NFT Chicago Ravenswood / North Center

Ravenswood / North Center

Ravenswood and North Center are by and large the hip place to be seen pushing an expensive stroller. Lincoln Square is its epicenter, featuring plenty of wine stores and bars with stroller parking. It's not all yuppie though. An old German immigrant presence still exists in restaurants like the Chicago Brauhaus (featuring live Oompah bands on the weekends) and annual German festivals (Mayfest and Christkindl) directly off the Western L.

By day, local yuppies shop at places like the Book Cellar, a cute bookshop cum wine café, and browse-friendly Merz Apothecary. By night, a stretch of Lincoln Avenue becomes restaurant row featuring mouth-watering international fare including See more.

>Opart Thai, Chicago Brauhaus, and Spacca Napoli. The Davis Theater sates cinephiles with their no-frills, low-priced flicks.

Katerina's, on an unassuming stretch of Irving Park, features regular live gypsy music along with local acts. Koval Distillery offers classes, tours and plenty of bottled varieties of whiskey to take home. For beer, Half Acre fills growlers at their tap room. Meanwhile, Fountainhead has an incredible beer selection and The Globe Pub is just a great Irish bar.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Brendan Keating
Photo:  Brendan Keating

Spacca Napoli
If you haven't devoted the better part of your life to making the perfect pizza, then do the next best thing--find someone who has and have them make a pizza for you. Where, you ask, can you find such a purveyor of the ideal pie? Try Spacca Napoli, along the Ravenswoood tracks in a quiet corner of Uptown. Spacca's pies are not of the Chicago genus. Rather, owner Jon Goldsmith traveled to Naples to learn the art at the feet of the old masters, bringing the secret of Italian pizza-making back to America. Suffice it to say, the pizza at Spacca Napoli is amazing: fresh, light, slightly chewy, and savory. The special pizzas of the day are a sure bet, and the other items of the menu, appetizers, desserts, and even the espresso, are all made with craftsman-like quality. Dining al fresco at their expansive patio, sipping san pelligrino and a glass of table wine, awaiting your freshly baked pizza, it's easy to imagine yourself in the heart of Italia, where dining is more than a means to an end, it's a way a life.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

It's a shame that we call the tchotchke-mongers in hotels and airports "gift shops," as they're usually the last place you’d want anyone to buy you a present. The term would be better used to describe places like Hazel, which provides a sharply curated selection of small but special items that are perfect for giving away or keeping forever. I won't say that there’s something for everyone here, but I will say that there's something for every man, woman, and baby who loves clothing and objects that are modern and classic at the same time. The vast majority of the merchandise costs less than $100 and there are numerous small items that would be perfect for a Secret Santa or a stocking. What really sets Hazel apart from the conventional gift shop, however, is the stationary collection: hundreds of cards and not a single naked beefcake or fart joke to be found.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Everywhere you go there's someone telling you to spend conservatively in these uncertain economic times. I say hogwash! If the next ten years are going to be spent wearing potato sacks and eating canned food, I’m going to live it up now while I can. I recommend that you do the same and blow your unemployment check on a big meal at Tallulah. If you can't bring yourself to act so "irresponsibly," think about it this way: for the quality of food and drink that you get at this elegant restaurant, the prices are actually a bargain. If you like your profligacy with a side of cruelty, I especially recommend the foie gras. It's fantastic, like most of the items on the menu. Don't be fazed by the crowds clamoring for the weekend brunch--it's definitely worth the wait and besides, it'll be good practice for the soup lines. I don't think they accept food stamps or ration coupons at Tallulah, so act now before things really get dire.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

StoryStudio Chicago
It may seem easy to write about grocery stores and restaurants and novelty shops, but I assure you, it's not. The NFT Radar is a noble art form requiring great heaps of vision and creative discipline. To borrow from the words of Michaelangelo, I see the porn store trapped in stone and I set it free. In order to remain at the top of the field, constant development of one's skills is required and my venue of choice for working on my craft is StoryStudio in Ravenswood. They offer classes in both fiction and non-fiction in addition to seminars on the business and marketing of writing. They even offer classes in poetry, which I'm sure would greatly enhance my descriptions of the various drinking establishments in which I can be found exploring another literary tradition: alcoholism. Speaking of alcoholics, Hemingway once advised aspiring writers to shoot themselves in the head. I advise them to visit StoryStudio first.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Happy Food Spot
Happy Food Spot may sound like the title of a wacky Japanese game show but it's really the very simple and to-the-point name of a great corner store. In addition to being a convenient place to go when you discover that you've run out of something basic at an inconvenient time, HFS has a fair selection of foreign foods that are worth tossing in your basket with that gallon of milk or carton of eggs. The staff is helpful and friendly and does their darnedest to earn the "Happy" by doing things like giving out cookies to regular customers during the holidays. It's rare to encounter a corner store with such a devoted following that those in the know will immediately cheer "HAPPY FOOD SPOT!" at the mere mention of the place. Japanese game shows only wish they could inspire such enthusiasm, which is saying something if you've ever seen an audience react to a man in a lambchop costume diving headfirst into a pool of mint sauce. Fortunately a trip to Happy Food Spot is not nearly so debasing.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Lillstreet Art Center
Art classes aren't just for middle-aged divorcees--they're for everyone! And Lillstreet has it all: painting, pottery, jewelry-making, metalsmithing, screenprinting, glassblowing... whatever you need to remind yourself that you're better off without him or remember how much fun it is to be creative. Classes are held every day of the week, both during the day and evening, so there's surely a time that will work with your custody schedule. My experiences in the ceramics department have always been positive ones and I highly recommend taking a class with Tony. He's no Patrick Swayze, but if I remember correctly Demi Moore didn't leave the studio with anything that looks nearly as good as what I've made under his tutelage. Fall classes begin on October 13, but don't worry if you miss this deadline. Just as there are always other fish in the sea, there is a new session at Lillstreet every five weeks.

Posted By:  Nina Williams
Photo:  Nina Williams

Beans & Bagels
Forget how good the bagels and coffee are, this intimate indie café located underneath the Montrose Brown Line L Stop carries the best muffins in Chicago. If their chocolate zucchini muffin hasn't touched your lips, then you're missing out. They also have a great selection of vegetarian friendly sandwiches including one in particular called the Tree Hugger, which is made with hummus and marinated mushrooms. Yum. Beans is decorated with random unmatched tables, interesting patrons, couches, and paintings or photos from rotating artists around the Chicagoland area. This is a great place to grab sustenance when heading to work or meeting up with friends.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Tom Video
There just aren't enough video stores with beaded curtains anymore. Not that I have a particular fondness for the item, but I do enjoy browsing what usually lies behind: porn. Almost every video store has scrubbed their selection of the ridiculous, the bizarre, and the absurdly large-breasted. But at Tom (not "Tom's") you can still step through the strings and find yourself in the Adult's (not "Adult") video section. What makes Tom Video such a great find, aside from naughty videos and a charming misunderstanding of how language possessives work, is the low, low cost to take a naughty video home. At only $3 a night for new releases (with each additional new release you rent costing only $1 more) and $1 for five nights at home with the golden oldies, you can't beat the prices. The only downside is that the video library, both naughty and normal, is extremely disorganized. But consider the time you spend browsing a small price to pay to support a local store unafraid to offer you an unsanitized selection.

Posted By:  Elissa Pociask
Photo:  Elissa Pociask

Tank Sushi
Word on the street has unofficially anointed Tank Sushi this year's chosen sushi spot. But if dropping 40 bucks on a few mid-sized (albeit fancy) rolls breaks the bank, don't walk away from your feelings! Tank offers a half-priced maki list during weekday lunches and weekend happy hours. Even if you've reached the point where unlikely food combinations fail to excite you, at least you won't ever have to come to terms with the fact that you paid $15 for a roll with strawberries in it. So call up all your broke freelance writer/musician/environmentalist/perpetual-student friends who really want nothing more than to eat some guilt-free escolar.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Café 28
When it comes to Cuban food, there's one important thing to remember: It's not Mexican. And by "not Mexican," I mean "no chips and salsa at the table." However, you won't miss them here because you get fresh sourdough bread with a delicious spicy butter that'll knock your socks off. Try the Cuban Chicken, cooked to tender perfection and served with flavorful black beans and rice and plantains. The many pork dishes are also packed with flavors that’ll make you gobble up your meal before you know it. And even if you are hankering for a little Mexican food, Cafe 28 does offer a few Mexican specialties—with their own Latin twist. With food this good, you shouldn’t be surprised to see the place packed, so arrive early or you’ll be sitting at the bar nursing a fine mojito. On second thought, that’s not a bad way to spend an evening either.

Posted By:  Matt Wolff
Photo:  Matt Wolff

Timeless Toys
You can’t turn on your television or open a newspaper these days without recoiling in horror as another set of recalls goes out due to unsafe lead paint on children’s toys. It’s very little wonder that a shop like Timeless Toys is flourishing in this, the wooden toy revolution. Nestled snugly in the ever-changing habitat of Lincoln Square, Timeless Toys offers safe, wholesome products for parents that give a crap about what their kids are handling and potentially putting in their mouths. You won’t find cheap foreign plastic nonsense here but rather borderline educational wares that hark back to a more civilized era, one where we didn’t fear giving our kids toys. Walking in you’ll be amazed at how far back this shop reaches. Aisle and aisle they have the very best stuffed, hand-made and lead paint-free goodies that both your child and inner-child will squee over. Big stuffed dragons, little wooden knights and real witch costumes are just a few of the hundreds and hundreds of imagination-fueling toys they carry. If you have kids, you owe it to them to shop here. If you’re shopping for someone else’s kids, doubly so. The big box stores don’t care about safety or wholesome products, only the bottom line.

Posted By:  Keidra Chaney
Photo:  Keidra Chaney

The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative was founded in 1989 by print artist Deborah Maris Lader. The space was designed to double as a shared work studio and gallery space for fine artists that specialize in print, including: etching, relief printing, lithography and screen-printing. After a decade of calling the Ukranian Village home, the CPC relocated to a more spacious location in Ravenswood, with artist studios occasionally available for rent on each of the building’s three floors. Workshops and classes (private and semi-private) are available by request to novice print makers, while more experienced artists can sign up for access to studio equipment in three-hour work sessions on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays ($40 per session) or for 24-hour space availability ($320 a month). Those who are more inclined toward collecting can view the public gallery on Saturday afternoons or by appointment.

Posted By:  Josannah Birman
Photo:  Josannah Birman

Bowman's Tavern and Grill
Bowman’s Bar and Grill is cozy in a way that only a corner bar with exposed brick walls and a fireplace can be. The upscale menu runs the bar food gamut from wild wings to gourmet cheese platters. For the most part, the food is solid, although the mini sandwiches sound better than they taste. Bowman’s redeems itself with friendly service and daily specials. Wednesdays are half price wine night and the short list includes a few bottles that will make oenophiles do a happy dance. Casillero del Diablo Carménère is a Chilean wine well worth the $28, but at $14 a pop the hints of exotic plum taste even sweeter. Stop by on a Thursday for $3 sangria if you prefer your vino with fruit.

Posted By:  Laura Rotz
Photo:  Laura Rotz

Diner Grill
Sure, you can order something aside from the Slinger, but then what kind of man would you be? No, you have to get it, preferably at 3 am after a long night of heavy drinking. Take a moment to revel in the glory of this brilliant dish, hash browns, cheeseburgers, onions, eggs, chili, and all. Eat slowly and carry a big fork, otherwise the Slinger will destroy you. Eat the food, don’t let it eat you. When you’re halfway through and you feel like quitting, stay focused. Look around at the other real men; they can finish a Slinger and so can you. When you’re finally down to those last two bites and you’re sure you can’t do it, think about the certificate of completion you’ll get. Look at the posters on the wall requesting that you leave your Slingerrhea elsewhere; don’t let them faze you, you’re going to make it. Shovel those last two bites in and get home as soon as possible. Light a candle or two for more than mere ambiance. Is this what I do when I get a Slinger? Fuck no, I don’t order that shit; what am I, crazy?

Posted By:  Eric Kroh
Photo:  Eric Kroh

This place has all the hallmarks of a top-notch used bookstore: dusty tomes stacked to the ceiling on every spare surface; a turntable playing great browsing music; and ample cranny space in which to sit and explore any title on which your fingers happen to land. Books on any topic can be found, as long as you aren’t looking for any book in particular. Books are grouped roughly by subject, but that’s about it. Bad news if you’re looking for D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow; good news if you have a hankering for early 20th-century English novelists. Everything looks enticing. You’ll walk in there hoping to find a French cookbook and walk out with a book on symbolist painting.

Posted By:  Eric Kroh
Photo:  Eric Kroh

Seems like every time I go to ‘Cia’s, I end up reluctantly watching some Spanish television program. Futbol I don’t mind so much, but I can’t understand the dialog of La Fea Mas Bella, and the tango-dancing version of American Idol is torturous. Maria says I can change the channel if I want, but I don’t want to instantly become the most unpopular person in the joint. It’s a good thing there’s plenty of complimentary chips & salsa, too-sweet margaritas, and savory al pastor tacos to go around. And, if no one else is in there, sometimes I get to change it to Girlfriends.

Posted By:  David Macey
Photo:  David Macey

As the large neon “Steak” and “Ribs” signs in the window tell you Oakwood 83 is technically a restaurant. However, I have never actually seen someone eat there because the highlight of The Oakwood (as locals call it) is its lounge. The lounge is really just a bar, and it is hands down the best 4 am bar in Chicago. Why? Because compared to the rest of the 4 am bars in Chicago, the Oakwood has no line to get in, no cover charge, no bar girls selling you Jell-o shots, and most importantly, no 20 year olds making a last ditch effort at a one night stand. The décor is a glorified version of your uncle Frank’s basement bar: Christmas lights, framed pictures of Britney Spears, brown wood tables, red leather chairs, numerous citations from civic and non profit groups, and a TV from 1987. On a positive note, there is a brand new digital jukebox and a booth with a piano built in which you can actually play (my buddy Dan led an awesome rendition of Van Halen’s “Right Now” last Friday). Oh yeah, smokers welcome.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

If you’re looking for a good helping of Gemütlichkeit, get to Glunz! Proprietor Jim Glunz, a member of the Glunz family who immigrated from Germany in 1879 and eventually set up shop at The House of Glunz, a wine and spirits shop that’s still located at Chicago and Division, has created an authentic Bavarian restaurant down to the chairs imported from the famous Hofbräuhaus in Munich. The menu, set by a chef from Salzburg, is full of delicious traditional favorites, so if you’re craving good schnitzel, sauerbraten, spatzle, jagerpfandl (pork tenderloin), or wurst, this is the place to go. An excellent beer list, including Hofbräu, Spaten, and Stiegl beers, rounds out the menu. With people singing along to the “Ein Prosit” song whenever it’s piped in (or played live during Oktoberfest) or chanting “Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi hoi hoi!” before doing shots, you’ll feel like you’re in Bavaria; however, if you’re not into the traditional tunes, go on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they feature excellent live jazz.

Posted By:  Garin Pirnia
Photo:  Garin Pirnia

It seems traditional Chinese restaurants are sparse in the city of Chicago unless you count Panda Express, those $1 Chinese hole-in-the-wall places, or venture down to Chinatown. Luckily, the heart of Lincoln Square boasts an authentic Chinese/Cantonese/Mandarin eatery. The décor consists of Asian artwork on the walls and plants peppered throughout the large dining room with ample seating in booths and tables. On the table sets assorted dipping sauces such as hot mustard, soy sauce, and sweet and sour. A complimentary pot of tea is given once you’re seated, which is something hardly any Asian cuisine establishments provide anymore. The menu is traditional in the veggie, chicken, beef, seafood, and noodle variety, but they do offer an usual dish called Hawaiian Chicken: chicken stuffed with ham and pineapple. Wah Sun’s best deal is their daily lunch special which includes an appetizer item, rice, and entrée, all for under $7.50. If you want to drink here, Wah Sun concocts tropical drinks and other alcoholic beverages, but be prepared to pay as much for one strawberry daiquiri as you will for an entree. Heading down the street to get wasted is a more reasonable option.

Posted By:  Garin Pirnia
Photo:  Garin Pirnia

Book Cellar
Reading books is always a little more entertaining with some red wine running through the veins. Lincoln Square’s neighborhood bookstore not only sells a vast collection of literature, but also spirits, food, and hot beverages. All genres of books are represented including local interest, science fiction, pop culture, fiction, non-fiction, and kids. The staff posts their recommendations on the shelves with a brief summary of some of their picks. In the Pop Culture section, consider titles Celebrities Top Meltdowns or The Zombie Survival Guide. In fiction, own the latest from acclaimed author Haruki Murakami. While relishing a good mystery, sit in the designated café and sip on a glass of wine or coffee. Sandwiches and salads are also served. Relax leafing through a book in one of the Cellar’s snug chairs scattered throughout nooks in the room. Monthly events occur in the store with occasional authors stopping by for readings. The Cellar hosts monthly book club meetings in which alcohol is half priced. Magazines are slim here, so head to Borders to catch up on the latest gossip weekly’s instead.

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Nightlife (21)
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