Originally a cherry orchard and farming village named Somerdale, the neighborhood centered around the Clark Street commercial district was founded by Swedish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. Though still home to several Swedish businesses, Andersonville is now noteworthy for its diversity of residents and locally owned businesses. Since the 80s the neighborhood has been home to one of Chicago’s largest LGBTQ communities and several Middle-Eastern restaurants and businesses. The Andersonville business area, which in 2010 was named a National Historic District, also contains a variety of increasingly upscale restaurants, coffee shops, and boutique furniture stores. Additionally, the neighborhood is recognized for its sustainability and green initiatives. Through its eco-Andersonville program, the Andersonville Sustainable Community Alliance rolled out the city’s first comprehensive composting program, creates incentives for sustainable businesses and green building, and is responsible for the popular placemaking spots that pop up on Clark Street in warmer months.
A Great Day in Andersonville
Though there are a number of great neighborhood breakfast spots to choose from, Svea and m.henry are two standouts. As the last Swedish restaurant left in Andersonville, Svea provides Scandinavian inspired comfort food in a quaint diner for those on a budget. The Swedish pancakes and lingonberries are a popular staple worth trying. For a slightly more pricey option, m.henry is among the most acclaimed breakfast/brunch institutions in town. With its New American concept that features locally produced and organic ingredients, there are an array of appetizing sweet and savory dishes to choose from.
After a big breakfast, a stroll through Andersonville’s residential blocks will reveal more of its appeal. The blocks of Wayne, Lakewood, and Magnolia between Foster and Bryn Mawr of the Lakewood Balmoral Historic District are particularly impressive. The stately homes built mostly between the decades before and after the turn of the century feature an eclectic mix of Flemish, Gothic, Queen Anne, Arts & Crafts, Prairie, and American Foursquare forms.
For lunch, Taste of Lebanon is a terrific budget option. The solid quality of the falafel, shwarma, salads, and lentil soup, all for under $5, have established a loyal customer base. For a more leisurely lunch accompanied by a glass of wine or two, Pastoral/Apellation has a nice selection of sandwiches, salads, artisanal breads and cheeses.
Perhaps, the neighborhood’s most popular activity is meandering through the historic commercial district. Clark Street is lined with unique local businesses to explore from Winnemac to Victoria. Women & Chrilden First has been an anchor for the neighborhood for decades and is among the largest feminist bookstores left in the country. In addition to its extensive stock of books and retail items, the store serves as important event space for children’s, LGBTQ, and feminist writers and story-tellers. To pick up some hard to find ingredients, pastries, and snacks, the Middle East Bakery & Grocery has long been a neighborhood outpost. The recently opened attached café and restaurant has brought even more Middle Eastern dining options to the neighborhood.
Off Andersonville’s beaten track, a drop in or tour at Koval, which when opened was Chicago’s first distillery since the 1800s, is a nice way to spend an afternoon. The locally produced “organic grain to barrel” whiskey, liqueurs, and spirits make a great gift or neighborhood souvenir.
A visit to the Swedish American Museum is perhaps the best way to take in a bit of the neighborhood’s history and cultural roots. The permanent and rotating exhibits explore the plight of Swedish and other immigrant groups while the Children’s Museum gives kids a place to experience the immigrant experience.
For a good pastry or slice of pie, Andersonville has an abundance of options. Swedish Bakery has been serving up European style pastries and cakes since the late 1920s. Popular items include the Andersonville coffeecake, cardamom coffeecake, and Swedish cookies. Just around the corner on Ashland, First Slice Café has a variety of stellar pies to choose from, while helping to feed families in need and the homeless with home cooked meals. The proceeds from the café support its charity operations, which also include a small job training program. Another great option is The Coffee Studio, where you can enjoy a pastry with an award-winning coffee in an artfully designed space. The locally-roasted, hand-crafted coffees have been a neighborhood favorite for over a decade.
Evening and Late-Night
With plenty of good restaurants to choose from, it may be a challenge narrowing down dinner options, but here are a few worth considering. Jin Ju, the contemporary Korean outpost, is a nice spot for both its quality dishes and dark but inviting interior. For a bit more upscale farm-to-table experience, Vincent is among the best in the city. A strong collection of craft beers and cocktails complement the Dutch inspired cuisine. Another establishment that combines an extensive drink program with quality food is Little Bad Wolf. Though anything off the menu is solid, the baos are highly recommended.
A night out in Andersonville is best curated by a visit to two of the neighborhood’s best drinking institutions. Since the early 90s, the Hopleaf has been a popular destination for its extensive beer selection and gastropub aesthetic. In addition to the strong drink selection and being a nice respite from Chicago’s ubiquitous TV encrusted bars, the Belgian inspired dishes are prized. For many, Simon’s Tavern is the stalwart institution of the neighborhood. The one time speakeasy has been open since 1934 with a loyal following that continues to this day. Visitors can appreciate the historic charm accompanied with welcoming bartenders and a celebrated jukebox selection.
Other quintessential Andersonville late evening options include attending an event at either The Neo-Futurarium or Mary’s Attic. Since the 80s, the Neo-Futurists have been providing a dynamic and unique experimental theater experience to Chicago audiences. Chicago’s longest running show, now on its 27th consecutive year, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is the 30 plays in 60 minutes performance that the group is best known for. Every Friday and Saturday night a line running south from Foster on Ashland forms of eager patrons. On the second floor of the complex that includes Hamburger Mary’s and Andersonville Brewing, Mary’s Attic hosts a variety of entertaining weekly events such as theater and musical performances and the raucous MaryOke.
The Take Away
From our experience speaking with residents, business owners, and those who work in the neighborhood, it’s clear that there is both considerable pride in the strong sense of community that has been attracting newcomers for decades and an anxiety that the increasing popularity is putting Andersonville in jeopardy of retaining its charm. Where opportunist landlords and developers see market potential, community members fear an increasing wave of chain stores and the tearing down of the historic building stock. Fortunately, there is a strong contingent of residents and business owners who are committed to preserving what makes the neighborhood special while welcoming all who want to experience its attractions.