The Grid: Exploring the Ravenswood neighborhood
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Welcome to “The Grid,” our in-depth look at Chicago’s neighborhoods. Today’s stop: Ravenswood.
Ravenswood is eight miles from downtown Chicago on the city’s north side. It’s an interesting mix of colorful Victorian homes and industrial manufacturing buildings (some of them re-purposed to house start-ups, breweries and a surprisingly large number of small printmaking shops.) Art and work co-exist beautifully in this Chicago neighborhood that was originally designed as one of the city’s first commuter suburbs – thanks to a new train stop. Today, that very same railroad corridor is the hub of Ravenswood as you’ll find in this episode of The Grid.
Our story includes:
- Where is Ravenswood?
- The industrial corridor
- A community of artists
- Malt Row
- The Nature Museum archives
- Where to dine
- …and much more!
This new Sun-Times video series is for visitors and locals alike with hopes that all will be inspired to explore our beautiful city – and maybe even move here.
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 visits Ravenswood
Ravenswood, simply stated, is beautiful. There are stately homes on spacious lots, beautiful tree-lined streets and plenty of amenities that make it a lovely place to live or visit. Beyond just the appealing setting of the North Side neighborhood, what gives Ravenswood a truly unique vibe are the people that live and work there, including a large hub of incredible artisans and craftsman. There’s a lot of “hand-crafted” elements to life in Ravenswood, and that level of care permeates into daily life and shows in the neighborhood.
Ravenswood was built on nearly 200 acres of farmland and woods. A new railroad stop, as mentioned, helped lure residents beyond downtown. So did a getaway resort hotel – the Sunnyside Hotel – where affluent city dwellers could vacation with the hope that they would then decide to build a home in the new “suburb.” However there were a few issues with the new neighborhood, including a lack of sewers and sidewalks.
Luckily, Chicago annexed Ravenswood in 1889 and provided much-needed infrastructure. Electric street cars soon followed; then in 1907 a new ‘L’ stop was put in. Today, Ravenswood has access to several CTA Brown Line stops, buses and the Metra UP-N Ravenswood stop – all making it an easy commute to downtown.
Where is Ravenswood?
I have lost a lot of sleep over you, Ravenswood – specifically over your boundaries.
A lot of passionate feelings endure over whether Ravenswood is within the larger community area of Lincoln Square or vice versa. Then, there’s North Center to the south. And what to do about that stretch of diagonal Lincoln Avenue south of Welles Park – a fabulous corridor full of gastro delights staking claim to the Northman, Bad Apple, Wild Goose Bar, Cho Sun Ok and Half Acre Beer?
It is very well known how charming Lincoln Square is – with its German roots, that Gene’s rooftop on a summer’s day with a brat and beer is nearly heavenly, that Old Town School of Folk Music has great concerts and even gives older folks a chance to learn that musical instrument they always wanted to play – and the list goes on.
Don’t you worry, we’ll get to Lincoln Square coverage someday soon. (Just be sure to subscribe to the Sun-Times to ensure that we do!)
Megan Bunimovich, Executive Director of Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and Community Council, says even in the 1970s there was contention about Ravenswood’s borders. Back in 1958, the Abe Lincoln statue that faces Lincoln Square was installed by the Ravenswood Community Council if that gives you insight on where the local chamber thought the neighborhood extended.
For the purposes of our visit and to call a truce in the friendly neighborhood dispute and my weary brain, let’s just say that Ravenswood’s borders are Foster Avenue to the north, Clark Street to the east, Leavitt Street to the west and Irving Park Road to the south.
Let me also address Ravenswood’s neighbors to the south, North Center – I do see that you consider your northern border designation to be Montrose Avenue. We’ll be sure to address that later down the road, when we cover your neighborhood too!
And yes, I know Google Maps says something totally different. And yes, I know that the official city maps don’t agree either.
If you’re thoroughly confused or flustered, imagine what a business owner feels like if he or she occupies this overlap in neighborhood zones. The Long Room is just one such place.
Open since January 2000, Long Room is on the northern side of Irving Park, just west of Ashland Avenue. Co-owner Jason Burrell is a partner in the comfortable neighborhood tavern. It’s friendly, inviting and open all day – you can get a cup of coffee in the morning, grab delicious biscuit sandwiches at the in-house partner restaurant “The Biscuit Man” and grab a pint of beer from the rotating, playfully crafted beer list.
Burrell is a lot like his bar – an easy-going, friendly guy. So imagine this self-proclaimed people pleaser’s internal conflict when he’s asked what neighborhood his bar is in:
“In the 18 years I’ve been in business, I’ve never been confident about what neighborhood this is,” said Burrell. “Whenever someone asks, I always end up rambling on and on and mention Ravenswood, North Center and West Lakeview until their eyes glaze over with boredom.” But Burrell has come to some peace about the entire geographic matter. “It’s all very confusing to me, but I’m just going to roll with it. Just to cover all my bases, I’m gonna rock a North Center trucker cap and Ravenswood tank top this weekend.”
Ravenswood historian and author Patrick Butler adds, “Where is Ravenswood? At this point, it depends on whether you ask the city, the Ravenswood Community Council, the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce or the Ravenswood Lake View Historical Association. Each has their own boundaries, roughly covering the North Center, Lincoln Square, Albany Park areas – each of which has been claimed by someone to be separate communities at one time or another. In the end, Ravenswood could be considered a geographical expression. Or a state of mind.”
Whatever the boundary’s, what makes Ravenswood so unique is that the people that make it home “also work and play” there. Everything from young hip families to young urban professionals to longtime residents are thriving in this colorful, creative neighborhood.
Ravenswood and the Industrial Corridor
The “Industrial Corridor” that was created by the railroad track and the large warehouse-sized, industrial, production-ready buildings left behind is now a hub for a community of creatives, mixed in with offices, small businesses, restaurants and breweries.
This “creative class” not only creates and works in the neighborhood – but also lives here, investing in multiple ways back to their neighborhood and creating a tight-knit community of support amongst all of the artisans and craftsman – whether they are print makers, iron workers or beer brewers.
Walking in the corridor, it’s hard to tell what might be going on behind the doors of all the individual studios and shops. One of the easiest ways to see behind the walls and connect with the artists themselves is to attend the Ravenswood Art Walk.
Held in September, Ravenswood Art Walk (RAW) celebrates more than 300 artists and niche manufacturers with specific focus on the talents found in the Industrial Corridor. The festival has grown to include music, beer and food trucks.
One niche manufacturer in the corridor is the husband and wife team behind Manifold. Ross and Elizabeth Fiersten create fine crafted metal works from furniture to accessories. They also create sculptures and sculptural components for a famous local artist that shows his work around the world.
The natural beauty and residential feel drew them to Ravenswood.
“A lot of people walk around, so we really wanted to get a space that people could see what we’re doing from the outside. We’re making work; we’re putting it outside so people will be curious about it,” said Elizabeth. “A lot of these buildings are zoned for manufacturing, so we can do manufacturing but still have a street presence and engagement.”
I can hear the saws, torches and work happening in the studio. Sparks fly steps away from completed sculptural lamps and coffee tables. The Fierstens’ commute consists of a few steps from studio to showroom, and they appreciate that they aren’t isolated from the hustle and bustle of life that usually describes the neighborhoods where manufacturing happens.
Ross describes looking out of former studio windows and seeing just “concrete and darkness.” In Ravenswood, friends and neighborhood kids pass by their storefront and fellow artists stop by.
“It’s a super special opportunity to have this intersection between manufacturing, a great neighborhood. It’s beautiful, has great transportation,” said Ross. “One of those few places in Chicago that you can do this kind of work, and be steps away from a great cafe and great restaurant and train line.”
Chicago Glass Collective
Whether you’re a working artist looking for a professional studio or just a beginner, Chicago Glass Collective allows for drop-ins or yearly memberships. For a flat yearly fee, you can gain access to studio space including discounts on classes and supplies. There are torches, kilns and screen printing equipment you can rent.
If you’re just looking for an interesting date night or bonding experience with friends, you can try your hand at making a glass bowl or soldering and hammering out your very own silver bracelet.
Otis the shop dog is reason enough to stop by the DEFY Bags show room and studio. He’s an incredibly friendly giant Bernese Mountain Dog.
The showroom isn’t visible from the sidewalk in the Industrial Corridor, but founder Chris Tag welcomes visitors five days a week. In fact, he has fully stocked fridge of beer for when you stop by to check out his showroom and prototype design center.
After seeing a hole in the men’s market for more unique and durable bags, he taught himself how to sew via YouTube videos and bought an industrial sewing machine. About two months later, riding on the train, a fellow passenger asked to buy one, and Tag was “off to the races.”
Tag is a former advertising art director and speaks with precision, at a quick pace. When asked what made his bags so special, he answered without hesitation. “In a nutshell, we overly engineer everything. A lot of people did the race to the bottom – cheaper manufacturing, cheaper materials, cheaper buckles. We went the opposite route. We find the most durable materials, the strongest zippers, the best buckles, and we manufacture all in the U.S.”
His bags start at around $200 but include the “best buckles” – imported buckles from Austria that are used by the U.S. Special Forces and hold a thousand pounds each.
When asked why Tag loves having his business in Ravenswood, he answered, “It’s vibrant, it’s creative, it’s collaborative, it’s awesome.”
Andres Bautista runs Century Mallet. Bautista is a soft-spoken man with long curly black hair and full beard. He’s a lot younger than I expected. Honestly, I was expecting someone ancient.
As soon as you step into his studio in the Deagan building, you’re transported to part museum, part steampunk workshop and instrument graveyard. A musician and technician, Bautista’s always busy working but takes the time to tell you about his craft – humbly, like it’s no big deal – like he’s a dime a dozen.
It’s a full service repair shop for mallet percussion instruments – small bells or dinner chimes to chimes in symphony orchestras to xylophones, marimbas, vibraphones. He states matter-of-factly that he does everything from small repairs and tuning to big repairs and full restoration. “Something that looks like it should be in a garbage dump to something that looks like it’s on stage,” said Bautista.
The really cool thing about Bautista is that he took the business over from the founder Gilberto Serna who opened the shop in 1980. Serna worked for J.C. Deagan and was taught the trade by Deagan master tuners. The entire Deagan building was dedicated to the building of mallet percussion instruments. “All the raw materials would come in from the bottom floor and they would work their way up to the top, depending on what instrument it was,” said Bautista. “The biggest instrument Deagan made were carillon or tower chimes going anywhere from 200 to 700 pounds for each chime … to the smallest instrument which is a basic tuning bar.”
When asked if he’s an “endangered species,“ Bautista doesn’t bat an eye and with a sense of humor acknowledges he’s “one of about four or five” that do his specific work in the country.
A community of artists
Ravenswood has become a hub for old school printmakers, screen printers and letter press with several independent storefronts. There are many more printers that share studios, along with the newly anointed printers trained at Lillstreet (more on that under Lillstreet Art Center).
ORK Posters is known for typographic neighborhood maps, and founder Jenny Beorkrem celebrated ten years of business in 2017.
“A lot of us ended up here because the industrial buildings help, we have these big presses that we have to worry about getting in and out of the space, so the buildings work for us. And we like to be near each other,” said Beorkrem.
Why the surge in popularity with handmade posters and stationery? Beorkrem has a simple answer in that everyone wants access to art ownership. “It’s artistic quality and it’s not at the price point of fine art. It’s a little more affordable and approachable.”
By the way, ORK sells more than 20 map posters for cities in the U.S. and around the globe. Chicago buys double the number of neighborhood posters in comparison to the other maps she stocks. Does that say something about our neighborhood pride or what?
Starshaped Press has a motto: “Printing like it’s 1929 since 1999.” Founder Jennifer Farrell is dedicated to the original craft of letterpress working with antique metal and wood type. She crafts everything from stationery to business cards to sleeves for music cd’s and records.
a. Favorite design founder Amber Favorite has three presses, including one from 1913 which is hand fed. Each is given a name, and she and her team create really charming greeting cards for every occasion. My personal favorites include inspirational quotes from Chicago-faves President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Also, she has a selection of Chicago-themed “hometown pride” stationary and even a calendar.
Jim Pollock’s business, Pollock Prints, focuses on linocut printmaking. A linocut is a type of relief print. His posters are made by carving a linoleum block and hand pressing each, where the paper is “stamped” with ink from the top surface of the plate, similar to woodcut printmaking (except instead of wood blocks, it’s linoleum blocks).
He’s been at it for more than 30 years, and his posters sell out quickly! Known for his Phish and other music band posters, he has posters featuring cartoons to political commentary to ones that are perfect as a congratulations or birthday gift splurge.
Lillstreet Art Center
If you want to learn or try your hand at printmaking or any number of artistic or crafty endeavors, look no further than Lillstreet Art Center.
Founded in 1975, the center moved to Ravenswood in 2003 and now boasts more than 20 classrooms with a variety of classes – from drawing to ceramics to jewelry making to metal smithing to textiles and photography.
There are education programs for children, and some for the entire family. Plus, there are artist residences (you can rent a studio if you’re already a working artist), exhibitions and special events.
And if you’re hungry, the non profit First Slice will satisfy your savory and sweet cravings. Supporting them also helps to support their mission to help feed the needy and homeless, which they’ve been doing for more than a decade. Order everything from soup, salad, a tilapia wrap or a green vegetarian lasagna. Oh yeah, don’t forget about the pie!
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum archives
One hidden gem in the Industrial Corridor is the building housing the archives for the Notebaert Nature Museum.
Since 1857, founded by the Chicago Academy of Sciences, the Nature Museum has been studying urban ecology in Illinois and the greater Midwest. The museum is located in Lincoln Park with exhibits and educational programs open to the public, but the collections require a lot of space for storage.
Much to my surprise, the museum’s collections facility and archives have been located in the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor since the late 1980s.
Dawn Roberts, Director of Collections, explained the facility housed their “scientific collections, archives, library, all the staff offices, work stations…including for a number of volunteers, researchers and artists that use the collection.”
The Industrial Corridor is perfect for another type of production – an art form unto itself – craft beer.
A two-mile stretch of the corridor and surrounding area has been deemed “Malt Row” and has its own dedicated website with guidebook and hashtag.
The row boasts the following breweries: Begyle (the first to open in the corridor), Dovetail, Half Acre (some would say in the North Center neighborhood), Spiteful, Empirical (in the Bowmanville neighborhood), Band of Bohemia and the newest member, Urban Renewal. Also, rounding out the group of breweries is Koval Distillery.
“We’ve banded together to call ourselves Malt Row. This industry is more cooperative than competitive. There’s enough beer to go around to all the craft beer drinkers in Chicago. We like being close to each other, cooperating together,” said Hagen Dost, co-owner of Dovetail Brewery.
Dost is a former engineer who worked in the science field for twenty years. He has a joyful spirit, loves his job and finding inspiration in “the mystery of beer” and the process of taking “some very simple ingredients and turning them into something great.”
He enjoys being a part of Malt Row. “Begyle Brewery is 200 feet from us, every once in a while they need to borrow our forklift or we need to borrow their’s or whatever… It’s the brewery equivalent of borrowing a cup of sugar,” said Dost with a chuckle.
Dost along with co-owner, Bill Wesselink, are certified master brewers, cut from the same cloth, who met in beer school in Germany. The name Dovetail references the two brewers – stronger together in their commitment to quality just like a dovetail joint in carpentry – aligned and joined seamlessly without the use of nails.
In June 2018, they will celebrate their two-year anniversary. Employing old-world, traditional methods of brewing found in small family and monk-run breweries in Europe is a labor and time intensive endeavor. For example, Dovetail is devoted to decoction mashing which involves extra steps to cook their mash but brings out more depth of flavor, such as caramel notes.
“We use something called a cool ship which is a big shallow open pan that… improves the clarity and the flavor. We’re making a Belgian style of beer, and we’re making beer in the style of Lambic which is spontaneously fermented beer that uses yeast from the air. So when we leave that beer in the cool ship overnight… All the yeast that, say, the Brown Line brings us gets in and starts fermenting the beer and two to three years later it’s ready,” said Dost with a laugh.
The Brown Line never tasted so good. I can drink the lagers and pilsner all day. They’ve also got a rauchbier, winter bock, a white, dunkelweizen and hefeweizen. And those special bottle releases are coming out now, after being aged for more than a year in oak barrels.
“We want to brew great beer. We want to make a living doing something we love to do every day. We have maddeningly high standards. We work long days but we feel its worth it. And we love what we do. We love coming in here every day,” said Dost.
Founders Robert and Sonat Birnecker decided to say goodbye to their life of academia and open Koval Distillery in 2008. Koval has the distinction of being the first distillery to open in Chicago since the mid-1800s.
Taking inspiration from Robert’s Austrian family, the distillery embraces grain-to-bottle methods, making organic spirits from scratch and using only the “heart” cut of the distillate. What’s the “heart” cut? If refers to the most prized stage of distillation (heads, hearts, tails) when the liquor is of highest purity and has the best, aromatic flavor.
Priding themselves on marching to the beat of their own drummer, the name Koval means “blacksmith” in many Eastern European languages and “black sheep” in Yiddish.
Koval has tours and classes on cocktails and whiskey workshops. (For more on this Ravenswood distillery, check out the Sun-Times’ “Food We Love” story.)
The first Michelin-starred brewpub
Band of Bohemia co-founders, Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar, have accomplished resumes, including stints with Thomas Keller (in Carroll’s case) and with Grant Achatz (for both) to name a few.
In 2011, they started looking for a brewpub location. After several years of trying to find the right spot and having viewed upwards of twenty or so places, they found themselves touring one more that wouldn’t work in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Frustrated, they plopped down on the hill near the Metra train tracks and saw a small “for lease” sign on a dark, hulking building on an often overlooked stretch of the corridor.
“We peeked inside the window and said, ‘Man, this looks like a 5 to 6,000 square foot wide open space. And that’s what we were looking for … Michael’s sketches had this vision for a big cavernous space. And for me, being on the floor all night long, I wanted to be able to see the floor,” said Sindelar, who serves as Director of Operations.
In November 2015, they opened their doors. A year later, they were the first U.S. brewpub awarded a Michelin star. They managed to keep the star in 2017.
“We always said that we would work with a Michelin star mindset. That’s the style that we know, but it wasn’t an intention. It was just a blessing,” said Sindelar.
So how do two fine dining expats decide to open a brewpub?
“People always take beer for granted – and why? Beer has such great pairings with food. A lot of people don’t know that even beer and desserts are great together… So why not beer?” said Carroll, who is Head Brewer.
“We do the odd beers; we do the ones that are more specifically food friendly. The nice part of Malt Row is … If you don’t like what we do, it’s fine; we get it. Half Acre’s just down the street. Begyle’s down the street. If you want a really cool lager, go to Dovetail. Want to go a little more north, go to Empirical,” said Carroll. “Everybody kind of has their own niche. Nobody’s copying one another.”
The food is created for the beer, so Chef Ian Davis has meetings and tastes all the beer, collaborates and creates. Davis is an alum of Jean Georges, Union Cafe and Momofuku. He’s been at the helm at Band of Bohemia since June 2017.
When asked what style he cooks, he said “progressive American.” Or did I hear “aggressive American?” Well, it’s food that’s aggressively delicious and as equally delightful to my palate as my brain.
For example, I love the carrot lasagna (the pasta sheets are carrot), which I want to go back to inhale again. There’s the “eggs on eggs” – the most perfectly, fluffy French omelette topped with caviar and brown butter crumble and whatever iteration of chicken he has on menu – it is always delicious.
For as world class and refined these menu items may seem, the brewpub has a casual vibe. While reservations are recommended, there’s space to walk in, whether you’re having a full meal or just a snack. There’s a long stretch of curved bar and a chef’s table, so you can sit by yourself without feeling cramped.
Brunch has shrimp and grits and French toast. It’s approachable. Davis claims it’s “the best brunch in the city – fun and done right.” I’d have to agree.
He’s a New York transplant but is enjoying the Chicago lifestyle in Ravenswood. “You’re part of the city, but you don’t have to deal with the city nonsense,” said Davis. “It’s close enough, but you’re far away enough.”
Well, Band of Bohemia isn’t a place you want to stay away from for too long, since the menu is always changing.
Ravenswood Insider Tips by Gene Wagendorf III
- Ravenswood has no shortage of sidewalk cafes (Spacca Napoli, Glenn’s Diner, and La Amistad), but there are also some “hidden gem” outdoor spots in the ‘hood. Tiztal Café, The Long Room, The Fireside and Indian Clay Pot all have fantastic back patios that are great for an after-work beer or a quiet afternoon of work.
- Bird watchers and nature enthusiasts might be familiar with the gorgeous Winnemac Park, but few from outside Ravenswood will have spent time at the Montrose Metra Community Gardens. Located along the train tracks on Ravenswood Avenue at Montrose, the gardens are feature raised garden beds, native fruit trees, bee hives, public art, and a serene walking path that almost allows you to forget you’re in the city.
- Prepare to be wowed by ice, any time of year. The Sixth on Lawrence Ave is well-known for its creative, artisan cocktails, but it’s also notable for having an “ice chef!” Using equipment found in only a handful of bars, they produce crystal-clear, air bubble free ice in a variety of exotic shapes and sizes, including ice encased with flowers or action figures, depending on the recipe.
- For dinner on the run, it’s hard to beat the guest food trucks at the Farmers Market. The market runs Wednesday evenings from 4-8pm at 4900 N Damen Ave, just a block from the Damen Brown Line station. Pro tip: If you’re driving, take advantage of free parking down the street at Winnemac Park.
Wagendorf is Associate Director of the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.
Local bars and taverns
If you’re looking for a neighborhood tavern to quench your thirst, you’ll find plenty of options in Ravenswood.
Speaking of options, the Fountainhead features a rotating draft list of 40 beers and offers 200 bottles and cans! It has a ton of beer events where you can keep up on beer knowledge and taste the newest release. Plus, sharable snacks to a full meal and a nice rooftop beer garden.
O’Shaugnessy’s has been the favorite local Irish bar in Ravenswood since 2008. Serving a menu of Irish favorites like curry and chips to a full Irish breakfast, it has an entire page full of daily specials for every day of the week. Of course, you’ll get a wide range of Irish whiskey to wet your whistle as well.
Scot’s proudly claims to be an easy going neighborhood gay bar with darts and a jukebox. There’s no food but great cocktail specials, including Tuesday martinis for $6.50. Scot’s is celebrating 20 years in business, so it’s definitely working!
Other local taverns include recently opened Wolcott Tap featuring wings and burgers. There are plenty of screens to watch the game and it’s corner real estate lends itself to good people watching.
Gio’s boasts plenty of screens to watch your favorite game and serves brunch, lunch and dinner.
Another sports bar is the Rail Bar and Grill which boasts wing specials for 50 cents on Mondays and Thursdays.
If you’re looking for a late night spot that stays open until 4 a.m., then head over to local dive Oakwood 83. The later it gets, the busier it gets, but if you get there early, sometimes it can feel like you have the whole place to yourself which isn’t a bad thing.
Where to dine in Ravenswood
If you love breakfast all day, then you’re in luck in Ravenswood. While brunch is known for weekend leisure, there are hard core breakfast fans that want eggs and a waffle midday during the week.
I have eaten at all five of these restaurants for breakfast and I love them all: Bang Bang Pie, Marmalade, Maiden Voyage Cafe, Over Easy Cafe and Glenn’s Diner.
Michael Ciapciak’s Bang Bang Pie opened in Ravenswood in the summer of 2016 to the delightful glee of residents and fans of the Logan Square original. Get your biscuit sandwich and pie fix here. You already know it’s good.
Marmalade is kid friendly and large enough to actually bring your entire family. Plus, there’s a patio. And it serves waffles, French toast and pancakes too. It’s usually hard to find all three on one menu.
Maiden Voyage Cafe takes great care in sourcing its food locally and gives back to the community through initiatives like “cupcakes for a cause” – where proceeds from a featured cupcake will go to a local charity. Last I went, it was also, BYOB. So just bring the sparkling and vodka and make your own breakfast refreshments there. It’s an intimate space – a half dozen tables inside – but there is a patio when the weather is nice with a view of the cafe’s outdoor bright and cheery mural.
Over Easy Cafe enjoys a cult following, celebrating its ten-year anniversary in 2017. It’s known for breakfast, from “sassy” (pork chorizo-jalapeño-red pepper-potato hash, cheese, ancho ketchup, sour cream and guacamole) to “frazzled” eggs (scrambled served over fried bologna with spicy maple mustard), and incredible selections of pancakes and French toast. But don’t forget – they serve lunch as well!
Glenn’s Diner is known for its huge selection of fresh seafood and a fun cereal display behind the bar, but Glenn’s also serves breakfast all day. I mean what can’t they do!? In case you didn’t know, you can find “all you can eat” Alaskan king crab legs on Tuesdays and “you-peel-them” shrimp on Thursdays. Also, I’m a huge fan of their broccoli as a side – it’s never overcooked, bright and green. The small things are important.
Coffee shops include favorite Spoken Cafe, under the Montrose Brown Line stop. There, you’ll find a menu with clever names for their sandwiches with creative ingredients. For example, “The Magical Mystery Mere” has turkey, goat cheese, apples, caramelized onions, smoked chili paste, balsamic dressing and baby spinach on Rosemary focaccia. I heard they have a great veggie sandwich that will satisfy even non-vegetarians.
Perfect Cup is close to the Damen Brown Line stop. It’s a bright space with plenty of room to work on your computer and also grab a sandwich or pastry.
One block north of Perfect Cup on Damen, is one of three Groundswell Coffee Roasters locations in the city. Groundswell has a delicious breakfast sandwich which they heat in a panini press made with fluffy scrambled eggs, ham, cheddar cheese and sriracha aioli. I do ask for it to be given an extra turn in the press since I like it super toasty and melted.
Lunch, dinner and more
Many consider Spacca Napoli one of the best examples of authentic Neapolitan style pizza, and dough is made fresh every day.
Another longtime local favorite is River Valley Farmer’s Table. It’s like an indoor farmer’s market with a fantastic selection of locally sourced goods. There’s a bakery, deli counter and cafe that features the incredible mushrooms from the River Valley Farm in Wisconsin. They haven’t used chemicals on their mushrooms or vegetables since they started the farm in 1976.
If BYOB is your thing, you have French and Italian options. Head over to Caro Mio for casual, home-style Italian. Grab a bottle of wine and head to French bistro Chez Simo. They have a prix fixe early dining menu from 5PM to 6:30PM for just $27.
Bien Me Sabe features Venezuelan cuisine with a really great cheerful ambience and an outdoor patio. Order arepas, empanadas, or a larger entree pabellón (shredded beef, beans, and plantains) but definitely end with the namesake dessert. Bien Me Sabe translates to “tastes good to me” but is also the name for a Venezuelan coconut cream cake. It also has the endorsement of many expat Venezuelan baseball players.
Near Bien Me Sabe, there’s ORD Pizza and Urban Vegan. ORD reminds me of New York Style pizza but crispier and thicker. It takes a while because the pizzas are made to order from high quality ingredients. They have creative toppings and fun names after TV characters. For example, “Uncle Jesse” has crumbled beef meatball, green bell peppers, cremini mushrooms and fresh basil.
Urban Vegan is getting a lot of local buzz and good ratings. It’s vegan Thai food and every time I drive by it, it’s usually buzzing with customers.
There are a lot of Thai choices in Ravenswood. CoCo Vietnamese near Ashland and Lawrence is a good no-frills stop for a banh mi and pho.
Under the Irving Park Brown Line stop is Always Thai, a BYOB casual spot with bubble teas.
Mad Love is from Anna Abbey who was behind the popular farmer’s market favorite Rock n Roll Noodle Company. Its decor is hip and fun. It’s a small space but with good music and pops of bright color. The food feels elevated with a modern twist.
Shanghai Inn has been serving up General Tso’s chicken in generous portions since the 1960s. It’s nostalgic and good.
Budacki’s Drive-in has changed ownership over the years and is now owned by the same family behind Crisp. Now, you can get your hot dog fix but also satiate your chicken wing and Korean bulgogi (grilled bbq beef) craving.
If sushi is what you’re hankering for, head over to Fin Sushi Bar on Wilson or Nami Sushi Bar on Montrose. They’re both pretty straight-forward, casual neighborhood sushi spots. Fin has a really lovely sidewalk patio space.
Dessert at Margie’s Candy‘s second location on Montrose is always a sweet way to end an evening. Share an old fashioned banana split and sit outside on the patio – something the original location on Western Avenue, established in 1921, doesn’t have.
My Five Favorite Things by Dan Gaughan
- The transformation of the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor over the last decade with new restaurants, start-ups and other small businesses now occupying renovated former industrial spaces mixing in with the legendary industrial companies that still operate along the corridor.
- The Ravenswood Art Walk every fall is the ONLY time you can see the inside of some classic industrial buildings along the corridor that are normally not open to the public.
- Lunch, Brunch or Dinner at Glenn’s Diner on Montrose followed by some “Deelissshh” dessert across the street at Margie’s Candies at Montrose and Ravenswood – two TRULY local legendary Ravenswood experiences!
- River Valley Farmer’s Market on Wilson Avenue where everything there is all locally sourced. It’s a Ravenswood institution!
- Ravenswood 5K Race every April which brings 3,500 runners on a course through the commercial and residential streets with turn of the century classic homes and architecture. Proceeds help fund the local food pantry.
Where to shop in Ravenswood
The Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and Ravenswood Community Council was established in 1958. It does a great job keeping the neighborhood website up to date. Besides the Ravenswood Art Walk, check out the many events which are great if you are looking to stock up on unique and handmade gifts for the holidays and special occasions.
They sponsor a Mother’s Day Gift Market, Small Business Saturday and Unwrap Ravenswood. There’s also a Taste of Ravenswood foodie event and Ravenswood on Tap street fest in the summer.
There are a lot of unique furniture and home decor shops that deserve a special mention.
One you may be familiar with is Architectural Artifacts. Founded in 1987, it now encompasses 80,000 square feet of space connected with catwalks and open ceilings. It’s a beautiful place to get lost in and explore while looking for that one antique or unique collectors item to finish a look in your home.
District Furniture Market carries a range of vintage and restored mid-century furniture. It’s also a workshop where you can take that treasured chair to be refurbished or refinished.
Next door to District, is home accessory heaven, Alapash New Home. The shop has a splendid selection of terrariums – small and large. It also has beautiful imported blankets, rugs, ceramics, wall hangings and alpaca throws.
Nadeau Furniture with a Soul has locations across the country but the Chicago storefront finds its home in Ravenswood. It specializes in Indonesian and Indian furniture and accessories. (And at reasonable prices, if you are furnishing that first apartment but want something to last.)
One of my personal favorite stores is Neighborly boutique. It’s from the same owner of ORK posters. It carries housewares and curated locally made goods. It’s a go-to if you’re looking to buy a local gift.
Sailor Boutique is the showroom for local fine jewelry designer Sarah McGuire. Her jewelry is sold all over the country but she now has a location in Ravenswood to showcase her full range of jewelry. Each piece of jewelry is crafted by hand and utilizes recycled gold and sterling metals, sometimes mixing it with linen, leather, rough gemstones and diamonds. She also does custom and one-of-a-kind commissioned pieces. Sailor also carries a variety of other jewelry designers curated by McGuire and gifts like books, candles and ceramics.
Midori Market is truly a hidden gem, a delightful shop showcasing locally made, fair trade and environmentally conscious goods. It also repairs watches and jewelry – many customers have followed the owners from their days running Frank’s Jewelry – a beloved spot on Clark Street, in business for 66 years, in Lakeview. Cousins, BJ Fukawa and Cheryl Kato’s shop is inside the Ravenswood Fellowship United Methodist Church, built in 1872. They are only open from Thursday to Sunday.
If you’re looking for a local shop that caters to your pooch or cat, head over to 4 Legs. It’s eco-friendly and has fantastic customer service, that even includes a delivery service!
Urban Pooch Canine Life Center is a heavenly place for man’s best friend – from everything from day care to boarding, including pick-up and drop-off service. It also offers massage services including reiki for your pet and you an schedule portraits with a professional pet photographer. Talk about pampered!
Other shops worth checking out include Turin Bicycle (started in 1965 and in Ravenswood since 2013), Rock N Roll Vintage (vintage guitar shop with extensive pedal collection), Cloud and Bunny (new luxury and consignment apparel for baby and kids), Hazel (open since 2011, with a curated selection of clothes for both men and women) and Sfizi Boutique (truly unique shoes and even a roving shoe van for parties). Green Machine Cycles is a bicycle shop on Montrose with a weekly club ride and other events.
Amy’s Candy has a great selection of nostalgic and imported candies. Plus, the store makes small batch, hand-crafted caramels and confections perfect to gift friends with a sweet tooth or bring as a host gift to a party.
Tuscan Hen is popular at Green City Market but has a brick and mortar store in Ravenswood near Damen and Irving Park. It has an incredible selection of homemade pastas (from pesto to bolognese), sauces and pizza dough you can buy and take home. If you need a quick snack and coffee, they have great sandwiches and salads.
Ravenswood Used Books is next door to the boutique Neighborly. It’s a fabulous book store with room to sit and read a spell. It’s wonderful to talk to the knowledgeable staff and owners who always have a great suggestion on what your next read should be.
Things to do in Ravenswood
Winnemac Park has a beautiful campus (prairie garden, nature trail, softball fields, soccer field) and encompasses around 40 acres. The park has several youth programs that include basketball, table fun and games, soccer, Cubs Care rookie baseball, and summer day camp. There’s a swimming program as well, held at Amundsen High School.
If you’re a runner, you can sign up for the Ravenswood 5k. The proceeds from the run go to help local Ravenswood charities.
If you’d like to explore Ravenswood architecture and historical sites, head to the Ravenswood Lake View Historical Association website. Don’t miss the self-guided walking tour of Old Ravenswood to plan your day visit around. Be sure to take special note of poet Carl Sandburg’s home on N. Hermitage where he wrote the poem “Chicago.”
One of the stops includes the All Saints Episcopal Church – an historical landmark. The architect of the church, John Cochrane, later went on to win the competition to design the new Illinois State Capitol building in 1867.
A lot of theaters make their home in Ravenswood – Eclipse (this theater presents the works of one playwright each season), Hypocrites (award winning company that focuses on contemporary works), Barrel of Monkeys (a 20-year non profit that focuses on children ages 7-13, creating an alternative learning environment where they can express themselves) and Imagination Theater (celebrating 50 years, an award-winning, touring troupe that helps audiences explore complex issues in a safe environment). Many of their performances do not grace any of the stages in Ravenswood but are worth checking out if you’re looking to engage in classes or want to participate in social theater programs.
Ravenswood is a beautiful neighborhood that’s only enhanced by artists, craftspeople and neighbors who live there. What makes it so special are the people who live there – and also work and play there to a degree that doesn’t happen in other neighborhoods. It’s a doubling-down on investment in the neighborhood in a real, palpable, “handmade” way.
I hope you enjoyed our travel guide to Ravenswood and will use all of the information here to go explore this interesting part of the north side of Chicago. Please check out our other neighborhood guides as well! See you next time on The Grid!
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!