Though the Industrial Corridor along
Elston Avenue in the near northwest side is not considered by most to be an
urban destination, it is, in many respects, the backbone of the city. The
neighborhood isn't zoned for residential real estate, but there are a
surprising number of shops and restaurants that attract people from all over
the city. Just look for the iconic Morton Salt umbrella girl that can be seen
from the highway and you'll know you're there.
Industrial Corridor Facts
Location: less than 3 miles northwest of the Loop
Bordering Neighborhoods: Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Goose Island, River West, Wicker Park
Boundaries: the North Branch of the Chicago River to the north and east, Chicago Avenue to the south, and the Kennedy Expressway and Western Avenue to the west
Then and Now
Since the 1960s, the urban landscape of Chicago has undergone many changes-chief among them has been the steady withdrawal of centrally-located industry, and with it, the existence of living-wage manufacturing jobs. If you take a brief glimpse back at the history of Chicago, you'll see that until recently, manufacturing jobs were the lifeblood of the city (hence the nickname, 'the city that works'). Beginning in the'60s though, manufacturers fled Midwestern and Northeastern city centers for cheaper land, relocating to the suburbs, the southern United States, and third world countries. In an effort to reverse-or at least stall-the effects of globalization, the city of Chicago decided to establish Planned Manufacturing Districts in the late 1980s and early'90s to protect against rising property values caused by the encroachment of both commercial and residential gentrification.
When it was first proposed, the concept of barring real estate developers from taking advantage of centrally located and highly desirable property along Elston Avenue was very controversial, and at one point the public discourse even reached the front page of the New York Times. Though the argument forwarded by angry developers is fairly transparent and understandable, the city government's position is not without its merits either. Without government intervention, it has proved to be difficult-if not impossible-for heavy manufacturing jobs to remain within the city, which can account in part for the large exodus of skilled workers from 'rust belt' cities like Detroit and Cleveland in the second half of the 20th century. Zoning a central district of the city for manufacturing, then, should preserve thousands of important jobs, maintaining both diversity and economic output within the city. Though on the surface it seems that the Elston Street Industrial Corridor has been a relative success, if you take a closer look data shows that manufacturing jobs experienced decline through much of the 1990s, and most of the job growth in the area in recent years has been in the retail and service sectors. This is not to say that manufacturing jobs have disappeared or that they're leaving the city with similar collective haste as they were in the 1960s, but the Planned Manufacturing District hasn't sparked the sort of industrial revitalization that city officials might have hoped for.
It is possible that
some sort of change is in order for the Elston Industrial Corridor. At present,
several warehouses and properties in the district remain vacant and abandoned,
hinting at the possible impracticality of the area as a center for heavy
manufacturing. As wealthy gentrification creeps closer to the south and western
borders of the corridor, it seems improbable that the city will stand by and
permit the area to go unused, especially since restaurants and retail stores
that have been permitted to open shop in the area have flourished in recent
years. The property that is immediately adjacent to the intersection of North
and Elston avenues, for example, was designated as a PMD Buffer Area, allowing
non-manufacturing businesses to move in. However, just because retail stores
and restaurants have enjoyed success along Elston Avenue doesn't mean that the
corridor will be rezoned any time soon. Manufacturing jobs have held on,
lending some credence to the argument that they would never have survived in
the center of the city without the special zoning.
Best Shopping Stops
If there's a single destination that people are willing to travel long distances for in the Industrial Corridor, it's Stanley's Fruit & Vegetables (1558 N Elston Ave, 773-276-8050). Stanley's has got to be the place for which the term 'over-buying produce' was coined, because it's practically impossible not to do here. A little restraint is in order, because it's way too easy to come out of here with more food than you could ever eat before it perishes.
There are two reasons for this little pitfall: Stanley's has some of the most sumptuous and succulent fruits and veggies around, in better variety and in greater quantities than most other places; but best of all, it's by far the cheapest location to purchase fresh produce, particularly if you are used to getting your groceries at chain supermarkets like Jewel.
Weekends are always a zoo at Stanley's, and for good reason. In the summer months there's often a truckload of fresh (and very ripe) fruits and vegetables that are priced to be sold that day. On such days, it's not uncommon to find a quart of strawberries for less than $0.50, or a pineapple for a dollar. Be warned though, when you buy a box of strawberries for less than a buck, it's intended to be eaten that day-so don't expect them to keep in your refrigerator. Plenty of the produce offered at Stanley's is high quality organic, too, and much cheaper than at the Whole Foods down the street.
Head north on Elston
Avenue and you will soon arrive at a large strip of big box stores, which can
satisfy just about any Industrial Corridor shopping needs you might have. Though we prefer to go to
a neighborhood mom and pop store just as much as the next guy, we can still
appreciate the convenience of having everything under one roof-or ten roofs, as
it is on this particular stretch of Elston. Between Target (2656 N Elston Ave, 773-252-2210) and Home Depot (1232 W North Ave, 773-486-9200), you can buy everything
you need for your home and those fun do-it-yourself home improvement projects.
For the office, there's Staples
(2484 N Elston Ave, 773-486-8084), but that's not all. Further along there's a Best Buy (2100 N Elston Ave,
773-486-0142), a Payless Shoe Source
(2657 N Elston Ave, 773-394-1570), and even a JoAnn Fabrics (2647 N Elston Ave, 773-645-9075). All of these
stores are located on the north end of the Elston Industrial Corridor between
Diversey Avenue to the north and Fullerton Avenue to the south.
What's on the Menu?
The Industrial Corridor may not sound like a spot you'd want to go to have meal, but don't let the name scare you off. There are actually some very appetizing restaurants in this northwest side Chicago district that are popular with residents from surrounding neighborhoods and locals from all around the city.
The Cornerstone Cafe (2753 N Western Ave, 773-235-1155) is easily the best place to turn to in the Industrial Corridor for a square meal. Known by some to be one of the best diners in all of Chicago, the Cornerstone is oddly off of most people's radars. Considering the quality of the food, it's a real shame that more folks don't know about this Industrial Corridor restaurant-or maybe not, because we're almost never forced to wait for a table.
The place is clean and inviting, service is prompt, and more care is put into the food than most comparable joints in the city. The crepes are fantastic, and are always filled with fruits of the utmost freshness. Like to start your morning off with a little bit of everything? Then the best deal is the 'two-by-two-by-two,' which includes two eggs, two pancakes, and two links of sausage or two pieces of bacon for only six bucks. In the afternoon, burgers, paninis, and several salads are offered. Fresh-squeezed orange juice is always on hand and patio seating is offered in the summer.
The main competition for the Cornerstone Cafe is the Golden Nugget Pancake House (2406 W Diversey Ave, 773-252-8903). Part of the so-called 'Golden Empire,' the Industrial Corridor restaurant is one of seven Golden Nuggets in Chicago. These all-night diners are some of the most quintessential dining institutions in Chicago. Always teeming with families, cops and night owls, the Golden Nugget is like any greasy spoon hawking comfort food that can be found in just about every town in America. The cuisine is not particularly outstanding and the prices aren't too much better than across the street at the Cornerstone, but the Golden Nugget still manages to pack them in day after day. There's just something about an all-night diner - something about ordering a couple of scrambled eggs with hash browns and maybe a milkshake that just feels so right. And if it feels good, why fight it?
Despite the lack of many big name dining establishments, when it comes to BBQ, the Industrial Corridor covers all bases thanks to Fat Willy's Rib Shack (2416 W Schubert Ave, 773-782-1800). Owners Bo and Arden Fowler noticed that back in their North Carolina stomping grounds, every ugly strip mall had a BBQ joint. Since they owned an ugly strip mall in the city, the duo figured it would be the perfect spot to set up a BBQ restaurant. From the ribs to the pulled pork sandwiches to the "to die for" Mac n' Cheese, Fat Willy's pleases all taste buds from the BBQ snobs to the BBQ novices.
A hot spot in this
area is Two (1132 W Grand Ave,
312-624-8363). From the massive barn doors to the wall panels made from old
Chicago porches, the atmosphere here is perfect for an evening with good
friends. This culinary delight features delicious options like octopus with
potatoes, duck egg fettuccine, and homemade pork sausage in addition to
delectable desserts like their banana bread pudding and homemade brioche
Night on the Town
For the night-loving set, the Industrial Corridor houses a few hotspots that draw quite a crowd at the end of the day and over the weekend for some industrial-sized fun and entertainment.
Located on what feels like a limited-access causeway for the bus refueling station across the street is one of the best music venues in the city, aptly called the Hideout (1354 W Wabansia Ave, 773-227-4433). The club's name alludes to the desolation that immediately surrounds the club. Though the expansive Home Depot parking lot that neighbors the Hideout actually leads to North Avenue, this Industrial Corridor bar seems so removed from the rest of the city, it feels like you should actually be able to see stars at night and hear crickets chirping.
Upon entering, the front room is pretty tiny, including a smallish bar and a few tables scattered about. At times, there are local singer/songwriter or bluegrass performances in this part of the venue, but most of the music is performed in the back room, on the stage. The Hideout hosts a wide range of acts, including experimental jazz, rock, punk, standup comedy, and even poetry readings. The drinks are cheap ($2 PBR cans everyday) and the crowd is always lively.
For the more adventurous, head over to the Industrial Corridor's punk-themed watering hole, Exit (1315 W North Ave, 773-395-2700). The bar downstairs generally plays older or vintage punk, and the upstairs bar gravitates more towards industrial (very fitting for the area, we think). There's a chain-link cage on the upper level for dancing, and if you show up on a Thursday night (BDSM night), don't be surprised to see a half-naked man chained to the cage while being flogged-we warned you this place was for the adventurous! Every other night of the week, it's one of the best settings for people watching. From suburban Goth kids to preppy tourists, Exit attracts one of the most diverse group of clientele around to its Industrial Corridor location.
Keeping with the anti-sports bar theme, Five Star Bar (1424 W Chicago Ave, 312-850-2555) resonates a rock n' roll attitude from the band posters aligning the walls to the stripper pole in the back room, this haven for whiskey aficionados is what would happen if Keith Richards and Lemmy from Motorhead opened a bar. In other words, this place rocks.
If hanging around a
bar is not your idea of great time, head over to Whirlyball (1880 W Fullerton Ave, 773-486-7777) where lacrosse,
hockey, and basketball combine with bumper cars to make for an unforgettable
evening. Of course there is a bar so you can swallow some liquid courage before
getting in that bumper car and flying around the court. Don't worry if you're
not the athletic type as Whirlyball requires little agility, speed or strength.
The only requirement is to have a good time.
The Industrial Corridor surrounds Elston Avenue, and not much else, so it is best accessed by vehicle. Because the entire neighborhood is bordered to the west by the Kennedy Expressway, it's easy to get to from the north or south by the highway. Coming towards the Industrial Corridor from either the east or west, North Avenue, Fullerton Avenue and Diversey Parkway are the main thoroughfares that connect the neighborhood with Lincoln Park, Bucktown, and Logan Square.
transportation options in the Industrial Corridor are less convenient. There
are no CTA train stops within the neighborhood, although the CTA Red Line
station at North and Clybourn is just across the North Avenue Bridge from the
southern edge of the Industrial Corridor. Similarly, busses do not run north
and south on Elston Avenue, the main north/south road through the Industrial
Corridor, but it is possible to catch busses on Division Street, North Avenue,
Fullerton Avenue, and Diversey Parkway.
While this is not your typical Chicago
neighborhood, seeing as no one actually lives here, and the Industrial Corridor
doesn't have your basic schools, post office and libraries. It does, however,
have all the other essentials that make living in the city so handy, like
grocery stores, gyms, restaurants, stores and even a little bit of nightlife.
Chicago Transit Authority - (888) 968-7282
Target Pharmacy - 2656 N Elston Ave - (773) 252-2210
Strack & Van Til - 2627 N Elston Ave - (773) 252-6400
Stanley's Fruit & Vegetables - 1558 N Elston Ave - (773) 276-8050
Health and Fitness
Best Buy - 2100 N Elston Ave - (773) 486-0142
Casa de Carina - 2834 N Western Ave - (773) 395-2834
Home Depot - 1232 W North Ave - (773) 486-9200
JoAnn Fabrics - 2647 N Elston Ave - (773) 645-9075
Payless Shoe Source - 2657 N Elston Ave - (773) 394-1570
Pets Mart - 2665 N Elston Ave - (773) 342-1300
Staples - 2484 N Elston Ave - (773) 486-8084
Star Headwear - 2700 N Elston Ave - (773) 384-2000
Target - 2656 N Elston Ave - (773) 252-2210
Cornerstone Cafe - 2753 N Western Ave - (773) 235-1155
Fat Willy's Rib Shack - 2416 W Schubert Ave - (773) 782-1800
Golden Nugget Pancake House - 2406 W Diversey Ave - (773) 252-8903
Stanley's Grill - 1543 N Elston Ave - (773) 772-0004
Two - 1132 W Grand Ave - (312) 624-8363
Lee's Chop Suey - 2415 W Diversey Ave - (773) 342-7050
Art's Drive-In - 1333 W North Ave - (773) 489-0099
Niko's Gyros - 2775 N Elston Ave - (773) 772-8100
Paula & Monica's Pizzeria - 1518 W Chicago Ave - (312) 929-3615
There's a lot of mystery involved in searching
for a new home -- it starts with the property and expands outward to encompass
the street, the block, the neighborhood, the entire city! Every little thing
matters from the color of the walls to the attractions of the town. That's why
a guide like this one on the Industrial Corridor is so helpful to potential
homebuyers. Without leaving the comfort of your desktop computer or laptop,
you've got an extensive pool of information on all of Chicago's neighborhoods
that includes first-hand descriptions of dining, entertainment, shopping, bars,
and events, in addition to lists of schools, hospitals, post offices, and gyms.
We've done all the research to carefully craft this one-stop online spot, and
create your hub for the real deal on the Industrial Corridor. So as soon
as a Chicago loft, condo, townhome or house catches your eye, you know where to
come for the low down on the digs around that prime piece of real estate.