Just north of Wicker Park, you’ll find Bucktown, a historic neighborhood brimming with great food, culture, and shopping. A weekend spent exploring its attractions and charming street life will make it clear why this neighborhood is fast becoming one of Chicago’s most desirable enclaves. Bucktown has been a Chicago Landmark District since 1991. It was first known as Kozie Prery (“Goat Prairie”) to the Polish immigrants who settled here, and by the 1930s, the English name “Bucktown” had stuck (a “buck” is a male goat). By World War II, the compelling mix of residents that has given Bucktown its special character began to form an eclectic community. Germans, Scandinavians, African Americans, and Eastern Europeans have all lived here, making it one of the most diverse areas in the city.
In the 1980s, artists and students were attracted to Bucktown’s relative affordability, proximity to the Loop, and charming housing stock. Soon, young professionals began renovating some of the neighborhood’s ornate houses and mansions. As a result, the new developments here are surrounded by historic architecture from different time periods, and a walk through the streets of Bucktown offers a glimpse of Chicago’s storied past. Today, the area is popular with young families, and the local culture reflects that: Bucktown has many green spaces and leafy streets, great schools, and unique and welcoming shops and restaurants, all of which make it a desirable place for Chicagoans of all ages.
Damen Avenue Shopping, Food, and Culture
One of the major thoroughfares in Bucktown, Damen Avenue runs through the heart of the neighborhood and serves as its main commercial street. Here you’ll find numerous restaurants and cafes, plus some of Chicago’s coolest retailers.
Robin Richman | 2108 North Damen Avenue
One such destination boutique is Robin Richman, a luxury store for women that looks as much like a cool art gallery as a stylish place to find unique accessories and fashions. Richman, who specializes in the work of Japanese and European designers, cultivated her sophisticated color sense in her years as a fiber artist.
Apartment Number 9 | 1804 North Damen Avenue
Bucktown’s source for cool menswear, Apartment Number 9 stocks fashion-forward designer clothes, accessories, and shoes by the likes of Thom Browne, Paul Smith, and Seize sur Vingt. Dressier options commingle with comfort classics like Converse All-Stars and cozy A.P.C. sweaters.
Marine Layer | 1646 North Damen Avenue
This San Francisco brand is famous for its cotton basics, which are stylish enough to wear almost anywhere and so well made you’ll want to wear them all the time. Their sustainably produced, custom blend of cotton is fashioned into chic dresses and skirts for women, refined button-downs and jackets for men, and must-have tee-shirts and socks for everyone.
Quimby’s Bookstore | 1854 West North Avenue
Younger shoppers will revel in the array of goods at Quimby’s Bookstore, an ultra-hip comic book shop that might just entice some adults, too. Quimby’s has a wide selection of journals, magazines, and books, and often hosts author readings.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate | 1747 North Damen Avenue
Chicago kids know that an invitation to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate restaurant and dessert bar is an offer they can’t refuse. Equally popular with grownups, this hip chocolate-lovers dream collaborates with a network of local farmers and gourmet chocolate makers to create both high-quality sweets and savory fare. Imaginative drinks and desserts have made Mindy’s a neighborhood favorite, and the decor and atmosphere are charming, to boot.
The Bristol | 2152 North Damen Avenue
Known for its local following of off-duty chefs – a very high compliment in the food world – The Bristol is a Bucktown destination that serves unpretentious American fare with a European accent. Charcuterie, handmade pasta, local produce, and an array of crafted cocktails lure local regulars and visiting foodies alike. The Bristol takes a “snout-to-tail” approach to cooking. Their wine list represents over two hundred vineyards, and they offer beer from around the world.
Schwa | 1466 North Ashland Avenue
Dinner in Bucktown presents a wide array of choices, from Italian to Asian to old-fashioned barbeque. Schwa is named for a neutral vowel, so you might be pleasantly surprised to find New American dishes full of original combinations of flavors and textures here. Savory options often have subtle sweet touches, and some especially inventive dishes like the tagliatelle or their honey, yuzu and chamomile dessert make Schwa a unique and delicious Bucktown choice. Schwa is BYO, so don’t forget to bring your favorite bottle of vino to enhance your dining experience.
Mott Street | 1401 North Ashland Avenue
Before or after a stop in one of Bucktown’s cultural outlets, satisfy your craving for something with an Asian flavor profile at Mott Street. Chef Edward Kim has created a family-style restaurant inspired by Asian night markets, where passersby can enjoy bites of a wide variety of tempting options. A hoisin-topped omelet with pickled mushrooms and fried oysters doesn’t line up exactly with any one culinary tradition, but it’s wonderful. Local favorites here include creations like the candied shrimp and kohlrabi salad with chicken and peanuts. The cocktails are memorable, too, from the Dashi Martini to the “How Bazaar.”
Chopin Theater | 1543 West Division Street
Bucktown offers lots of off-the-beaten-path art and culture. The innovative Chopin Theater features over 1,400 programs in film, theater, literature, dance, and music each year. Upcoming performances include the 17th Annual All Souls Jazz Festival; “Death and Harry Houdini,” a dynamic, circus-style staging of the life and death of the legendary magician (with original music); and, just in time for the holidays, an inventive, fast-paced interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker that tells Clara’s story without ballet.