Second to None: An Indie Guide to Chicago

When I moved over from Covet Chicago, I shed some of the content from my design blogger days. But there is one series I did that many of you will love.

Second to None: An Indie Guide to Chicago

I pulled together 20 posts reviewing Chicago’s shops, artists and festivals – and arranged them by category.

  • Summer Festivals
  • Neighborhood Guides
  • Brick & Mortar Shops
  • Artists & Makers
  • Winter Festivals

While I’m not a shopaholic and am frustrated with so much blind consumerism, I strongly advocate supporting artists and makers and shop owners in your community. That is what this series is all about – featuring local talent and businesses so they can thrive. I’ve personally spoken with many of the people behind the businesses featured in this series, and I’m happy to support them with my dollars and by showcasing them here.

With summer festival season in full swing, I thought I’d give you a quick rundown of the dates for my favorite art fairs.

  • Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: June 29-31
  • Retro on Roscoe: August 6 + 7
  • Bucktown Arts Fest: August 27 + 28
  • Renegade Craft Fair: September 10 + 11

I’ll definitely be at Bucktown, seeing as how I convinced Heather to come stay with me so we can go together!

If you’re coming to Chicago, don’t miss the two guides I put together for people visiting the city during Renegade. They provide a comprehensive listing of places to shop and things to eat and are designed for travelers who wants to venture out of the loop.

In Chicago for Renegade Craft Fair? Part 1 (Wicker Park)

In Chicago for Renegade Craft Fair? Part 2 (Andersonville and Lincoln Square)

And, just so it’s easy to find, I added Second to None: An Indie Guide to Chicago over there on the right, under Curiosity is My Muse.

Chicagoans and Chicago lovers: Any other festivals or must do’s for this summer’s visitors to the windy city?

In Chicago for Renegade Craft Fair? Part 2

Pretty Girl ChicagoSilkscreen by northtrain

I’m so happy that my Wicker Park guide was well-received. I got the nicest tweet about it from ElNoChicago (how great is that handle?). I’d like to share it with you because it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

@brigittelyons reading your Renegade guide was like reading a love note about the neighborhood. You hit almost all of my favs!

It totally was a love note! I love my city. If you missed it, I posted recommendations for three different stretches of the neighborhood that will host Renegade Craft Fair this weekend.

Today I’m wrapping it up by covering some other neighborhoods that you might enjoy if you’re visiting Chicago for Renegade this weekend.


I feel obligated to list downtown. If you’re staying somewhere in the downtown area, by all means visit Millennium Park, the lakefront and museums of your choice. They’re all good. Just don’t spend all your time downtown. It’s not nearly the best Chicago has to offer. And, seriously. Avoid Navy Pier, unless you love hordes of sugar-filled children or have a horde of kids of your own. Navy Pier is the worst. (Incidentally, I spent a evening there in my youth learning how to steal -– a habit I gave up as soon as I realized just how easy it was. Don’t hate me.)

Moving on…


If you’re looking to take home some yummy mid century pieces, head ye to Andersonville. Do not leave until you have left all the contents of your wallet at Scout (just north of Foster on Clark).

In fact, if you only go to one shop all weekend, go to Scout. I have a few of their (small) pieces in my home, and I make a point to visit every few months. The taste of the owner is flawless, and the pieces (furniture, art, decorative objects) are in gorgeous condition. And…everything has a story. Just a small caveat: I noticed on my last trip that there was a little less inventory, and the prices seemed a tad bit higher, but I’ll give Scout a pass, because their prices were previously suprisingly low for the quality. They don’t sell online, but there is a gallery on their site, so you can get a feel for the Scout style.

Right next door is the fab White Attic, which sells refinished vintage furniture, often in candy colors. They also sell customizable lamps that I always drool over but can’t afford. Maybe you’ll buy me one?

Across the street is Presence. Fun little clothing and accessory store.

Oh! And the Swedish American Museum (just a bit further south). Go in and enter the gift shop on the left. Maybe save some of your pennies after Scout to scoop up some Scandanavian goodness here. So good. A little confession…I’ve only been in the shop; I’ve never walked around the museum!

I bet you’re getting hungry by now. Stop in Ann Sather’s for Swedish pancakes with a side of cinnamon roles. Shhh…calories don’t count when you leave your zip code.

Or, maybe you want some cocktails. Wicker Park folks may have noticed I left out Violet Hour. That’s because I hate the vibe. Way too stuffy. Get serious cocktails and try out the small plates at In Fine Spirits.

Whoo! Andersonville is wearing me out. If you’re super serious about finding vintage home goods, this is the hood for you.

But now it’s time to move on to my final recommendation for your trip.

Lincoln Square

If I didn’t own a pesky condo in Wicker Park, I’d move to Lincoln Square or its hood to the south, North Center, in a hot second (see my guide to North Center). I loooove Lincoln Square, and it’s a bit more affordable than the other neighborhoods I’m profiling.

Chicago is famous for its ethnic diversity, but it’s also one of the most segrated cities in the country. Andersonville is all about Sweden. Lincoln Square, though, is an old German section, and it’s easily the most charming neighborhood on the North side. Even though I go there fairly often, I’m not as comfortable with it as the others. But…

My other favorite store in the whole entire world is in Lincoln Sqaure — The Book Cellar. It’s a book and wine store combined! How can you not love it? And it’s filled with little notecards with staff reviews of books, so you can tell the staff is just as nerdy as you are when you read them (or is that just me?). Charming.

A shop that everyone can love is Enjoy, An Urban General Store. Do you have an aunt that everyone thinks is crazy, but you think is the coolest and just adore? This store is her closet.

There’s also a handful of antique stores in the old school model. As in, stuff stacked on other stuff as high as the eye can see and as deep as your arms can dig.

If you have an entire day to spare, you can hit both Lincoln Square (which is southwest of Andersonville) and Andersonville. That is, if you’re a dedicated shopper. That’s certainly not for everyone. As with Wicker Park, I recommend picking one area and simply wandering up and down the main drag.

And, for those of you with guys (or girls like me that appreciate a good beer). There’s a local craft brewery in North Center. It’s really, really good.

Ok, now I really am pooped. If you have any questions about these neighborhoods, or Chicago in general, please leave them in the comments.

Amd maybe I’ll see you at Renegade!

In Chicago for Renegade Craft Fair? Part 1

Renegade 2010
I’ve received a few requests from crafters traveling to Chicago for Renegade this weekend for a bit of a guide. In true Brigitte fashion, I earmarked it as something to do – and then completely forgot about it.

Better late than never, right?

First, a little background. Renegade Craft Fair was born and raised in Chicago (woot!), and it’s currently in the 8th year in the city. We’re also the happy home of the Renegade shop. This weekend (Sept. 11 & 12), Division will be shut down from Paulina to Damen, as 300 craftspeople converge on my hood to hawk their wares.

You can see a lot of info on the crafters, the music and the food on the Renegade website, so I’ll leave it at that. This guide is for people (mostly the crafters themselves) travelling to Chicago for Renegade. Since the fair is in my hood, and I’ve shamefully never posted a guide to Wicker Park, I’m going to concentrate on the immediate area, with a few honorable mentions posted between now and Friday.

Let’s face it, Wicker Park is known for its shopping. But you don’t come here for deals. No, it’s home to spoiled hipsters, some families…and me!

If you don’t get your fill in the booths, here’s what you’ll want to hit.

Division Street

The stretch of Division that’s home to Renegade is hipster row. But don’t discount it right off the bat! Essentially, the entire street is a goldmine and home to mostly local businesses. This list is by no means comprehensive…these are my regular haunts.

When you arrive on Division, do not pass up Pump. I’ve been shopping there for years, and the owner, Maureen, and her staff are warm and helpful. I seriously heart this shoe store, and so will you. You’ll find a lot of national brands here curated to Maureen’s taste – think on-trend and a helping of stilettos. Actually, by now, she probably has boots in…mm…boots.

Right next door is home to Starbucks. Skip it, cross the street and walk a block over to Alliance Bakery for locally roasted Intelligentsia coffee and the most amazing pastries. Or, a tuna sandwich on a croissant. That’s my order after yoga when I actually make it there on the weekends.

Or, maybe you’re in the mood for a little bbq. A girl gets hungry, right? Walk another block to Smoke Daddy for the best bbq you’ll find in the city. No joke. And, on the weekends, bands play live at night.

If you’re like me, you like to buy green when you can afford it. Cross back to the south side of the street and walk a bit further west for Greenheart, a hip store with a conscience.

When you hit Damen, the fair’s limit, don’t stop quite yet. You will melt for the wares and the pug at Paper Doll.

Milwaukee Avenue

Milwaukee cuts diagonally through Wicker Park, and it’s been slower to gentrify than the rest of the area. If you’re looking for more thrift options (interiors and clothing), you’ll want to walk up Milwaukee between Division and North Avenue. It’s still expensive, but it has its own distinct personality.

Milwaukee is home to my favorite place ever — Myopic Books. Love used book stores? This place has three floors of goodness to browse. And there’s a resident cat to love!

One shop on Milwaukee that I adore is Mojo Spa (which I’ve written about before).

Vegan? Vegetarian travelling with a carnivorous friend? Stop at Earwax Cafe for lunch — you’ll all be happy! Everything on the menu is good.

North Damen

If you head north on Damen, past the Milwaukee/North/Damen intersection, you enter Bucktown. This is where kids richer than me live. There are some amazing places in this area, but it’s also home to a lot of brands (BCBG, Marc Jacobs). As you might imagine, it gets even more expensive on Damen.

BUT. If you keep going north, you’ll come into the section that’s home to The Needle Shop (my local fabric store…LOVE) and a bunch of cool places. I posted on this area before, so check it out. Since I posted, a number of interiors-oriented vintage shops have opened in that stretch, as well.

In Betweenies

I just made this category up, because my favorite spot isn’t on Division OR Milwaukee. Nope, it’s on Damen (closer to Milwaukee than Division). Locals may wonder why I haven’t mentioned Milk & Honey. Well, it’s because my favorite place for lunch, hands down, is the owners’ other cafe — Cipollina. I HIGHLY recommend the prosciutto sandwich. On Sundays in the summer, the Wicker Park farmer’s market (right down the street!) and Cipollina is my weekend ritual when the husband is home.

Oh! And I nearly forgot, because I don’t knit, but there’s a gorgeous knitting shop, Nina, on Division just east of Paulina.

What Did I Miss?

As you may have observed, I love my neighborhood. There is A LOT to do and see in Wicker Park, which is why I’m not even attempting to be inclusive in this guide. It’s a good place to start, but my recommendation is that you choose one of these stretches and work your way through it. There is not a bad shop in the bunch. A few yuck restaurants, though. (see: moonshine)

Please do share your favorite Wicker Park haunts in the comments, or let me know what you’d like to see more of as I put the other pieces together.

Also see my Second to None series for more shop reviews around Chicago.