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A First Person Account of Chicago's North West Side Neighborhood.


  • This is California. Doors open on the right in the direction of travel at California. Next stop is Lo-gan Square. I slide out of the train doors and down the platform to the head of the staircase. Ive just realized that its sunday night and everything will be closed, and there will be nowhere to get food.

    Beyond the turnstiles of the CTA glows the Logan Bar & Grill, a beacon of good drink and bar food. The door of the Logan has got the handles of a cheap coffin and it drifts slowly back into its place. Its now 1:00 monday morning and the bar is decidedly empty. I settle down at the bar and order. The kitchen is closed but the barmaid comes back and sets down a coaster followed by a goose island of some sort. I dont remember. It was the Beer of the Month. They have one every month. $4. When the month changes is sort of up to them. I put the coaster in the pocket of my sweater and take the first sip.

    Theres a guy at the end of the bar. Early thirties. Looks like hes been there all night. Looks like hes there every sunday night. Theres a handful of people at the other end of the bar. A young guy comes in and orders a shot of rye and a bottle of beer. He knows the barwoman. He signs his bill and forgets his credit card.

    Last call. One more and Im back into the street. Milwaukee Ave is the main stem of these parts. The river from which Logan Square drinks and oh, how it drinks. Half of the businesses that line this strip of road between California and Logan Blvd are bars, and the other half are abandoned store fronts that have yet to discover that they are bars. Im heading about halfway up to Bonnys ne Bonis, a 4 a.m. dive bar turned 4 a.m. dive bar thats now owned by the same folks that run the Logan as well as a place called the Boiler Room. I think.

    You can see the face of Logan Square on Milwaukee Avenue. From the boarded up windows of businesses that packed up and left to the old busi-nesses that hold on, and some that thrive through the changes. Johnnys Grill, right on the corner of the square, is one example.

    Operating for over 30 years, Johnnys is the sort of diner that only exists in Tom Waits songs and Raymond Chandler novels. On saturday morn-ings Tall broad shouldered men in white shirts work behind the counter. The three foot flat top is covered in hash browns and eggs. A young girl who can only be the daughter or niece of one of these men takes the orders and pours black coffee. The fifteen or more stools are always taken. You consider whether or not you should wait a minute for someone to clear out or go somewhere else. You always wait. When its not busy theres just one white shirted man behind the counter. Older men sit at the counter and speak in spanish. The flat top remains empty until you tell it not to be empty. The walls are adorned with at least 3 variations of Edward Hoopers Nighthawks (The Art Institute used a composite image of the original paint-ing placed inside the logan square eatery in a 2008 Ad campaign). Because of this my roommate Nick fears that hes living out the epitome of American loneli-ness. He no longer has to order when he sits down at the counter. Scrambled eggs, bacon, plain white toast. They dont ask, they just know. I believe it to be every mans dream to receive this sort of treatment.

    Another example is Cafeteria y Restaurante & Bar De Pancho, Cuban and Puerto Rican Restaurant. Pancho retired and the family style neighborhood joint turned into Township. Adding a craft beer list and some food items that border on gourmet. Township is

    by no means a facsimile copy of Panchos but doesnt seem far off in ideology. A place for the people to grab a drink and a bite and a word with the man behind the counter and some fine live music on the bar side. Not to mention the best burger in Logan Square. Damn good burger.

    Its just a reminder that things cant and wont stay the same forever. Whats now Township was Panchos only a short while ago. Whats now Logan Square was once called Jefferson Township. Farmland staked out by a man from New York State named Martin Kimbell in 1836. It remained its own Township until it was absorbed by the City of Chicago in 1889. The lavish boulevards built between the 1860s and 1890s hoped to attract wealthy builders while the side streets filled with modest homes and apartments for workers, and everybody shopped on the commer-cial streets. Rich and poor lived side by side; diversity was built into the neighborhood from this point on states a brief history of Logan Square printed in a 2007 copy of the Chicago Reader.

    During its run, Jefferson Township was occu-pied primarily by working class immigrants. Which is about exactly where it stands at present. Germans and Swedes and Norwegians then. Latinos now. But its changing. Its not a new story. Affordable apartments attract young college aged folks with no money and with them come the bars and the restaurants and the coffee shops, the record stores, and the book sellers. As these things become established wealthier people start to come in and with them wealthier businesses. With the wealthier commodities comes higher prop-erty taxes which forces out the working class natives and likely the young college educated folks with no money.

    Its a cycle thats seemingly unavoidable. Displaced from the gentrification of Lincoln Park in the 60s and 70s many Latinos moved to Wicker Park. Affordable housing efforts in the 1980s drew artists to Wicker Park and the whole area today serves as a foreshadow to where Logan Square is most likely go-ing. Artists and so called trend setters create neighbor-hoods that are too expensive for themselves to live in and the victims are the working class that was there before them. As a result both groups are forced to move along.

    Logan Square is still in its first stages of all this. The paints still drying on the bars and restau-rants. staples like The Boiler Room and the Logan Bar and Grill havent been open more than 2 or 3 years. Places where you can buy things are still sparing. Logan Hardware, a record store/vintage arcade at 2410 W. Fullerton, opened officially in January 2010.

    The best record store in walking distance, Lo-gan Hardware rivals the nearby Wicker Park Reckless Records in selection as well as being filled with video games. An unassuming aluminum swing door adja-cent to the cash register leads to a room full of glowing man size boxes. Pac Man, Skate or Die 2, Robocop. My memory escapes me. This is a necessary place to see, for arcades are to video games what record stores are to music.

    As someone who has passed over every copy of Whipped Cream and Other Delights in every crate of records in every Salvation Army in the greater Buffalo, NY metropolitan area its organization and selection that stands out to me. Logan Hardware is steeped in organization and selection and affordability from used to new. Logan Hardware is an incredibly enjoyable place to spend an afternoon or to take a lady.

    If your lady isnt into these sorts of things,

    you should find a new one. More recently, what seems like days ago,

    Unchartered Books opened at the northwest corner of the square. A needed addition to the store fronts of Milwaukee, its one of the few places in Logan Square you can find a broad selection of reading material and is run by a man who looks like he should be teaching an Introduction to Irish Literature. The only type of person qualified to run a bookstore in my opinion.

    The opening of the first generic book store puts the spotlight on the holes that exist in the neigh-borhood. In a community of so many artist types its surprising it took so long for a place like Unchartered Books to come around. There exists no art supply store. And while there are two music stores: Shake Shop, Disco City #7 and Disco City #8 (Disco Cities 7 and 8 are the same place), Shake Shop is more of a repair shop then a place to buy equipment and Disco City has more in glassware than it does in musical instruments.

    Its plain to see that these changes are all at their beginnings and these things are bound to come. The mystery lies in where itll go from there. When and

    if Logan Square will turn into Wicker Park. Does that mean Wicker Park will turn into Lincoln Park. Then what becomes of Lincoln Park. Where does the cycle lead?

    Logan Square has no shortage of empty storefronts. An article somewhere said that it took ten days to turn Bonis into Bonnys. Though the tale of Uncharted Books filling in the gaps of a former shoe store told of more peril. Perhaps theyre not all des-tined to be bars.

    At 3608 Wrightwood, a ways off the main drag, certainly not a place youd stumble into by acci-dent, lives the West Side School for the Desperate. The store front serves as both a venue and home to poets Kevin Kern and Stephanie Lane Sutton and artist Julia Victor, and secondary home to the fourth member of the West Side, poet Nate Olison.

    The West Side School for the Desperate was founded by poets Kern, Sutton, Olison, and Jasmine Neosh a year ago and moved into its Logan Square home shortly thereafter. Started as an attempt at creating a home for the artistically and spiritually orphaned with a focus on poetry the West Side has put on film screenings, square dances, open mics, and

  • readings featuring some of Chicagos best writers.

    February 24, 2011. The front door of the storefront cant contain the music clanging from within. The door opens and the great bearded Jacob Mays is sitting to the side of the door taking donations and taking in the show. His beard is matched only by his spirit and his immense writing talent. The small room is crowded with people wearing phony beards, crudely cut from brown and orange felt with yarn to hold it up. A guitarist and a double bass player stand on the stage, 2 palettes