurposed materials that lend a rural ambiance to the restaurant. Executive Chef Tom Van Lente channels 20th-century butchers by turning out his own charcuterie, cheese, bacon and jerky accompanied by house-cured pickles that will blow your mind. TWO offers grandma’s recipe for “puppy chow” but the old gal wasn’t serving perfectly executed items like ramp risotto, herb- brined Swan Creek Farms half roasted chicken in lemon-wine pan sauce or duck fat potato croquettes with chili herb aioli and Wisconsin parmesan – essentially tater tots for grown-ups. The menu changes with the seasons but you can always count on unctuous duck egg pasta with duck confit, duck skin cracklins, scallions and parmesan. House made desserts range from bourbon cheesecake to homemade pretzel donuts with a chocolate center and dipped in cinnamon sugar. Everything at TWO is a solid 10 and a meal here makes a perfect ending to a day wandering West Town.
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.