If you're looking for a source of inspiration in the form of food or beer rather than material objects, Lincoln Square's long history of European bakers and brewers are here to fulfill your tasting needs (along with some trendy newcomers, here to remind that you are in fact in the United States). Recognized as home to the Old Town School of Folk Music as well as traditional German dining and dancing at the Chicago Brauhaus, this neighborhood welcomes you just east of the L with a 3,000 square foot mural of a typical German village.
Close to Welles Park and Sulzer Library (whose vast collection and prime location make it the second busiest branch in the CPL system after the Harold Washington Library), Lincoln Square appears to have it all in one single stretch of Lincoln Avenue: from the essential oils of Merz Apothecary to the modern luxury of wi-fi coffeehouse The Grind. Venturing off the little brick road bordered by gateway arches, though, may be just the unforeseen lure you need.
Safety rating: Having once lived in the neighborhood, I experienced my share of unfriendly "hey baby" outbursts, which of course is the product of our society, not Lincoln Square. The area is busy and well lit; as always, safety in numbers.
Panhandler rating: Expect it, but don't fear it (especially west of Western).
Where to chill
Any place you can find a tall Weiss beer complemented not only by lemon but also by friendly bartenders and astoundingly good '80s jukebox selections (between German songs) is something special. If you're into afternoon drinking, the Huettenbar's large open windows allow you the perfect place to perch on a barstool and let the sun pour down on your face, completing that no-cares-in-the-world feeling. It's no wonder the 10 German beers on tap and full liquor offerings tend to keep weekend nights crowded, so if you want a seat in this relatively small gem of a bar, go early (or just stick to brews midday).
Depending on whether or not you wish to give up your anonymity, Ricochet's is the kind of place "where everybody knows your name," or at least your drink. Maintaining true tavern style, the bar focuses primarily on beer and whiskey. A relaxed and friendly neighborhood watering hole, you'll find open invitations to play pool, join a dart club or any other number of sport and social activities. Ricochet's accommodates its drinkers with a descriptive Web site listing every beer and spirit behind the bar and also invites you to request your favorite beverage if it's not already stocked. This kind of pre-planning also encourages you to consider taking over the joint for private parties or events.
Arena for the a.m.
Lutz Cafe & Pastry Shop
Located a few blocks south of the L on Montrose Avenue, Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop commands attention from sweettooths and lovers of old-world cafes alike. The shop's signage and decadent cake-filled windows stretch along Montrose causing everything around it to pale in comparison. A perfect spot to treat your grandmother to a buttercream pastry (though you may need to warn her that some contain rum) and a cup of coffee, you can dine in or just stop by. The dining room offers cold and warm buffets for lunch and dinner, including several chicken and seafood options, crepes, salads and Scandanavian-style open faced sandwiches. For a little-known green and lush atmospheric alternative to the streamlined, minimalist brunch joints of new Chicago, try the European outdoor garden on weekends.
Depending on your appetite and budget, expect to spend anywhere from $3 to $15, which may consistently increase each time you pass by the pastry counter "just to look." Lutz also takes special baking requests if you are ordering in bulk for a private party at home. Marzipan pastry slices, cream pastry cups, French bon-bons and chocolate covered strawberries, to name just a few, can be special ordered individually or as party trays (bunte platte), starting at $30.95 for a 10-piece tray.
Good for groups
Bad Dog Tavern
Bad Dog is big. The simple (yet delicious) offerings on the menu complement the various dining sections and ambience options. There's front window seating if you like to people-watch along Lincoln Avenue, a long stretch of bar with overhead TVs if you're into sports, booths tucked around the corners for a little privacy, an elegantly and simply designed back room complete with a fireplace, and, of course, the thing most Chicagoans crave by spring: an outdoor patio. With a menu that changes seasonally, the chef prepares everything from the most amazing cream of asparagus soup ever(!) to portabella and grilled vegetable sandwiches, blackened tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes and a choice range of pizzas, offered at half-price for late-night diners. Whether you want a full dinner with vintage wine or a simple snack of appetizers (crab cakes or seasoned french fries) and a beer, Bad Dog's unintimidating menu speaks volumes.
The friendly and funny servers work like they mean it, and are paramount in helping Bad Dog find its place as the somewhat fresh face on the block (compared to Ricochet's 20+ years, for example). Bad Dog specializes in treating its customers like an audience, not just eaters. Every Sunday around 10 p.m. the tavern hosts an open-mic comedy night, and music fans can see rotating live shows Monday through Wednesday and every other Thursday.
For the artiste
Chicago Printmakers Collaborative
In the summer of 2004, the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative (CPC) stepped out of its somewhat discreet location below the train tracks on Western Avenue to speak loudly (and visually) to Chicago and beyond. The "Facade Project," by artist Carrie Iverson, brought the 16-year-old collective into the realms of public art: Each window on three of the building's floors shows nine faces of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq. Intended to be an ongoing installation until all troops returned to the U.S., the commemorative work reached capacity when the building ran out of window space after the number of troops reached 648 last year. Those images continue to look out over cars, trains and pedestrians, at once a familiar and distant reminder of the past and present, drawing inquisitive Chicagoans to the collective's front doors.
Originally housed in Ukranian Village, CPC later moved to Lincoln Square, where director Deborah Lader expanded classes for printers at all skill levels, studio spaces for resident artists and display areas for group shows and print sales. Encouraged to tour the gallery and printing and studio spaces, drop-ins are welcome are their questions and feedback. Lader's enthusiastic commitment to the collective and its impact on the community inspires. CPC's strong neighborhood and citywide presence included a Special Retrospective Exhibition at nearby Cafe Selmarie last spring.