Chicago/North Lincoln

North Lincoln is a collection of neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago through which Lincoln Avenue wanders, remembering treasures and curiosities of the last century in Chicago life, moving along, and forgetting them all over again.

Lincoln Square, Albany Park, and North Park are much better known to residents than tourists, but anyone will feel welcome here. To paraphrase Lionel Richie, this is where Chicago is easy like a Sunday morning, all week long.

The best reasons to come here are the shopping — unquestionably cool, and completely unpretentious — and the restaurants, which serious Chicago food lovers consider some of the best in the city.

Understand

An invitation to the Brauhaus, Lincoln Square

Lincoln Square was settled by German farmers in the 1860s, when the area (along with portions of the neighboring Uptown) was known as Ravenswood. With the arrival of what is today known as the Brown Line elevated train in 1906, population surged, and a thriving small business community developed under the L tracks and around the network of streetcar lines. By the 1920s, the relatively affluent community had a movie palace, now known as the Davis Theater, and rows of attractive commercial buildings — most notably the Krause Music Store, whose façade was the last commission of master architect Louis Sullivan. Although the neighborhood is now culturally diverse, a few vintage businesses like the Chicago Brauhaus and The Huettenbar celebrate its German heritage through, well, celebration.

Today, Lincoln Square has some of the city's best shopping (even for people who don't like shopping), and some terrific restaurants and bars; more than anything else, though, Chicago doesn't get any more pleasant than Lincoln Square for brunch on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

The Greater Lincoln Square area includes the smaller, residential neighborhoods of Budlong Woods, Ravenswood Gardens, and Ravenswood Manor, which is crossed by the pretty North Branch of the Chicago River — unrecognizable from the more famous sludge in the Loop.

Also listed in this article are Albany Park and North Park, two diverse residential neighborhoods to the northwest of Lincoln Square. Albany Park in particular is one of the most diverse in Chicago, and even the USA - many of residents are immigrants and they come from all over the world. There’s no better place in Chicago to find late-night Guatemalan dinner or Filipino dessert. Kedzie Avenue has an amazing run of authentic Middle Eastern restaurants, and a major Korean population lives and works on the stretch of Lawrence Avenue known as "Seoul Drive." The Brown Line makes it easy to skip the over-priced tourist restaurants downtown and enjoy a quick culinary tour at a fraction of the price you’ll find by your hotel — unless you’re staying on the Sin Strip (see Sleep).


Get in

Welcome to the neighborhood

When Chicago was offered a piece of the Berlin Wall, Lincoln Square was the natural choice for a location, considering its German roots. It's now in the lobby of the Western Brown Line CTA station. Anyone can have a look, but tearing down the wall is strictly prohibited.

By train

The CTA Brown Line runs from the Loop, and makes stops in Ravenswood (Montrose, Damen), Lincoln Square (Western), Ravenswood Manor (Rockwell, Francisco), and terminates in Albany Park (Kedzie, Kimball). The stations from Rockwell to Kedzie are street-level, and most have a second entrance on the other end of the platform. All stations are wheelchair accessible.

The Metra Union Pacific North Line stops at Ravenswood (Lawrence Avenue) before moving on to Rogers Park and Evanston.

By bus

By car

Lincoln Ave is the main thoroughfare for Lincoln Square. While few roads in Chicago can match Lincoln for unique shops and restaurants, it's perpetually under construction, and traffic rarely moves fast. Take Western if you are in a hurry. Accordingly, if you are coming up the Kennedy Expressway, take the Western Ave exit, although if you are coming from the north on the Edens Expressway, the Peterson Ave exit is probably the fastest way into the district.

Free parking is generally available on side streets, but keep an eye out for permit-parking zones.

See

The heart of Lincoln Square is Giddings Plaza, a fountain square located on a one-way stretch of Lincoln Avenue. It's a popular gathering spot, and on summer evenings, impromptu concerts from the Old Town School of Folk Music often spill out into the square. Nearby, there are a few flourishes in honor of the neighborhood's German heritage and namesake: while out and around, look for the Maypole, a few German murals, the decidedly Teutonic Thomas Jefferson Pumping Station, and the Beardless Action Lincoln statue.

The only notable sight in the neighborhood is the home of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but an aimless stroll on a sunny day in Ravenswood Manor is one of the best afternoons Chicago has to offer. Exit the Francisco Brown Line stop and you're right in the midst of several blocks of classic Chicago bungalows and brick mansions.

Forms from nature, Louis Sullivan

Do

This is a laid-back area, with plenty of opportunities to relax or pick up a new hobby.

Blowup map of the central Lincoln Square area

Buy

If you've come to Chicago to shop, give the designer jumble on the Magnificent Mile its due and then come to Lincoln Square, where they have stuff you can't buy at the mall back home. There are several labor-of-love shops here, and they're a lot of fun to browse.

Eat

Put simply, there's food in this area that's found nowhere else in Chicago, and it's good. Middle Eastern and Korean are the headliners, but there are also Thai, German, and Japanese places that are consistently mentioned among the city's best. With most restaurants easily accessible from the Brown Line, it's worth a trip for dinner even if you're staying elsewhere.

Budget

Mid-range

One of the true pleasures of Chicago dining is a weekend brunch in Lincoln Square. Cafe Selmarie is the best-known spot, but a few of the bars serve a worthy brunch as well — see Drink for more options.

Splurge

Drink

The Huettenbar, Lincoln Square

Cafes

Bars

Not accidentally, you'll find more than a few karaoke joints on Lincoln, Western, and Lawrence, near the Korean BBQ restaurants. The rest listed here are upscale restaurant/bar combos and a few affable dives.

Sin Strip slipping away

In the early days of the inter-state motorways, US-41 was the route of choice between Chicago and Milwaukee. Twelve motels sprang up on Lincoln Avenue between Peterson/Devon and Foster to accommodate road-weary travelers, with giant neon signs bearing names like Stars, Tip-Top, and Rio.

However, with the opening of the Edens Expressway (I-94), traffic dried up on US-41. The full extent of what happened next depends on who you ask; pretty much everyone will admit that, yes, some hookers did take advantage of the hourly rates offered by some motels, the name of the O Mi Motel did take on a certain irony, and the Lincoln Avenue motels did come to be known as Sin Strip. It's not a question of whether there was a cesspool; merely a debate over whether the cesspool was all-encompassing.

Over the last ten years, the city government has been using every legal maneuver in its considerable repertoire to get the Lincoln Avenue motels closed, as part of the effort to remove centers for crime and vice, and to prime a few more areas to join in Chicago's real estate boom. Several have been condemned or sold to condo developers. A handful do remain, however, and are run by owners who insist that they run respectable businesses and are fighting to stay open.

While perhaps not a place to bring a family keen on standard Chicago tourist fare, there are a few things to be said for saying on Sin Strip: the area has gentrified considerably, and it's no longer particularly dangerous in the area. (Just a bit seedy.) The CTA Brown Line is only a short bus ride or walk away, taking you into the center of the city. The rates are a lot cheaper than what you'll see downtown, especially for long-term stays. And, of course, there are those impossibly cool signs...

Apache Motel, Albany Park

Sleep

The #11 Lincoln bus runs past all of the Sin Strip motels (see infobox), and stops at the Western Brown Line station in Lincoln Square. Though the Stars Motel has been demolished, its classic sign is still standing at the corner of Lincoln and Jersey, near the River Park Motel.

62 wkd

Connect

Go next

Routes through North Lincoln

END  NW  SE  Lakeview-North Center The Loop


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