Like many busy Chicago thoroughfares, Irving Park is endlessly under construction. However, the dust, noise and driving confusion has not dampened the spirit or growth of this ‘hood. From an active Chamber of Commerce that hosts a variety of community activities to a row of eclectic stores dotting the landscape on Lincoln, there is much to see and do. Shopping highlights include Tragara (3827 N. Lincoln) an extremely hip antique store with unexpected flair and home furnishing goodies and Lulu's at the Belle Kay (3862 N. Lincoln) which carries vintage clothing and accessories. If you’re looking for a classic, sophisticated dress that makes you feel all girl, Lulu’s is your destination.
Safety rating: During the day, a steady stream of car and foot traffic makes traversing this neighborhood comfortable. After dark a few unnerving characters do require you to be a bit more aware.
Panhandler rating: Infrequent.
Where to chill
Red Eyes Coffee
Situated on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Berteau, this Irving Park cafe’s cream, green, orange and red walls absorb the flood of sunshine that pours through the numerous north and east facing windows. You may need to bring shades, but Red Eyes will care for your other needs. The deliciously brewed Intelligentsia coffee cure any caffeine craving. In addition to the typical array of hot and cold espresso beverages, Red Eyes offers creamy and flavorful fresh fruit smoothies (flavors include kiwi, mango and passion fruit).
If you’re looking for a bit more sustenance, order portabella mushroom and asiago cheese quiche served with a light spring salad mix or a soup and sandwich combo (soups change daily; sandwiches include turkey or ham with cheese on a baguette, and jambon with pate served on country bread). Do save room for a sugar cone filled with Homer’s homemade peanut butter fudge ice cream. Not to be left out of the hottest coffee house trend, Red Eyes offers wireless Internet service for $3.95 per hour.
The Long Room
Okay, let’s get the “long” references immediately out of the way. The Long Room is, well, long. And narrow. The bar seems to stretch a good 60 feet, generally occupied by a mellow and friendly neighborhood crowd with a few trendies mixed in. Opposite the bar sit a few small side tables affixed to the wall, with a couple of cozy booths in the back. Seats are premium real estate on weekend evenings after 10 p.m. If you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic, sneak out to the patio. It’s a surprisingly quiet and quaint space with about 10 tables, flowers and tiny Christmas lights. Back inside, the bar is dimly light, almost dark, with walls of blue, orange and green. For penny pinchers, The Long Room has daily drink specials, including $1 cans of PBR and Schlitz on Tuesdays, $2 Jim Beam shots on Wednesdays and $3 select Stoli cocktails on Thursdays.
Don’t worry. You haven’t been mysteriously transported from your urban dwelling to the deep of forest, though everywhere you look is wood, wood and more wood at Grizzly’s Lodge. Some of the walls are dressed in the family room wall covering of choice of the 1970s: paneling. Making it more lodge than lounge are the requisite “trophies,” in this case, fish, deer and some kind of birds (at least I think they were birds).
The appreciation for game shines through in the eats. Venison, buffalo, ostrich and the less gourmet half-pound grizzly burgers offer more juicy meat than can be (or should be) eaten in one sitting. Wild game entrees include wild boar chops, elk steak and quail primavera. Those in the market for a cheap lunch will do well with the daily special, which includes a sandwich, side and beverage for $4.99. Even dinner is a bargain considering the portions; with the exception of a few entrees, most offerings range from $6-$12. Specials include a fish fry (all you can eat fish, hush puppies and fries) every Friday for $7.95 per person; on Thursdays if you chose to drink the beverage of the night you’ll go home with the glass…and a very full stomach.
Place to be seen solo
Brownstone Tavern & Grill
Dining solo can and should be quite enjoyable. However, when you’re having some alone time in a social bar or restaurant, folks seem to look upon you with pity. Luckily, the “oh you poor lonely thing” looks are absent at Brownstone Tavern & Grill, where you can easily cozy up to the bar and grab a seat for one. As far as taverns go, this is a lovely spot that’s softly lit by stained-glass chandeliers, candles and shaded lamps atop the dark mahogany bar. The several flatscreen TVs fall short of turning the bar into a typical beer-soaked floor sports (thank goodness).
The dining selections go beyond average tavern fare, including toasted ravioli and crispy Rueben roll appetizers and several fresh and flavorful salads. Deliciously prepared sandwiches include tilapia filet with with Chef Jim Hoban’s own Cajun seasoning and Boursin cheese on a freshly baked Challah bun; Australian lamb chops and seared tuna are top-notch entrees. Plan on brining a drinking buddy for nightly specials like 32-ounce pitchers of berry sangria for $12 on Sundays, Cuervo margarita pitches ($12) on Wednesdays and Amstel Light and Heineken buckets ($10 for 5 bottles).