Near West Side
The Near West Side of Chicago has two of the city's premiere culinary strips, Little Italy and Greektown, and basketball legend Michael Jordan's old stomping grounds with the Chicago Bulls.
Many of Chicago's most beloved cultural landmarks were created on the Near West Side. The Chicago-style hot dog, the deep dish pizza, the immigrant port of entry, the blues, the Blues Brothers, the labor movement, "Cheat You Fair," Jane Addams and the modern concept of social justice — all were born or have roots here. You wouldn't know it from the place today, though, which is dominated the charmless campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC); outside of those areas, seen from the L tracks, stray pieces of the old neighborhoods sit like the last few teeth in the mouth of a punch-drunk prizefighter.
Close to the rail yards and factory jobs, this was Chicago's major port of entry throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Central to everything was the Maxwell Street Market, which was founded by Jewish immigrants and joined by African-Americans during the Great Migration. Maxwell Street evolved from an open-air market of stalls and pushcarts to become the place where people from everywhere brought discount everything in the quest to make a fortune — and, as the saying went, Cheat You Fair. The deals, the scams, the cheap food and the street performances by future blues legends created a signature Chicago atmosphere for more than 120 years.
However, the desire of Chicago's business community to have a buffer zone between the Loop and the West Side housing projects led to severe changes: first, the new Eisenhower Expressway cut off a slice of the east side, and then the construction of UIC destroyed the homes of more than 5,000 people. The years since have seen the university continue its path of wanton destruction, enabled by the city in every urge. In 1994, they finally managed to raze the market, which was relocated a few blocks east in reduced form, leaving behind something called "University Village", which is rather like Hyde Park re-cast by pod people.
Attractions continue to leave the Near West Side; the Chicago Bulls play on without Michael Jordan at the United Center, and Oprah Winfrey has left her residency at Harpo Studios. But the small restaurant strips of Little Italy on Taylor Street and Greektown on Halsted Street have good food and tourist-friendly charm, and the West Loop (sometimes known as the Warehouse District) features the city's most expensive restaurants, a thriving gallery scene, and several hot clubs-of-the-moment.
There are several train stations on the Near West Side, but they're not very well-placed for destinations other than UIC. Buses are a more direct alternative from most of the city, including the Loop.
The Forest Park branch of the CTA Blue Line has stops near Maxwell Street, Little Italy and Greektown (UIC-Halsted, Racine), UIC (Illinois Medical District) and the Tri-Taylor area (Western). The CTA Green Line and Pink Line have stops within a hike of the West Loop (Clinton/Lake, Morgan) and the United Center (Ashland/Lake), while the Pink Line branches off to the center of UIC and near the edge of Little Italy (Polk).
The city's two regional train hubs, Union Station and Ogilvie/Northwestern Station, are right on the edge of the West Loop. They're generally used by travelers going east over the river to the Loop, but there's no reason you can't walk west instead. See the Loop article for arrival and departure information.
The CTA runs several bus routes through the West Side:
- 8 Halsted can be caught as far north as Lakeview. It runs through Greektown and hits the old Maxwell Street.
- 9 Ashland also runs from far north and on to the south, passing within walking distance of Little Italy and the United Center. It's an all-night route.
- 12 Roosevelt runs from the Near South to walking distance of Little Italy (exit Halsted, walk south) and Greektown (exit Halsted, walk north).
- 19 United Center Express runs on game nights for the Bulls and Blackhawks from Michigan & Chicago in the Near North to Madison in the Loop, and express to the UC once it's west of the river. Service starts 90 minutes prior to game time and ends 15 minutes prior to game time, and buses will be waiting to travel the route in reverse after the game.
- 20 Madison runs all night from the Loop, passing through Greektown and by the United Center.
- 38 Ogden/Taylor reaches UIC, Maxwell Street, and Little Italy. It will soon become the 157 Streeterville/Taylor, extending into the Near North.
- 50 Damen runs from Ukrainian Village and passes by the United Center.
For Greektown, exit I-90/94 east at Adams, or west at Monroe. From the Eisenhower Expressway, exit at Racine, and turn left. Halsted & Adams is three blocks north and six blocks east. If driving in the area in the evening, avoid the blocks around United Center at all costs, as the event traffic is horrendous.
The Haymarket Affair(s)
For years before and after, the Haymarket Square at Randolph St and Desplaines St was a bustling market, but on May 4, 1886, police marched on a labor rally, and someone threw a bomb from the crowd, killing seven police officers; for lack of a suspect, the organizer and speakers at the rally were arrested and charged with murder, and four were executed. The case became a seminal moment for the labor movement and free speech in the United States, giving cause to the May Day labor holiday. A statue of a policeman was erected in the square in 1889, but it became a target for anger over the trial, and was moved for safe-keeping after a streetcar rammed into it. By the 1960s, the market was gone, so the statue was returned — bringing the Chicago Police and the Weather Underground together in a tradition of blowing the thing up, repairing it, and blowing it up again. Eventually, it was moved for good. A carefully-worded bronze plaque was installed by the city in 1992, and an abstract sculpture has been in the square since 2004. For a more meaningful memorial, take I-290 west to Des Plaines Avenue in the nearby suburb of Forest Park and Waldheim Cemetery.
The ubiquitous University of Illinois at Chicago campus will be the most obvious thing you see, with the overtowering monolith that is University Hall casting an ungainly shadow across the West Side. Many of the original constructions, including elevated walkways, have long since been demolished. However, much of the Brutalist architecture remains. The Behavioral Sciences Building and Arts and Architecture Building, best known for having stairways that lead to a wall, are shining examples of unfinished construction and design. If you wish to tour, the only official ones are meant for potential students, and you would be better off walking it alone anyway. As it is a public university, no one will bother you if you take photos or walk through buildings. Please note that UIC is a massive campus, with over 15,000 students who congregate on campus at any given time. Being on the Halsted, Harrison, Blue Island, Streeterville/Taylor or Roosevelt buses during the university calendar year is bound to be a crowded trip if you use UIC as a starting point for your travels. Additionally, the UIC-Halsted Blue Line stop will be crowded for the same reasons.
- 1 Jane Addams Hull House Museum, 800 S Halsted St (UIC-Halsted Blue Line), ☏ . Tu-F 10AM-4PM, Su noon-4PM, M Sa closed. UIC was built on top of the original Hull House, where the prolific writer and reformer Jane Addams lived and worked to help people in need. This museum is dedicated to her memory in two surviving buildings from the complex, now absorbed into the UIC campus, and features exhibits on local history and social justice throughout the world. Occasionally hosts speakers during the day, and offer a free soup lunch during the discussion. Free.
- 2 National Hellenic Museum, 333 S Halsted St (UIC-Halsted Blue Line), ☏ . Tu-F 10AM-4PM, Sa 11AM-4PM. Now housed in a beautiful glass building, the National Hellenic Museum sits neatly at the start of Greektown's best restaurants. Partnered with the Field Museum, they host many actual Greek relics and also support Greek and Greek-American artists. Admission $5.
- 3 National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, 1431 W Taylor St, ☏ . M-F 9AM-5PM, Sa Su 11AM-4PM. Exactly what the name says; this is a glittering, big-budget facility, moved here from the suburbs a few years ago. The collection pays tribute to more than 200 inductees from many professional sports, with Joe DiMaggio held in highest esteem. Space for event rentals (like fundraisers for Italian-American politicians) outstrips the space for exhibits, though. $5.
- 4 Saint Ignatius College Prep, 1076 W Roosevelt Rd, ☏ . Opened in 1869, two years prior to the Chicago Fire, this impressive building is still a working high school. No tours are offered of the interior, but pieces of famous Chicago buildings from the past have been installed around the campus, including murals from the old Chicago Stadium and intriguing ornament from lost Adler & Sullivan and Burnham & Root masterworks. (Next door, Holy Family Church dates from 1857.) Free, though you might call ahead if school is in session.
The West Loop has a thriving contemporary art gallery scene that's easy to explore on foot. Start at the corner of Peoria and Washington. The two most prominent galleries are the Donald Young and Kavi Gupta galleries, but the adventurous will be rewarded here — there is a wealth of smaller gallery spaces to be explored even beyond this list.
- Andrew Rafacz Gallery, 835 W Washington Blvd, ☏ . Tu-F noon-6PM, Sa noon-5PM. Contemporary art (mostly painting and photography) by international artists (like Joe Sola).
- EC Gallery, 215 N Aberdeen St (Morgan Green/Pink Line), ☏ . Sat 11AM-4PM or by appointment. Contemporary art. The primary focus at EC Gallery is the introduction and representation of emerging and mid-career artists whose practices traverse painting, drawing, mixed media and photo media.
- Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 W Washington Blvd, 2nd floor (Morgan Green/Pink Line), ☏ . Tu-F 10AM-6PM, Sa 11AM-5PM. Kavi Gupta's gallery is generally understood to have been the pioneer of the West Loop gallery phenomenon. Today his collection is still one of the area's most important and features new works from emerging international artists. If you're here, you might as well check out the Bucket Rider Gallery on the same floor or any of the other, smaller galleries in the building.
- Primitive Art Works Gallery, 130 N Jefferson St (Clinton/Lake Green/Pink Line), ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-6PM. A large store/gallery packed with so-called "Primitive Art" from around the world. The selection is wide, including (among others): East African jewelry, Native American costumes, old-style Chinese beds, Eastern European stained glass, etc.
- Supreme Frame & Art Gallery, 650 W Randolph St (Clinton/Lake Green/Pink Line), ☏ . M-Th 8AM-4PM, Sa 9AM-3PM. Several large-sized portraits of contemporary figures. It also sells some antique art and limited editions. Supreme has a large collection of art posters, serigraphs and prints, many with a distinctly Chicago flavor
The UIC campus itself also has Gallery 400 at 400 S Peoria St (just north of the UIC-Halsted Blue Line stop), which has monthly shows available to the public.
- Aloft Loft, 2041 W Carroll Ave #306, ☏ , [email protected]. Check website for showtimes. A theater group comprised of... trapeze artists?! The space is run by an "aerial dance" troupe which puts on shows and runs high-flying circus training programs. If you're in town for the week and looking for something really out of the ordinary to do, consider signing up for their Two-Day Beginning Trapeze course ($65). It's in an alley and has no signs, so you'll have to really look for it.
- Johnny's Ice House, 1350 W Madison St (20 Madison bus), ☏ . If one of the local hockey teams inspires you to strap on skates, Johnny's Ice House offers ice skating year-round for people of all experience levels, and the Chicago Blackhawks occasionally stop by.
- 1 Credit Union 1 Arena (formerly UIC Pavilion), 525 S Racine (Racine Blue Line), ☏ . Box office Th-F 9AM-6PM, 2-3 hours before events. UIC's campus stadium is remarkably adaptable, hosting college sports like basketball and the school's stand-out ice hockey team (the Flames), Chicago's WNBA team (the Sky), and as concerts for mid-sized to major touring bands. Tickets usually $15-35.
- 2 United Center, 1901 W Madison St (20 Madison bus), ☏ . Home of the NBA Chicago Bulls and the NHL Chicago Blackhawks. The United Center doesn't have much in the way of character as a stadium, but the sightlines are great from anywhere in the house, and both teams are on an upswing. Fans of Michael Jordan (who played here from 1996-98) should look for his jersey in the rafters and his statue outside. (Check the statue details — he's wearing stone Air Jordans!) Most games sell out, but it's usually possible to find tickets at or near face value. On off-nights, this is Chicago's second-largest concert venue for big touring bands, the circus (in November), and other random events. Most games start at $38 for upper level seats, concerts closer to $50.
- 1 New Maxwell Street Market, ☏ . Su 7AM-3PM year-round. The much smaller size and higher vendor fees ensure that the original flavor of the world's greatest outdoor market is now only a piece of history, but the New Market has a truly awe-inspiring number of cheap Mexican food along with discount jewelry, t-shirts, random vintage items, suspicious electronics, and other flea market classics, and is a lot of fun.
More traditional retail has been slow to develop for the rest of the Near West Side, with college students being the only relatively affluent consumer group in the area. Even after the spate of expensive residential developments in the West Loop and University Village, it's still under-served for shopping purposes. However, there are a few places worthy of note:
- Athenian Candle Co, 300 S Halsted St (UIC-Halsted Blue Line), ☏ . M Tu Th F 9:30AM-6PM, Sa 9:30AM-5PM. It's worth a visit just to gawk at their wall of candles, but the fun in browsing begins with their extensive and eclectic collection of religious/spiritual items, from the Christian to the arcane. Ponder to which category the "Pope holograms" belong.
If you need a sunscreen or a new pair of cheap jeans, there is a Target just north of the UIC-Halsted Blue Line stop at 1101 W Jackson Blvd.
Cuisine is a major attraction for the West Side, with two of the city's most celebrated strips: Little Italy (Racine Blue Line) and Greektown (UIC-Halsted Blue Line). Restaurants are almost all that remain of the communities that were there before the bulldozers and redevelopment of the 1960s. Culinary preferences will presumably guide your decision, but all things being equal, Greektown is the better choice, because UIC has more of a presence in the Little Italy area.
Also see Drink — the bars in Greektown can be good dinner options, too, unless you're looking for family dining.
- Artopolis Bakery & Cafe, 306 S Halsted St, ☏ . Cafe M-Th 9AM-midnight, F Sa 9AM-1AM, Su 10AM-11PM; Kitchen Su-Th 11AM-11PM, F Sa 11AM-midnight. Greek artisan breads provide the foundation for bakery treats, sandwiches, and wood-fired pizzas. There's a full bar and wine list as well. $8-16.
- Meli Cafe & Juice Bar, 301 S Halsted St, ☏ . M-Sa 6AM-4PM. A bright and relaxed brunch option, with cage-free eggs and Mediterranean-influenced soups and sandwiches. $9.
- Mr. Greek Gyros, 234 S Halsted St, ☏ . 24 hours. Another solid option for greasy late-night gyros. $5.
- Zeus Inc., 806 W Jackson Blvd, ☏ . M-Th 7:30AM-9PM, F Sa 11AM-9PM. A popular lunch joint.
The aforementioned University Village has a plenty of sandwich shops and pleasant, undistinguished Thai, sushi, froyo and other fast food restaurants catering to UIC students. These are mainly housed on Taylor Street, and are in walking distance from the Taylor side of the campus.
- Al's #1 Italian Beef, 1079 W Taylor St, ☏ . M-Th 9AM-11PM, F 9AM-midnight, Sa 10AM-midnight. With its highly distinctive finely chopped giardinera with tons of red pepper for the heat, Al's has won accolades from various sources claiming it serves one of the top ten sandwiches in America, or more plausibly from the Chicago Magazine, the best Italian Beef in the city. It has since grown into a chain, but this is the original, and the destination of choice for aficionados. $5-8.
- 1 Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken, 847 W Fulton Market, ☏ . Su–W 11AM–10PM, Th–Sa 11AM–midnight. Fried chicken.
- Jim's Original Hot Dog, 1250 S Union St (UIC-Halsted Blue Line), ☏ . 24 hours. Established in 1939, this long-time purveyor of the Maxwell Street Polish was able to move a few blocks away when the last hold-outs were evicted in 2001. Whether it's as good as it used to be is purely academic; it's an original, and it's good. $3-5.
- Mario's Italian Lemonade, 1068 W Taylor St (Racine Blue Line). Open May to September only; 11AM-midnight. If you're dining in Little Italy in the summer, skip dessert at your restaurant and come here instead. Mario's has been selling delicious Italian ice all over Chicago for more than 50 years. There are several flavors, but lemon is the staple. $1-3.
- The Patio, 1503 W Taylor St, ☏ . Su-Th 10:30AM-11PM, F Sa 11:30AM-midnight. Another one of the few places serving the fast food classics like Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches here, in the area where they were born. $4-6.
- White Palace Grill, 1159 S Canal St, ☏ . 24 hours. A good and reliable all-night diner near Little Italy and the university. Since 1939, and fortunate enough to have avoided displacement.
Most of the restaurants in Greektown offer free valet parking. You should be able to enjoy a meal for less than $25 at any of these restaurants, although if you'd like to splurge, most of the menus have seafood or lamb options to make that possible.
- Athena Restaurant, 212 S Halsted St, ☏ . Su-Th 11AM-midnight, F Sa 11AM-1AM. Lots of hot and cold appetizers to accompany the entrees, which are a little cheaper and a little less plentiful than the other Greektown restaurants. Nice indoor and outdoor seating. $10-18, family dinners $20 per person.
- Greek Islands, 200 S Halsted St, ☏ . Su-Th 11AM-midnight, F Sa 11AM-1AM. One of the best and probably the biggest Greek restaurant in the city, with about 400 seats. Good standard Greek food: seafood, lamb, and chicken.
Valet parking is usually available at sit-down Little Italy restaurants for a nominal fee ($2–6).
- Conte Di Savoia European Specialties, 1438 W Taylor St (Racine Blue Line), ☏ . M-F 9AM-7PM, Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 9AM-4PM. Cheap, good Italian deli sandwiches amidst an enormous range of imported wine and groceries.
- Tufano's, 1073 Vernon Park Pl, ☏ . Tu-Th 11AM-10PM, F 11AM-11PM, Sa 4-11PM, Su 3-9PM. Tricky to find on a residential block behind Taylor Street, but Tufano's is a nice, relaxed Italian place to eat before a night at the United Center.
- Tuscany, 1014 W Taylor St, ☏ . M-Th 11AM-10PM, F 11AM-11PM, Sa 4-11PM, Su 4-9PM. A mainstay of the Little Italy scene. $12-20.
- Rye Deli + Drink, 733 W Madison St (20 Madison bus), ☏ . Su-Th 6AM-10PM, F Sa 6AM-11PM. West Loop restaurant designed to be a really nice diner. It's next to the Crowne Plaza Hotel (see Sleep). Sandwiches $8-10, Other entrees $12-28.
- The Publican, 837 W Fulton Market (Morgan Green/Pink Line), ☏ . M-Th 3:30-10:30PM, F Sa to 11:30PM; Su 10AM-2PM, 5-10PM. Come hungry and carnivorous, as the Publican delivers mighty plates stacked high with ham, lamb, pork bellies, and other meats. There's also quite a lot of gourmet seafood from around the world. The Sunday brunch will destroy you. $20-35.
- Wishbone, 161 N Jefferson St, ☏ . "Southern Reconstruction Cooking" includes some nice vegetarian options along with seafood, chicken, burgers, and a large variety of great Southern sides. $7-15.
The city's most trendy and expensive restaurants are to be found in the West Loop / Fulton Market District.
- Carnivale, 702 W Fulton Market (Clinton/Lake Green/Pink Line), ☏ . M-Th 11:30AM-10:30PM (bar to midnight), F 11:30AM-11:30PM (bar to 1:30AM), Sa 5-11:30PM (bar to 1:30AM), Su 5-10PM. This chic Nuevo-Latino club has a great wait-staff and nice, colorful yet understated decor. They're always ready with a margarita, but only the (delicious) appetizers are available in the afternoon hours.
- Girl and the Goat, 809 W Randolph St (Morgan Green/Pink Line), ☏ . Su-Th 4:30PM-11PM, F Sa 4:30PM-midnight. "Top Chef" winner Stephanie Izard offers ten options each from the meat, seafood, and vegetable categories; sharing plates is advised, and pairing with beer is highly encouraged (30 carefully selected brews on tap). Though the menu changes with the chef's creative whims, variations on the "pig face" theme seem to be a mainstay. $25+.
Oh Maxwell Street, what have you become? A few generic, upscale sports bars catering to university students and owners of new townhomes oozed in once the blues were gone.
- 9 Muses, 315 S Halsted St, ☏ . M-F 11AM-2AM, Sa noon-3AM, Su noon-2AM. More of a modern style than the other Greektown bars and restaurants, but with plentiful portions of food, good outdoor seating, and an enthusiastic late-night dance scene. $13.
- Spectrum Bar & Grill, 233 S Halsted St, ☏ . M-F 11AM-4AM, Sa 5PM-5AM, Su 5PM-4AM. The Greektown location means that ouzo and saganaki have a place among the usual bar & grill fare.
- Chicago Marriott at Medical District/UIC, 625 S Ashland Ave, ☏ . As the name implies, this hotel is close to UIC and Rush University Medical Center, and also to Little Italy. A free shuttle service to the Loop and the usual business amenities are available. Rooms from $209.
- Crowne Plaza Metro, 733 W Madison St (20 Madison bus), ☏ . Just west of the Loop. Rooms from $175.
- Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Downtown Chicago, 506 W Harrison St, ☏ . Very close to the Near South and the Loop as well. Rooms from $269.
- Chicago Parthenon Hostel, 310 S Halsted St, ☏ . Good hostel in Greektown within walking distance of Union Station (about 7 to 10 minute walk) with free breakfast, wi-fi and onsite restaurant and bar. From $27.
The following libraries offer free public internet access:
- Mabel Manning Library, 6 S Hoyne Ave (20 Madison bus), ☏ . M W noon-8PM, Tu Th 10AM-6PM, F Sa 9AM-5PM. Two blocks east of the United Center.
- Theodore Roosevelt Library, 1101 W Taylor St (UIC-Halsted Blue Line), ☏ . M W noon-8PM, Tu Th 10AM-6PM, F Sa 9AM-5PM. Close to UIC.
UIC does not offer public internet access, as their WiFi networks are meant for students only. The Richard J. Daley library (801 S. Morgan) is open to the public, but after 5PM they check IDs and only let students in.
Know where you're going, especially at night. Aside from the few major thoroughfares, the Near West Side has long, deserted stretches where help will be difficult to find. On the UIC campus, keep an eye out for kiosks with help phones. Also, while eating in Little Italy, don't fill up on bread; you will be unable to properly enjoy your main dish. (The same risk applies to making pre-emptive grabs for saganaki in Greektown.)
- If you were here for the Blues legacy of Maxwell Street, carry on to Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven in the Near South and the Black Metropolis of Bronzeville, then consider moving on further south to today's home of the Chicago Blues in Chatham-South Shore.
- If you prefer a Northern Italian take on pasta or you still aren't full, head to the smaller but more atmospheric "Heart of Italy" near Pilsen.
|Routes through Near West Side|
|Forest Park/O'Hare International Airport ← Far West Side/Wicker Park ←||W/NW E/SE||→ The Loop → Reverses direction|
|Forest Park ← Far West Side ←||W E||→ The Loop → Southwest Side/Hyde Park|
|Cicero ← Pilsen ←||W E||→ The Loop → END|