Chicago/Near West Side

The L rumbling down Lake Street

The Near West Side of Chicago has two of the city's premiere culinary strips, Little Italy and Greektown, and basketball legend Michael Jordan's old stomping grounds with the Chicago Bulls.

Understand

Many of Chicago's most beloved cultural landmarks were created on the Near West Side. The Chicago-style hot dog, the deep dish pizza, the immigrant port of entry, the blues, the Blues Brothers, the labor movement, "Cheat You Fair," Jane Addams and the modern concept of social justice — all were born or have roots here. You wouldn't know it from the place today, though, which is dominated the charmless campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC); outside of those areas, seen from the L tracks, stray pieces of the old neighborhoods sit like the last few teeth in the mouth of a punch-drunk prizefighter.

Greektown is quite the popular hang-out

Close to the rail yards and factory jobs, this was Chicago's major port of entry throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Central to everything was the Maxwell Street Market, which was founded by Jewish immigrants and joined by African-Americans during the Great Migration. Maxwell Street evolved from an open-air market of stalls and pushcarts to become the place where people from everywhere brought discount everything in the quest to make a fortune — and, as the saying went, Cheat You Fair. The deals, the scams, the cheap food and the street performances by future blues legends created a signature Chicago atmosphere for more than 120 years.

However, the desire of Chicago's business community to have a buffer zone between the Loop and the West Side housing projects led to severe changes: first, the new Eisenhower Expressway cut off a slice of the east side, and then the construction of UIC destroyed the homes of more than 5,000 people. The years since have seen the university continue its path of wanton destruction, enabled by the city in every urge. In 1994, they finally managed to raze the market, which was relocated a few blocks east in reduced form, leaving behind something called "University Village", which is rather like Hyde Park re-cast by pod people.

Attractions continue to leave the Near West Side; the Chicago Bulls play on without Michael Jordan at the United Center, and Oprah Winfrey has left her residency at Harpo Studios. But the small restaurant strips of Little Italy on Taylor Street and Greektown on Halsted Street have good food and tourist-friendly charm, and the West Loop (sometimes known as the Warehouse District) features the city's most expensive restaurants, a thriving gallery scene, and several hot clubs-of-the-moment.

Get in

By train

There are several train stations on the Near West Side, but they're not very well-placed for destinations other than UIC. Buses are a more direct alternative from most of the city, including the Loop.

The Forest Park branch of the CTA Blue Line has stops near Maxwell Street, Little Italy and Greektown (UIC-Halsted, Racine), UIC (Illinois Medical District) and the Tri-Taylor area (Western). The CTA Green Line and Pink Line have stops within a hike of the West Loop (Clinton/Lake, Morgan) and the United Center (Ashland/Lake), while the Pink Line branches off to the center of UIC and near the edge of Little Italy (Polk).

The city's two regional train hubs, Union Station and Ogilvie/Northwestern Station, are right on the edge of the West Loop. They're generally used by travelers going east over the river to the Loop, but there's no reason you can't walk west instead. See the Loop article for arrival and departure information.

By bus

The CTA runs several bus routes through the West Side:

By car

For Greektown, exit I-90/94 east at Adams, or west at Monroe. From the Eisenhower Expressway, exit at Racine, and turn left. Halsted & Adams is three blocks north and six blocks east. If driving in the area in the evening, avoid the blocks around United Center at all costs, as the event traffic is horrendous.

See

The Haymarket Affair(s)

For years before and after, the Haymarket Square at Randolph St and Desplaines St was a bustling market, but on May 4, 1886, police marched on a labor rally, and someone threw a bomb from the crowd, killing seven police officers; for lack of a suspect, the organizer and speakers at the rally were arrested and charged with murder, and four were executed. The case became a seminal moment for the labor movement and free speech in the United States, giving cause to the May Day labor holiday. A statue of a policeman was erected in the square in 1889, but it became a target for anger over the trial, and was moved for safe-keeping after a streetcar rammed into it. By the 1960s, the market was gone, so the statue was returned — bringing the Chicago Police and the Weather Underground together in a tradition of blowing the thing up, repairing it, and blowing it up again. Eventually, it was moved for good. A carefully-worded bronze plaque was installed by the city in 1992, and an abstract sculpture has been in the square since 2004. For a more meaningful memorial, take I-290 west to Des Plaines Avenue in the nearby suburb of Forest Park and Waldheim Cemetery.

The ubiquitous University of Illinois at Chicago campus will be the most obvious thing you see, with the overtowering monolith that is University Hall casting an ungainly shadow across the West Side. Many of the original constructions, including elevated walkways, have long since been demolished. However, much of the Brutalist architecture remains. The Behavioral Sciences Building and Arts and Architecture Building, best known for having stairways that lead to a wall, are shining examples of unfinished construction and design. If you wish to tour, the only official ones are meant for potential students, and you would be better off walking it alone anyway. As it is a public university, no one will bother you if you take photos or walk through buildings. Please note that UIC is a massive campus, with over 15,000 students who congregate on campus at any given time. Being on the Halsted, Harrison, Blue Island, Streeterville/Taylor or Roosevelt buses during the university calendar year is bound to be a crowded trip if you use UIC as a starting point for your travels. Additionally, the UIC-Halsted Blue Line stop will be crowded for the same reasons.

Galleries

The West Loop has a thriving contemporary art gallery scene that's easy to explore on foot. Start at the corner of Peoria and Washington. The two most prominent galleries are the Donald Young and Kavi Gupta galleries, but the adventurous will be rewarded here — there is a wealth of smaller gallery spaces to be explored even beyond this list.

The UIC campus itself also has Gallery 400 at 400 S Peoria St (just north of the UIC-Halsted Blue Line stop), which has monthly shows available to the public.

Do

Michael Jordan locked in eternal dunk in front of United Center

Buy

The New Maxwell Street Market still runs from 7AM-3PM every Sunday (☎ +1 312 922-3100), regardless of season. The much smaller size and higher vendor fees ensure that the original flavor of the world's greatest outdoor market is now only a piece of history, but the New Market has a truly awe-inspiring number of cheap Mexican food along with discount jewelry, t-shirts, random vintage items, suspicious electronics, and other flea market classics, and is a lot of fun.

More traditional retail has been slow to develop for the rest of the Near West Side, with college students being the only relatively affluent consumer group in the area. Even after the spate of expensive residential developments in the West Loop and University Village, it's still under-served for shopping purposes. However, there are a few places worthy of note:

If you need a sunscreen or a new pair of cheap jeans, there is a Target just north of the UIC-Halsted Blue Line stop at 1101 W Jackson Blvd.

Eat

Cuisine is a major attraction for the West Side, with two of the city's most celebrated strips: Little Italy (Racine Blue Line) and Greektown (UIC-Halsted Blue Line). Restaurants are almost all that remain of the communities that were there before the bulldozers and redevelopment of the 1960s. Culinary preferences will presumably guide your decision, but all things being equal, Greektown is the better choice, because UIC has more of a presence in the Little Italy area.

Budget

Greek

Also see Drink — the bars in Greektown can be good dinner options, too, unless you're looking for family dining.

Other

The aforementioned University Village has a plenty of sandwich shops and pleasant, undistinguished Thai, sushi, froyo and other fast food restaurants catering to UIC students. These are mainly housed on Taylor Street, and are in walking distance from the Taylor side of the campus.

Mid-range

Greek

Most of the restaurants in Greektown offer free valet parking. You should be able to enjoy a meal for less than $25 at any of these restaurants, although if you'd like to splurge, most of the menus have seafood or lamb options to make that possible.

Italian

Valet parking is usually available at sit-down Little Italy restaurants for a nominal fee ($2-6).

Other

Splurge

The city's most trendy and expensive restaurants are to be found in the West Loop / Fulton Market District.

Drink

Oh Maxwell Street, what have you become? A few generic, upscale sports bars catering to university students and owners of new townhomes oozed in once the blues were gone.

Sleep

There are many more hotels in the Loop, close to the Blue Line, and a few places in the Near South will also be fine if you'd like quick access to the West Side.

Connect

The following libraries offer free public internet access:

UIC does not offer public internet access, as their WiFi networks are meant for students only. The Richard J. Daley library (801 S. Morgan) is open to the public, but after 5pm they check IDs and only let students in.

Stay safe

Know where you're going, especially at night. Aside from the few major thoroughfares, the Near West Side has long, deserted stretches where help will be difficult to find. On the UIC campus, keep an eye out for kiosks with help phones. Also, while eating in Little Italy, don't fill up on bread; you will be unable to properly enjoy your main dish. (The same risk applies to making pre-emptive grabs for saganaki in Greektown.)

Go next

Routes through Near West Side

Forest Park/O'Hare International Airport Far West Side/Wicker Park  W/NW  E/SE  The Loop Reverses direction
Forest Park Far West Side  W  E  The Loop Southwest Side/Hyde Park
Cicero Pilsen  W  E  The Loop END


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, January 27, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.