Monday, June 25th, 2018
Old Town is just that — old. Its now-desired addresses just west of the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park were largely swampland until German immigrants began farming there in the 1850s. St. Michael’s Church is one of seven buildings to survive the Chicago Fire. It was home to an artists’ colony in the 1930s, was Chicago’s first gay-friendly neighborhood of note, and was the Midwest’s center of 1960s counterculture.
Now, comedy is king. But the home to The Second City, iO Theater and Zanies Comedy Club can tickle more than merely your funny bone. Rich with history, thick with pubs and restaurants, when it comes to Chicago neighborhoods, Old Town is more neighborly than most and the entertainment equal of any.
Here are some essential sites when Old Town is your destination.
A Red Orchid Theater: A Red Orchid Theatre turned 25 years old in 2017. Co-founded by actor Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Revolutionary Road), the 70-seat house offers serious, frequently edgy and sometimes experimental theater in an intimate space.
The Fireplace Inn: The Fireplace Inn has been selling barbecued ribs out of its Wells Street home since 1969. Such is the character of the neighborhood that you might find yourself dining beside the softball or volleyball teams sponsored by the establishment, or comedy fans headed up the block to Zanies or The Second City.
The Second City: Two primary theaters, a comedy club and four smaller stages, plus a film school and training center, make up the complex that first moved to the corner of North Avenue and Wells Street in 1967. Ground zero for the nation’s improv and sketch comedy scene, The Second City was a pivotal proving ground for the careers of Joan Rivers and John Belushi, Tina Fey and Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell — not to mention Bill Murray.
Henry Gerber House: Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2015, this North Crilly Court residence was home to Henry Gerber from 1924-25, when he founded the first gay rights society in the United States — the Society for Human Rights.
Topo Gigio Ristorante: Dining aficionados know Kamehachi is Old Town’s sushi spot, and Blue Door offers a charming farm-to-table experience, but Topo Gigio is as good as Italian dining in Chicago gets — and that’s very good indeed. The vast menu — especially the pasta section — is truly impressive. But when weather permits, Topo Gigio’s outdoor dining areas in front and to the side of its building are what take it over the top.
Old Town Pour House: Ninety craft beers on tap. Need we say more?
Fudge Pot, a tremendous candy shop, has occupied its parcel on Wells Street since 1963. Old Town Aquarium is a fish owner’s paradise, featuring custom aquarium design and the city’s largest collection of exotic fish.
And if you just happen to be in town, the 69th Old Town Art Fair drops into the Old Town Triangle Historic District on June 9 and 10. One of the great art fairs in America and one of Chicago’s favorite festivals, the fair gathers some 250 artists and 30,000 fair-goers — who also partake in a garden walk of more than 50 private gardens, a children’s corner, food court and live music.