Charming & Quaint
Walking the quiet and narrow streets of Old Town laden with old Victorian houses and swooping trees, it is easy to forget that you are just two “El” stops away from the bustling downtown Chicago. Charming and quaint, Old Town is one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the city. Despite new luxury high-rise construction, it’s hard to become a part of the ‘hood.’ Old Town is very small, about a mile in diameter, squeezed between Lincoln Park and Gold Coast.
Before Old Town became old or even a part of Chicago, it was called the Cabbage Patch, thanks to the many German immigrants who settled in its swampy area and began to grow cabbage and potatoes. It was them who we should thank for one of the neighborhood’s architectural treasures – St. Michael’s Catholic Church. This iconic Bavarian structure was built in 1869 and was the only building to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The rest of the neighborhood - built of wood - didn’t fare so well.
After the fire, the Old Town was rebuilt within the same logical grid of perfectly straight streets as the rest of the city. Victorian and Romanesque architecture is at the core of the new Old Town.
During the flight to the suburbs during the 50s and 60s, many of the Victorian buildings were available to rent cheaply. Many young artists, activists, and musicians moved in. Old Town became known for its hippie and counter culture. Throughout the next two decades, pubs, music joints, bohemian boutiques, and odd attractions opened their doors up and down the Old Town Triangle. These days, with the average home sold at $525k, the newly built Target, and the other franchised conveniences, you can hardly call Old Town hippie, but its eclectic vibe is ever-present. Just take a stroll down Wells St with its shops, iconic restaurants, and three-floor bicycle shop. The locals love the stretch for its many independent small businesses, coffee and pastry shops, and artisan ice cream.
Grab a bite at Small Chevel, a quick-service version of West Loop’s Au Chevel. The burgers are considered to be some of the best in the city, and the picture-perfect patio doesn’t hurt either.
The old school, cash-only, Old Town Ale House was once named “the best dive bar in Chicago” by late Anthony Bourdain. Dark, quirky, and eccentric, it is filled with amateur art of its owner and well worth a visit.
Old Town always was and continues to be the center for arts and entertainment. Stop by any day of the week to enjoy a world-class comedy show. For over four decades, The Second City is bringing us the best in improv, while Zanies (the city’s longest-running comedy club) hosts national touring headliners every night.
Whether you are interested in the history of architecture, cultural legacy, or modern-day shopping and entertainment, Old Town attracts with its boundless energy. Book a walking tour, visit a show, or find yourself a new place and a new community.
Written By: Katie Andrews