The Grid: Exploring the Ukrainian Village neighborhood
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Welcome to the “The Grid,” the Chicago Sun-Times’ in-depth look at Chicago neighborhoods.
Today’s stop: Ukrainian Village
This neighborhood is 3 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. Long a home to Eastern European immigrants, especially Ukrainians, this community is an interesting mix of old world charm and hipster cool. Some of the city’s top bars and restaurants make their home here, but Ukrainian Village is also known for its many historic churches, most of them within a block of one another. Frequently showing up on lists of “best places to live,” there is much to enjoy in Ukrainian Village as you’ll find in this edition of The Grid.
Our story includes:
- The history of Ukrainian Village
- Things to do including museums
- The churches in Ukrainian Village
- Where to eat and shop
- And much more!
This story on Ukrainian Village is one in a series by the Sun-Times focused on the interesting people and places in Chicago’s many neighborhoods, intended for locals and visitors alike in hopes that all will be inspired to explore our city. We have engaging videos and a comprehensive story – all curated by the Sun-Times audience team to help provide you with the most current and meaningful information about the important and best things to do in this and each neighborhood we visit.
We’re proud to welcome Baird & Warner as presenting sponsor of “The Grid.” Leading our video adventure is Sun-Times program host, Ji Suk Yi.
Ji explores Ukrainian Village
Ukrainian Village is a neighborhood that holds a special place in my heart. I lived here – near the intersection of Augusta and Western – for more than six years. It’s charming with its cafes, restaurants and classic dive bars. It’s walkable and family-friendly while remaining as popular with singles. It’s equally welcoming to artists, young professionals and the older generation.
My favorite part of Ukrainian Village is experiencing the lingering presence of Eastern European culture, in particular Ukrainian traditions. The neighborhood’s namesake residents have lived here for generations. It was lovely to hear multi-generational families speaking their native languages and to see traditions carried out on Easter and Christmas. Sometimes you would see families in traditional vyshyvanka- elaborately embroidered shirts often part of the Ukrainian national costume.
Often called one of the best neighborhoods to live in Chicago, it’s fought to preserve its culture and traditions while remaining open to changing times. Many active community members have made sure to prioritize preservation and keep a close eye on development and stay involved with the alderman.
Ukrainian Village is a neighborhood in the greater community area of West Town. Its borders include Division and Chicago (north and south), and Damen and Western (east and west) Avenues. I have extended the western border to Rockwell Avenue – which many locals consider to be “Ukie Village.”
About 75 percent of the neighborhood is designated as a Chicago landmark district. According to the organization “Preservation Chicago” it took three different designations over the course of five years to preserve a historic area from Damen to Oakley (east to west), Haddon to Iowa (north to south) Avenues.
Home remodels and renovations in the historic district have to meet the approval of the city’s Landmark Commission. Many of the homes in the preservation district were built in the late 1800s into the early 20th century and include a mix of two and three-flats and gable-topped brick cottages.
Many of these historic cottages were developed by William Kerfoot. The city’s official “Chicago Landmarks” website notes that “nearly one out of every three” buildings in Ukrainian Village were Kerfoot buildings. Kerfoot, a real estate developer, was famous for reopening his real estate office, a hastily built wooden shack in the “burnt district,” just a few days after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. His unpretentious worker cottages were well built with detailed craftsmanship.
The history of Ukrainian Village
There were four major waves of Ukrainian immigration to the United States that resulted in an influx of Ukrainian settlers.
The first mass immigration happened in the early 1900s. Many of these were unskilled, uneducated migrants who were looking for prosperity and a way to escape oppression. Ukraine was in the midst of Russian and Austro-Hungarian political tension.
The second wave of immigration happened from 1920 – 1939. Ukraine’s declaration of independence at the end of World War I resulted in many semi-skilled, educated workers hoping to escape the political and economic pressures of newly independent Ukraine. In the 1930s, five Ukrainian parishes were established in the city.
“The Roman Catholic Church didn’t recognize us (Ukrainians) as Catholics, so we had to form our own parishes out of protection,” said lifelong Ukrainian Village resident George Matwyshyn. “These parishes were formed along ethnic group lines. They spoke the same language with common interests and traditions. Traditionally the parishes were German, then followed by the Polish, and Ukrainians knew them from the old country.”
The third immigration wave occurred around the 1950s. These immigrants were highly skilled, professional Ukrainians. World War II had further complicated Ukraine’s political landscape and destroyed infrastructure, leaving many homeless and without work or hope. The United States’ “Displaced Persons Act of 1948” helped many Ukrainians escape political oppression.
In Ukrainian Village, the Self-Reliance Federal Credit Union founded by the Self-Reliance Association of American-Ukrainians was established in the 1950s to better service loans to the community. The bank still is in operation today at its location at 2332 W. Chicago Avenue.
The fourth wave of Ukrainian immigrants arrived in the 1990s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This was mostly for economic reasons and the result of post-independence downturn in employment and prosperity in the country.
George Matwyshyn’s family moved to Ukrainian Village in 1955. A scientist by trade and former president of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association, he’s writing a book on the history of the neighborhood he loves so dearly.
Matwyshyn’s research has uncovered that Greeks, Russians and Italians have history in Ukrainian Village, along with the Germans who settled and farmed much of the land in West Town. He said Ukrainians were attracted to the area because of the familiar Polish presence. He estimates around 5-to-7 thousand Ukrainians still live in the neighborhood.
He is one of a concerned group of citizens who are adamant about preserving the history and culture of the neighborhood. “You should have roots. It’s important that you know where you come from because it’s a part of you. And if you’ve forgotten that, then you’ve forgotten your own self.”
As a life-long resident he’s seen the changes happen firsthand. “In the 70s, people were scared. You avoided Division Street. Now, homes are astronomical in price,” said Matwyshyn.
Things to do
For more information on the history of Ukrainian Village, please check out the Ukrainian National Museum. The museum has ethnic and folk memorabilia, fine art and an extensive collection of archives and a library.
Founded in 1952 by displaced scholars, the mission of the Ukrainian National Museum is to “reflect the lives of those forced by cruel circumstances to leave their homeland and who, in love and longing for that ancestral home, formed Ukrainian organizations for cultural continuity and life in their new settlements.”
In addition to its exhibits, the museum has events, workshops and activities for all ages.
The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art was founded in 1971 as an alternative exhibition venue, bucking mainstream art institutions. The museum features work of Ukraine’s contemporary artists along with musical and literary events, film and gallery talks.
Six to seven major exhibits are held in the main gallery each year and feature artists from all ethnic backgrounds, hailing locally and internationally. Two side galleries house the permanent collection that includes the work of Chicago artists as well as sculptors and painters of Ukrainian descent.
The Ukrainian Cultural Center was established in 1988. It was constructed by the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Parish and is home to the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, publication of the Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Diaspora, and Ukrainian Dance Group “Hromovytsia.” This facility is a community hub for social and religious events. It’s also a polling place for elections.
Another resource to connect with is the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association. It’s a non-profit community organization, formerly known as the Ukrainian Village Preservation Society. The organization promotes responsible urban planning, civic engagement, and community advocacy.
The churches of Ukrainian Village
Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral is modeled after the multi-domed 11th-century cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv, Ukraine. It features magnificent frescos and mosaics. Eastern Rite Christians follow Byzantine-Slavonic traditions, have their own Patriarch and are in communion with Rome. The idea of St. Nicholas Parish was first conceived in 1905 by a small group of Ukrainian laborers. By 1906 they had raised enough funds to acquire their first church at another location. As the community grew, the laborers purchased the property at Oakley Blvd. and Rice Street in 1913 and completed construction in 1915. The need for a school was realized and constructed in 1936 and then expanded in 1954. In 1961, St. Nicholas Parish became St. Nicholas Cathedral and the seat of the Eparchy.
Saints Volodymyr And Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church was established in 1968 to preserve and faithfully adhere to the traditions of the Ukrainian Church. This parish held fast to the Julian Calendar and a traditional liturgy.
Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral is one of two houses of worship designed by famous architect Louis Sullivan. Funded by Russian Czar Nicholas II, Sullivan drew on Byzantine and Russian Provincial styles, while adding his own architectural design and flair such as the influence of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. The church was founded by immigrants from southern Russia inspired by small rural churches they remembered from home.
Saint Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral was built in 1916 and originally located on Erie Street near Damen Avenue. It was the center of the Ukrainian Orthodox community in Chicago for 30 years. In 1937, it was elevated to the status of cathedral for the Midwest, and moved to its present location in 1945. The cathedral is a remodeled German Lutheran church, in the Medieval-Gothic style most notably showcasing flying buttresses. The cathedral has an Eastern Byzantine interior while maintaining a German-Gothic temple.
Where to eat
Bite Cafe is next door to its music venue, Empty Bottle. A long time staple in Ukrainian Village, for more than 20 years, I consider it one of the hidden gems in the city. The quality and affordability of its rotating seasonal menu is superb. It’s the quintessential neighborhood cafe, staying open all day – offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night and brunch on weekends. From more refined, fresh fish selections, to daily creative specials or just a simple breakfast, Bite Cafe has everything you’re looking for! It’s BYOB or you can go next door to the music venue’s bar, buy a beer and walk it through the connected passageway to your table.
Split Rail is a newer addition in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood, having recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. As the restaurant starts its second year, Executive Chef Zoe Schor is refocusing her menu to reflect the neighborhood. The new menu will focus on simple, approachable, delicious food her neighbors will look forward to at the end of a long work day. Schor has perfected her fried chicken recipe over ten years, and she plans on it being an anchor of her menu. Another star of the revamped offerings will be shrimp po’ boys. Also, a rotating selection of ice cream sandwiches made in-house will satisfy those customers with a sweet tooth. The dessert is as tasty as it is delightful to the senses.
Many food critics and friends alike list Kai Zan as the best sushi spot in the city. An unassuming storefront, the restaurant’s reputation means it’s always packed. Reservations are recommended. Twin brothers Melvin and Carlo Vizconde established Kai Zan in 2012 after long standing stints in other beloved sushi spots in the city. My experience with the Omakase menu was a good one – with the chef asking whether I was full or needed more. Talk about service!
Perhaps my favorite steak house in the city doesn’t reside in a slick, chic space downtown or in the Gold Coast but in the heart of Ukrainian Village. With French and German influences, housed in a former Polish butcher shop, there’s no pretense or grandeur associated with the steak served up at Beoufhaus. With utmost care, under the watchful, experienced eye of Executive Chef Brian Ahern the food here is exceptional. Ahern’s pedigree (Daniel Boulud, David Burke) is a fine one. Along with co-owner Jamie Finnegan, they have created an environment that is intimate, earthy and reflective of the neighborhood. They do fish just as well as dry aged ribeye. Because they butcher in-house, they make high quality cuts of meat accessible through a very delicious and affordable lunch menu.
I’ve been going to Shokolad for years. While the name means “chocolate” in Ukrainian and it does offers beautiful pastries, cookies and cakes galore, I’m hooked on the savory items and owner Haluna Fedus’ incredible hospitality. They have the highest quality of ingredients; it’s simple but made with so much care. Everything tastes so flavorful, made from scratch, with the perfect balance of richness. I never feel heavy or sluggish after eating here. The soups including the chicken noodle, Borshch (beet soup) and mushroom soup are delightful. Varenyky (Ukrainian pierogis) are prepared from scratch and taste light as a cloud. They are delicate and fluffy served with the perfect accompaniment of sour cream. The varieties include potato, cheese, meat or different vegetables. I recommend ordering them with the bacon bits and sautéed onions. There are also dessert varenyky filled with fresh blueberries or cherries. The paninis and special entrees are made with love and care, similar to the spread experienced at a celebratory family dinner.
For coffee, I recommend Star Lounge. It’s packed with people working on laptops, hanging out or reading. It’s a friendly, welcoming, bustling environment with colorful art on the walls and a back outdoor patio space. Dark Matter coffee is what keeps customers coming back. The quality of the coffee is outstanding, sourced responsibly and sustainably and roasted with innovative methods to produce the most flavorful bean. They also have cold brew and barrel-aged coffee as well. The mother ship location does the roasting and is around the corner from the Star Lounge.
Looking for a family-friendly brunch menu during the week? Then Whisk is for you! Along with its popular brunch, Whisk serves burgers and Mexican-inspired cuisine. Owned by brothers Rick and David Rodriguez, it’s a whimsical space with a lot of art dedicated to the TV show “Parks and Recreation” and in particular to the character of Ron Swanson. It’s also BYOB.
Kasia’s Deli has been a landmark in “Ukie” Village since 1982. Namesake and owner, Kazimiera Bober, has served her famous pierogis to political dignitaries and celebrities. It’s a fast and easy to stop in and pick up deli items to go. Kasia’s serves great deli sandwiches made to order, much more delicious than a typical sandwich or sub shop.
Tryzub Restaurant is named after “trident” in Ukrainian. It’s the national symbol for Ukraine. Owner Myron Lewyckyj not only wants you to try modern Ukrainian food but also wants to provide a space that is dedicated to Ukrainian pride and history. The menu even offers a list of important dates in Ukrainian history.
Other eateries worth mentioning are Mr. Brown’s Lounge (an authentic Jamaican restaurant with great music and fabulous jerk chicken), Fatso’s (a great late night spot for burgers, hot dogs and fried shrimp), Greek Corner (try their Greek fries), and Black Dog Gelato (the best gelato in the city, in my humble estimation).
There are plenty of spots to whet your whistle in Ukrainian Village. There are old school, old man dives like Stella’s Tap, Gus Tap, Ola’s Liquors and J & M Tap.
There are hipster favorites frequented by restaurant industry regulars like EZ Inn (a beautifully renovated bar that kept true to its history), Sportsman Club (with a great back outdoor space that often hosts local chefs’ bbq nights) and Rainbo Club (dates back to 1936 and still has great ambiance and prices on cocktails despite encroaching Wicker Park development on Division Street).
On the south side of Division Street between Damen and Western, I’d recommend the bars Queen Mary and Pub Royale. There’s also the Beetle on Chicago Avenue and Tuman’s, also on Chicago Avenue, east of Western. There’s no lack of places to raise a pint in Ukrainian Village.
I want to highlight one bar, in particular, because it has been under the same family’s ownership for over 75 years! Archie’s Tavern on Iowa and Rockwell is known for free pool and its welcoming environment. There’s a juke box and pictures of the family on the wall. It’s tucked away on a quiet block, and the regulars are neighbors. It’s no frills and not much has changed as it enters its fourth generation of ownership.
Where to shop
You may recognize barber Howard Godfrey from the now defunct Style network’s popular reality series “Chicagolicious” that followed the hair stylists who worked at AJ’s Salon in the West Loop for two seasons in 2012 and 2013. Godfrey is still a barber to the stars at his current shop, 3 Sinks Salon (for men and women), on Chicago Avenue in Ukrainian Village. The day I visited former Chicago Bears player Jerry Azumah was seated in his barber’s chair. “It’s diverse. It’s truly Ukrainian. You get to experience that culture. But it’s also kind of hip and funky,” said Godfrey, “It’s a great corridor with lots of small businesses to compliment mine.”
Komoda is one of my favorite shops in the city and has been in the Ukrainian Village since 2006. I believe the shop is curated perfectly by its owner Sherri Gregorczyk. Sherri’s hospitality is effusive and you can see she puts her heart and soul into the store. This is one shop where you can find something for everyone – family, friends, hostess gifts, children’s gifts and for the men in your life as well. Many boutiques are either geared towards men or women, but Sherri’s shop has thoughtfully sourced gifts at every price point, for everyone. She has beautiful wallets, handmade pocket knives, toiletries for men and women. She offers local and national designers in jewelry, accessories and clothing. There’s a plethora of bath goods, books and housewares to suit every occasion.
Other boutiques worth a visit include Study Hall, Sprout Home, Tarnish, Apartment 528, Squasht and Beehive Chicago. Delta Gift Shop and Chaika Eucranian Green Store sell traditional Ukrainian gifts. Tommy’s Guitars has vintage and new guitars, amps and effect pedals and has been in the neighborhood for more than 20 years.
Ukrainian Village holds tightly to its old traditions and history. Its namesake Ukrainian settlers and founders have left an indelible mark on the neighborhood, and the following generations haven’t forgotten their roots. There are hipsters – but it’s not so hip that it’s exclusive. There are young professionals and young families starting out, but it’s still friendly to singles, the older generation and artists. It’s a neighborhood in the truest sense, where people are invested in the history and future of where they live. It’s charming and quaint, hip and bustling, all at once. It’s truly one of my favorite neighborhoods where you get a taste of the old world and the new – living harmoniously together.
This new Sun-Times video series showcases the best of Chicago’s neighborhoods (and suburbs!) by turning a spotlight on the people, places and things that make our city one-of-a-kind. Look for a new video episode each Wednesday on the Chicago Sun-Times website. #thegrid.
We hope you will watch, read and share all of The Grid stories!
The Grid neighborhood guides
- Episode 1: Logan Square
- Episode 2: Andersonville
- Episode 3: Pilsen
- Episode 4: Hyde Park
- Episode 5: Ravenswood
- Episode 6: Printers Row
- Episode 7: Roscoe Village
- Episode 8: Bronzeville
- Episode 9: Rogers Park
- Episode 10: Chinatown
- Episode 11: South Shore
- Episode 12: Boystown
- Episode 13: Norwood Park
- Episode 14: Old Town