Wicker Park, Mindy’s HotChocolate, the Flat Iron Project and Ukranians

It’s always a challenge to come back to a city where I used to live and try to see it differently. I lived in or near Chicago for almost 7 years and have great memories of my old neighborhoods. I frequently revisit my favorite places in Wrigleyville, Boy’s Town and Lincoln Park because I love them, but today I wanted to see a different neighborhood so I went to:

Back in the early 90’s, Wicker Park was an under-the-radar cool place to live. Artists and musicians gravitated there, the rent was cheap, the music venues were plentiful and hosted great local bands and everything was a little scroungy and “underground.” You know, where the cool kids can be coolest because no one knows how cool it is, except them. And then some local musicians achieved national prominence (Liz Phair and Smashing Pumpkins, for instance) and then it got used as a location to shoot High Fidelity and suddenly you couldn’t get into shows at the Double Door and then American Apparel moved in.

Isn’t that always the way it goes? If I go to a cool neighborhood with great coffee shops and tattoo parlors and music venues (see also, Queen Street West in Toronto), I know gentrification is happening when American Apparel and Urban Outfitters show up. They’re the vanguard of the encroaching mainstream.

I picked Wicker Park today primarily because I wanted to eat at Mindy’s HotChocolate:

I know it’s hard to believe that I would pick a neighborhood strictly for a restaurant, but it’s true. The pastry chef, Mindy Segal, got a James Beard nomination in 2007 and I read about her restaurant in Travel and Leisure a year or so ago so this place has been on my radar for a while. I dragged my friend, T, with me and we had the greatest lunch.

That’s Lamb Krema Casa, lamb sausage, krema casa cheese and arugula wrapped in grilled sourdough flatbread and served with grainy mustard and pickled beets. In.cred.i.ble. Filling and hearty on a grey day (Overcast! Foggy! Raining! Again!!), any heaviness perfectly offset with the vinegary accoutrements. Is that all? Of course not! It’s Mindy’s HOT CHOCOLATE and I would be remiss not to try dessert. So I picked the Mexican hot chocolate:

Dense rich liquid chocolate with a kick of cinnamon, poured into a cup and then into my mouth, accompanied by a fluffy homemade marshmallow and further accompanied by “warm brioche donuts and hot fudge sauce.”

Also caramel corn, because you can’t have too much sweet/salty deliciousness on one plate. Seriously, so much sugar. Delectable luscious chocolatey sugar, but still. I could have stopped at the hot chocolate. Almost too much. Overall the food was fantastic and the service was only ok – non-smiling reluctant waitstaff are no fun, but the food made up for their lack of enthusiasm.

We spent the afternoon walking it off.

T recommended the art studios from the Flat Iron Project so we started there. SUCH a cool building. 3 floors of art galleries and studios, all different mediums:

each room a different artist with the art spilling out onto the hallway walls and floors:

Chicago based artists rent these studios to work and display their art. On the first Friday night of the month, as well as the weekends, every gallery is open, artists are there and you can wander, chat, buy and hang out. Prices range from cheap to expensive and artists range from beginners just out of school to well established career artists with thriving businesses. Today the building was open but the galleries were largely closed so we just poked around and looked through windows. I found a couple pieces I really liked and might go back on Saturday to purchase if I’m still thinking about them.

From there we walked down Milwaukee wandered in and out of shops, got a photo strip taken at the old school photo booth in Reckless Records, bought a pair of retro sunglasses

Took lots of pictures of street art:

And finally made our way to the Ukranian Village. I wanted to see their Modern Art museum and round out the day with something more structured and curated. Two Ukranian students from the Art Institute of Chicago opened the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art in the early 70’s with other older Ukranian artists who immigrated to Chicago to escape oppression during the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. The  art collection is small but beautiful. I loved this stained glass piece called Baden

And this one called Traffic

We then walked around the Ukranian Village and T, who is German, was especially ecstatic to find his favorite sausages at this European deli.

The bakery smelled so deliciously of bread and meat that I wanted to eat something right then but I was still full from lunch (hard to believe, I know) and I had yoga. So, I passed it up. See, it happens!! I finished the afternoon with yoga at the Wicker Park studio, a sister studio to the Lincoln Park studio I visited yesterday.

Between the two, I’d choose the LP studio because the facilities are bigger and more complete, inclusive of actual locker rooms and a shower. However, the Wicker Park studio has a great neighborhood feel in a third floor walk up building with a vast open loft around the enclosed studio and plenty of space to hang out and cool down after class.

I took class with Kathryn, who, like Mike, said something at the very beginning of class that stuck with me the whole class:

Bikram thought of the day: There are no shortcuts.

I think this is the hardest lesson in life, especially in American life. We want shortcuts. We think we can find a way to do anything faster and better and still get the results without doing all the work. In Bikram, and in many other things, you have to do the work. You only get there by doing the work. It reminds me of an old Bally’s commercial: “If a better body came in a can or a book or a pill, you’d already have it.” It can be a grind, but you have to keep showing up, sweating buckets, pushing yourself beyond your flexibility and then going back (WAY back) and doing it all again.

In other words (a 1000 words, or so they say), there are no shortcuts to get here:

But that’s good. If there were shortcuts, everyone could do it and what’s the fun of that?

Tomorrow: more of this. But different. And equally as cool. So come back.

See you then.

4 thoughts on “Wicker Park, Mindy’s HotChocolate, the Flat Iron Project and Ukranians

  1. Hi, I also practice yoga at the LP studio. Thanks for giving your opinion on the Wicker Park studio. I think I would like to take a class to experience another group of yogis.

    I enjoy Wicker Parker/Buck Town also. Last year, I signed up and did a food tour of these neighborhoods. What a great way to try new places with food as well as getting a history lesson on how the neighborhood evolved. Mindy’s Hot Chocolate was on the tour. Yes, the Mexican hot chocolate is awesome with the homemade marshmellow. It is a must try if you love chocolate!!!

  2. kaitlyn! loved this post. someday, i want to visit chicago with you. so many places…reading this reminded me of days in nyc with you. so much loveliness. xo

  3. Pingback: A Toast, to Toast! « Gypsy Queen

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