A small section of downtown Chicago that combines urban with residential; couture with cuisine; and Chicagoans with the occasional spotted celebrity; the Near North neighborhood features many of the city's most notable shops, restaurants and residents. The culinary backdrop in the Near North is anchored by a blend of trendy, new hotspots and treasured mainstays. Whether you crave a good ole' burger, or would rather a nice, juicy porterhouse, the restaurants around here are sure to suffice. The Near North is also quite the site for a mini shopping spree, especially for the literary types as there are a disproportionately large number of bookstores in the area. Fashionistas will find their fill of en vogue styles, too, but the real draw to the Near North is its fun nightlife. Many of the neighborhood restaurants double as late-night bars and dance clubs. Once the midnight hour approaches, Near North hangouts heat up.
Near North Facts
Location: About 1 mile north of the Loop
Bordering Neighborhoods: River North, Gold Coast, Old Town, River West, Cabrini Green
Boundaries: Division Street to the north, Chicago Avenue to the south, State Street to the east and the Chicago River to the west
Then and Now
Back in the olden days, the Near North neighborhood was just another unnamed, undeveloped Chicago area. That is, until Potter Palmer got his hands on it (yes, the Palmer of Palmer House Hilton fame). Palmer bought some land near the lakeshore in 1882. Back then, the area was covered in ponds, grass and greenery, but Palmer changed all of that. He built himself a cute little mansion on what would later be known as Lake Shore Drive and one of Chicago’s most heavily-trafficked roadways.
Other wealthy folks followed suit with mansions of their own, putting this neighborhood in the category of elegance and luxury since its inception. Within a decade, the value of the land in this area had increased by 400 percent, and soon some of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens, like the McCormicks and the Wrigleys, were moving from their Prairie Avenue homes (on the south side) to new digs near the center of the city.
Fast-forward a hundred years and the vibe in the Near North neighborhood has largely remained the same. Sure, there are more shops, trendier restaurants and hipper bars, but it is still home to many wealthy Chicagoans, and though it’s located right near the heart of the city, there is enough grass, trees and flowers (mostly on the residential side streets) to make you feel like you’re at least slightly in touch with nature.
While the area has the occasional art gallery, this neighborhood is more about the hustle and bustle of shopping and dining. So if you are a foodie, a fashionista, or if you just like to be in the middle of things, Near North is definitely your neighborhood.
Near North Real Estate
We’re not going to beat around the bush as far as real estate is concerned; this is one of Chicago’s most sophisticated neighborhoods. In Near North you have a blend of historic luxury homes, modern condominiums, studio lofts and a slew of high-rises, and the charming residential blocks off the main streets are home to many gorgeous single-family properties that give this community a long-established feel and air of pride.
Three- and four-story brownstones, stately mansions and stunning row homes are positioned perfectly one after another down tree-lined streets, and we can say one thing about this neighborhood: it’s impeccably manicured. There’s nary a flower, shrub or piece of grass out of place.
While you can find studio flats and tiny one-bedroom apartments for as low as $120,000 in the Near North neighborhood, many of multi-unit condos go for a little bit more … as in millions. Although you don’t have to spend six million dollars to buy an amazing high-rise penthouse with views of the water, you can if you want to in Near North. The average sales price for a one- or two-bedroom unit is around $423,000, but for a three- bedroom place the average price goes up to $1.3 million.
Because of the high cost of living in the Near North, the area attracts an older crowd of couples, families and retirees. But as it’s such a happening neighborhood, there’s always a variety of people walking up and down the streets, giving the area a diverse feel.
What’s on the Menu?
The Near North culinary scene is a mix of new, flashy joints and Chicago mainstays. The cuisine is varied, the food is quality and the places are always packed.
One of the splashiest entrances onto the Chicago dining scene came straight from the Big Apple, when Il Mulino New York (1150 N Dearborn Ave, 312-440-8888) landed in Chicago in 2006. Voted the #1 Italian eatery in New York by Zagat restaurant rankings for two decades, Il Mulino brings super-upscale Italian food to the Near North neighborhood. Located in a large white mansion (seriously, you feel A-list just walking in the place), the menu offers such classics as fettuccini alfredo, spaghetti carbonara, capellini arrabbiata and veal parmesan. You’re going to have to dig deep into the wallet, though, the amazing wine list and mouthwatering pastas don’t come cheap. But dining outside can save you a few pennies as a lighter and less expensive menu is offered on their patio. Sticking to the Italian fare, Merlo on Maple (16 W Maple St, 312-335-8200) is intimate dining at its finest. It’s a quaint little restaurant in a restored four-story townhouse, which is divided into smaller, cozier rooms. The menu is Bolongese-inspired, and includes such items as swordfish carpaccio, bowtie pasta with rabbit ragu, and pepper-crusted tuna over arugula with a balsamic vinaigrette. Okay, one more Italian spot and then we’ll move on. Go Roma (848 N State St, 312-252-9946) brings Near North quality Italian in a casual environment. Its pizzas, pastas and salads are fresh, quick and cheap, making this a great stop for that too-short lunch break.
If quick food is your m.o., Near North has a couple stops for people on the go. And while this neighborhood has a wealth of independent restaurants, they harbor a few chains here, too. There’s Chipotle (1166 N State St, 312-654-8637), and we’re guessing we don’t have to tell you too much about this one. Massive burritos, not-too-spicy tacos, super-quick service, this place has it all for in-and-out eats. But if it’s a good ole’ burger and fries you crave, head over to Johnny’s Grill (838 N State St, 312-202-0041). Their hamburgers, French fries and shakes will satisfy that American food craving. The lunchtime crowd in town also digs into Johnny’s yummy gyros, tacos, hot dogs and veggie burgers in between office meetings, classes or errands. The clientele is a mix of professionals, Loyola students and tourists, and the friendly staff is cheerful and accommodating to all who enter.
Let’s focus on one of the highlights of Chicago cuisine: steaks. Morton’s Steakhouse (1050 N State St, 312-266-4820) is more nationally known than its down-the-street-competitor Gibson’s, and offers tender, juicy filets, perfectly cooked porterhouses, massive shrimp and scrumptious desserts. The atmosphere is slightly late 70s/early 80s and slightly more mellow than other popular Chicago steakhouses in the area. Word to the wise: Don’t leave without a souffle. Seriously. We recommend the chocolate, but whatever you choose, don’t forget the side of whipped cream. At The Grotto on State (1030 N State St, 312-280-1005) right down the street, most of the crowd goes for its delicious appetizers, which are perfect for post-work or pre-partying. Filet mignon sliders, guacamole, fried calamari and tuna carpaccio are just a few of the apps on their menu. Don’t miss out on $3 Thursdays, where all appetizers are a mere three bucks. And, in case you’re interested, The Grotto also draws a good drinking crowd when the sun goes down with their upbeat music.
For Far East flair, neighborhood residents can hit up Panang Thai (800 N Clark St, 312-573-9999). It’s a great stop if you’re craving something quick and easy. Everything across the board is delicious, from the thom ka soup to the happiness beef appetizer to the green curry to the mango smoothies. It’s dirt cheap, and many Near North locals love their take-out option.
Best Shopping Stops
While Near North is a mere few blocks away from Chicago’s legendary Magnificent Mile, this area is a great place to spend a peaceful shopping day, away from crowds, hordes and tourists.
Book fiends will find Near North a haven for their habit. For the mainstream stuff, there’s a massive Barnes and Noble (1130 North State St, 312-280-8155) at your disposal. From the latest bestseller to that hard-to-find travel guide, this bookstore has it all—and a friendly staff to help you find it. Near North residents also frequent the Barnes and Noble cafe to grab a quick java or just to chill out and read the morning paper. For those who appreciate more antiquated books, A C McClurg Bookstore (60 W Walton St, 312-255-3520) is located in the Newberry Library, and their selection mirrors the literary classics and educational reference texts offered at this academic institution. Covering subjects like genealogy, cartography, American studies, Medieval and Renaissance history, Native American history and other historical subjects, this shop provides fodder for the research-minded, or those who just love a little history. Keep your eyes peeled for goings-on at the bookstore, too. The Newberry hosts several events including Meet the Author and Newberry Library Seminars. Chicago is a very diverse city, attracting residents and visitors from all corners of the globe. That’s why we need a bookstore like Europa Books (832 N State St, 312-335-9677). This tiny, inconspicuous shop stocks the best in foreign-language literature. They specialize in Spanish, French and Italian, and in addition to books, they offer a wide selection of foreign magazines and newspapers. Even if you don’t speak a second language, Europa is here to help. Their entire back section is devoted to language-learning books, meaning you could be shopping in the front section in just a few months if you put your mind to it.
Gals, you’ll love the Near North shops and boutiques. Anthropologie (1120 N State St, 312-255-1848) is for the girly girls, with cute skirts, darling dresses and all sorts of dress-up clothing for trendy affairs. Anthropologie’s shabby chic home accessories are great, too, in case you need something to dress up your new condo. Keep your eyes out for the large 'Sale' sign outside. When Anthropologie marks down, they’re not messing around. Selling clothes that are a little pricier yet with astounding quality is Blake (212 W Chicago Ave, 312-202-0047). You have to look closely for this one—there’s no sign and no window displays. But those who find it will be sweetly rewarded with gorgeous clothing made from luscious fabrics and cut to perfection. Both stylish and classic, the impeccable quality ensures these clothes will last forever. For more high-quality duds, Shibuy Hada Boutique (56 W Maple St, 312-274-9620) will surely be on your list of favorite shopping stops in no time. This boutique focuses on original, hand-made apparel, with a focus on hand-loomed knits. The piece you score here will be attention-getting and one-of-a-kind, whether you choose something off the shelves or have them custom make a piece just for you. And trust us, you’ll relish these unique, hand-woven sweaters once winter rolls around.
For practical items there’s Gordon’s Ace Hardware (24 W Maple St, 312-787-6887) within walking distance, whether it’s mega-home improvement stuff you need or just a roll of masking tape. Paper Source (232 W Chicago Ave, 312-337-0798) provides Near North neighbors with luxury paper supplies. Pick up invitations and thank you notes in gorgeous colors and prints, all impeccably made. They’ll custom-print anything for you, too, and their super-friendly (and paper-loving) staff will make sure the font is as lovely as the paper.
Night on the Town
Similar to the Near North shopping experience, the nightlife in this neighborhood is eclipsed by its adjacent neighbors—the legendary Rush and Division string of bars and clubs is just a few steps away. But stick around here for a happening scene with a mellow vibe.
The Hunt Club (1100 N State St, 312-988-7887) is one of the most popular stops as it sits on the border of the Near North and Gold Coast neighborhoods, and it has a little something for every mood. A more chilled-out, happy hour aura fills the place until 8pm, when the music pumps up, the crowd filters in and the place becomes dance-tastic. The music is a mix of slightly dated (in a good way) and new hits. The crowd? Tourists, businessmen, groups of ladies and a nice range of early-twenties to mid-fifties. There’s no cover and the drinks are decently priced for a downtown joint. Dublin’s Pub (1030 N State St, 312-266-6340) is incredibly laid-back, a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of place, with good beer and cheap eats. The clientele is mostly locals, lots of service industry-types and off-duty cops—groups whose opinions we completely trust. Their patio, positioned right on State Street, is one of the best people-watching places in the area, if not the city.
It’s true, there is a Bar Louie (226 W Chicago Ave, 312-337-3313) in almost every Chicago neighborhood, and Near North is no different, but we like this one the best. There’s a huge range of tap beer, bottled beer and microbrews, and over 20 wines by the glass. A mix of visitors and locals munch on better-than-average bar food while glancing up at the sports game on TVs hanging from the walls. The room is slightly dark (with some funky artwork splashed across the walls), and it’s open until 4 am for those after-hours nibbles. Our favorite fun hangout? Hangge-Uppe (14 W. Elm St, 312-337-0561). We love the retro music (Neil Diamond, Madonna, Aerosmith, Eddie Money—you get the idea), the completely random crowd (professionals, suburbanites, bachelorette parties, hipsters, college kids, artists), and the way that people drunkenly dance the night away. At this late-night bar things don’t get bumpin’ until after 11 pm. Come early and you’ll miss the revelry. Cactus Gold Coast (1112 N State St, 312-642-5999) has one of the best patios in the city, which makes it a flutter of activity in warm weather months. Not only is it an excellent people-watching locale, but the food is super good and the drinks are stiff, so pace yourself. With a sign like 'Man vs. Margarita' it’s obvious which drink is their specialty, but feel free to peruse the beverage list—they’re all good. During winter, Cactus can be quite, um, deserted so once the mercury drops we look to other watering holes for nighttime action in the Near North neighborhood.
Mark Your Calendar
Near North residents love their farmers market (1200 N Dearborn St, 312-744-9493). Open every Saturday from 7 am to 2 pm, from late spring to early fall, vendors hawk organic and non-organic produce, flowers, pastries and spices—and Near North neighbors come in droves to scoop up their offerings. You can make this your substitute for the over-priced supermarket fruits and veggies until mid-October, when the chilly temps (remember, it’s cooler by the lake!) force the farmers to pack up.
Because of its limited area, Near North doesn’t have its own summer festivals, but it’s close to so many others that residents will hardly feel left out of the fun-filled festivities. Plus, this neighborhood is so close to the lake that if you live here, you can make any day a summer celebration.
A plethora of permits, parking restrictions, an abundance of meters, constant traffic and a serious lack of parking places. These are just a few problems that plague the car owners of Near North. In fact, we’d almost say it’s more convenient not to own a car in this downtown neighborhood. In some buildings, purchasing a parking spot is definitely an option (and we say seize it!) but if you are relying on available street spots, you may want to reconsider.
That said, the Near North neighborhood is a veritable hub of public transportation, with buses and trains right out your front door. This neighborhood lies smack dab in the middle of two Red Line subway stops: Clark & Division and Chicago. Both will take you either north to Howard or south to 95th with stops in Lincoln Park, the Loop, Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field (White Sox) along the way, so take your pick. As for the bus system, the #66 Chicago Avenue line will take you into West Town and beyond, as will the #70 Division Avenue bus. A few blocks away the #22 Clark or #36 Broadway buses are a great way to travel north and south, as is the #29 State Street bus, which goes south along State Street shopping, as well as to the Harold Washington Library. But the true beauty of this neighborhood? If a downtown location is your destination, your own two feet are all you need. The Near North area is mere steps away from the Magnificent Mile, the Chicago River, and it’s a quick jaunt to the Loop.
School’s in Session
Families in the Near North neighborhood have their choice of schools where their children can attend class. In addition to the following list of Near North schools, you can check out Chicago Public Schools or Great Schools for more information on other Chicago area educational facilities.
Cornerstone Academy 1111 N Wells St - (312) 573-8854
Lakeshore Prep School 300 W Hill St - (312) 266-2020
The LLC Chicago Grammar School - 900 N Franklin St - (312) 944-5600
Ogden Elementary School 24 W Walton St - (773) 534-8110
Salazar Bilingual Education Center 160 W Wendell St - (773) 534-8310
Walter Payton College Prep High School 1034 N Wells St - (773) 534-0034
Despite its small size, the Near North neighborhood is big on local conveniences. We’ve rounded up a list of where to get groceries and sundries alike.
Newberry Library 60 W Walton St - (312) 943-9090
Postal Place 1030 N State St - (773) 871-6017
Chicago Transit Authority - (888) 968-7282
Osco Drug 1165 N Clark St - (312) 280-8140
Treasure Island Food Mart 75 W Elm St - (312) 440-1144
Curves 21 W Elm St - (312) 640-1500
Gold Coast Multiplex 1030 N Clark St - (312) 944-1030
Michelle Rossfeld Personal Trainer 21 W Elm St - (312) 640-1500
One-on-One Fitness 47 W Division St - (312) 642-4235
YMCA Third Age 801 N Dearborn St - (312) 932-3000
Shaw Chicago 1016 N Dearborn St - (312) 587-7390
A C McClurg Bookstore (Newberry Library) 60 W Walton St - (312) 255-3520
Anthropologie 1120 N State St - (312) 255-1848
Barnes & Noble Bookseller 1130 North State St - (312) 280-8155
Blake 212 W Chicago Ave - (312) 202-0047
Europa Books 832 N State St - (312) 335-9677
Gordon’s Ace Hardware 24 W Maple St - (312) 787-6887
Lifeway Christian Stores 820 N La Salle Dr - (312) 664-0799
My Closet 2 Inc 1145 N Wells St - (312) 335-1683
Paper Source 232 W Chicago Ave - (312) 337-0798
Shibuy Hada Boutique 56 W Maple St - (312) 274-9620
Chicago Rib House - 800 N Dearborn St - (312) 751-2233
The Grotto on State 1030 N State St - (312) 280-1005
Johnny’s Grill 838 N State St - (312) 202-0041
Morton’s of Chicago 1050 N State St - (312) 266-4820
Steve’s Place 230 W Chicago Ave - (312) 337-2462
Gibson’s Steakhouse 1028 N. Rush St, - (312) 266-8999
Hugo’s Frog Bar 1024 N. Rush St, - (312) 640-0999
Akai Hana Japanese Restaurant 846 N State St - (312) 787-4881
Panang Thai 800 N Clark St - (312) 573-9999
BomBon Americano 1000 N Clark St - (312) 787-7717
Go Roma 848 N State St - (312) 252-9946
Il Mulino New York 1150 N Dearborn Ave - (312) 440-8888
Merlo on Maple 16 W Maple St - (312) 335-8200
The Blue Agave 1050 N State St - (312) 335-8900
Chipotle Mexican Grill 1166 N State St - (312) 654-8637
Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta 864 N State St - (312) 751-1766
Bar Louie 226 W Chicago Ave - (312) 337-3313
Cactus Gold Coast - 1112 N State St - (312) 642-5999
Dublin’s Pub 1030 N State St - (312) 266-6340
Hunt Club 1100 N State St - (312) 988-7887
Hangge-Uppe 14 W. Elm St - (312) 337-0561
The residential real estate in Near North is fairly diverse, providing homeowners with a number of housing options from condos to lofts to townhomes. But there is more to your Near North home than where you rest your head at night. The area surrounding a property can be just as much a factor in the decision to buy as the color of the carpet or the condition of the foundation. Each Chicago neighborhood has its own unique charm that sets it apart from the rest. Our comprehensive online guide is all you need to explore the many streets of Chicago-all from the comfort of your own computer. Shopping, dining, entertainment, schools, you name it, we’ll show you where it is. Find out whether that fabulous Near North condo is immersed in the throes of wild nightlife, or veiled by the tranquility of a quiet residential setting. Like Metromix and the MLS merged into one, this site is your one-stop shop for Chicago neighborhood information.