St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in village

Neighborhood News: West Town, from the ‘Polish North Shore’ to Eclectic Enclave

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in village

Located on the city’s near northwest side, West Town, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago History, is perhaps best known as an amalgam of several distinct neighborhoods.  West Town’s boundaries are Bloomingdale on the north, Kinzie on the south, the Chicago River’s North Branch to the east, and a shifting western boundary that goes as far as Kedzie, encompassing the communities of Bucktown, East Village, Smith Park, Pulaski Park, West Bucktown, River West, Noble Square, and Ukrainian Village. 

While we could likely do a segment on each community (and maybe we will!) today’s  focus is on what knits this community together. Specifically, this cultural melting pot, according to Choose Chicago, is now known for its eclectic, artsy vibe. It’s also one of the city’s up-and-coming hot spots, where you can uncover laidback taprooms, unique museums, old-school vintage shops, Michelin-star restaurants, and tons of cool art.

Beginnings: Working on the Railroad 

Workers came to the area in the late 1840s to build railroad lines. Other settlers were attracted to factories near the river.

As the Encyclopedia of Chicago Historyreports, by the turn of the twentieth century, Polish immigrants settled around Division and Ashland Streets, an area that eventually became known as “Polish Downtown.” Russian Jews lived near Humboldt Park to the west, while Italians concentrated on the southeastern portions, particularly along Grand Avenue. The Ukrainian community settled in the section between Chicago and Division, Damen and Western—popularly known as Ukrainian Village —and their presence there is still marked through such institutions as the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Artas well as a number of architecturally imposing churches, including the St. Nicholas Ukrainian CatholicCathedraland the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, the latter designed by Louis Sullivan.

With the end of the 19th century the area was subsumed into the surrounding Polish Downtown and the area adjacent to the park which gave the neighborhood its name became known as “the Polish Gold Coast,” according to Wikipedia sources. In the 1890s and 1900s, immigration from Poland and the completion of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Lines greatly boosted the population density of West Town, especially in areas east of Wicker Park. The area around Division, Milwaukee, and Ashland was once known as ‘Kostkaville’, and the intersection retains the moniker “Polish Triangle” to this day. 

Notable past and current residents include Nelson Algren, who lived on the third floor at 1958 W. Evergreen Ave between 1959–1975, and whose book The Man with the Golden Armcaused controversy among the area’s Polish population and was banned from the Chicago Public Library for decades. Liz Phair, who penned her first album Exile in Guyville in and about Wicker Park, Smashing Pumpkins guitarist JamesIha, Pro Wrestler Colt Cabana who can be seen on WWE Smackdown as Scotty Goldman, and singer/guitarist Matt Skiba of The Alkaline Trio.

Modern Day Diversity 

In 1960, according to Wikipedia sources, Latinos comprised less than 1 percent of West Town’s population, but by 1970 that number was up to 39 percent. Split from the Lincoln Park neighborhood only by the Kennedy Expressway in the late 1950s and 1960s, It contained the second-largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in Chicago. Efforts by community development groups like Northwest Community Organization (NCO) to stabilize the community through new affordable-housing construction in the 1980s coincided with the arrival of artists attracted by the neighborhood’s easy access to the Loop, cheap loft space in the abandoned factories, and distinctly urban feel.


As Choose Chicago notes, there’s a nod to the ancient practice of relaxation through semi-private baths. West Town has the AIRE ancient baths, 800 W. Superior Street, inspired by the tradition of open air baths in ancient Greek, Roman, and Ottoman societies, AIRE creates an environment that emphasizes old world tranquility with an urban vibe. 

West Town Restaurant Week

West Town is also known as ‘Restaurant Row,’ with numerous acclaimed restaurants along Randolph, Chicago and Madison Streets. Now is your chance to sample from these Chicago treasures! From March 22 – 30, the West Town Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a special West Town Restaurant Week. Similar to other city restaurant weeks, prix-fixe menus include such treats as Oggi Trattoria’s three-course dinner menu for $45 per person, or Forbidden Root’s special prix-fixe menu and beer specials, and Barcocina West Town’s four-course prix-fixe menu for $42 per person. For a complete list of participating restaurants, click here. 

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago