Chicago, from gangster to hipster
lthough Chicago always features high on the list of America’s coolest places, together with Portland, Austin, New York and San Francisco, the self-proclaimed ‘Windy City’ shies away from the usual hipster stereotypes, with any trendy excesses hidden from view. From the shores of Lake Michigan you can see the home of the first skyscrapers to be built in the United States. and the second tallest building in the country, the Willis Tower, rebuilt after the great fire of 1871.
Chicago is especially well known in the cinema for the organised crime that dominated city life during the Prohibition era, between 1919 and 1933. So much so that these days there are even sightseeing tours that will take you to the spots where Al Capone and Bugs Moran used to frequent. The city’s legendary gangsters share their loved for the underworld with contemporary hipsters, though admittedly it Chicago’s hidden side has undergone significant gentrification since then.
Implacable American taste
The Bangers & Lace restaurant celebrates Chicago’s love for sausages and good beer, something that never goes out of fashion. Homemade doughnuts, vegan restaurants and organic menus live side-by-side with the rich pizzas of Lou Malnatis and, since 1948, the best hot dog in the country, to be found at Superdawg.
Beyond major events like the Lollapalooza music festival or the Taste of Chicago outdoor food festival, the cultural beat of the city is marked by countless jazz clubs and the tradition of small halls that host works, exhibitions and concerts. There are over 200 theatres in Chicago and most of them are independent venues that can seat fewer than 70 people. Steep Theatre and, less mainstream still, The House, are just two examples.
Chicago’s authenticity lies in its lack of pretensions and the wide variety of subgroups and cultures that live together in the city. ‘Chicago doesn’t have one definable scene. People here take a very strong, personal approach to style that’s understated, not obvious or overdone,’ affirm Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters, students of the Art Institute of Chicago and founders of the Creatures of the Wind fashion project.
Wicker Park is one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the whole of the States and has been a hotbed of ideas since the 1980s. It is also where John Cusack’s character had his record store in the classic film, ‘High Fidelity’. Over the years, the neighbourhood has undergone a number of facelifts and is now a perfect place for college-educated young adults. Located at the ‘Six Corners’ intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen is the mythical music club the Double Door, as well celebrated second-hand vinyl shop Reckless Records, and, of course, the iconic Flat Iron Arts Building, a place where artists and musicians of all disciplines have been meeting for decades.
The artistic movement has now found its home in the Pilsen neighbourhood, well known for its mix of nationalities and Mexican food. It is impossible not be impressed by the street murals, like “Increíbles Las Cosas Q’ Se Ven”, by the artist Jeff Zimmerman, and the numerous art galleries. Nearby there are taco restaurants like the Nuevo Leon, which has been one of the neighbourhood’s most popular taquerias for the past 50 years, as well as countless other interesting places, including Architectural Artifacts, a museum and shop of over 7,000 square metres, full of extraordinary antiques.
The new ‘next big thing’ for 2017 is the West Side neighbourhood, the Ukrainian Village. Orthodox churches, museums and old Ukrainian delis blend in with boutiques, restaurants and increasingly popular establishments, such as the Rainbo Club.
Driven by the wind and its creative airs, Chicago moves quickly. As Mark Twain would say, ‘It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago—she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time’.