The Grid: Exploring the Rogers Park neighborhood
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Welcome to the “The Grid,” the Chicago Sun-Times in-depth look at Chicago neighborhoods.
Today’s stop: Rogers Park.
Located along Lake Michigan about nine miles from downtown Chicago, this neighborhood is one of the most highly populated and most diverse in the city, with residents from more than 80 countries speaking some 40 different languages. It’s the northern-most neighborhood in the city and on its eastern side Rogers Park hugs Lake Michigan resulting in a series of wonderful beaches.
In this episode of The Grid, we’ll give you all the information you need to visit Rogers Park.
Our story includes:
- The history of Rogers Park
- Hidden beaches to explore
- Things to do and special events
- Places to eat, drink and shop
This story on Rogers Park 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 our Sun-Times audience team to help provide you with the most current and meaningful information about the important and best things to do in each neighborhood.
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 Rogers Park
After suffering through a long winter, it just seems wrong to ever complain about the heat in summer. But where do you go, when the temperatures are soaring and you want to cool off but without all of the brouhaha that comes along with a trip to one of our more popular, crowded city beaches?
Far North Side neighborhood Rogers Park boasts 10 “hidden” beaches, easily accessible by public transportation and with more room to spread out if you’re looking for a more chill vibe.
The borders of Rogers Park include Devon Avenue to the south, Ridge Avenue to the west, Howard Street to the north and, of course, the lakefront to the east and the resulting “hidden” beaches.
It’s geographically a lot of ground to cover, but smaller pocket hubs of businesses, entertainment and restaurants have developed near the various L train stops throughout the neighborhood and along the beach corridors.
Transportation is easy with access to four L stations including Loyola, Morse, Jarvis and Howard stations. Along with the Rogers Park Metra stop, there are plenty of CTA buses.
Besides the vibe that the street-end beaches give to the neighborhood, there’s a lot of green space, parks and tree-lined streets. There are beautiful bungalows, stately homes and new development as more people are drawn to the community that boasts a diversity of culture.
Rogers Park is also a college community with Loyola University Chicago anchoring the southeast corner. The university brought Rogers Park to national attention during the Ramblers’ Cinderella run in the NCAA tournament in 2018 with journalists all over the country descending on Gentile Arena.
The history of Rogers Park
The Treaty of Saint Louis in 1816 resulted in representatives of Native American tribes of the Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi relinquishing land near the Chicago River — a deal I’m sure the U.S. government benefited from exponentially, while the Native Americans were bilked. (For a comprehensive plunge into the treaty, I’d direct you to the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society and the Chicago History Museum.)
Irish immigrant Philip Rogers bought 1,600 acres of land the U.S. government gained through this purchase, mostly from the Pottawatomi people. Upon Rogers death in 1856, his son-in-law Patrick Touhy continued the family’s real estate business and subdivided much of the land.
Rogers Park was incorporated as a village in 1878 and then annexed into the city in 1893. Around 1896, a rivalry began between Rogers Park and its neighbors to the west in West Ridge called “The Cabbage War.”
There were a lot of differences — philosophical and socio-economic — between the neighbors that contributed to the growing divide.
Rogers Park was dry, while West Ridge allowed booze and taverns. Rogers Park residents seemed snooty, while West Ridge residents were mostly farmers (many grew cabbage). This cultural divide came to a (cabbage) head over competing proposals for tax dollars to fund parks in the respective neighborhoods.
Rogers Park wanted a park along the lake and West Ridge wanted parks on both sides of Ridge Avenue (where they could easily access them). There was a campaign (that involved some cabbage symbolism, like decorating carriages with cabbages for the West Ridge folks) and a few scuffles (that involved verbal threats and throwing of things- perhaps a few cabbage heads) but eventually West Ridge won the vote… although eventually a park along the lake was also built.
The true winners of the Cabbage War? Obviously, the residents who, in present day and past, have enjoyed the plethora of parks in both neighborhoods. (Don’t worry West Ridge, we will be sure to feature you soon, as well!)
In 1908, the city extended the Red Line from Wilson to Evanston, which added four stops in Rogers Park. And a few years earlier, Loyola University Chicago was founded. With easily accessible transportation and a university, Rogers Park attracted more businesses, theaters and nightlife.
After World War II, many families moved to the suburbs — documented in many neighborhoods of Chicago during this time period. Many of the stately homes and mansions were subdivided into apartments which created more housing. Along with more affordable housing and business opportunities, and the void left by residents leaving for the suburbs, an influx of immigrants from Africa, Mexico and Asia found new homes in Rogers Park.
Things only a Rogers Park insider would know by Jennifer Clark
Jennifer Clark lives in Rogers Park and works for Loyola University Chicago.
- Don’t move to Rogers Park for easier street parking!
- They may not be shiny and new, but many Rogers Park restaurants have surprising street cred and tremendous food. Examples include Taste of Peru, Bop-N-Grill and Aunty Joys.
- It’s a college town! Nearly 40% of Loyola University’s employees live in the area and about 5,000 alumni in addition to 15,000+ current students.
- It’s authentically cool. Rogers Park is actually made up of artists, activists, writers, musicians, intellectuals, and weirdos. It’s Chicago’s answer to Austin or Berkeley, yet many people don’t know about it.
The beaches of Rogers Park
There’s nothing quite like waiting out (or should I say suffering through) a Chicago winter. What makes summertime so special to Chicagoans is the fact we’ve all earned it!
Rogers Park has easily accessible, unique street-end beaches. And thank your lucky stars because all beaches weren’t initially open for public consumption back in the day!
“What’s unique about the beaches in Rogers Park that’s different from other areas is that you don’t have to cross Lake Shore Drive to get to the beach. Lake Shore Drive doesn’t come this far. It ends at Hollywood. So in Rogers Park, every beach is a community street that opens up to the beach,” said Sandi Price from Rogers Park Business Alliance. “So there are single family homes, apartment buildings, condos on a street. And you walk down a street and you keep going east until you hit the grass, the sand and the beautiful water of Lake Michigan.”
The city renamed Jarvis Beach to Marion Mahony Griffin Beach in 2015 to honor the architect who designed the Australian capital, Canberra. This is one of Rogers Park’s smaller beaches and an easy walk from the Jarvis Red Line stop.
Helen Doria Beach, also known as Columbia Beach, is another of Roger Park’s hidden beach gems. It offers a great view of downtown without the crowds.
Some other beach highlights include North Shore Beach’s pier. Another fun activity is to go kayaking at Leone Beach which features a kayak launch.
Loyola Park Beach is now home to the El Campeon Pina Colada Beach stand. There’s nothing that says beach more than sipping a refreshing drink from a pineapple. (There was a very popular crepe stand here in the past, but now it’s all about the refreshing piña colada!)
Also, at Loyola Beach there’s a 600 foot lakefront mural painted by the community every year. In its 25th year, held each summer over Father’s Day weekend, neighbors of all ages come together to collaborate on the 600-foot mural on the sea wall at Loyola Park Beach between Farwell and Morse Avenues.
The Artists of the Wall Festival began as a way to combat graffiti on the sea wall and became a way to celebrate community and creativity. The mural remains until the following May when it is whitewashed and prepped for the next group of participating artists. The Loyola Park Advisory Council is composed of volunteer residents and organizes various programs throughout the year at the beach park.
Since 2003, conservation efforts have been made to restore the dunes on this stretch of Loyola Beach. There are 5.9 acres of native dune habitat. Native plant species and wildlife are returning, and highlights for nature lovers include spotting nesting shore birds. The marram grass is a natural and effective answer to the erosion threat that faces many of our beaches.
There’s plenty of manicured sandy beach at North Shore Beach to stretch out a nice spread and hang out with friends. Hartigan Beach has a playground near by and Tobey Prinz Beach (also known as Pratt Beach) has nearby tennis courts.
Juneway Terrace, Howard and Rogers Beaches will be undergoing some repair this summer as a result of damage from higher water levels and winter storms.
Where to eat and drink
You can travel the globe by just walking along Clark Street in Rogers Park. On Clark from Howard Street to Devon Avenue, you can find over forty ethnic, multicultural cuisines, from halal to kosher, from African to South American. This diversity is celebrated during the Taste of Clark Street festival in October.
This section of Clark Street is home to Touhy Park, Pottawattomie Park and the LGBTQ-focused Gerber/Hart library and archive. In addition, a number of businesses line the street. One of those shops has an eighty-year history, having even moved storefronts from one side of the street to the other. Robert’s Cycle is still in business and a go-to for the neighborhoods bicycle needs!
This section of Clark is primarily Latino with a plethora of panaderia and paleteria shops. Some of my favorites include restaurant Cuetzala Gro. It’s straight-forward and a casual neighborhood favorite. El Pecado Mexican is another go-to for casual easy fare. For seafood, I’d recommend El Pulpo Loco Restaurant.
At the northern end of this strip of international eats on Clark is Ethiopian Diamond II — a follow-up to the much beloved original location in Edgewater. The Rogers Park location is open later. The communal style of eating in a group with your hands, using injera (spongy textured flat bread) to scoop up shared stewed meats and veggies is a fun, bonding affair to share with friends.
As you travel south on Clark there’s Qaato Halal Restaurant serving Nigerian cuisine, local favorite Denden serving homestyle Eritrean specialties, and also, there’s authentic Peruvian cuisine at Taste of Peru. Romanian Kosher Sausage Company has been specializing in succulent kosher meats since 1957.
Cesar Izquierdo opened Taste of Peru restaurant in 1998. It’s been a neighborhood cult favorite. It’s byo and despite being in a strip mall, has a cozy and inviting atmosphere. Peruvian food is one of my favorite cuisines because the flavors are influenced by so many parts of the world, including Asia and Africa. As a seafood lover, I tend to gravitate towards the shrimp or red snapper but they are also known for their “lomo saltado” – a Peruvian dish made with sliced beef, hot chiles, and French fries.
One of my absolute favorite restaurants on Clark has what I consider the best biscuit in the city. Smack Dab is a fabulous breakfast and lunch spot that was so popular as a pop-up in the hallway of another bar, they opened a brick and mortar location. They use only non-gmo, organic flours and sugars and locally source ingredients whenever possible. Also, they have gluten-free and vegan options along with the traditional offerings. Try their home made donuts with great coffee, but the biscuit sandwiches are what I dream about. Be sure to try the “Best Seller” biscuit breakfast sandwich. You’ll thank me later.
“It’s a beautiful neighborhood… I love the people. It’s very diverse. in terms of ages, backgrounds, (sexual) orientation, gender identity. This is how Chicago should feel everywhere so I’m willing to put the work in here because the community is so vibrant,” said Smack Dab co-owner and chef Christine Forster. “I want it to be a place where people can come and be themselves. Where they can come and have good, clean ethically sourced food and know that the staff, vendors and community are well taken care of… and bringing in more inclusion in the food industry.”
These are lofty goals and a socially conscious mission but if anyone accomplishes that – it’s Forster!
Near the Morse Red Line stop is another personal favorite Rogers Park Social. It’s a lovely bar with vintage furniture and artistic touches. There’s a lounge area and a bar that you can sit at all day. The cocktails are excellent, dogs are welcome, so are babies and food trucks often pull up in front so you can have a snack while drinking.
Rogers Park, in general, seems like a diverse melting pot. The sense of community and diversity permeates every day life here. It’s very inclusive, everyone is welcome and it’s LGBTQ friendly. Most of the businesses exude this feeling but none more than what I observed at Rogers Park Social. It felt like an utopia of acceptance as I sat among several modern families with adopted babies and dogs in tow.
“Living in the neighborhood for almost fourteen years and understanding the community and how diverse it was, it was really important to me to allow people to meet others that weren’t from the same group,” said Rogers Park Social co-owner Erik Archambeault. “To me, it was always (a goal to) make people talk to each other that maybe wouldn’t always do that naturally.”
If you need something to go for dinner at a byo restaurant, check out Rogers Park Provisions – a very charming shop next door to the bar from the same owners, that has everything you need for a party — from wine to cheese, hostess gifts and unique housewares.
Lifeline Theater is next door to Rogers Park Social. An anchor of the arts for Rogers Park for over 35 years, the theater has developed over 120 world premiere literary adaptations and 16 original plays.
Just north of the Morse stop on Lunt Avenue, is Heartland Cafe. Since 1976, Heartland Cafe has been serving up wholesome food, including inventive, creative vegetarian and vegan options. They have also been serving up their politics, too, unabashedly and have remained vocal in the community.
The current owner is an organic farmer, Tom Rosenfeld, who owns Earth First Farms in Michigan. He took over the cafe from its founders, Michael James and Katy Hogan in 2012. There are juices, smoothies and a grocery shop where you can buy eco-conscious and holistic products (from housewares, vitamins and toiletries) and his organic produce.
“Heartland is so special to the community because it essentially feels owned by the community,” said Rosenfeld. “The neighbors can come together and air out their political ideas and issues together. We endorse candidates, we support issues, hold fundraisers, action events and support progressive political ideals we stand by.”
“Roger Park’s not a place of conformity or labels, people are free to be who they are and we are accepting of whatever identity you choose or are compelled to be,” said Rosenfeld.
Next door to Heartland on Glenwood is Bohemian Theater Ensemble, or BoHo. Since 2003, the 30 seat theater has worked on a mission to challenge convention through bold theater.
Next door, JB Alberto’s has take out pizza and has been a neighborhood staple for over 45 years. They’ve got sandwiches, fried fish and ribs but the thin and deep dish slices to-go are a bargain and worth grabbing and walking to a nearby bar or pub.
Also near the Morse stop is Pub 626 — a casual but roomy bar with plenty of tables for a big group, plus a pool table. On the west side and north of Pub 626, The Glenwood is another casual bar and is dog friendly.
Off the Jarvis Red Line stop is an area called “Jarvis Square.” An anchor of the square is R Public House (pronounced “Our Public House”). Nearby, this little pocket of activity and restaurants is rounded out by Charmers Cafe which serves up Metropolis coffee, ice cream and pastries and there’s also, Luzzat Restaurant which serves up classic Indian fare.
R Public House at 1508 West Jarvis Ave. in Rogers Park. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Near the Howard Red Line stop you’ll find a commercial corridor running east-west from Howard Beach Park to Evanston.
Next door to the theater is Sol Cafe. The cafe has great coffee and small bites, sandwiches and bowls, well-curated desserts and a great cool vibe that you wouldn’t mind settling in for a while and doing some work on your laptop.
The Caribbean American Bakery is a neighborhood favorite and a few doors down, offering up Jamaican baked goods including hardough bread, bulla and totoes. Also, you can’t forget about their meat patties.
Two store fronts over is Lost Eras, a veteran costume and theatrical prop shop. It’s truly a place you can get lost in finding that perfect theater prop or eclectic antique.
Also, right at the Howard stop is Redz Belizean Restaurant which serves Caribbean-Latin influenced cuisine like rice and beans along with tender stewed meats like oxtail.
As you travel west of the Howard stop on Howard Street, the businesses to the north are in Evanston. On the south side of the street the businesses are considered to be in Rogers Park: of special note is restaurant Badou Restaurant which serves Senegalese fare and Buffalo Joe’s (although the website claims affiliation with Evanston) which serves wings, burgers and fast food fare.
At the Loyola Red Line stop there are national chains catering to the college campus but there are a few independent gems as well, including restaurants I Dream of Falafal, Bop n’ Grill and Felice’s Kitchen.
Bruno’s Lounge is close to the stop and is a classic dive bar. It’s a no frills, shot-n-beer joint but there is also a pretty good selection of package goods.
The New 400 Theater is where you can catch a movie. This is a very small, community oriented movie theater. Originally built in 1912 as a vaudeville and movie theater, it was named “400 Theater” in 1930 in reference to a popular term for the “top four hundred people in society.”
The owner of the theater, Tony Fox, said that it’s had various additional names in its history like “Twain” and “Village North.” According to Fox, it’s been continuously operated as a movie theater since 1912 and it’s the oldest movie theater in the country. Fox is committed to affordable prices for the movies and the snacks, inducing beer and cocktails (the first to incorporate a full bar into a movie theater).
“I love it, I’m here every day. It’s really fun. I can go to the movies whenever I want. And contribute to the neighborhood and on Thursday nights we do free events for non profit organizations and we feel like we anchor the community by doing that,” said Fox.
Across from the theater is Armadillo’s Pillow — seller of unusual and quirky books. This bookstore reflects the community and is just as inclusive in their offerings. Along with affordable books they sell incense, charms, ephemera and folk art.
At Lunt Avenue and Sheridan there’s cult favorite XO Marshmallow, where you can get every artisanal flavored marshmallow, gourmet treats like s’mores and hot or iced drinks with marshmallow flavors.
XO was started by co-owners Kat Connor and Lindzi Shanks. Connor has a law degree and Shanks a master’s degree in psychology but each had hobbies that turned into side businesses. Eventually they joined forces and the demand for gourmet marshmallows took them down the path of a brick and mortar store in Rogers Park. It’s a beautiful store and one that energizes you with positivity and very “grammable” photos. Grab a refreshing drink or snack before heading to the beach.
Nearby is Unan Imports where you can source African goods and housewares. Mostly the goods come from Kenya and West Africa and you can find everything from clothes and bags. It’s a hidden gem for highly prized bath products like unrefined shea butter products and African black soap which is great for clearing up impurities in skin.
My favorite things in Rogers Park
Kang Chiu is a Loyola University grad and runs Friends of the Rogers Park Library.
- The Rogers Park Library for its book clubs and other programming.
- Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus is an architectural delight.
- Fung’s Mandarin near the Morse Red Line stop. It is a great place to pick up authentic Chinese Food in the neighborhood.
Chris Bell is the owner of the Flatts and Sharpe Music Store in Rogers Park.
- The Lighthouse is a hidden bar in an apartment complex. The only advertisement is a picture of a light house on an awning outside.
Anthony Mesok is the owner of Bark Place, a pet services store in Rogers Park.
- Loyola Park. A beautiful park and beach. It reminds me a very diverse “Sunday in the Park.” Check out Artists of the Wall and environmentally sensitive area.
- Victorian Homes west of Clark Street.
- You can take the Metra directly to Ravinia and the Botanical Garden.
Public Art and Events
Public art is everywhere in Rogers Park. It seems every time I am walking around, I see something new in the murals I hadn’t seen before. Featured artists range from those that are local to some that come with international acclaim.
In addition to the “Artists of the Wall” at Loyola Park Beach, you can check out the “Mile of Murals” on Glenwood Avenue from Morse to Estes. There are 14 murals along the CTA Red Line tracks running down Glenwood Avenue.
History buffs, especially fans of the infamous Chicago bungalow, might also enjoy the annual house walk. The next one is September 9.
The Glenwood Arts Fest happens every August and features more than 150 artists, open studios, and live entertainment on three outdoor stages.
There is also the Glenwood Sunday Market from June until October. The farmers market is located on southbound Glenwood Avenue between Morse and Lunt in the Glenwood Ave Arts District.
Galleries located in Rogers Park include Greenleaf Art Center, Roger Park Art Gallery and Wedge Projects.
Every June on the same Sunday as Chicago’s Pride Parade, Rogers Park hosts “Pride North” in the Glenwood Arts District. Pride North is a neighborhood Pride party with food, drink and a big focus on dancing.
There is also a Leather Archives and Museum in Rogers Park that celebrates leather, kink and fetish lifestyles through a reading library. They also have an archive for preservation but of course this is only for adult audiences.
As mentioned, Rogers Park can lay claim to being a college-town as well, since it’s home to Loyola University. Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus (Loyola’s main residential campus) also borders the neighborhood of Edgewater to its south. Go Ramblers! (As said earlier, the entire nation was captivated by their 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament run!)
Loyola is the nation’s largest private, Jesuit university. As with Northwestern University in Evanston and University of Chicago in Hyde Park, Loyola brings diversity, vibrancy and a lot of jobs to Rogers Park. In fact, the campus is the largest employer in both Rogers Park and Edgewater. There are over 3,000 students that live on Lake Shore Campus and it serves as the academic campus for over 8,000 students.
Another institution of higher learning was absorbed by Loyola in 1991. Mundelein College was an all women’s college, founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in response to a call by Cardinal George in 1930. For 60 years, the college taught women from a wide variety of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds and was a leader in comprehensive liberal arts education.
Rogers Park’s diverse ethnic background results in a wide variety of observed religions and houses of worship that make their home in the neighborhood.
Just along Devon Avenue (especially as it moves farther west into West Ridge), one can find residents of the Jewish, Hindu and Muslim faith. There are many Jewish synagogues in the neighborhood as the area was settled by many Eastern European Jews escaping persecution. There are several mosques including the North Side Mosque of Chicago and a Sufi center. There are Catholic, Presbyterian, community churches and nondenominational places of worship. And there is also a Hare Krishna temple in the neighborhood.
Rogers Park is a neighborhood that is as beautiful in landscape as in the diversity of its people. Walking through the neighborhood you overhear many different languages, pass by brightly colored public art and have access to green parks and the many street end beaches. It is as much of a vibrant college town as laid-back beach town. With as much outdoor space and nature to explore as there are restaurants with cuisine to take you around the world, it doesn’t lack in things to do. It is as stimulating intellectually, as it is heart-warming with its dedication to diversity and the arts. It’s affordable, welcoming, inclusive – even as a traveler or visitor there’s a sense that you belong. I hope you’ll pay a visit here soon.
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