By ALEXANDRIA OTT
Wicker Park has always been a great escape of Chicago. You can access it on your way to “the Loop” — aka Chicago’s downtown — from O’Hare Airport on the Blue Line at the Damen or Division stops. If you get off at Damen, you have arrived at Six Corners, a bustling hub of incredible dining, shopping, and people watching. If you could never leave this block, you would still find everything you may ever want: From tacos at Big Star to coffee at La Colombe, nail art at salons, and high fives at sports bars. If you get off at the Division Street stop, head west on Division to find some of the best hidden gems in the city, including dining staples like Bangers & Lace (beer and sausages), Mana (vegetarian heaven), Black Bull (authentic Spanish cuisine), and Pub Royale (Anglo-Indian).
Authentically Spanish, Black Bull has been a mainstay on Division Street for almost a decade. The meticulously fresh ingredients contribute to Chef Marcos Campos’ culinary triumphs, as he showcases the essential pleasures of his country’s traditions, from navajas (razor clams) to mejillones (mussels in escabeche marinade) to zamburiñas (small scallops in Galician sauce). Don’t miss the Cinco Jotas acorn–fed jamón ibérico — a national treasure — often regarded as the best ham on the planet. Black Bull is one of the few restaurants in Chicago where the imported Iberian jamón is hand-cut by the chefs in the restaurant, a skill that both chefs have been taught directly by master carvers. The restaurant also features a wide variety of Conservas de Cambados — gourmet tinned seafood from Galicia perfectly preserved through a special 200 year process.
Along with chef de cuisine, Toni Capafons, Campos has made Black Bull a culinary hotspot, thanks to both the food and the most comprehensively “Spanish” beverage program in the city, including a sherry list with more than 30 selections, Spanish-style gin and tonics, and a wide selection of Spanish beers and wines. At “Spanish Happy Hour” — Tuesdays – Thursdays from 5 to 7 pm — indulge in $5 glasses of sherry or sangria. Combine with their selection of “pintxos” (small plates), or, if with a big group, order the signature paella and take the rest home for amazing leftovers.
Bordel’s unmarked door keeps it a treasured secret in Wicker Park and a haven for Chicagoans who like to avoid the party crowds. Enter the door just to the right of Black Bull and proceed up a sexy stairwell to a red door. Conceptualized and designed by Daniel Alonso and the Bonhomme Hospitality Group (Beatnik, Black Bull, Celeste, Disco), the craft cocktail bar draws inspiration from Paris’ Belle Époque and Chicago’s Prohibition eras. Soak it up while sipping cocktails out of a tea cup or porron pitcher alongside nightly entertainment by a rotating cast of jazz musicians, burlesque performers, magicians, cabaret dancers, and more. No one else in the neighborhood provides consistently show-stopping free and live entertainment like Bordel.
For the true local experience in Wicker Park, you should book a room with BANGTEL. Owned and operated by Liz Klafeta, the uniquely designed lofts, penthouses, and apartments are just a few of the many trendy accommodations she’s created around the country. All combine hotel-level perks with oodles of character, like mid-century dining fixtures, seashell sinks, landscaped rooftops, hanging beds, and more. Unlimited hospitality service caters to every whim, including getting your groceries, walking your dog, or setting up themed dinner parties.
“Wicker 204” — a concrete palace — is located right off Six Corners and comes with two bedrooms, one bath, and a private balcony and roof deck. In the same building, “Wicker 202” adds even more space, while down the street, “Aloha Bangtel” presents a tropical-style paradise perfect for bachelorette parties, staycations, or girlfriend getaways. The 2,000-square-foot, four-bedroom may be the most Instagrammable place in Wicker Park, with a bright pink shark above a yellow fireplace, a pink neon palm tree on the wall, and two colorful gorgeous bathtubs stocked with inflatable flamingos.
FAMILY:MR. DAVE MUSIC
If you have little ones, Wicker Park is ready to play, even when too cold for slides and swings. Make your first stop Mr. Dave Music on Division Street. Owned and operated by Dave and Christina Hamilton, the place has become a legend to nearly every kid and parent who live in West Town, thanks to music lessons for ukulele, guitar, drums, keyboard, violin, and more; Buddha Belly yoga; birthday parties; and even “Baby Raves” and “Baby DJ School” — all for kids aged 0–5. Mr. Dave has created a safe space for kids to learn and grow with their parents as they explore the power of music and create lifelong memories.
COFFEE + MUSIC:PURPLE LLAMA
Purple Llama is an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood coffee shop and record store that delivers a fresh dose of finely curated roasts and quality music in one location. On any given day, you’ll find their shelves stocked with a rotating assortment of classic albums from artists like Otis Redding, Prince, and David Bowie to new releases by the likes of Kendrick Lamar. The albums are expertly sourced by general manager and vinyl buyer, Adam Hirzel, from record labels like Numero Group, Light in the Attic, Soul Jazz Records, Stones Throw, and more.
They take their coffee program just as seriously, sourcing the best beans from all over the world including El Pilar of Guatemala, Gesha Village of Ethiopia and Koirara AB of Kenya. Purple Llama runs a bi-monthly subscription service that pairs international- and U.S.- roasted coffee with a vinyl record chosen based off the coffee or coffee roaster’s country of origin and ships it to your home.