Chicago's Wicker Park on Foot
These (Frye) boots were made for walking... around Chicago. On a delightfully brisk December morning, my plane began decending over the coast of Lake Michigan as the sun rose over the Mag Mile. A brief train ride later, I was in the heart of Wicker Park and had the entire day to myself. I set out on foot in search of a famed used bookstore overflowing with titles, a record store so great it has three locations in Chicago (plus one on London!) and - most importantly - breakfast.
The Bucktown/Wicker Park area is bordered by the Chicago River on the east, Western Avenue on the west and Division Street on the south. While Wicker Park is part of the West Town area and Bucktown is part of Logan Square, they share so many of the same charms, like this little co-branded slice of sidewalk somewhere (sorry - I'll update with the exact location when I go back next month) around the six-corner intersection of Damen/North/Milwaukee that is so lovingly refereed to by locals as "the crotch."
Bucktown lies directly north of Wicker Park and northwest of the Loop. Credit for the name Bucktown blongs to the Polish immigrant population in the 1800s who raised goats there. In fact, the original Polish term for the neighborhood was "Kozie Prery," which means "Goat Prairie." (Sidenote: I really love goats. 🐐)
1560 N. Damen Ave.
Although Stan's Donuts falls into the hip and ever-growing category of fun donut joints, it's no spring chicken. Stan's started serving up donuts in 1963 in Los Angeles. Rich Labriola, president of the Labriola Baking Company, partnered with Stan Berman, founder of Stan’s Donuts, to bring the more than 50-year-old donut shop to the Midwest. Labriola, a well-known Chicago baking company, supplies high-end bread products including the company’s famed pretzel bread to grocers and restaurants. After seeing Stan on a TV travel show and admiring his passion for his donut business, Rich decided to reach out to Stan. The result of the new friendship was a partnership to bring the classic California-style donuts to Chicago with a Labriola twist. For more info. check out Stan's Donuts and when you're in the neighborhood, have a Captain Crunch Bismark for me!
1410 N. Milwaukee Ave.
no longer there
1873 N. Damen Ave.
Public art and murals are a big part of urban neighborhood life and Chicago is no exception. In my day strolling around Wicker Park I came across several W's. This particular one is no longer there but there is no shortage of Cub pride all over the city. I'm partial to the suspenders though.
1564 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Myopic Books. Oh my heaven. This nearly-literal labyrinth of used books occupies three whole stories where the house rules are simple: no cell phones, restack what you've browsed, check bags at the counter and treat the store — and its inhabitants, especially Leonard the cat — with respect. In an attempt to tow the line while still breaking the rule that I knew all along I would break, this is the only photo I took while inside (hiding in a corner where no one could see me.)
Myopic is home to more than 80,000 spines, with a fiction section that would be the envy of some libraries. The way-finding signs are simple, if existent at all, so prepare to get lost in the best way possible. I could easily have spent a small fortune here but the space in my suitcase had other plans. So I limited myself to one and felt a classic would fit just fine. A yellow-paged short and cubby paperback copy of War and Peace now sits nicely on my lopsided bookshelf at home, constantly reminding me of the hours I spent wandering Myopic.
1379 N. Milwaukee Ave.
When I saw the hand-woven rainbow I 🖤 Slayer sign, I knew this would be a good spot. Also a three-story haven, Reckless Records is currently using the first floor for retail, though I've read it will eventually open up the basement for bargain bins offering discount records. The top floor is reserved for the store's offices. Also similarly to Myopic, this is a place you can spend a good chuck of time. Simple and efficient bins of records line the walls and flood the store's center with no shortage of people standing in that typical record store hunch, thumbing endlessly through the vinyl.
With my suitcase space continuing to dwindle I opted yet again for some classics, tucking Led Zeppelin II and The Beatles' White album under my arm. This is a can't-miss spot for me anytime I'm in Wicker Park and I hope you'll check it out on your next visit. Let me know what treasures you find!
AMK Kitchen Bar
1954 W. Armitage Ave.
AMK Kitchen Bar is an American eatery and whiskey bar serving up quintessential comfort classics with a Bucktown twist. Um, OKAY.
AMK is conveniently location downstairs from where I was staying with friends on my last Chicago trip but even if it weren't convenient, it would be worth the trek. I cannot get enough of this delightfully urban spot, as is evident by the TWO different photos above of a fancy version of bagels and lox. Yes, I ate there twice in one weekend trip and even got the same thing both visits. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat! (Although I hear this isn't on the menu anymore... Hey AMK - Think you could still hook a girl up??)
Custom graffiti art from renowned local artist, The Lie, is featured throughout the restaurant including a giant Uncle Sam mural and AMK's mascot, Gordon the Goat. (They love goats too. 🐐) The good folks at AMK will great you at the door, treat you like their neighbor and even countdown to the Russian New Year with you then join you in a toast. Ypa!