Greg Johnson: Exploring a New Neighborhood in Chicago

Greg Johnson
Over the Holiday season Greg Johnson visited his hometown, Chicago and wrote about his experience exploring new neighborhoods in the city.
Courtesy Photo

— I love going home to Chicago. I consider the city and my home suburb a family member. I love it and always will, but I don’t need to spend all my time with it.

As the years pass, my activities have also changed. Gone are the days of bar hopping in the trendy post college neighborhoods of Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville and crashing on couches. Many of my friends are starting families and have found homes in the suburbs. Those who remain in the city live in new neighborhoods now, and I find myself staying in extra bedrooms instead of crashing on old sofas.

This Christmas trip I spent most of my time in West Town. Located just west of the sky scrapers downtown, this up-and-coming (code for gentrified) neighborhood has many new restaurants and bars to explore along with abundant taco stands and other ethnic restaurants.

The area attracts a nice mix of young professionals and hipsters blended with Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans who have inhabited the area for decades. West Town hasn’t lost it’s industrial feel, but their are remodeled boutiques, salons and restaurants that litter the main streets.

The energy in the city is always different than the vibe in the mountains and I enjoy the spark that comes with urban visits. Along with the burgeoning beer scene in Chicago, upscale cocktail bars have become very popular. I discovered a few with my sister and friends, Bar Deville and G &O. G & O could be compared to Steamboat’s BARley Colorado Craft & Draft, a place where a big group could get together and converse and enjoy libations. I enjoyed Bar Deville, with a dive bar feel, but a high energy dance floor in back.

The food in Chicago rivals my love for family and friends. Beyond Chicago’s traditional fare, I seek out new options on each trip. For those on a budget, I recommend heading to one of the many BYOB restaurants. A group of us met at Butterfly for some sushi and Thai food before going out. For only $26 a person in our group of five, we enjoyed many appetizers five rolls of sushi and some of the best red curry I have had since a trip to Bangkok. Another budget friendly option are the food trucks in town and I had some amazing fried chicken from Roost. By the end of my trip I felt like I would need to be rolled off the plane I ate so much.

Exploring new areas of Chicago has become a favorite part of going home, and I love that the options seem unending. As I mature and grow older, my tastes and priorities change as well. That includes where I spend my time.

My trips now include visits to new houses in the suburbs and of course meeting new babies. When this first started, I wasn’t all that excited for the change. My city experience stopped when I was 24, and I still held on to that version for a while.

I have slowly started to appreciate meeting and holding my friends’ new babies, maybe even getting spit up on. Seeing how happy they are with their new lives has me thinking of the future myself. Being a bachelor, I am not rushing to become a parent, but this is the first trip I thought it might not be too bad to skip the city altogether. One day, I could be the one people come to see, and I will have a little one spitting up on all my friends.

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