Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, so today we’ll take in one of my favorites: the west side of Chicago known as Wicker Park. Once the stomping ground of the very young and exceptionally trendy, it’s now become a stylishly diverse neighborhood where the Vespas vie with strollers and old-school bakeries sit happily next to organic coffeebars. In summer, this place has an outdoor café vibe, but even in the dead of winter its varied delights are worth the black-belt you may need in parallel parking to get around.
Breakfast at the Milk and Honey Cafe
1920 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622
This smart but warm café typifies the neighborhood—excellent coffee, thoughtful menu (they make their own granola!), and even a charming fireplace. Since you’ve got a packed day ahead of you, the fast order-at-the-counter-and-we-bring-it-to-you service and don’t-linger-too-long atmosphere on weekends is just the ticket. And hey, if you top off your Orange Brioche French Toast with one of their outstanding chocolate-white chocolate-cashew cookies, I won’t tell.
Next Stop: nina, a well-knit shop
1655 West Division Street
Chicago, IL 60622
Caffeine flowing freely through your veins, wander east down the block a bit until you see the giant knitting needles in the window of “nina.” Contrary to yesterday, today we start out with yarn, and this is a very fine place to start. You’ll feel as if you are in a art supply store, and owner Nina Rubin is ready to nurture your artistic tendencies. This is the kind of store that can makes you feel trendy yourself, rather than making you feel as if you’re outside looking in on the trendier, worthier folk.
A lifelong knitter herself, Nina will readily tell you her favorite thing is helping beginners feel “encouraged and confident.” As you’d expect, she just that friendly. It’s simply impossible not to wander awestruck down the long wall of crave-worthy fibers. This groovy little shop has been a local favorite since it’s opening day five years ago, and it’s not hard to see why.
Blue Sky Alpaca’s Baby Jumper from VOGUEknitting
I dare you not to say “aww” when you see this adorable chunky-knit jumper sized for toddlers. If I didn’t have nieces, I’d go hunt down unsuspecting preschool girls just to have someone to make this sweet little dress for. Even with all it’s happy details, I’m betting it knits up rather quick in chunky yarn.
I always wear a scarf, so this sleek, artsy version caught my eye immediately. Trimmed with a swath of stunning ribbon (more on that later), its an eye-catching way to keep warm. I chose a lush purple, but you could go a dozen different directions—from bold brights to elegant neutrals—to suit your taste.
Pre-combined yarn scarf
Art for the art-impaired: this is one of those can’t fail projects that not only creates a stunning piece but supports a good cause as well. The one hank you buy contains several pre-coordinated yarns to give you a eclectic yet pulled-together look. If you’re one of those people who needs someone else to pick out colors for you, this is the ideal project.
Next Stop: Ruby Room1743 West Division Street
Chicago, IL 60622
Just doors away from Nina is the one-of-a-kind Ruby Room. Even if you don’t choose this as your lodging, this unique spa/store/inn is worth a visit. Plan ahead and book the 90-minute starter package for $150 that will give you a selection of the establishment’s inner healing practices, or just wander through the selection of cosmetics, crystals, essences, and gem-based products you probably didn’t even know existed. Owner Kate Leydon is generous with her time and knowledge, and even mainstream suburban me found myself fascinated with all her shop offers. Buy a fab handbag and have your aura analyzed. Purchase a face cream and an energy healing session—the possibilities are endless. I would suggest, however, that you walk up to the second floor and ask the staff to tell you what your color choice of yarn says about you—you may only find it entertaining, but you also might find it deeply insightful. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet Ruby, the elegant black standard Poodle that gives the store its name.
Next Stop: Beadniks
1937 West Division Street, Chicago, IL
Wander down a few more blocks to Beadniks, the Chicago location of this hip new national franchise. If you’re one of the many knitters who beads, or would like to be, you won’t make it out of here empty-handed. The store boasts a friendly staff, loads of merchandise, an international bazaar feel, and a just plain happy vibe (the store’s motto is “don’t worry, bead happy”).
Depending on the weather and your walking stamina, either leave your car and take a cab up Damen Avenue, or be prepared to drive and make multiple stops. Should you choose to drive, remember this is Chicago, and parking takes some gumption but isn’t impossible if you access side streets and watch for the many neighborhood permit zones.
Next Stop: Soutache Embellishments
2125 North Damen Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
Another amazing one-of-a-kind store that will drop your jaw. If you’ve chosen the herringbone scarf for your project (as I did), the hunt for the perfect accent ribbon will be just as satisfying as the selection of yummy yarn. Owner Maili Powell is your delightful guide through a stunning array of every bead, button, ribbon, and trim imaginable, not to mention some great ideas for updating garmets. Knitters, who tend to take our buttons very seriously, could spend hours in the button section alone.
2034 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Wander a few blocks down Damen to Virtu, a nifty little housewares store that maintains a significant relationship with each of it’s vendors. The owners can tell you a story about virtually every item in the store, which makes for a personal, satisfying shopping experience.
Next stop: Lunch at Hot Chocolate
1747 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
The high-calorie name gives you an idea of the quality and creativity of the food here. Order whatever entrée suits you, but save room for the restaurant’s outstanding, award-winning deserts. If anyone ever told me I’d love blue cheese red wine ripple ice cream, I’d never have believed it. The deserts change with the seasons, but the pear desert I had was phenomenal. I had the Mexican Hot chocolate, which could be called a desert in itself. Ask the very friendly staff to make a recommendation if you can’t decide—I did and was very happy with the results. It’s warm and cozy, just like a mug of cocoa. The nice, open lounge area would be an outstanding place to get a bit of knitting done if the lighting is right and the place isn’t too crowded. After all, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better companion for great yarn than a mug of great hot chocolate.
Take as much time as you want wandering down Damen or Milwaukee Avenue back toward Division—there are a host of stores of every description. Unscene.com publishes nifty maps and neighborhood guides that will give you a quick tour of the neighborhood, or just let your eyes draw you where they may.
Smoke Daddy – 1804 West Division Street
Via Carducci la Sorella – 1928 West Division
Crust – 2056 West Division
Tocco – 1266 North Milwaukee Ave
Usagi Ya Sushi – 1178 North Milwaukee Ave
Turn in, get a bunch of knitting done on your stunning new projects, and sleep up for tomorrow’s adventure.