Alfredo’s Decoration in this low-key neighborhood joint runs toward old beer ads with half-naked women and blow-up maracas with beer logos—except above the bar, where a collection of model ships dominates. There’s no beer on tap, but they do offer a good selection of Mexican brews. Regulars—and they’re pretty much all regulars here—don’t even have to order, the bartenders are so familiar with their favorites.
Blind Robin This bi-level little joint in the former Bar Vertigo is brought to you by the folks behind Lemmings, Underbar, and the Green Eye Lounge. It’s exceedingly welcoming and down-to-earth, and bartenders seem value conscious to a fault, at least one being exceedingly proud of the house box wine. There’s free WiFi and a selection of board games. Cash only.
The Boundary Walking into this place is a bit overwhelming: it’s a huge sports bar, with high ceilings, wall-to-wall plasma TVs, and not-low-enough lighting. Its patrons don’t seem to mind, though—the night I was there, the place was packed with chatty twentysomethings, only half of whom were paying attention to the sports on-screen. There are 27 microbrews as well as 12 beers on tap, and the kitchen stays open until an hour before close, turning out appetizers and munchies, some comfort-food large plates, salads, sandwiches, and nine different burgers.
Celina’s Corner Celina’s is a no-frills corner bar with a Latin flavor, decorated sparsely with year-round Christmas lights, spiky houseplants, and photos of bygone days. That’s not to say there’s any lack of ambience here—some regulars having a bro-down by the pool table were more than happy to chat with a stranger. One gentleman in a sheriff’s jacket advised me to try having sex in a swimming pool before “hinting” that I should marry my drinking buddy. The drinks are cheap but the beer selection’s perfunctory.
Cleo’s This place reads first as a bar, thanks to the TV monitors, dim lighting, and, well, the enormous bar, but there’s also an extensive menu that includes salads, pizza, sandwiches, and entrees plus daily specials during the week, like ten-cent wings on Mondays, $5 pizzas on Thursdays, and a free buffet Saturday nights. Weekend brunch features a Bloody Mary bar, and carryout is available. There’s a good selection of reasonably priced beer, both bottles and draft, including a $3.50 Kirin Ichiban. Most of the walls are covered with murals that don’t seem to follow any particular theme—there’s a large Buddha on one wall, an abstract painting on another, and naked ladies in the bathroom.
Club Foot Bartender/DJ couple Chuck Uchida and Lauree Rohrig opened Club Foot in 1995 in part to house their collection of rock and punk memorabilia: almost every inch of wall space is crammed with T-shirts, band flyers, postcards, action figures, and inflatable toys. Uchida estimates that 85 percent of the stuff is theirs, with the remainder contributed by regulars. There’s a pool table, a pinball machine, and a much-loved Tetris game, and DJs spin on a nightly basis, playing anything from Brit pop to Donna Summer to hard rock (see Music). Drink specials include $2 bottles of PBR four nights a week and $2.50 well drinks on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Easy Bar Owned by the people behind Estelle’s and AliveOne, this modest-size bar tries its best to be swanky. The back room is furnished with black benches and a fireplace filled with candles, but the lights are a little too dim and the loungey furnishings a little over-the-top. Easy Bar has its charms, though: an eclectic jukebox, unobtrusive TVs, and a pool table right up front (and it’s underused, judging from my visit). Cocktails are the specialty here, and they’re strong; most start around $5.
EZ-Inn This dim, cavernous 40-year-old bar doesn’t offer much in the way of beverage selection (a few of the beer taps were hidden under paper-bag sleeves), but it’s got personality. After being buzzed in by the sweet bartender, Lyuba, we were greeted by a wild-eyed mohawked gentleman who loudly proclaimed “I am Hellboy” while brandishing a full bottle of vodka. A few minutes later another patron bought us a round of shots and we were offered the opportunity to buy some tube socks at a very good price. As at seemingly every dive on this strip of Western, Christmas lights were strung above the bar, but here nobody had bothered to turn them on.
The Fifty-50 New three-level sports bar/lounge/restaurant that tries to do a little of everything (see Restaurants for more).
Gold Star Zakopane, Phyllis’ Musical Inn (see Music), and the Gold Star form a triangle of well-preserved pregentrification Ukie Village saloons that have weathered Division Street’s transformation from “Polish Broadway” to hipster strip. Mary Ann Reid, who’s owned and run the place since 1990, says back in the day a previous owner used to shuttle sailors in from Navy Pier to be entertained by young women in the rooms upstairs; a street view ran $3.75 an hour. In recent years Gold Star has adapted to changes in the neighborhood with frequent paint jobs, rotating local artwork, free popcorn, and superfriendly, generous bartenders who continue to entice new generations of drinkers while keeping the dwindling ranks of old-timers happy.
Happy Village The sign outside declares this corner bar “The Happiest Place in East Village.” With board games, Golden Tee, and a Ping-Pong room, it’s a place you could easily pass a few hours reconnecting with your childhood, if that’s what makes you happy, and maybe for this reason it attracts a younger crowd than some of the other neighborhood institutions. It can get pretty packed on weekends, but there’s a beer garden, decorated with Christmas lights and sometimes open even during the winter, with heat lamps to prevent hypothermia. Always popular, it’s likely to be even more so this summer thanks to the smoking ban.
High Dive High Dive is exactly what its name suggests: a higher-end dive bar. Along with a good beer selection, and at least one bartender who’s a real character, it’s got classy touches, like the red-hued decor, which features framed posters from indie rock shows and a couple of booths that can easily seat up to ten. The kitchen’s also a notch above the standard: my grilled cheese was done panini style and my friend raved about her wrap with portobello mushrooms and feta.
Inner Town Pub This hole evolved from one of the area’s many Prohibition-era speakeasies. It retains a muted exterior that gives way to a subterranean-feeling interior full of haphazardly curated clutter—moose head, army helmet, stained glass, sad clowns, dwarves, elephants, Elvis, wooden Indian, etc. Booze is cheap, and there’s a well-regarded music open mike on Thursday and Sunday, but incredibly the place smells worse since the smoking ban.
Innjoy This spacious spot can’t quite figure out what it wants to be. It’s set up like a restaurant (see Restaurants for more), with dining tables lining the walls and a great menu, but it feels like a lounge, owing mostly to the pop-music soundtrack and the armchair-style seats and curtained booths. Either way it’s a pleasant experience: the waitstaff is friendly and the daily drink specials are inviting. Beware the Vodka Banzai, a jumbo vodka and Red Bull that guarantees you’ll wake up with a headache.
J&M Tap This dive bar is beloved by regulars who desperately want to guard it from yuppies and hipsters. But don’t be intimidated by the lack of a sign or a phone number, the scary bouncer, or the threats of surly protective Yelpers. Come for the friendly bartender who proffered her bleach-soaked rag and asked us if it smelled like semen and then mixed us “spa shots” (a delicious combination of Baileys, butterscotch schnapps, and vanilla vodka). Beer specials include $3 pints of 312 and Stella, and there are complimentary pretzel sticks and trashy snacks like Combos and Slim Jims to soak up the booze. Pool table, video slots, and a jukebox that’s all over the map—what more could you want?
Jun Bar The neutral-toned decor of this two-story space is starkly minimalist, and the entire place is spick-and-span. The drinks are on the pricey side ($7 for a call G & T) but well made, and there’s a menu offering appetizers, salads, and burgers. On the first floor the atmosphere is lively, helped along by the bar’s 90s-heavy soundtrack; the music’s more wide-ranging on the second-floor lounge, with lots of house on weekends, when there’s no cover till 11 PM.
Loop Tavern Loop Tavern’s giant arrow sign blinks a few blocks down the street from Alcala’s Western Wear’s rearing horse, pointing the way in to one of the area’s many liquor store/bar combinations. At 8 PM on a Tuesday the wood-paneled bar area was packed to the gills with salt-of-the-earth types sipping cheap beer and whiskey, watching a game, and chatting animatedly as country music played on the stereo.
Ola’s Liquors The neon sign outside Ola’s front door reads zimne piwo—”cold beer” in Polish—and who could ask for more? This dive bar has just two on tap, Old Style and PBR, but they’re dirt cheap at $1.50 per draft. Everyone knows each other here; owner Ola Alexandrev herself kisses many of the regulars on both cheeks as they walk in the door, but even if you’re new to the place, odds are you’ll feel right at home. The bar doubles as a liquor store, stocking mainly whiskeys, vodkas, and cognacs.
Rainbo Club The gorgeous Rainbo is hallowed ground for successive generations of musicians, artists, writers (Nelson Algren among the earliest), and hangers-on, all of whom vie for position on the annual photo-booth calendar—the nonconformist’s equivalent of the high school yearbook, issued every New Year’s Eve. Over the years the reception to new faces has veered unpredictably between warm and chilly, but no matter your position in the hierarchy there’s nothing quite like quaffing a cheap libation in the chill dark, listening to a rigorously tasteful selection of vinyl and peering around for ghosts. The tiny stage behind the horseshoe bar very occasionally hosts a musical act; watch the cases at the front of the bar around Christmas for the annual over-the-top dioramas using owner Dee Taira’s extensive collection of Godzilla and Ultraman toys.
Rite Liquors This 90-year-old “slashie” (liquor store-slash-bar) offers the requisite jukebox and pool table, although both are within range of the truly impressive bathroom funk. But if the smell is worse than at many other bars, the alcohol selection is exponentially better. Hundreds of types and brands of liquor line the wall behind the bar, stacked several shelves high and ranging from Zubrowka bison grass vodka to Woodford Reserve premium bourbon. The place has its fair share of drunks, some more endearing than others: one may sit down next to you and start elbowing you, another may presume to kiss your hand and mutter, “Someday, someday . . .” And unless you’re a regular, prepare to be stared at.
Small Bar This unassuming soccer bar is one of those places you don’t want to leave if you don’t have to. The decor—lava lamps and classic rock photography alongside rally scarves and framed jerseys—is casual and inviting, and the bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable. It’s a good thing too, since Small Bar has a massive beer selection—120 varieties in total. English Premiere League games are broadcast Saturday mornings, when brunch is available. Bands play occasionally, and there’s a DJ every Tuesday.
Stella’s Sports Bar Stella’s—in the space that briefly housed the Empty Bottle in the early 90s—is an interesting hybrid of sports bar, liquor store, and Polish dive. The bar is festooned with Christmas lights, plastic flowers in vases, beer-flag garlands, and cardboard cutouts of Michelob models. Don’t expect to watch the game on a bank of flat-screen TVs—a single tube will have to suffice, along with an uncrowded pool table, a good jukebox, and a pinball machine. Owner Stella Grace herself will be happy to help you navigate the bar’s selection of exotic liquors, which are also available for takeout. Try a shot of Old Krupnik honey vodka with an Okocim beer chaser, or Zubrowka bison grass vodka mixed with apple juice.
Tuman’s Tuman’s once proudly declared its dank dissolution from its front window. But then the neighborhood changed, and the motto previously painted on the glass, alcohol abuse center, was removed so it wouldn’t scare the newbies. Now Tuman’s offers cask-conditioned ale, free WiFi, and turkey-and-Brie wraps, and patrons are well groomed enough to be permitted to drink chardonnay alfresco. These days Tuman’s has about as much character as a cracker factory, and only well-financed alcoholics can do themselves any real damage, what with the stingy pours. Live DJs spin on a regular rotation (see Music).
W Cut Rate Liquors Tinted windows make this place look forbidding from the outside, but inside, with brightly colored walls and balloons hung above the bar, it looks strangely clean-cut for a slashie. The racially and ethnically diverse clientele is mostly male, over 40, and friendly—our neighbor at the bar offered his strong views on a variety of subjects, from the smoking ban in bars (“No smoking. No good.”) to the lack of a pool table (“No pool. No good.”). The bartender’s response to “Got any good cocktails?” was, without hesitation, “You like beer? Not too expensive.” She wasn’t lying: Pabst, the only thing on tap, is $1.25 and bottles of Miller Lite are $2.50. There are also close to a dozen $1 shots, mostly schnapps and cheap tequila.
Zakopane A sign inside says you bet your sweet dupa i’m polish, and Zakopane is indeed the most faithful holdout along the once-great Polish Broadway, serving imported piwo (Zywiec and Okocim), and boasting a jukebox that pits Ryszard Rynkowski against Zeppelin. It’s small, unadorned, unpretentious, open early for clocked-out night-shift workers, and probably a lot more fun if you speak polsku.
Moonshine The menu at this casual, comfortable spot is a collection of the owners’ favorite bar food: burgers, pizza, ribs, and steaks. Freshly mashed guacamole came with red, white, and blue corn chips and a mole-ish dip made of dark roasted chiles. The New York strip sandwich was cooked exactly to order and topped with blue cheese; mushrooms are another option. Co-owners John Sanchez and Chris Storey grew up together in New Mexico, and a southwestern influence comes through in the fajitas with beef, chicken, or shrimp and the chiles offered as a pizza topping or a side with the guacamole. The kitchen’s open till 11:30 nightly, with a late-night menu available till 1 AM.
Rockstar Dogs This hot dog stand from nightclub impresario Dion Antic inhabits a short, narrow, angry red corridor decorated with a pair of wall-mounted guitars and a bunch of framed black-and-whites of rock stars in their native habitats. There’s a stripper pole set up by the front door, and temporary tattoos or guitar picks are given out with each order, perhaps to convince the impaired that they’re getting something of value for price. Rockstar is using Vienna natural-casing beef franks—a fine product—and each order comes with fries and a can of soda. But are they worth $6 or $7? Hell no. They’re just hot dogs, albeit with some above-par toppings—Merkt’s cheese on the J. Timberlake, charred jalapenos on the bacon-wrapped Los Lobos. But put lipstick on a pig and it will still look like a pig. Cash only.
Aki Sushi In a space with an exposed brick wall and fish-stocked fountain, Aki Sushi serves the standard repertoire, with a larger-than-average selection of nigiri. There’s a clear attention to freshness, and while I’m usually skeptical about whimsical maki creations, I was impressed by the White Sox roll—seared spicy tuna, crabmeat, cucumber, and onion wrapped with a tender piece of white tuna and sprinkled with black tobiko. Ponzu sauce overwhelmed the Rainbow Carpaccio—lovely slices of tuna, salmon, and white tuna fanning out from a pile of greens—so that it didn’t taste as stunning as it looked. But when it comes to the basics, Aki does the trick quite nicely.
Bob San Hats off to Bob Bee. Sure, his lounge is the place to be seen washing down your crabby dragon roll with a saketini, but the sushi bar at Bob San is also a haven for people who take their sashimi and sushi seriously. Show a little interest and Bee and his crew will guide you through the day’s best and most unusual catches, presenting them in artful textural combinations and contrasts that don’t distract from their god-given freshness—a face-off between fresh- and saltwater eel, for example, or a plate of engawa, the pale pink and resilient fin muscle of a flounder. In these encouraging circumstances it’s easy to forget what comes from the kitchen: simple, winning dishes like gomae or black cod with miso, a silky and ephemeral piece of fish that melts in the mouth.
Mirai Sushi The ambitious menu at Miae Lim’s stylish sushi and sake bar includes nigiri and maki, daily fish specials, and several unique creations. The sweet hotate salad, for example, is seared scallops served with sauteed arugula in a sweet soy-mustard sauce. And the sakana carpaccio is a nice twist on the traditional Italian version—thinly sliced tuna, salmon, and whitefish garnished with capers, cilantro, and sesame oil. Reader Restaurant Raters laud the food: “Expensive but worth every penny,” says one.
Mon Lung You’ll find all the Chinese-American standards on the vast menu at this longtime East Village restaurant—there are 146 items to choose from, plus a list of lunch specials that literally runs from A to Z. The house specialties are chop suey and Cantonese-style chow mein, but you can also get barbecued ribs or fried chicken wings to go with that fish-tofu soup or Mongolian beef. There’s a private party room available. BYO.
Thai Village Homey, comfortable, classic, dependable . . . all the stock adjectives apply, and yet somehow Thai Village stands out from the crowd. Crab Rangoon is crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside; the traditional Thai curries and noodle dishes are prepared with fresh ingredients, judiciously spiced, and served piping hot in generous portions. BYO.
Alliance Bakery This small bakery turns out a fine selection of delicious offerings: savory croissants, a flaky yet firm kolacky, a nutty six-grain bar to salve one’s conscience. And any chocolate item is rich and wonderful. Strong Intelligentsia coffee and espresso drinks are available, in addition to Naked juices, hibiscus lemonade, and a few upscale sodas. The well-maintained 1930s interior is warm and charming.
Letizia’s Natural Bakery Letizia Sorano opened her bakery and coffee shop ten years ago, shortly after moving from Rome to the States. The “natural” in the name means no bleached flours, hydrogenated oils, or artificial colors or flavors; within these restrictions she regularly makes pies, cookies, biscotti, cheesecakes, and truffles (layers of sponge cake and ganache in flavors like raspberry and white chocolate). Also on the menu are 20 kinds of panini and pizza rustica with toppings including pesto, prosciutto, and kalamata olives.
Sweet Cakes This Ukrainian Village bakery, tucked behind a fence and a yard, offers brioche and croissants in addition to cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and scones. A house specialty is the egg muffin, an Asiago-dusted corn muffin with a boiled egg in the middle. All the packaging is environmentally friendly, and there’s free WiFi.
Couch Bar & Grill Neighborhood bar and grill offering a range of sandwiches, burgers, and bar bites including clam strips, breaded mushrooms, buffalo wings, and cheese fries.
The Fifty/50 This sports bar/lounge/restaurant does a little of everything, but the three levels help to keep the space from feeling like it’s having an identity crisis. The basement level is loungier than the first floor, which is dominated by the bar and plasma-screen TVs and has a sportscast piped into the bathrooms; the top floor is the most restauranty. All the specialty cocktails incorporate beer, though generally not enough that you actually taste it—it seems more like a gimmick than an attempt to improve the drinks. The menu is mostly basics like sandwiches, steaks, and appetizers, with a couple vegetarian choices, and as such it’s pretty successful. “Slider” versions of hamburgers, pulled pork, and a couple other sandwiches are nice options, as are the variety of fries and mac ‘n’ cheese toppings. The kitchen’s open till 1 AM.
Innjoy The sexy room is the main attraction here, with recessed chartreuse lights illuminating the off-white walls and violet lights casting a glow on the black tin ceilings. This place caters mostly to late-night drinkers or low-budget diners. There’s barely an item over $8: a few appetizers, several salads, and a large variety of pizzas, topped with either classic ingredients or specialty items like coq au vin, shrimp provencal, or wild mushrooms in a cream sauce. There are also a half dozen or so sandwiches. It’s basically a college bar menu, but it may serve as a nice alternative to the neighborhood’s slew of high-end eateries.
Mac’s The long bar and loud music make this corner hangout feel more like a bar than a restaurant—but the eclectic American dishes are more sophisticated than you might expect. A generously portioned grain salad is a medley of organic quinoa, barley, and wild rice tossed with mixed greens, pine nuts, dried cherries, and marinated portobello mushrooms. A duck breast salad comes with baby spinach and mandarin oranges. There are also some items that come a bit closer to traditional bar food: an eight-ounce sirloin burger, a steak sandwich, meat loaf with mashed potatoes. The kitchen’s open till 1 AM on Saturday, other nights till midnight.
Smoke Daddy When in the company of barbecue-seeking friends, vegetarians usually have to resign themselves to an order of fries or the like. But Smoke Daddy serves up a mean veggie burger right alongside barbecued pork and chicken sandwiches and meaty, messy ribs. The menu also features sides like sweet potato fries and mac ‘n’ cheese. The casual room is frequently crowded; live music (see Music) starts every night around 9, so would-be conversationalists beware—it can get really loud. The kitchen is open till midnight on Friday and Saturday, other nights till 11.
Atomix This sunny room furnished with 50s-modern-style tables and chairs doesn’t have a huge menu, but who cares when you can design your own sandwich (using a grease pencil to mark off options on a laminated card)? Ingredients include hummus, cold cuts, and lots of homemade spreads, including an olive variety and a dairy-free cucumber-dill. Vegans will find vegan baked goods, chili, and a grilled soy cheese sandwich, and of course there are plenty of coffee drinks. Atomix also has a photo booth.
Cafe Ballou Cafe Ballou’s pressed-tin ceiling is painted ivory, and the tables are set with crocheted doilies and teacups filled with flowers. Sheer lace curtains hang in the front windows, and there’s a floral rug on the floor. The space might bring to mind a great-aunt’s parlor but for the stacks of glossy magazines, the blackboard-chalked menus, and the free WiFi. The cafe serves Intelligentsia coffee and offers daily drink and lunch specials, such as half a turkey sandwich, a cup of soup, and a salad for $6. The food’s made to order, simple and fresh, and there’s a daily selection of pastries made by a local caterer. Cash only.
Greek Corner Restaurant Cafe This neighborhood joint at the southwest corner of Damen and Augusta serves up surprisingly good Greek fare from the counter. My companion’s Spartan Chicken Wrap was a melange of feta, olives, tasty grilled bird, and other fixin’s inside a warm pita, but for my money the standard gyros plate is can’t-miss: the meat’s freshly shaved and flavorful, and the pita triangles are grilled and well seasoned. BYO.
Janik’s Cafe Reader Restaurant Raters’ praise for this family-owned cafe (formerly Janik’s Subs) is near universal, with special props for the friendly service. The breakfast menu is more brunchlike, with chilaquiles and eggs Benedict in addition to the standard eggs, French toast, and omelets. At lunch there are homemade soups and more than 25 sandwiches, ranging from a Cuban to hummus and including warm options like a meatball sandwich or a tuna melt. Janik’s also serves smoothies and Homer’s ice cream, and there’s sidewalk seating in the summer.
Milk and Honey Cafe Brunch is line-out-the-door popular at this blond, light-filled charmer, offering mimosas, huevos rancheros, and pancakes along with house-made granola. But the lunch menu is also worth a trip: bread from Red Hen and Turano Bakery is loaded with grilled chicken, thick-cut bacon, roasted tomatoes, and blue cheese; capicola, provolone, and tomato; or a grilled portobello with sauteed spinach, herbed goat cheese, and roasted red pepper. All come with potato chips and a pickle; nicely prepared side dishes might include a caprese or pesto pasta.
Village Cafe European-style storefront serving Intelligentsia coffee and Mighty Leaf tea. There are pastries from around the world, plus ice cream and a broad range of inexpensive sandwiches. Cash only.
Bite The food is surprisingly good at this cafe attached to the Empty Bottle (see Music). Frequently changing specials might include skate wing with a lemon-butter caper sauce and mashed potatoes or a barbecue tofu plate. The regular menu, which also changes a couple times a year, is also eclectic and vegetarian friendly, offering dishes like blackened catfish tacos, a pulled pork burrito, curried vegetable and tofu stew, and orechiette with broccoli, raisins, and pine nuts. Brunch is a huge draw, frequently packed from its 8 AM start to its 3 PM close. BYO.
Caffe Gelato This sleek family-run gelato shop offers 18 seasonally rotated flavors, including bacio (chocolate hazelnut), frutti di bosco (berries), ananas (pineapple), and panna cotta. You can also mix flavors or get your gelato fix in the form of a shake with a shot of espresso. The shop is closed from November through February.
Piccolo Cafe The gelati, panini, salads, and bruschetta here are all made in-house. The selection of gelato flavors rotates, but on my last visit it ranged from Vietnamese cinnamon to lychee to lemon-basil, an unexpected standout. A premium is placed on fresh ingredients—which means not only that the strawberry is made with fresh strawberries but that they roast the nuts for the pistachio and hazelnut and cure the beef for the bresaola panini. The chocolate flavors available on my visit—Jivara, a milk chocolate, and Manjari, a dark variety made from Madagascan cocoa beans—were made with Valrhona cocoa powder. Quality over quantity seems to be the mandate here: small cups of gelato are the only size available, and there are no cones. The flavors are so intense, though, that even a modest cup is plenty.
Starfruit This new shop offers a twist on frozen yogurt, substituting frozen kefir, the cultured milk product Starfruit describes as the “lighthearted love child of taste and nutrition.” It’s available by the cup, with add-ins ranging from goji berries to Cocoa Pebbles, as well as in fruit parfaits and smoothies. You can also opt for organic frozen kefir, and Starfruit uses all-biodegradable packaging.
A Tavola The dining room at A Tavola is dimly lit and intimate, with only ten tables. The menu’s tiny too, and strict vegetarians may have a difficult time making the most of it. I went with the panfried halibut in lemon-caper sauce—very simple, but perfectly moist and light. An appetizer of grilled portobello and sauteed oyster mushrooms stood out for its surprisingly complex flavor. There were also three small pasta dishes, including the best gnocchi I’ve ever had, swimming in sage butter and topped with fried sage leaves. But I’m one who believes there are few more wonderful things you can do with food than bake it with a crisp crust of Parmesan cheese, so the polenta, thick and gooey, may have been my favorite. There was one bite left at the end of the night, and I seriously thought about having it wrapped up.
Enoteca Roma This laid-back wine bar attached to Letizia’s Natural Bakery (see separate listing) offers Letizia’s menu plus more than a dozen varieties of bruschetta, pizzas, dinner salads, and a number of meat, cheese, bread, and olive combinations in the tradition of rustic Roman cuisine. Larger plates include pork shoulder, lamb chops, and Cornish hen, but the Salamini Flight alone—salami and a trio of saucisson, served with grainy mustard, roasted red peppers, and Italian bread—is enough for a light meal or ample snack for two. Enoteca Roma’s specialty is, of course, wine, served without attitude: says owner-manager Fabio Sorano, “You can get PBR or you can get Pahlmeyer.”
Leona’s Since its start 48 years ago with a single restaurant on Sheffield, Leona’s has grown into a successful local chain on the strength of efficient delivery, friendly service, and generous servings of simple American-Italian chow. A warm loaf of bread served on a small chopping block with herbed ricotta spread and marinara kicks off the meal, after which you select from a vast menu that includes pizzas, pastas, steak, chicken, ribs, sandwiches, and salads. This location is one of several with kiddie playrooms that let parents eat in peace.
Via Carducci la Sorella At this northwest-side outpost of Via Carducci, linguine with seafood was utterly flat, the mussels, shrimp, and calamari vulcanized, and while a special of lobster-stuffed pasta was better, it wasn’t $20 worth of special. One successful dish, recommended by our waiter, was a baked red onion stuffed with seafood and Parmesan. Also on the positive side, the wine list is extensive and inexpensive, and the desserts—caramel cheesecake and a luscious tiramisu—are outstanding.
Adobo Grill The second location of the Adobo Grill is all dark reds, Mexican folk art, and paintings of loteria cards, but the night I was there a steady backbeat of cell-phone conversations threatened to kill the ambience. The food was for the most part great, including appetizers like chunky, spicy, bright guacamole, mashed tableside, and a tart scallop ceviche. Grilled lamb chops, a special, were caramelized on the outside and rosy pink on the inside, and they tasted even better than they looked. And I could spend all night with Adobo’s incomparable margaritas—then come back the next morning for a cafe de olla (coffee with cinnamon, orange peel, and brown sugar), served at the excellent Sunday brunch.
Angels & Mariachis The decorations at this new two-story “taco bar & rock cantina”—bull’s heads, lucha libre masks, Mexican novena candles, murals, photos, more—are so overwhelming that it’s hard to look away long enough to focus on the menu. And it takes some focus to decide what to order, when ten varieties of tacos vie for space on the menu with soups and salads, molletes, queso fundido, tortas, and flautas as well as standards like guacamole and quesadillas. The selection of tequilas, available in flights of blanco, reposado, and anejo as well as in single shots and a variety of margaritas, is respectable, as is the list of Mexican beers. There are also machines (the kind 7-Eleven uses for Slurpees) for frozen margaritas and frozen sangria, which you can get mixed together.
El Barco Shaped like a boat getting ready to cast off across Ashland, El Barco isn’t short on gimmicks: menus are so absurdly gigantic that one covers half of a four-seat table, and many selections come on huge troughlike platters. But the house-made salsas are very good, and we enjoyed some excellent grilled squid and octopus, though the breaded fish and shrimp on our mixed seafood grill could have come from the kitchen of Señora Paul’s. The popular signature dish at El Barco is huachinango, red snapper, which we saw perched in front of about half the diners in the place. Available with a variety of sauces, this whole cooked fish is mounted upright on a rack for easy access and pierced with a number of red plastic swords. The downside to this presentation is that the fish isn’t cooked in the sauce, but the meat is moist and flavorful nonetheless.
Buenos Aires Forever Traditional Argentine parrillada, or mixed grill, is the showstopper at Buenos Aires Forever. An order for one or two, served from a tabletop grill, includes bits from all over the cow: ribs, sausage, sweetbreads, kidneys, and flap meat, a thinly sliced short loin cut similar to skirt steak. If you’re not into that, there’s a decent range of alternatives, including salads, sandwiches, and pasta. Ensalada rusa was a daunting heap of potatoes, peas, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs dressed with ladles of mayo. An entree of beef Milanesa is pounded thin, breaded, and fried; top that with ham, mozzarella, and tomato sauce and it becomes a Napolitana. The menu also offers flaky empanadas stuffed with traditional fillings like creamed corn or ground beef spiked with raisins and green olives.
La Condesa The menu at this mariscos place ranges from morning huevos and chilaquiles to Guerrerense specialties like cecina and vuelve a la vida. The seven soups include shrimp, fish, tripe, and a chicken soup with bacon, celery, vegetables, and chipotles. Cecina, dried beef, is accompanied by cactus salad, avocado, and beans; the house combination special pairs it with chicken breast, chorizo, and cactus in a molcajete sauce. In addition to huachinango a la Veracruzana and other mariscos, La Condesa serves parrillada, a feast of grilled meats and seafood for two people ($50).
Dona Naty’s Tacos There’s a lot more than tacos on offer at this little storefront: tortas, tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, gorditas, flautas, plus several platillos for under $10. Reader Restaurant Raters single out the tacos al pastor for praise and like the aguas frescas, fresh-squeezed fruit drinks in flavors including tamarind and lemon.
La Pasadita Restaurant Why are there three La Pasaditas clustered within half a block of each other? The short answer is that this local institution is an example of the American dream come true. The patriarch of the Espinoza family opened the first shack in 1976, and when it took off, he expanded across the street to 1140 N. Ashland. A competitor’s plans prompted him to acquire 1132 N. Ashland, which made its debut in 1996 with more tables and a bigger, somewhat Americanized menu. Fans of the original praise the authentic atmosphere—counter seating only, and not much of that—and a menu limited to a handful of tacos and burritos. But 1132’s creature comforts beckon, even though it’s nothing fancy. The food is on about the same level, with choices including quesadillas nortenas, cheese-stuffed corn tortillas smothered with onions and tomato sauce, and parrillada especial, enough chicken, spicy sausage, carne asada, and thinly sliced short ribs to feed a family of four for a mere $25.
Picante Taqueria A tiny, entirely competent burrito place, with one or two frills (horchata, outdoor seating). No surprises in the pricing department, either: burritos run about $5, and you can get a substantial taco for under $2. Picante may seem like a place that’s at its best when you’re at your worst, but I’ve found it to be satisfying even during the daytime.
Ritz Tango Cafe By day a cafe serving pastries, specialty coffee drinks, sandwiches, panini, and empanadas; by night a tango studio, with classes, practices, and open dances overseen by owners Dinah D’Antoni and Jorge Niedas. BYO.
El Taco Veloz This late-night spot has an large menu offering tacos, burritos, huaraches, and gorditas, but it’s best known for the Jaliscan dish carne en su jugo, “meat in its own juices,” a bowl of stewed beef, bacon, beans, avocado, onion, and radishes. Posole and menudo are available only on weekends, but you’ll find other specialties like cecina and barbacoa daily. On Fridays there’s Mexican karaoke, and on Saturdays a Mexican Elvis impersonator has been known to perform.
Taqueria Traspasada No. 2 The ambience is pure taco shack—counter seating, bright lights, dirt-cheap prices—but the spicy marinated tacos al pastor, homemade horchata, and roasted-pepper salsa are out of this world. The tacos come garnished with onion and cilantro, the tostadas are light and crunchy, and along with the usual chicken and steak the meat choices include beef brains and tongue. A specialty is the torta ahogada, or “drowned sandwich,” with meat and pickled onions drenched in a hot red sauce. On Saturdays and Sundays menudo and carne en su jugo are available, as is birria, or goat, served in consomme or in tacos. Wash it all down with a bottle of Mexican Pepsi (made with real sugar instead of corn syrup). Cash only.
Tecalitlan Prices have gone up in the last few years, but Tecalitlan remains king of the East Village cheapskate dining circuit, drawing a steady crowd of both Spanish- and English-speaking locals. Steaming combo platters, hefty burritos, and the usual array of a la carte tacos, tortas, tostadas, etc emerge from the kitchen with dizzying speed—a blessing if you’re in a hurry, but not so conducive to a leisurely evening out. The dimly lit front room features a ceiling mural depicting the sun’s daily course across the sky; the back room is bathed in fluorescent light and a lot less charming.
Bella’s Pizza & Restaurant Relocated to Ashland after a fire at its Chicago Avenue location, Bella’s Pizza & Restaurant offers just about any Italian or American standard you can think of, from pizza (thin, pan, stuffed, all available by the slice as well) to pasta to barbecue to nachos. Reader Restaurant Raters praise the pies here as greasy in a good way—”the best slice in Chicago,” says one.
Crust Chef Michael Altenberg’s casual organic flatbread-pizza joint is a sleek modern dining hall with bright orange molded plastic chairs and trippy Formica tables; the spacious back patio and sidewalk cafe add seats for another 120. The pizzas—er, flatbreads—have an airy, chewy, well-proofed crust and are topped with everything from savory silver dollars of pepperoni to a Greek mix of artichokes, olives, and feta to a take on an Alsatian Flammkuchen (caramelized onion, bacon, and caraway seeds with a bechamel sauce). Everything, meat included, tastes shockingly fresh. The bar offers a short but respectable wine and beer list, plus a selection of cocktails with infused organic vodka.
Pizza Metro Roman native Marco Schiavoni runs this storefront devoted to traditional southern Italian baking. Pizzas rolled out on well-oiled 32-inch-square pans are covered with toppings that include potato and rosemary, grilled chicken and vegetables, and blue cheese. There’s also a short menu of sandwiches, salads, soups, and pastas. Pizza Metro has a second location at 925 N. Ashland (773-772-3267) and a third straight west at 2534 W. Division (773-489-9880).
Andrzej Grill Serving a dining room about the size of a single-car garage, Andrzej and Anna Burak crank out traditional dishes for a steady stream of Polish neighbors. House-made soups include very good chicken noodle, a tangy sauerkraut soup, and “summer soup,” a refreshingly cool beet soup with sour cream. There are goulash-stuffed potato pancakes and stuffed cabbage, but the most popular item at our table was the platter of peppery meatballs in a creamy mushroom sauce, served as are many dishes on boiled potatoes flecked with dill. Uncommon on Chicago menus, the toothsome veal ribs are surprisingly rich. There’s also a vegetarian menu section featuring pierogi and salads. Come early—it’s lights-out at 7 PM. Cash only; BYO.
Mitch’s & Janina Delicatessen They cure and smoke their sausages and meats in-house at this old-fashioned Polish deli and bar. Also available are home-cooked Polish meals, which vary daily and don’t cost more than $10 for a heaping plateful. There’s a small bar in the back corner.
Podhalanka Polksa Restauracja It isn’t just the knickknacks and portraits of the pope in this former tavern, a remnant of Division Street’s days as the great “Polish Broadway,” that remind me of my grandmother; I’ll be damned if I don’t sense her presence in the pungent whiff of cabbage that floats from the kitchen or the gentle tang of fermented rye flour in the zurek. At Podhalanka you’ll still see old-timers at the bar, warming their bones with cabbage or barley soup or fat pierogi stuffed with piquant ground pork, cabbage, or potato and cheese. But you’ll also find younger folks who may or may not speak Polish working down bowls of caraway-flecked sauerkraut and heaps of smashed potatoes in gravy, accompanied by something big and meaty: a stuffed pork roll, perhaps, or uncured spareribs cooked in sauerkraut until tender. These meals are almost entirely drained of color, but they’re big, inexpensive, and preceded by baskets of fresh bread and butter.
Sak’s Ukrainian Village Restaurant It’s TVs and draft beer up front, food in the back at this 90-something-year-old neighborhood place, where the crowd, according to one Reader Restaurant Rater, ranges from Girl Scouts to old men. The inexpensive menu features sausage and kraut, chicken Kiev, and Ukrainian burgers, made with spiced ground meat and served with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. “The hamburgers and the potato pancakes are as good as any I have had,” says one Rater. “The only weakness can be the bar staff, who tend to give you an idea of what service in the Soviet Union must have been like.” The kitchen closes at 10 PM.
Betty’s Blue Star Lounge A welcome source of excitement in an otherwise dreary part of the neighborhood, this retro-stylish 4 AM bar books a fair number of quality DJs (and, on Thursday nights, decent local bands). Betty’s maintains a long-running house night (Sundays) and a dancehall/reggae night (Tuesdays), and on Fridays it often plays host to juke hero Gant-Man. For the dance-music averse, Wednesdays are devoted to punk, ska, and rock.
Club Foot At Chuck Uchida and Lauree Rohrig’s punk-rock clubhouse (see also Bars), the nightly DJs favor vintage punk and indie rock, and the crowd will still go off when a Buzzcocks single comes on even though they’ve probably heard it a hundred times before.
Darkroom The almost schizophrenically eclectic music schedule at this dim, red-lit bar includes indie-rock bands, rappers, reggae DJs, jazz combos, house DJs (including veteran Jesse de la Peña), dance parties like Life During Wartime, and frequent apparitions of the funky spectacle that is DJ LA Jesus. Notable upcoming headliners include the Heavy (5/9), Clique Talk (5/16), and Screamin’ Rachael (5/20).
Empty Bottle Opened in 1992 as a regular old bar exactly one block south, the Empty Bottle moved to its current location 15 years ago to become a rock club. Now it’s a neighborhood landmark and indie-rock mecca, not only bringing in a dizzying variety of national touring acts (including more than a few who’ve gone on to play much larger venues) but also helping nurture Chicago’s jazz and experimental communities. These days the Bottle is its own worst competition, promoting shows at a cluster of satellite venues (Sonotheque, AV-aerie, Logan Square Auditorium, Lakeshore Theater, the Mansion), but back at home base the drinks are still cheap, the decor is still divey, and these days Monday-night shows are usually free. There’s hardly ever a bad night at the Bottle, and just this week Reader critics are recommending three of its shows on the List: Johnny & the Limelites (5/8), Cloudland Canyon (5/9), and Clinic (5/12). The Bottle also booked the main stage at this year’s Do-Division street fest (5/31 and 6/1), where Lucero and Ted Leo + Pharmacists headline.
Evil Olive This fairly new club is succeeding where Big Wig and IV, the previous tenants in its space, failed—unlike them it’s not trying to be a mini megaclub in the unglitzy Polish Triangle. With a pool table upstairs and PBR in cans, Evil Olive is a bit easier to get along with, but it’s also prepared to meet the needs of devoted clubgoers with its serious sound system and steady schedule of quality DJs—which includes locals like Jordan Z and Willy Joy and out-of-towners like the Rapture and Franki Chan. Evil Olive’s weekly Rehab party (on 5/12 resident DJs Jordan Z and Derek Berry spin “80s vs. 90s”) has already become a see-and-be-seen event for the local hipsterati, and is almost too much fun for a Monday night.
Inner Town Pub This longtime neighborhood fixture (see Bars), once a Prohibition-era speakeasy, is home to popular open mikes on Thursday and Sunday. They’re more orderly and eclectic than the norm, but hardly reliable entertainment—as with any open mike, your odds of enjoying yourself (at least as a nonparticipant) get better the more of your friends are playing and the more you’ve all had to drink.
Moonshine Moonshine seems designed for a very particular niche market: hard-core clubgoers looking to kick back and chill. At least that would explain its combination of high-end house DJs—the kind you’d normally find behind the decks at turbo-glitzy joints like Crobar—with earthy, funky decor and rib-stickin’ Tex-Mex-influenced comfort food (see Restaurants). Now that it’s spring Moonshine has resumed its Wednesday-night Mamby series, and upcoming guests include FFM (5/14) and Kate Simko (5/21).
Phyllis’ Musical Inn Phyllis’ Musical Inn opened in 1954, back when its strip of Division was known as the Polish Broadway. Proprietor Phyllis Jaskot, an accordion player, booked plenty of polka bands, and Nelson Algren sometimes hung out there—presumably the source of the mistaken but widely circulated notion that his mother once ran the place. (The bar has in fact never left the Jaskot family—Phyllis’s son Clem, a former bike messenger, manages it now.) In the 80s and 90s acts like Souled American and Veruca Salt got their start at Phyllis’, but these days music isn’t the best reason to go there: the local acts on its schedule tend to be cut-rate alt-rock bands, and the smattering of blues and jazz artists aren’t exactly top-shelf either. What I like about Phyllis’ is the cozily run-down vibe—sometimes I wonder how many of the fixtures have been replaced since 1954—and the regular contingent of dedicated neighborhood drinkers it attracts. The rowdy atmosphere those folks can kick up—and the basketball hoop in the beer garden, which is always begging for a drunken game of H-O-R-S-E—more than compensate for the music. Upcoming gigs include the Flabby Hoffman Show (5/8) and the Red Wigglers (5/9).
Smoke Daddy This reliable if not exactly rustic barbecue joint (see Restaurants) opened in 1994, just as Division Street was beginning its transformation from no-man’s-land to boutique row, and it’s been booking raucous roots music almost every night since. Decked out in checkered tile and old-school banquettes and festooned with a jumble of 50s artifacts, it’s a cluttered space, and the bands get wedged onto a tiny stage in front, with their backs to the glass-brick facade and a couple members usually standing on the floor. The programming focuses on blues and R & B, but there’s also a fair amount of jazz and country. Believe it or not, cornetist Rob Mazurek (of Exploding Star Orchestra and the Chicago Underground groups) used to play here frequently in the mid-90s, at one point holding down a weekly gig with Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker. Upcoming shows include Billy Flynn (5/9), the Luciano Antonio Trio (5/10), Joel Paterson (5/16), and the Chicago Bound Blues Band (5/17).
Tuman’s The makeover that turned Tuman’s (see Bars) from grimy uberdive to respectable watering hole stripped the place of a lot of its soul, but it did have some positive side effects: first, it demolished that toxic old men’s room, and second, it allowed the bar to become a much-needed home base for local DJs who don’t cater to the bottle-service crowd. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them, and spin here the second Saturday of every month.) Matt Roan’s popular Dance Party Magic has moved on to greener (or at least bigger) pastures at Le Passage, but shameless booty shaker Major Taylor and the up-and-coming duo Gutter Butter are still part of the regular rotation that keeps the bar’s ridiculously small dance floor jumping. Major Taylor spins every Friday, Gutter Butter usually spins at least the first Saturday of every month, and upcoming guest DJs include Jessica Gonyea of Office (5/31).
Vintage Wine Bar Chicago has a challenging, fascinating jazz scene that ranks as one of the best in the world. Of course, it also has plenty of places like Vintage, where you can hear the kind of jazz that won’t distract you from a glass of wine or a cheese plate. Though Vintage occasionally books a musician to be reckoned with—Von Freeman’s brother, guitarist George Freeman, plays 5/18 with his group the Chi-Town Express—it’s got a ways to go before the jazz is a bigger draw than the bar.
North Coast Video From the outside, with its red-pressboard and black-wire shelving, North Coast Video looks like your average VHS graveyard. But owner David Levy, who took over the place in 1992, has amassed a superior collection of some 15,000 DVD titles. Along with recent commercial releases you’ll find hundreds of obscure foreign, documentary, and underground titles, everything from Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism to Robert Bresson’s Mouchette to Sergei Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico to Kino Video’s Avant Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954. There are no sections—the entire collection is organized alphabetically—so you might as well give yourself over to happenstance. If there’s something you can’t find, scribble it on the wish list at the counter and you may find it next time you come in. Most DVDs rent for $4, and you can keep them four days, which is a better deal than you’ll get at Facets Videotheque, the store’s closest competitor to the north.
Theater & Performance
Chopin Theatre This onetime nickelodeon was slated for demolition when its current owner, Zygmunt Dyrkacz, bought it in 1990, calling it At the Gallery Theatre. Two years later he restored its original name. With a 226-seat main theater, a 176-seat cabaret studio, an art gallery, and a cafe named for Chicago literary giant Nelson Algren, the Chopin specializes in multicultural and avant-garde theater, performance, film, spoken word, and visual art. Besides importing experimental European ensembles, it has hosted some of Chicago’s most adventurous fringe companies. Currently running are Theater Oobleck’s political satire The Strangerer (through 5/11) and the Hypocrites’ rendition of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (through 6/8). Upcoming presentations include Towle’s Hill, a play commissioned by California’s Gundlach Bundschu winery in honor of its sesquicentennial (6/5); the Strange Tree Group’s staging of Emily Schwartz’s “newest macabre masterpiece,” The Mysterious Elephant (6/9-7/20); and the Signal Ensemble Theatre production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party (7/21-8/31).
Galleries & Museums
Alogon Gallery With nothing to identify it but a business card stuck in a name slot, this two-year-old independent art space on a residential street is a little difficult to find. But inside it feels welcoming and homey. Maybe that’s because it’s actually home to the four current gallery owners, who took over from the founders (four UIC sculpture undergrads) a year ago. The current quartet’s method—calculated to bring in artists from outside their circle and “put forward contrasting ideas”—is to “curate curators” who will organize shows at Alogon. Though the partners don’t make money on the project, they haven’t applied for nonprofit status because they don’t want to have to compromise on the work they show.
The Arts of Life Founded in 2000, this nonprofit studio and gallery offers adults with developmental disabilities “an environment [in which] to experience personal growth” through art. Program participants create art from about 9 AM to 2 PM Monday through Friday, and visitors are welcome. In addition to showing their work in the Arts of Life building, the artists also exhibit at local coffee shops, including Janik’s Cafe and several Starbucks locations. Their oeuvres and artist statements can also be viewed at artsoflife.org, where the artists are categorized according to their preferred style (e.g. “the Avant-Gardes” and “the Pop Group”).
Black Walnut Gallery Robert Wayner’s three-year-old gallery—named for the wood he most often uses—shows his own sculptures, furniture, and paintings, plus work by the three artists he represents. He also hosts monthly rotating shows by other artists. Wayner finds the rotating artists by posting a call on Craigslist—a method he likes because it turns up people who aren’t part of the established art scene. His own sculptures are organic-looking pieces in the tradition of George Nakashima. Most of them are made out of hardwoods salvaged from demolished buildings or trees that fell down naturally. It’s worth a visit just to feel the silky, finely sanded surfaces (Wayner encourages hands-on interaction with his work).
Corbett vs. Dempsey Owners John Corbett (a sometime Reader contributor) and Jim Dempsey describe their place as a “destination gallery”: with no storefront and only a small sign, it doesn’t rely on foot traffic to sell its collection of mostly midcentury American art, which emphasizes local paintings and works on paper. Inside, a wall of windows floods the space with natural light, and exposed brick walls and hardwood floors produce an atmosphere very different from that of the traditional white-walled, track-lit gallery. Corbett vs. Dempsey (whose moniker references boxers Gentleman Jim Corbett and Jack Dempsey) also maintains a small, noncirculating library of art books, and a large table and couch encourage you to hang out and look at them.
Country Club Collective The recent change of name, from Country Club Chicago, reflects a change of management for this silkscreen studio cum gallery: after several of the original partners left to take on other projects, Myra Marie Mazzei and Mark McGinnis decided to stay on and form a nonprofit collective. Several screen printers share the basement studio area, while the ground floor is used for four annual art openings and rented out for events. There’s no sign outside, and except at those openings, the gallery’s not open to the public, even by appointment; members sell their work on the Web site (countryclubchicago.com) instead.
Lotus Keep Gallery Artist Quang Hong, who’s owned Lotus Keep with business partner Amish Patel for the past two years, uses it as both a studio and a place to display his paintings. He also hosts shows by other artists, many of them glassblowers from Chicago Hot Glass. Hong says he gravitates toward “lowbrow” work (a preference apparent in his own kitschy paintings of big-eyed girls and fairy sprites) and “root[s] for guys who can’t get into regular galleries.” There are no regular hours, but the gallery’s open by appointment and whenever Hong is there working—usually at night.
Rotofugi Gallery Creating this gallery “was honestly sort of an accident,” says Whitney Kerr. She and her husband Kirby were starting a shop trading in limited edition collectible toys (aka “urban vinyl;” see separate listing in Shopping & Services) and chose the name Rotofugi Designer Toy Store & Gallery to emphasize the artistic quality of their merchandise. But then a designer toy store in Shanghai contacted them about hosting a show of paintings depicting a vinyl monkey called Fling, and since they didn’t have enough inventory to fill their space anyway, they agreed. They’ve been hosting exhibitions ever since, and in August 2006 moved the gallery to a separate space next door, where they now have an opening on the first Friday of each month. In keeping with the spirit of the store, the gallery mostly shows character-based art and illustrations, often by people who make toys.
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art The institute, which has been around since 1971, has two galleries: one that hosts rotating exhibits, the other showing pieces from the UIMA’s permanent collection of works by Ukrainian artists from 1930 to the present. Only a few dozen of the more than 900 permanent pieces are on display at any given time. According to curator Roman Petruniak, the collection’s emphasis on abstract expressionist and minimalist styles bears witness to the institute’s history of support for artistic freedom. These styles, he says, weren’t allowed in Ukraine during the Soviet era, so artists there had to show their work abroad. Though the rotating shows are often related to Ukraine, they’re just as likely to be connected to the Ukrainian Village neighborhood. The next one, opening Sun 5/25, is of prints, paintings, and possibly a few sculptures by Ukrainian cubist Alexander Archipenko.
Ukrainian National Museum This 55-year-old museum maintains a gallery for rotating exhibits (showing Fri 5/9-Sun 5/25: drawings and paintings by Anatole Kolomayets) and a permanent collection that includes ceramics, painting, beadwork, traditional clothing, and weapons like sabers and daggers. Among the most striking elements of the collection are Maria Shumska-Hrynewych’s dolls in Ukrainian regional dress and the hundreds of pysanky (intricately decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs). Also worth seeing are displays on the Ukrainian pavilion at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and on the artificial famine imposed on Ukraine under Stalin. There’s a library and archive, too, but most materials are in Ukrainian.
Midwest Branch Library This storefront location of the Chicago Public Library has collections in English, Polish, Spanish, and Ukrainian. a Mon and Wed noon-8 PM, Tue and Thu-Sat 9 AM-5 PM, 2335 W. Chicago, 312-744-7788. —Jerome Ludwig
Revolution Books This nonprofit, volunteer-staffed bookshop has been at its present location since 2000, but for 20 years before that it lived in Wrigleyville. Though the inventory leans heavily to the left, you can find more than just Noam Chomsky and Bob Avakian on the shelves; there are sections for philosophy, history of religion, sociology, and even fiction. The store also hosts author readings, discussions, poetry readings, films, and musical events. a Wed-Fri 2-8 PM, Sat noon-8 PM, Sun noon-5 PM, 1103 N. Ashland, 773-489-0930. —JL
Vigilante Press Open since October 2006, this comic-book shop also carries graphic novels, toys, T-shirts, posters, and other genre items. a Mon-Sat noon-8 PM, Sun noon-6 PM, 1931 W. Chicago, 312-423-6774 or myspace.com/vigilantepress. —JL
Quickies! This monthly series at the Inner Town Pub (see Bars) offers readings of “very short prose” in which each reader has five minutes to get through a complete original piece—no excerpts. a Next event: Tue 5/13, 7:30 PM, Inner Town Pub, 1935 W. Thomas, quickieschicago.blogspot.com. F —JL
Recreation & Education
A Tavola Chef and owner Daniel Bocik passes his skills on to diners at his occasional cooking workshops at this intimate Italian joint (see Restaurants). Classes are held in the kitchen on slow Monday nights; all ingredients are provided, and after about three hours of prepping and cooking the students sit down to a four-course meal. Call to reserve a spot at least four days ahead of time.
Clemente Park This park, like Roberto Clemente High School across the street, is named for the Pittsburgh Pirate who died in a plane crash in 1972. It has a gym and indoor pool and facilities for baseball and tennis.
Commercial Club Playground What began as a simple playground in 1903 (built by the Commercial Club of Chicago, which donated it to the city three years later with the stipulation the name never be changed) has expanded to include a baseball diamond and a field house.
Creative Claythings Begun in 1979 as Chicago Fire and Earth, this joint claims its pottery classes will provide you with the “well-documented stress reduction and healing properties of clay.” Beginning and intermediate classes cost $130-$160 for eight weeks.
Electric Guitars by Fred Mangan Mangan’s reputation is as a wacky luthier—he builds guitars out of scrap like a satellite dish, a pipe from a church organ, or a 1950s high chair. But he’ll also teach you how to play that Ibanez you got on sale at Guitar Center. It’s $25 for a private one-hour lesson. Bring a spiral notebook and a blank cassette; Mangan says he’ll “learn songs that the students are interested in and teach accordingly.” He’ll also help you with your guitar-building project.
Nature Yoga Sanctuary This yoga studio describes itself as a place where “knowledge can be shared, where community can grow and the Divine be celebrated.” Classes run seven days a week with prices ranging from $15 for a single class to $1,200 for a year’s unlimited access; a private hour-and-a-half session is $100.
Ritz Tango Cafe While the last empanada is being digested at this Argentinean eatery, the tables are being pushed to the wall so the tango lessons can begin. They’re taught by Jorge Niedas of the Tango 21 dance troupe and cafe owner Dinah D’Antoni. Monday evenings are reserved for intermediate-level dancers; a free open dance follows lessons on Saturdays and Sundays.
Windy City Scooter & Bicycle Rental This company, founded by Aaron Aggio in 2004, specializes in renting out Vespa and Lambretta scooters (but also rents bicycles and sells new and used scooters and used luxury cars). Scooter rates start at $40 for two hours and work their way up to weekly leases. Bikes are $10-$15 an hour or $30-$40 a day.
ARFhouse ARFhouse is a 100 percent volunteer-run no-kill animal-rescue organization. It doesn’t have a walk-in adoption facility; its dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs are housed in foster homes and boarding facilities and adoptable animals at any given time can be surveyed at arfchicago.org. Besides fostering, volunteers can walk dogs; work at street fairs, adoption events, and fund-raisers; and help with marketing and other administrative duties.
Arts of Life This nonprofit studio (see Galleries & Museums) has three full-time staff members who work with the disabled adults who make and sell their art here. They’re looking for artists to help the clientele with certain techniques; people who know how to do custom framing; photographers; archivists; and folks to work on the Web site and the artists’ MySpace pages.
Esperanza Community Services Founded in 1969 by a group of parents in the Pilsen neighborhood, Esperanza moved to Ukrainian Village in the 70s, where it now manages several educational and support programs for toddlers, youths, and adults with developmental disabilities. Volunteering opportunities range from one-on-one mentoring to group projects like painting classrooms or landscaping.
Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago This repository of Ukrainian history and culture, particularly as it pertains to the immigrant experience in America, needs volunteers to help in its archives and library and with various events.