The Grid: Exploring the Roscoe Village neighborhood
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Roscoe Village is 5 miles from downtown Chicago. It’s a pocket neighborhood within the larger North Center neighborhood, and it’s often referred to as a village within the city. Roscoe Village sprang up, in part, because of the development of the Riverview Amusement Park along the Chicago River near Western Avenue.
Today, Riverview is gone, but Roscoe Village is thriving with a mix of independently-owned shops and restaurants that help give this walkable neighborhood a small-town feel. Plus, there are the strollers. There are so many families with young children that many locals call Roscoe Village the “stroller capital” of the city.
In this episode of The Grid, we’ll take a closer look at Roscoe Village including:
- The History
- Riverview Amusement Park
- Things to do, including street fairs and festivals
- Place to eat, drink and shop
This story on Roscoe Village is part of 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’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 Roscoe Village
Roscoe Village is a charming neighborhood. Everywhere I looked there were strollers and dogs.
It’s easily accessible through transportation and walkable; there are great schools and the businesses and restaurants are geared towards accommodating young families. And don’t forget the village knows how to throw a block party and festival!
As noted, technically, Roscoe Village is part of the larger neighborhood of North Center. Roscoe Village’s borders are Addison Street to the north, Belmont Avenue to the south, Ravenswood to the east and the Chicago River to the west.
The Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce claims Roscoe Village goes to Diversey on its southern border. (I find that many neighborhood chamber of organizations tend to try and expand their borders to include more businesses. In this case, I’m going to consider Hamlin Park its own micro or pocket community. Sorry, Chamber!)
Some even like to extend the eastern border to Lincoln Avenue but I’m sticking to Ravenswood to the east and Belmont as the southern boundary, and I feel good about this because the Roscoe Village Neighbors Association agrees.
Roscoe Village’s roots start at the beginning of the 20th century, as developers constructed Riverview Park, known as the “world’s largest amusement park,” in 1904. Hundreds of thousands of visitors came to the park every year and businesses followed suit, along with the amusement park workers who moved to be closer to work.
The Riverview Amusement Park (at Belmont and Western) was originally the “German Sharpshooter Park.” There were targets and even deer that roamed an island in the Chicago River’s North Branch, until a carousel was brought in, which would make way for more amusement rides and roller coasters. In its day, it was known as the Coney Island of Chicago as well as the roller coaster capital of America with its multitude of coasters including the infamous “Bobs” and The Comet, The Silver Flash, The Fireball and The Jetstream – to name a few.
The park closed in 1967 and was demolished the following year.
In its place today, you’ll find the a police station for Chicago’s 19th police district, Riverview Plaza Shopping Mall, and DeVry University (Chicago campus). The Western Avenue overpass originally designed to help ease traffic congestion around the park has also been removed.
A residential and economic boom occurred in 1920 when an influx of second-generation German-Americans moved to the area, along with some factories on the east side and jobs along the river and Ravenswood Corridor.
However, the Great Depression saw the start of Roscoe Village’s decline. After World War II, many residents moved to the suburbs. Urban flight brought on by enticing suburban developments, the development of highways, and the decentralization of manufacturing and production affected the village as it did many urban neighborhoods. This lull continued for many decades and saw lowering property values and an uptick in crime well into 1970s.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Roscoe Village slowly was rediscovered by suburban and city residents. Potential in the good bones of many of the areas two-flats was too irresistible, and this fine housing stock was brought back to life by investors and home owners alike.
In 1990, the “Eversharp Building” or the “pencil factory” was converted into condominiums and sold out quickly. This was quickly noticed by realtors and investors alike and Roscoe Village because a hot neighborhood again with rising property values.
There’s a fascinating story behind the Eversharp Building and it’s founder and Illinois native Charles Rood Keeran. He was the inventor of the first commercially successful, mass produced, mechanical (ratchet-based) pencil but was largely cut out from the rewards and revenue of the invention.
Things to do
Roscoe Village Neighbors is a volunteer organization that meets at local favorite bar Four Treys once a month. They are really involved in the community and have events like the village garage sale, a community-wide garage sale that includes over 30 households. Held in the summer, they have a map that plots out all the neighbors having sales.
The group also sponsors a Garden Walk where gardens are showcased for the public, rain or shine. This year’s is on July 29, from noon until 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. You can pick up an official garden walk guide from the information center located at 2058 W. Roscoe at Gratitude-Heart-Garden Florist at Roscoe and Hoyne.
Retro on Roscoe is the premiere street festival the neighborhood throws, and this year it’s August 10-12. There are three main stages for bands and plenty of games and crafts for children in the family area. Retro’s “Antique Car Show” will showcase more than 50 antique, classic and muscle cars throughout the weekend at the festival. All the money raised help fund beautification projects and outreach like the Halloween Parade, and they even have a reception for new residents!
Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce throws the Burger Fest every summer (in 2018 it’s July 14 & 15) and the upcoming Bourbon and Barbecue festival in September.
With so many young families in the neighborhood, Fellger Park comes up often in conversation. It’s turned into “the place to be” for children to play and parents to catch up. Located at Damen and Belmont, it’s considered the social center for those 5-years-old and younger.
There is also a wonderful amount of green space on the west side of Western Avenue. This area is located behind the shopping center or strip mall, DeVry and Lane Tech High School. And all of this area, was formally Riverview Park (as discussed in the history section of Roscoe Village).
Clark Playlot Park is almost 19 acres of green space that includes a soccer field and Kerry Wood Cubs Field. The baseball field — named after the former Cubs pitcher and located about a mile away from Wrigley Field — holds around 1,250 seats and is used by Chicago Public High Schools citywide.
If you’re into mountain or dirt bike riding, there is “The Garden,” which includes a set of dirt jumps. There are three jump lines and a pump track with multiple routes. The Garden is free, open to the public and has terrain for all ages and skill levels.
Situated on the east bank of the Chicago River, it’s an easy access point to the river for the Chicago Rowing Foundation that practices and launches its boats from the WMS Boathouse.
The rowing foundation works in partnership with the Chicago Park District to offer low-cost community programs and hosting community “learn-how-to-row” and open rowing events. Whether it’s a summer camp session, an introductory after-school program for middle schoolers or the competitive high school program, it’s really impressive to see the boats on the water.
Architect and MacArthur Foundation fellow, Jeanne Gang, known for the Aqua Building downtown, designed the boathouse. It’s a gorgeous architectural feat that also provides functional boat storage and a state-of-the-art training facility year round. The building houses a “Dynamic Propulsion” indoor rowing tank (the oars/seats are fixed inside a specially designed indoor pool) to learn the rowing basics or to hone skills and is the only one of its kind in the United States. There is an erg room (indoor rowing machine) that accommodates 48 ergs (short for ergometer).
There’s also a canoe and kayak rental facility and public dock (for non-motorized boats) for use during open park hours.
Cornelia Arts Building is celebrating more than 30 years as one of the largest all-artist studios in Chicago. It’s right on the very edge of Roscoe Village’s east border on Ravenswood and Cornelia. The open studio nights are really fun and worth marking your calendar so you don’t miss them. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet the artists behind the work and to meet and mingle with fellow art lovers. There are more than 40 artists in its studios, with more exhibits lining the hallways of the giant space.
Where to eat
Roscoe Village is a brunch epicenter. These stellar spots serve lunch too – usually sandwiches, soups and salads – but we know that breakfast is really what it’s all about!
There is the wonderfully retro Kitsch’n on Roscoe. It’s eclectic, bright and will put you in a good mood.
If you’re a vegetarian, you have to get the breakfast at Victory’s Banner. It’s enlightened food that won’t weigh you down.
Orange Restaurant serves a contemporary breakfast and takes care to select premium ingredients in its restaurants like cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef. It has a pancake flight that will take you around the world and something called “frushi” – handcrafted sushi using fruit.
You can grab a coffee at Hero Coffee Bar (one of six locations for the company). Just down the street on the bustling corridor of Roscoe between Damen and Oakley is neighborhood gem, Rudy’s Bakery. There, you’ll discover outstanding bread, pastries and sweets.
Along that same bustling stretch of Roscoe, there’s a flavor to suit every desire and craving.
There’s also Turquoise Cafe and Restaurant. It’s been a favorite of the neighborhood since opening in 2002. It has Turkish-inspired Mediterranean food served with good ambiance and hospitality.
If you’re feeling Latin flavors head to Altiro Latin Fusion. The restaurant has locations in Geneva and Oak Park, but its city location is in Roscoe Village.
One of my personal favorites on Roscoe is Cuba312. Chef and owner Jamie Alvarez learned to cook Cuban cuisine from her husband’s Cuban family. She was told that if she married into the family, she’d have to learn to cook Cuban cuisine. She did such a wonderful job learning, that Cuba312 is her second restaurant! They serve traditional Cuban cuisine but also have elevated culinary delights as well in a casual and very welcoming setting.
Want something casual? If you’re looking for an Indiana-style burger, The Region is for you! It’s named after the “region” in Indiana where the burger is smashed on the griddle until super crispy on the edges. There’s a secret sauce, some sweet relish and some raw, white onions and that’s it. Pretty simple and tasty but not much to look at – which is descriptive of the interior of the quick service location.
If you’re in the mood for pizza, try Bartoli’s on Addison. I’m a fan of both the deep dish and thin crust, and the salads are great too. Honestly, they’ve never done me wrong – even when I get delivery, Bartoli’s is consistent. And you know that delivery often affects quality, but these guys haven’t ever let me down!
My favorite things by Tom Van Lente
- Hamlin Park and all its glory. Between all the Little League games, huge playground, pick-up basketball games, goofy dogs and even goofier dog owners.
- Dive bars! Oh, the dive bars in this area! Village Tap may not be a total dive, but its beer list will rival any in the city. Four Moon’s, Four Treys, Cody’s Public House and more. We never have a shortage of places to imbibe. They are really great places to meet the real locals and share a pint with.
- Taking a walk. One of my favorite things to do in Roscoe Village is to take a walk around. Meeting new people on their front steps is a daily occurrence. The people that live here, love it here and it shows on every block, storefront and bar stool.
Where to drink
Roscoe Village is a neighborhood teeming with children and young parents … which means those parents need a break and a glass of wine every once in a while!
Volo has small plates and affordable, good quality wine. It has a heated patio with a retractable awning, so Volo is great year round. They also have great afternoon specials!
Lush Wine and Spirits is where to go if you want to get serious about learning about wine or just need to pick up a quick bottle to take to a party or restaurant. Free wine tasting and knowledge is never a bad thing. Plus, Lush serves snacks!
On the main strip of Roscoe is Village Tap, a pioneer of the craft beer scene before everyone else was doing it. A staple for over 27 years, there’s a new owner after the tragic loss of founder Mike Green, but pretty much everything else is the same. A lot of great craft brews and a beer garden out back.
Four Moon Tavern serves comfort food, good cocktails and beer in a casual environment. There are couches you can hang out on, a pool table and a juke box. This is truly a neighborhood spot.
Roscoe Village Pub is similar and very beloved in the neighborhood. This is another casual, charming spot.
If you’re looking to catch the big game, Commonwealth Tavern is the sports bar of choice in Roscoe Village. Open since 2014, the name reflects the venue’s mission to be a welcoming spot for everyone.
Birch Road Cellar is a member-only, byob hang out spot. The location is kept relatively secret, there’s an entry code and a temperature controlled cellar where you can store your booze. There are places to hang out and catch up with friends and a tasting room. There’s no wait staff and no TV’s. It’s a place to get away from the hustle and bustle while keeping the kids and family duties at bay.
Beat Kitchen is another beloved staple that features local bands, stand-up and nationally touring music acts as well. There, you’ll find good food and really nice staffers.
My favorite things by Anne Stockton
Anne Stockton is an active community member who has lived in Roscoe Village for 6 years with her husband and 3 children.
- The People. Roscoe Village is a very tight-knit community where neighbors go above and beyond to support each other. Many Roscoe Villagers work hard and volunteer their time continually to make Roscoe Village a better, more beautiful, more fun and safer place to live and raise a family.
- The Community Events. Roscoe Village Neighbors and the Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce stage phenomenal events, including Retro on Roscoe, Burgerfest, the Halloween Parade, Winterfest, Spring Brunch, Ladies’ Night Out, Garden Walk, Derby Pub Crawl, New Neighbor Party, Wine Stroll, etc. There’s always something fun happening just steps from our house.
- The Location. Roscoe Village is just a few miles from downtown, with big box retail and large riverside parks to the West, and Wrigley Field and the Lake just over a mile to the East. We like renting kayaks from Chicago River Canoe and Kayak, located in the architecturally beautiful WMS Boathouse.
Where to shop
There are a lot of great thrift, vintage and antique shops in Roscoe Village.
The anchor of thrifting, Village Discount, has a location in the heart of Roscoe. I’m told by my thrift aficionado friends that this is one of the better Village Discount locations with good finds.
There is also Shangri-La Vintage. Around since 1992, it carries a selection of vintage clothing (1950s to 1980s) for both men and women.
If modern is what your looking for, head over to Crush boutique on Roscoe. Open since 2011, it’s a sleek cool space that carries top brands for the entire family.
With all the young families and strollers in the neighborhood, there’s a lot of shopping catered to the new and growing family.
Kickin’ is a boutique that focuses on every day essentials for the expectant and nursing mom. And clothes for little ones, as well.
Little Threads also sells clothing for children, including a brand called Tea Collection. There’s a loyalty program and the clothes are adorable.
Twinkle Twinkle Little One has everything you need from clothes to furniture to get ready for baby. It even has a registry.
Over on Belmont Avenue, from Leavitt to Wolcott, there are furniture stores and more vintage shops. Set aside plenty of time to explore the antique and vintage finds along the way that include: Praha (a good selection of mid-century modern furniture), Good Old Days (a variety of collectibles and antiques), Father Time Antiques (vintage watches and clocks, along with repair and restoration services) and Lazy Dog Antiques (has a little bit of everything including vintage jewelry). Just outside of Roscoe Village, on the other side of Ravenswood, is Antique Resources which specializes in upscale European furniture dating back to the 17th Century.
Whether you’re a professional musician in a major symphony or an aspiring student or just a fiddler, A440 Violin Shop has been selling and working on violins, cellos and the double bass for more than 20 years in Roscoe Village.
Roscoe Books was founded in 2014 by Erika Van Dam. There’s a great selection of books for adults – and an entire section in an adorable corner of the bookstore for kids. There are also multiple readings and story times for children throughout the week and a book clubs for adults.
My favorite things by Ken Ludwig
Ludwig is an interior designer. His design studio “Kenneth Ludwig Chicago” is located in Roscoe Village.
- The quaint village feel: The neighborhood is surrounded with fabulous tree-lined bordering streets that make for a wooded village feel.
- Friendly and diversity of neighbors: From single professionals, young married families, long time city dwellers to a new group of baby boomers returning to the city. Daily waves and shouts of hello make for a normal day in Roscoe Village.
- Authentic and exciting restaurants: Offering everything under the sun from Cuban, to sushi, to Italian, to American bistro, there is a wide variety of excellent food establishments.
One more thing
There’s a little bit of everything for everyone in Roscoe Village. It’s a wonderful neighborhood with great public and private schools, making it the perfect place to raise a family in the city. There are so many couples choosing to plant roots in Roscoe Village that everyone jokes about how many strollers are out in the neighborhood and cautioned me to not get run over by one! This neighborhood is all about the young family starting out, and the neighborhood certainly caters to that calling. If you love children and dogs, this is the place for you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Sun-Times travel guide to Roscoe Village and will use it to plan your own visit there soon! Watch/ Read/ Explore with The Grid.