Roughly bound by Division Street to the south, Armitage Avenue to the north, Halsted and Clybourn to the west, and Clark Street to the east, Old Town is brimming with historic architecture, leafy streets, and unique boutiques. Just west of Lincoln Park green space and right off Lake Shore Drive, the wrought iron decorative gates on Wells Street welcome shoppers, tourists, and locals alike as they amble through the thoroughfare. Here’s what to know about Old Town:
With the wrought iron gates, narrow hidden alleys, and beautiful Victorian-era buildings, Old Town brims with historic charm. What was first the hub of Native Americans then German immigrants, Old Town is one of the only early parts of the city not totally devastated by the Great Fire of 1871. In fact, many of Old Town’s streets were not incorporated into the grid-system after the fire, lending the area a European feel with its narrow laneways and dead-ends. The Sedgwick Brown line stop is right in the middle of the compact neighborhood, but you could also utilize the Clark/Division Red line stop at the south end of Old Town. The main bus routes mostly keep to the outer perimeters, which makes the neighborhood immensely walkable.
Where to Live
Like its neighbors Lincoln Park to the north and Gold Coast to the south, Old Town is a popular, if pricey, neighborhood. The rental market for Old Town apartments is among the highest in Chicago, with studios in modern-amenity buildings starting around $2000 per month. Renters might luck out with a smaller building and amenable landlord or find a three-flat walk-up to share with friends as viable options, but overall, the cost of renting is higher in this highly desired neighborhood.
According to the Niche, a data aggregator, Old Town’s residents are mostly white (70%), college educated (40% masters or higher, 42% college degree) and split nearly equally between women (52%) and men (48%). The majority of residents are between the ages of 25-34 (35%), followed by 35-44 (14%) and the post-college demographics for 18-24 year olds are closer to 8%.
Keep in mind…
Back when German immigrants populated the area, they built small farms on their parcels of land, giving the neighborhood the nickname the Cabbage Patch. The fingerprints of those hodge-podge farms from the 1900s don’t perfectly fit on the Chicago grid system, making modern issues like parking and traffic on narrow streets a bigger problem. Many of the streets are one-way and have strict resident-only parking restrictions. There are some high-rise condominiums with built in basement parking but most of the courtyard or two-flat buildings of Old Town do not include parking. For visitors, there’s a parking garage attached to the Second City building but overall, the area is a walker’s dream, so plan accordingly for public transportation.
Nightlife: Bars & Restaurants
The beautiful architecture and old-world feel to the streets mean many restaurants and bars keep their windows, rooftops, and sidewalks open for ample people-watching while enjoying a tasty meal. Even in winter, these top spots bring all the cozy comfort.
- The leafy canopy of Old Town streets makes for a lovely and romantic backdrop at many restaurants, including Orso’s, the J. Parker on the rooftop of the Lincoln Hotel, and Kamehachi.
- Brunch is king in Old Town, with wait-worthy places like Nookies, Kanela Breakfast Club, and Uproar.
- Old Town boasts so many neighborhoody watering holes, such as Old Town Ale House, where many prominent Chicagoans regularly bellied up to the bar, including film critic Roger Ebert and the famous (or soon-to-be) cast members of Second City.
- The beloved Twin Anchors restaurant is famous not only for its legendary ribs, but also for its role in the movie Return to Me and its iconic rule: Positively no dancing!
- There’s nothing sleepy about Old Town — there’s always a crowd at Benchmark, Old Town Pour House, Corcorans, and Happy Camper. Then late-night partiers crowd the dance floor at Burton Place.
- Enjoying a sweet treat while strolling Old Town is a perfect way to spend the day. Visit the Fudge Pot for delicious smells and chocolates, La Fournette, the authentic French cafe filled with pastries, and Cocoa + Co. for coffee and artisan chocolate creations.
- Beloved global food spots — such as Old Jerusalem for Lebanese and Mediterranean fare, Topo Gigio for Italian — are area favorites. Visit the 135 year-old wine and spirits shop, The House of Glunz, for a step back in time. It’s the oldest wine shop still owned by the same family in Chicago and in the United States.
World-famous playground for comics and improv, the Second City Theater and Training Center sits right on the border of Lincoln Park and Old Town on the bustling corner of Wells Street and North Avenue. There’s a show — or many! — playing every night of the week and you never know what up-and-comer you might catch. For more laughs, Zanies Comedy Club is just a block away, hosting local acts as well as national touring comedians.
Old Town is very proud of its art scene, with several galleries supported by the Old Town Art Center, which hosts the renowned annual Art Walk every summer. For live productions, the Red Orchid Theater offers edgy shows in an intimate space, steps from the Wells Street hustle and bustle.
Making a move to a big city after college life can be a big adjustment and finding a place that fills your cup spiritually can be profoundly comforting at such a period of transition. Because spirituality and seeking community can mean different things to each person, a good place to start would be with the following churches, which are known in Lincoln Park for their welcoming attitudes and neighborhood connectivity.
Catholic Churches in Old Town
St. Michael Church in Old Town is renowned for its Victorian-era facade and its post-college congregation, thanks to its early evening Saturday mass. Separated by only a handful of blocks, Immaculate Conception and Saint Joseph (ICSJ) once were separate parishes, with vibrant histories dating back 150 years. Since 2016, the parishes have joined together as one congregation to serve the Near North Side. Calling itself “the family of families,” ICSJ has a strong social justice perspective.
Looking for other denominations or faith communities? Check out these neighborhood options.
- Moody Church
- Church of the Three Crosses (United Methodist)
- Church of the Ascension (Episcopal)
- First Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church
- Chicago the Lord’s Church (Korean)
What makes a neighborhood feel, well, neighborhoody is how convenient your area is to your own life and needs. With the big shopping areas of Lincoln Park to the west and north, and the high-end shopping of Gold Coast just to the south, Old Town is a more lived-in area, with emphasis on enjoying the streets more than shopping in them. However, there are main hubs of action:
- Wells Street is the bustling main thoroughfare, with restaurants, pubs, entertainment and shops nestled amongst each other.
- Travel west along North Avenue. from La Salle Street toward Sedgwick Brown Line stop for an eclectic mix of neighborhood staples, like dry cleaners, animal clinics, shoe repair, pharmacies, and pizza shops.
Bustling and buzzy, relaxed and regal, historic and hip — Old Town has something for everyone. Learn more about Old Town by visiting the 43rd ward office, the 27th ward office, or the 2nd ward office (depending on your area) and the Old Town Triangle Association. The best way to experience Old Town is to clear your day and walk around. There’s always something fun to do, something delicious to eat, something amazing to see, and something charming to behold.