Scouting Andersonville: One of the Nation’s Hottest Neighborhoods

The area that Andersonville occupies today was once considered far flung distant suburbs. One might be hard pressed to convince anyone of that today: the dense urban area plays host to a good section of rumbling elevated train lines and businesses along Clark Street, packed together so tightly they’re practically stacked on top of one another. One thing it retains from its distant beginnings is the heavily Swedish ancestry that makes it the powerful cultural center it is today.

Andersonville’s secret is out: it was named one of the nation’s hottest neighborhoods by venerable real estate blog, Curbed. That’s a long way from when it was a near lawless cherry orchard first settled by Swedish immigrants after the Great Chicago Fire. They had come here because, in the aftermath of the conflagration, the city outlawed wooden homes. Not able to afford brick or stone, the migrants came here to escape that restriction.

What they built endures today, not only in the form of homes, but in their cultural legacy. The neighborhood is heavily Swedish and features a large amount of businesses that reflect that.

Eat & Drink

Most notably among them is Simon’s Tavern. The bar was founded to serve as a hidden speakeasy, though those days are thankfully long over. The long, narrow room is unpretentious and, come winter, the bar is famous for serving up hot Swedish Glogg, a mulled spiced wine served alongside a gingerbread cookie. Simon’s version is topped with almond slivers and raisins. The drink makes the place a prime destination on a cold and snowy winter afternoon.

Superior food and drink options are an Andersonville hallmark. Also here is one of the best bars in the country, Hopleaf, renowned for its selection of Belgian ales. When locals want comfort food, they head for the fried chicken at Big Jones. When it’s time for brunch, eatery ‘m. henry’ serves up pancakes with blackberries and marscapone that are incomparable. Anteprima does modern Italian — the grilled octopus is a must.

Those are just a few of the restaurants. First Slice Pie Cafe is another local favorite, and the worldly Kopi Cafe (“A traveler’s cafe”) stuns with its flourless chocolate cake. Those with a sweet tooth can get their sugar straight from the ancestral source at the nearly 100 year old and plainly named Swedish Bakery.

Culture

A neighborhood is much more than the sum of its eateries and bars. The Swedish settlers who first came here left behind a strong enough impression that the first Swedish Heritage Museum here outgrew itself and moved into a bigger space. The openings were both attended by the Swedish king at the time.

Though Sweden lives on in the neighborhood in a number of small ways, one isn’t likely to hear anything but American accents on the streets. What one is likely to find, however, is a strong, proud and thriving LGBT community. The scene here is a grown up version of the rowdy party taking place a few miles to the south in Boystown, though it’s still a good time. Particularly LGBT friendly businesses include Hamburger Mary’s, the national burger chain famous for its drag queen bingo nights. Further north on Sheridan, DJs spin for the crowds at Big Chicks.

The Neo-Futurists, one of Chicago’s weirdest theater companies, also has a home here at the Neo-Futurarium. The troupe is influenced by Dada and surrealism. Their most famous work, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes is the longest running show in Chicago. There was a time was when admission was charged based on the roll of a die (it’s a now a roll of a die plus nine dollars), and the actors have continued the tradition of ordering pizza for the audience if the show sells out. The show is now also syndicated out to San Francisco and New York.

Neighborhood

Andersonville does have some extraordinarily busy retail and commercial corridors, but the neighborhood is by and large residential. Single family homes tend to dominate here, though the area has a healthy amount of apartment buildings and condo conversions as well. The neighborhood is well gentrified and the homes and buildings are in great shape – this area has enjoyed a reputation for affordability and spacious apartments for decades now. One of the major factors in Curbed naming it as a hot neighborhood was value, which Andersonville has in spades.

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The Chicago Red Line runs through here, providing easy access to downtown. The area is extremely walkable overall, and highly pedestrian. Street parking can be difficult, especially off of major thoroughfare Broadway, where most of the businesses mentioned above are located.

Another major draw here is the proximity to the lakefront, in particular the beaches of neighboring Edgewater. Access to Lake Shore Drive is easy.

In the summer, the stretch of Clark between anchor streets Foster and Balmoral are taken over by the Midsommarfest, an all purpose music and food festival. Later, Andersonville plays host to satellite events branching off the Gay Pride Parade taking place in Boystown.

Residents here include a healthy mix of younger twenty somethings escaping the madness of hipster havens Wicker Park and Logan Square. They’re choosing this neighborhood for the Red Line and general affordability compared to Lakeview. And there’s the lifers who occupy the beautifully restored Victorians populating the east-west side streets.

Check out some of the beautiful homes for sale in Andersonville!

1443 West Catalpa Avenue

2 bed, 4 bath – $615,000
Near great restaurants like Hamburger Mary’s.
Near great activities like Chicago Filmmakers.
View the listing.

3528 North Damen Avenue

3 bed, 3 bath – $750,000
Near great restaurants like Volo Restaurant Wine Bar.
Near great activities like American Theater Company.
View the listing.

  • Matt

    The businesses mentioned are all on Clark St. not Broadway.

    • Rachel Fenner

      Thanks for catching that, Matt! Fixed. :)