WICKER PARK’S REAWAKENING

Byline: Elaine Glusac

Once home to gangs and the grunge set, Wicker Park on Chicago’s near west side has become the city’s most stylish spot for trendsetting eateries and streetwear creativity.
Wicker Park, its commercial corridors lined with seedy storefronts, is still more blight than beauty. But artists and immigrants alike have found the living cheap. In the last year or so, bars and diners developed a certain outpost cache, and musicians and artists paved the way for yuppie home-buyers and suburban diners.
“I fell in love with Milwaukee Avenue and those terrible Spanish furniture shops,” said Debbie Sharpe, owner of two restaurants, the casual Feast and the upscale ConFusion. “They awed me. I thought this neighborhood had a sense of humor.”
“It’s become a destination point,” said Michael Clark, co-chef at Soul Kitchen, the restaurant seated at the central Damen/North/Milwaukee intersection. “Now [everyone] wants to come in and make a buck.”
The taming of Wicker Park includes the recent opening of The Deluxe Diner serving chef-made blue-plate specials as well as martinis. The style is Art Deco, and owner Daniel Kendt points out that his is one of the few area restaurants that is not pricy.
And Wicker Park is still open to new ideas as epitomized by the edgy Restaurant Okno. Delivering fusion cuisine to a fashion-forward crowd in a brightly colored room with music by a live deejay, servers wear science fiction-inspired clothing by house designer Kristen Skriny.
“We wanted to go into the future: new shapes, new sizes, bright colors,” said owner Terry Alexander.
If food, drinks and people-watching are unsurpassed in Wicker Park, shopping is lagging. There are a few exceptions: Bella Bello for flowers and home items and Pentimento for accessories and clothing by Chicago designers.
But vintage looks have always been hottest here. At one new shop specializing in vintage looks — Una Mae’s Freak Boutique — owner Karen Prendergast summarized, “I want more clothing stores.”

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