Chicago – City Guide

Population: City 2.9 million, Cook County 5.4 million
Housing Cost Index: 117 Moderate (US Average 100)

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Apartment Therapy: Chicago

Chicago Lowdown

By Alissa Green

Chicago, like your mama, has been called many things in her time. There’s the one involving large air gusts, the one about how it’s second to none, even the one about it being the Hog Butcher for the World. (Gee thanks, Carl Sandburg!) What people don’t tell you is that it’s really the city of The Neighborhood.

With 77 official community centers, many Chicagoans feel great love for their resident ‘hood, with North Side/South Side pride running especially rampant during the summer baseball season.

At first glance, choosing the right place to set up shop might sound difficult, overwhelming even. So, take a deep breath and don’t worry—because from the artsy houses of Wicker Park to the frat houses of Wrigleyville, there really is a place for everyone. Plus, after reading this, you’ll be so good at separating what’s hot from the hype that people might even mistake you for a local.

Some General Notes

  • Keep in mind that in terms of rent, that the further you stray from the Loop, the cheaper your life will be. (Supply and demand at its finest.)
  • If you live in a ‘changing’ neighborhood, the closer you are to public transportation, the greater likelihood the surrounding blocks will be gentrified.
  • Please keep in mind that there are certain precautionary measures that need to be taken in urban areas. Keep your eyes open when you find that perfect apartment and be sure to walk around the surrounding neighborhood at least once late at night before you sign the lease. What may seem safe during the day won’t necessarily feel safe after sundown.

Popular first time renter neighborhoods include: Andersonville, Lincoln Square, and Wrigleyville, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Gold Coast/River North, Ukranian Village, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square.

(Ravenswood, Roscoe Village, North Center, and Rogers Park are also good choices especially if you are looking for places on the cheap)

Need Car? No. However, if commuting to work in the suburbs, it can be very helpful.

Check Apartment Classifieds:
Craigslist: Chicago
Chicago Tribune
Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Reader

Free Apartment Finding Service:
The Apartment People (holding the most apartment listings in Chicago, they’re friendly, knowledgeable, can often show you 5 places in a single morning and best of all—paid by the landlord, not you!)

Also Advised: Housing in Chicago is still relatively easy to find. Often a quick walk around the intersection can yield a variety of prospects.

Apartment Hunting Tips for the CHI

The Commute:

While it’s never good to pick a neighborhood based solely on proximity to work, in Chicago’s case, it would be prudent to at least consider it as a factor. The El, short for elevated train, is Chicago’s aboveground subway, and while it gets the job done, it is often less than efficient. As such, if you plan to work in the Loop, the main business district, it would be wise to live near an El Stop or Metra Train line as street parking is nil. Additionally, if your job is, say, off of the eastern Red Line, living near a western Blue Line can be a time drain. The Chicago Transit Authority is a good resource for both El/Bus schedules and stations. You can find Metra info here: www.metrarail.com

Likewise, if you plan on driving, do keep in mind that Chicago is a relatively spread-out city. There are a few highway options, but during rush hour you might as well grab a picnic basket and lay out a red-checkered tablecloth on your hood—that is seriously how fast you will be traveling.

Furthermore, many jobs are to be found in the surrounding Chicago suburbs, which geographically aren’t far. However, if you are going to be working in northeast Deerfield, the 25 mile journey from southwest Ukrainian village could very well take you over an hour.

Qualities to look for in locales:

Now that you can narrow down your perfect neighborhoods by commuting time, it’s time to identify what neighborhood characteristics you want versus what neighborhood characteristics you need. Need affordable housing? A gay-friendly atmosphere? A 10-block strip perfect for a Saturday morning eat-n-stroll? Andersonville might be for you. Value your proximity to the Lake and to the Loop? Posh bars and restaurants? Lincoln Park or the Gold Coast might be your ticket. Living amongst trendy singletons a priority? Lakeview or Wicker Park sounds about right.

Honestly, any of these 10 neighborhoods would be great to have as a home base to explore Chicago. But if for some reason none sound appealing, just remember: you have a whopping 68 others from which to choose.

Chicago Center:

South Loop/Gold Coast/River North

Living in the center of any metropolitan area is going to be pricy and usually with good reason: you’re in the center. Of everything. Chicago’s downtown landscape is slightly different. While the economical epicenter of Chicago is the Loop, after 7 p.m. on weekdays and all weekend, the Downtown business district begins to resemble a sky-scraper filled ghost town.

That said, the City of Chicago has been making extraordinary efforts to rejuvenate the Loop, often bringing in weekend festivals and making continual residential renovations. As such, the South Loop has successfully transitioned to become a vibrant new community; the leafy, residential pockets are perfect for families, though the Chicago School System leaves much to be desired.

  • Studio: $900-1200
  • 1 Bdrm: $1200-1800

Meanwhile, the Gold Coast, long known for its upscale inhabitants and du jour nightlife, continues to glow amidst its high rises placed strategically along Lake Shore Drive facing Lake Michigan. While there are few Chicagoans who would desire to be ‘seen’ at a certain restaurant, you will find all the beautiful people that do in the Gold Coast near the trendy intersection of Rush and Division. The expensive restaurants and clubs that line the intersection are also where you’ll have your local celebrity sightings.

  • Studio: $950-1200
  • 1 Bdrm: Upwards of $2000

**If you want a building with a doorman, indoor workout space, etc you will be at the higher end of all figures, though the absence of these amenities does not guarantee a lower price.

River North, meanwhile, plays host to a plethora of theme restaurants and bars, the tourists who frequent them, and a gajillion art galleries. (FYI: most anywhere in the country outside of Manhattan). Steps away from the Magnificent Mile, if you live here you’ll likely be renting a condo or a loft.

In all three neighborhoods, you will also love:

  • Roll out of bed and be at work pronto! You’re in the Loop already!
  • Closeness to Chicago’s biggest theaters.
  • A hop, skip and a jump to Chicago’s best museums, including the world renowned Art Institute.
  • A nightlife shaken, stirred, and to die for.

City Near North:

Lincoln Park

Amongst the most popular neighborhoods for 20-somethings, what Lincoln Park lacks in diversity, it makes up for in hot bars, restaurants, and general convenience. Home to Depaul University as well as many a historic brownstones, Lincoln Park is the first, and often last, stop for many folks who think they know what they want in Chicago. Living in Lincoln Park guarantees closeness to the lake, Starbucks, and to that sexy girl at your advertising firm earning in the upper 5 digits and who on weekends likes to dance on bars. Realize you will be paying for the ‘luxury’ of saying you “live in Lincoln Park.”

  • Lincoln Park Zoo—housing animals from antelope to zebra.
  • Host to the famous Second City and Steppenwolf Theater Companies.
  • High energy, exclusive bars and clubs similar to those at Rush and Division; these are not the places for a quiet beer with friends
  • College dive bars near DePaul University
  • Studio: $800-1400
  • 1 Bdrm: $1000-2000

Lakeview

One of Chicago’s largest neighborhoods, Lakeview continues the geographically eastern trend—though moves further north. Bordering Lincoln Park to the south and Uptown to the north, Lakeview is a less expensive version of Lincoln Park, particularly in Lakeview East. Be warned though: Parking is nigh impossible to find, so make sure to buy a parking spot if you want to live here and drive, though there are tons of El stops. Boystown and North Halsted are other communities within Lakeview and if you can’t guess from its gay olde nickname, boy are they friendly.

  • Gay Pride Parade every summer as well as this past year’s location for the Chicago hosted Gay Games.
  • Belmont/Clark is the best intersection for vintage clothes and spunky spirits in town.
  • Recreation Drive, which can be reached before the Belmont Exit on LSD has free parking off the lake as well as tennis courts, bike and running paths, and other sports activities.
  • Easy access to the Red Line.
  • Studio: $700-1200
  • 1 Brdm: $1000-1400

City North:

Wrigleyville

While maps will indicate that Wrigleyville is, in fact, a subset of Lakeview, do not be fooled: It is a thumping frat party unto itself. Home of the Chicago Cubbies, Improv Olympic, and sports bars galore, be prepared to encounter the SNL Superfan—you have just entered his living room.

  • While indie concert hall, The Metro, might gag at being associated with Wrigleyville, it can’t deny its address. Also close by are concert venues Schubas and The Vic
  • Cheap drink specials most nights of the week along the Clark St. Strip
  • Improv Comedy began at Improv Olympic, and now you can see cheap shows 7 nights a week and even take classes yourself should you so desire.
  • Easy access to Southport Corridor which features cute boutiques and the vintage Music Box Theater (replete with organist, Art Deco architecture and red velvet curtain)

Andersonville

Originally THE Swedish neighborhood of Chicago, Andersonville has expanded in recent years to include many a liberal, artsy, and open-minded Chicagoan. The Clark street strip is the main drag of Andersonville and gosh darn if there aren’t oodles of cute cafes and brunch spots as well as a neat bars. Another fast Andersonville fact is that in recent years, it has become Chicago’s “Girlstown”, as counterpart to Lakeview’s “Boystown.”

  • Home of the famous and totally tasty Swedish Bakery
  • Women and Children’s First independent bookstore has frequent author readings as well as, count ‘em, 7 free book clubs open to all.
  • Lots of great and diverse restaurants at great prices (Turkish, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Tapas, Swedish to name a few…)
  • Park your car with ease—then walk/bike to the lake!
  • Studio: N/A
  • 1 Bdrm: $700-1100

Lincoln Square

If you’re looking for that old world, European feel, look no further than Lincoln Square, especially if you’re dig everything German. While some may complain that Lincoln Square has served up more strollers than sidecars in recent years, few would deny its appeal as a first neighborhood, especially for those coming from less urban areas. At its core, Lincoln Square resembles a small town nestled within a bustling city and combining the benefits of both, such as inexpensive housing with a wide array of urban delights.

  • Meyer Delicatessen whips up traditional German goodies like no other place in town. The annual German Fest in late summer is also quite the wunderbar affair.
  • If you’re a book fiend, one of Chicago’s largest public libraries, Sulzer, will be right down the block.
  • Brown Line access
  • From its local apothecary to its old school bowling alley, Lincoln Square can’t help that it’s totally charming.
  • Studio: $650-950
  • 1 Bdrm: $750-1100

Chicago West

We’ve covered Chicago North, Lake Michigan called dibs on Chicago East, like, a million years ago, and so we are left on the doorstep of Chicago South and Chicago West. Chicago South is largely residential and, except for the UIC kids, (University of Illinois, Chicago) there isn’t so much happening. So, what do you say Chicago West, invite us in for a cup of Joe? Awesome.

Near Chicago West:

Ukrainian Village

The Ukrainian Village has changed tremendously in the past twenty years, especially in areas close to public transportation. What used to be slums have transformed into independent coffee shops, art galleries, and… Orthodox Churches? Actually, those have always been there. Regardless, for those wanting an urban + neighborhood experience, the UK might be your best bet. Certainly a changing neighborhood, it’s not there yet—so you’ll just have to count its blue and yellow flag-flying-streets as one of your sneaky little secrets.

  • A host of distinctive bars—with a special shout out to the Rainbo Club and the Empty Bottle, which also doubles as a concert venue.
  • Proximity to Hipster bustle without being in the actual fray.
  • Great selection of ethnic grocery stores.
  • Close to Downtown.
  • Studio: N/A
  • 1 Bdrm: $750-1300

Wicker Park/Bucktown

Wicker Park/Bucktown could be considered the Ukrainian Village’s twin—if you discounted all the commercialism currently infesting, er, gentrifying, uh, entering the area. While different communities, they’ve begun to greatly resemble each other, with Wicker Park clocking in at an upper case HIPSTER and Bucktown veering more towards upper case YUPPIE, though its often difficult to tell. In both neighborhoods you’ll find a foodie, artsy paradise that rivals Lincoln Park for the title of Chicago hip, albeit for a completely set of people. Walking down the streets, you’ll be passed by fashionable denizens flittering about in leggings or whatever dumb fashion is currently hitting NYC suburbanite weekend tourists, as well as a multitude of boutiques and art galleries just waiting to be frequented.

  • Hipsters and Artists. Lots of ‘em. Watch the F*%^ out. Or, joint right on in.
  • A host of eclectic art and neighborhood festivals and a supportive artist community…at least when it’s not making them starve by raising their rents?
  • A kickin’ live music scene anchored by the Milwaukee Ave. Double Door
  • There’s something so city, so alive about the intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee. Thanks to the many outdoor bars, restaurants, and cafes, the summers are especially rocking…AND if you continue north on Damen, there’s even a Hot Chocolate Lounge that is so as delicious as it sounds.
  • Studio: N/A
  • 1 Bdrm: $900-1300 (Hint: Some landlords still have sympathy for the soon to be extinct Wicker Park Artist…)

Chicago North West:

Logan Square

If you want working-class, diverse and progressive city living, find an address within Logan Square. Home to rich Latino and Eastern European communities as well as an increasing number of college-educated bohemians, Logan Square is picking up those forced to relocate as a result of gentrification. Certainly more residential than Wicker Park/Bucktown, for those that value tree lined boulevards with a side of the eclectic, try out this Ex-Norwegian community. A real downside, though, is just how far away it is from the Loop and all Red Line stops.

  • Be part of urban renewal blossoming right outside your doorstep, from parking lots transformed into parks and brick walls turned into…brick walls with paint.
  • Proximity to nearby alternative music shows and happenings, especially the Logan Square Auditorium.
  • Dive bars anyone? And organic restaurant fare at the fabulous Lula’s afterwards?
  • Wide variety of ethnic grocery stores.
  • Studio: N/A
  • 1 Bdrm: $675-1100
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