Wicker Park (Chicago)

Some people warned us about leaving central Chicago and travelling to the suburbs. It’s dangerous, they said. People get killed, they said. Stick to the tourist areas. Navy Pier is nice, they said. 

Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy - The Kinks
Emporium Arcade Bar
Izakaya Mita

Navy Pier was shite. We hated it. Hated the overdose of tacky commercialism, the queues, the lack of charm. No good shops. Nothing to see apart from the heart-stopping view back over the city of Chicago from Lake Michigan. So we decided to sod off the recommendations about not leaving the city centre and instead, take the L out to Wicker Park. 

I’d only ever really heard of it from a crappy film starring Josh Hartnett. But it’s much more than some sort of yuppie up-and-comer, it’s got a vibe, a feel. We were at home in Wicker Park, 5,000 miles from home. Funky shops, cool bars, excellent restaurants. For the first time in a long time, we could sink some ‘hard cider’ as the Yanks call it (confused by my accent, they kept wanting to serve me ‘hot cider’), and play old video games. All while the sun burned up the cracked asphalt streets and the neighbourhood simmered under the July sun. 


We recommend:


Emporium Arcade Bar
Oh, for God’s sake. It’s like they knew Brad was coming and made a bar just for him. Loads of craft beer on tap, big screens (showing ‘soccer’ when we were there, the dying days of Euro 2016, when England were still shit and we were weeping for the lack of international success – again) and the biggest and best collection of pinball and old arcade machines we’d ever seen. We spent a sonorous afternoon there, the sun sinking outside, playing and playing and playing. A delight.  


Izakaya Mita
Our last night in the city and we ate here because we wanted to close the Japanese circle on our trip, begun in Tokyo 10 weeks before. It’s amazingly good Japanese pub food, plus decent cocktails and lovely waiters. Properly enjoyed our ramen, okonomiyaki and gyoza. Quite expensive and a bit of a walk down North Damen – but well worth it.  

Stan's Donuts
They were really rude and miserable in here, but who gives a shit when the donuts are this good? I gorged myself on a Raspberry Bismark and a Boston Cream and they were like nothing I’ve ever eaten before or since. That good. Take a couple for the L train ride back into the city.

We’d been out to Par-King Skill Golf the day before. Which is probably the best mini golf course in the world...


Mojo Spa
Made me go all girly (I’m not very girly) thanks to its cute colours, amazing products and chatty owner. Got my wallet out for their coconut aftersun and gorgeous soaps. Sugar Me Sweet body cream is like putting pure marshmallow fluff on your skin. Which is nicer than it sounds, honest.  

Record Shop

Reckless Records
They filmed High Fidelity in Wicker Park (weird when it’s set in north London, eh?). So Reckless Records was a bit of a must see. And so it proved – a proper good selection of vintage vinyl here. Hard to tear yourself away…

Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy – The Kinks
Playing in Emporium and as it’s one of the songs on the High Fidelity soundtrack, it all seemed rather serendipitous. Plus we were homesick for London and what’s more London than The Kinks?

What we did:
We walked a lot in the boiling hot sun, especially along The 606, a lovely converted elevated rail track which cuts through the neighbourhood and is now a great place to run and bike. Played a hell of a lot of pinball and drank plenty of hard cider. Wandered through the Goddess & Grocer, looking for delicious picnic food. Admired the architecture – beautiful brownstones now worth a fortune. 

What we bought:
A Stio jackalope T-shirt. Plenty of donuts. Not a single slice of pizza pie (have you seen the size of those things?).

Where we stayed: 

Hampton Inn Chicago Downtown/Nth Loop/Michigan Ave

House Of The Dead / Crazy Golf?:
Neither – but the vintage Street Fighter and Mario games in Emporium made up for it. Plus we’d been out to Par-King Skill Golf the day before. Which is probably the best mini golf course in the world. Seriously. It was an hour’s drive out to it and it was worth it. Incredible holes and so much fun.