Andersonville sits a handful of miles Northwest from the heart of downtown Chicago. The land used to be cherry orchards, and once built up, it gained a large population of Swedish immigrants. While the cherries are gone, there is still the rich heritage of Swedes and now a more affluent population that moved to the outskirts of the big city. Most of the area in Andersonville is taken up by homes, except for the downtown-feeling strip of Clark Street between Argyle and Ridge. The shopping on Clark Street is truly top-notch. Except for a few establishments, the businesses on Clark are local and long-lasting. Neighborhood residents can get everything that they need from the local shopping and have many options, from hardware, grocery and pharmacy, to antiques, clothing, and furniture, all the way to high-end food, dive bars and craft cocktails, and just about everything in-between. Come join our Andersonville barista Eric at several of his absolute favorite haunts in A-Ville!
Just around the corner from La Colombe is a… weird little store called Wooly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities. They bill themselves as “a curiosity cabinet of odd, amusing & eclectic items resurrected from the past.” They do not disappoint. Oddities are indeed brimming to the top of the small space that would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the unique neon sign out front. Everywhere you look, there is so much to capture your attention – items that need to be figured out as they are now completely out of context in the 21st century. Pencil laboratory drawings and torturous-looking dental and medical equipment – there are literally buckets of bones from many animals, even a rubber ear that diagrams acupuncture points. The specialty of the house, however, is animal rescue – or rather dead animal rescue, taxidermy, specifically. Wooly Mammoth is an Arc of the Dead, with animals of all sizes, up and down the walls posed to mimic our ideal versions of their unknown lives. And it’s glorious. Not only do they find and restore unwanted taxidermy, they also offer classes in taxidermy. There are several antique stores in Andersonville, but truly none compare to Wooly Mammoth.
Just past the Starbucks on Clark. Oh – you’re at Potbelly’s? You’ve gone too far. It’s just between them. In the four-foot alley space twixt the two stores, AlleyCat Comics is the (extremely) hidden gem of Andersonville. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s more than likely you will miss it altogether. Those that do know about it – all seem to have been shown by someone else. There is a paradox there if you follow the line, but follow the very narrow space between the two brick walls, and you’ll come to a garage-type space that houses one of the best comic book selections in Chicago. The well-curated offerings range from the big tittles of Marvel and DC, to the peculiar tittles of independent labels, and even some local self-published options – veritable church for nerdiness. The employees are the priests, and are extremely well-versed. They can answer most questions, and can fill you in on the ever-shifting universes of comics. And for the nerds-in-the-know, AlleyCat Comics hosts a variety of events, which is even better in the summer when they open up their outdoor seating area.
I know that I might be or just spend way too much time here, but honestly, even though it is only 6 weeks old, the newest La Colombe cafe is easily the best spot on Clark for people watching. What was once a local vitamin store, La Colombe boasts two walls of large windows that look out onto the hustle and bustle of Clark and Foster. Two major busses stop just outside, and it’s location on the South end of the main strip makes a place ideal for shoppers just beginning their excursion and those just winding down. The minimalism of the interior highlights the beauty of the original architecture, and easily allows the eye to wander outward, especially on snowy days, where one feels what it must be like to live in a snow globe.
If you know Andersonville, you probably remember a little burger place just off Clark and Bryn Mawr called Burger Philosophy. Sadly, they are gone. Happily, something better is there. In a breathtaking transformation, Little Bad Wolf has filled the void left by Burger Philosophy, and offers so much more. It’s a small space, and fills up quickly, making one feel pretty cool for getting a spot on a busy night. The atmosphere is dark, moody and sexy, with a mural on one full wall, depicting a single wolf stalking through the woods with Chicago visible in the background. The bar offerings are impressive for such a small space, and cocktails are spot-on, with the Barcelona-esque gin and house-made tonic and the playfully spicy El Chupacabra. It’s the food, however, that really makes the place special. The menu is broken up into “Pinch,” “Fold,” “Grab” and “Stab.” “Pinch” offer a variety of sharing appetizers such as charcuterie and mussels. Under “Fold,” you’ll find tacos and bao – seemingly at odds, but both styles of cuisine are done so well to honor their heritage that you’re damn happy they couldn’t decide which way to go. “Stab” offers full entrees to be shared… or not. The half fried chicken with mashed potatoes is a must. But the real winner is the burger. With the options of sliders, double-patty, and triple-patty with bacon, you get the same perfect buttery buns regardless. The thin style patties, melt-y cheese and house-made pickles combine to make this perhaps the best burger in Andersonville.
The Brixton is also a relative newcomer to Andersonville, opening their doors this past summer. The food and drinks are quite good – not to mention an amazing back-patio. Even newer, however, is the upstairs at Brixton. Finally open to the public about a month ago, this Friday and Saturday night only bar is like stepping back in time. Modeled after the classy speakeasies of prohibition era, the upstairs has many small sections of comfortable lounge seating, a small bar that fits five people, and a gorgeous red pool table in the far end – free to use, of course. The small bar means only the essentials. Cocktail options, like the vibe, are classic. Well-versed bartenders make the drinks look effortless and slick, and more importantly, make the drinks damn good.