River West is a relatively new Chicago neighborhood. Once considered part of River North, it is now a viable, thriving community of its own. In recent years the construction of mid-rise condominiums in River West has attracted residents who desire a little more peace and quiet, without moving too far from downtown. In the style of transforming an old warehouse district into a viable residential neighborhood, River West is full of converted loft spaces and condos, which happen to be prime real estate on Chicago's housing market. Trendy designs and upgraded amenities have become the norm for this hip, new community. Fashionable restaurants and nightspots have also materialized, but local residents aren't the only ones frequenting these ultra-cool hangouts. River West dining and nightlife is known to attract Chicagoans from outside the neighborhood, which means it is best to make reservations whenever possible!
River West Facts
Location: One mile northwest of the Loop
Boundaries: The Chicago River North Branch to the east, Grand Avenue to the south,
the Kennedy Expressway to the west and the Industrial Corridor to the north
Bordering Neighborhoods: River North, West Loop, Fulton River District, Noble Square, Near North
Then and Now
Like its neighbor to the immediate south, the Fulton River District, River West, a neighborhood that was once recognized for little more than meatpacking houses and distribution centers, has experienced a cultural revitalization in recent years. River West has long been known to Chicago residents as a market district; the place you might go to stock up on wholesale goods. The neighborhood has always been a major artery in the west side of Chicago's manufacturing corridor-and it still is-but in recent years the neighborhood has radically transformed.
Though warehouses still stand in much of River West, and there still is plenty of truck traffic shipping goods in and out along Halsted Street and Grand Avenue, the area has become increasingly residential. The recent influx of wealthy residents came on the coattails of two major developments in River West: the backdrop of a burgeoning arts scene and an increasingly reputable setting for nightlife and restaurants. As the winds of gentrification generally blow, artists first moved in to capitalize on cheap rents, which started the gradual transformation from a meatpacking and manufacturing district to one that attracts flocks of art enthusiasts and foodies on the weekends.
River West Real Estate
The majority of River West real estate is mid- and high-rise condos, converted lofts, new-construction townhomes and three-flats. Old warehouses are being converted into trendy new lofts, and condominium developments are also going up in the neighborhood. Reminiscent of its industrial days, the River West community is definitely part of the concrete and steel jungle of city living, but the contemporary designs and modernity of the freshly rehabbed buildings provide a clean and innovative environment that is appealing to Chicagoans of all walks of life. Check out our River West home sales statistics [here] to get an idea of the real estate market trends in this neighborhood.
What's on the Menu?
In addition to the growing reputation of area art galleries, River West's dining scene has also taken off in a big way. One spot that has garnered the attention of both foodies and anyone seeking an exquisitely delicious meal is Sepia (123 N Jefferson St, 312-441-1920). The decor, featuring custom Art Nouveau tile floors and hand-crafter millwork, offer the perfect ambience for the classis yet contemporary cuisine. Chef Andrew Zimmerman, nominated for the 2013 James Beard Award and winner of Best Chef: Great Lakes, creates tantalizing seasonal dishes such as the tea smoked duck breast and Berkshire pork collar. Be sure to make reservations and find out for yourself why this is one of River West's most beloved restaurants.
For the meat and potato lovers who crave a modern twist, head over to the Paramount Room (415 N Milwaukee, 312-829-6300). You can't go wrong with their Wagyu Burger, Fried Chicken, Paramount Rueben or the Beef & Barley to name only a few favorites off the menu. Housed in a 100 year old former speakeasy, the Paramount Room features a dual level space with the street level showcasing a storefront tavern space while one floor below modern design and high ceilings highlight the former prohibition-era speakeasy.
An Italian favorite in River West, one that we're sure to return to at least once-a-month: La Scarola (721 W Grand Ave, 312-243-1740). Not to be taken in by the white tablecloths, La Scarola is a casual affair that thousands of Chicagoans call their favorite spot. Though it seems hidden, with little more to announce its existence than a rusty sign on a quiet stretch of Grand Avenue, people have discovered this River West restaurant and keep it packed every night of the week. La Scarola is in a class of Italian restaurants that originate back from the 1940s, maintaining the same furnishings and reminding us of a scene out of a mob movie. The portions are bigger than anyone should be allowed to eat in one sitting, but that never holds us back. Because of its increasing popularity in recent years, be sure to make dinner reservations at this beloved River West restaurant.
In terms of cafe culture, the Iguana Cafe (517 N Halsted St, 312-432-0663) is a European-influenced eatery that serves coffee, wine and a reasonably priced selection of Mediterranean-style dishes. It's one of the only cafes that's open as late as most bars, so it's a good spot to turn to if you've got to get some late-night studying done. They also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and even have a full bar, so whatever your needs are, chances are Iguana's got a fix. Taking the prize for the most unconventional dining room in River West goes to the Silver Palm (768 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-666-9322). This Near North Side neighborhood fixture is an old Union Pacific rail car from the 1940s that's been converted into an intimate dining room. There are only about ten tables in the small space and not much room to move about, but that's half the fun. The food is good contemporary American cuisine, albeit rather pricey, but good nonetheless.
Situated across the river from a well-established art center in River North, River West has its own flourishing gallery district along Milwaukee Avenue. Most of these spaces are run by not-for-profit and educational organizations. Woman Made Gallery (685 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-738-0400) supports women's contributions to the arts, hosting group exhibitions, solo shows, and a holiday bazaar. Woman Made was opened in the early '90s to raise awareness for female artists who often go overlooked in the wider American art scene. The nearby ARC Gallery (832 W Superior St, 312-733-2787) is run by women as well, but men are also invited to show their work in the gallery space. Since its opening in the 1970s, ARC has been fundamental to Chicago's growing artist community, providing budding artists with exhibition and scholarship opportunities.
The Center for Intuitive & Outsider Art (756 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-243-9088) is a unique foundation that promotes awareness, acceptance and understanding of alternative types of artwork. The center, called Intuit for short, introduces the general public to an array of unconventional creative expressions that "demonstrate little influence from the mainstream art world" such as art brut, self-taught and visionary art forms. As one of the fastest-growing and most popular art forms in Chicago, outsider art is a phenomenon, and as such, the Intuit gallery hosts openings and shows that have drawn some pretty big crowds in recent years. What exactly it means to qualify as an 'outsider artist' is unclear, but the art shown at Intuit generally includes a wide range of folk art and quirky art objects that are made by professionally untrained artists. Educational galleries are just a part of River West's active artist community. For decades, scholars of the arts have come to the area to participate in programs at the Chicago Academy for the Arts (1010 W Chicago Ave, 312-421-0202). The academy is a college prep school offering a wide range of elective art courses.
Night on the Town
Like its culinary culture, the nightlife in River West neighborhood is on the rise. Characterized by hip new wine bars, lounges and clubs, we are happy to sample these popular River West hotspots and report back with the low down.
Got a little bit of an oenophile in you? Or maybe you just want to impress your date. No problem as either will do at 694 Wine & Spirits (694 N Milwaukee Ave, 312-492-6620), a dream-come-true for amateurs and aficionados alike. Because even if you don't know a thing about wine and cheese (they've got an overwhelming selection of that too), the servers at 694 Wine & Spirits do, and they'll be more than willing to educate and accommodate you. Though the place is small, it contains plenty of fun. Both wine and cheese are served in flights, and there's even a gourmet butter flight for the butterball in all of us.
Like the decor, the music and the crowds at the Funky Buddha Lounge (728 W Grand Ave, 312-666-1695) are all over the map, making it one of the most amorphous and diverse nightclubs in Chicago. In the early hours, the place has a very laid-back feel to it, but come midnight everybody's on the dance floor. With DJs changing every couple of hours, if you stay at the Funky Buddha all night you might expect to catch a set of Hip Hop, international house music, or even jazz in the same evening. Next door to the Funky Buddha is the Butterfly Social Club (722 W Grand Ave, 312-291-8633), which is owned by the same owner as the Funky Buddha Lounge, Mark Klemen. The Butterfly Social Club was founded on organic principles, and both the drink menu and the vibe of the place live up to those ideals. Most of the alcoholic beverages, as well as the many juices, are certified organic and, we think, tastier for that reason.
With an entrance to Interstate I-90/94 (Kennedy Expressway) off Ogden Avenue, it is easy to commute from River West to anywhere else in the city. Locally, though, Milwaukee Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Halsted Street will get you just about anywhere you need to be. But keep in mind that these are major thoroughfares and that during morning and evening rush hours they tend to slow to a crawl. Only minutes from the Loop, the CTA Blue Line is a straight shot downtown with stops in River West at the six-corner intersections of Chicago/Milwaukee/Ogden and Grand/Milwaukee/Halsted. Taking the Blue Line down to the Chicago Loop will connect you to every other CTA train line, but taking it the opposite direction will get you to O'Hare International Airport and all points in between. It's a long ride though, so calculate close to an hour to get from River West to O'Hare. A few bus routes also run through the area-namely the #8 Halsted street bus and the #56 Milwaukee Avenue bus. And, of course, there are always taxis milling about the main streets waiting to take you anywhere you need to go (the intersection of Grand/Milwaukee/Halsted is probably the best place to catch a cab in the River West neighborhood).
School's in Session
There aren't any schools for the young'uns' in River West, but art scholars will like the fact that one of the city's art academies in right here in the neighborhood. For information on nearby educational facilities for students of all ages and spheres of interests, check out our Chicago Guide Schools page.
- Chicago Academy for the Arts - 1010 W Chicago Ave - (312) 421-0202
We've compiled a sampling of some of the places you can get your bare necessities in River West, from transport to Tic-Tacs, paintings to pizza.
- Chicago Transit Authority (888) 968-7282
- CVS Pharmacy - 771 N Ogden Ave - (312) 243-5590
- Chicago Dramatists Theatre - 1105 W Chicago Ave - (312) 633-0630
- Chicago Fine Arts Exchange - 815 W Chicago Ave - (312) 850-2787
- Chicago Tribune Freedom Center - 777 W Chicago Ave - (312) 222-2116
- The Edge Comedy Club - 777 N Green St - (312) 733-6000
- ARC Gallery - 832 W Superior St - (312) 733-2787
- Center for Intuitive & Outsider Art 756 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 243-9088
- Woman Made Gallery - 685 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 738-0400
- April - 7s Custom Framing 766 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 666-4707
- Intuit: The Center for Intuitive & Outsider Art 756 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 243-9088
- Proline Golf - 925 W Chicago Ave - (312) 738-2427
- Salvation Army - 509 N Union Ave - (312) 738-4360
- Upgrade Cycle Works - 1130 W Chicago Ave - (312) 226-8650
- American Cuisine
- Paramount Room - 415 N Milwaukee - (312) 829-6300
- The Silver Palm - 768 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 666-9322
- Asian Cuisine
- Sushi X - 1136 W Chicago Ave - (312) 491-9232
- Thalia Spice - 833 W Chicago Ave - (312) 226-6020
- Bello Tea - 131 N Clinton - (630) 445- 1200
- Duran European Sandwiches Cafe - 529 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 666-6007
- Iguana Cafe - 517 N Halsted St - (312) 432-0663
- Windy City Cafe - 1062 W Chicago Ave - (312) 492-8010
- Fast Food
- Sammy's Red Hots - 238 W Division St - (312) 266-7290
- Subway Sandwiches - 780 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 600-9094
- Italian Cuisine
- Joe Marchetti's - 825 W Erie St - (312) 421-0022
- La Scarola Italian Restaurant - 721 W Grand Ave - (312) 432-0663
- Piccolo Sogno - 464 N Halsted St - (312) 421-0077
- D'Agostino's Pizza & Pub - 752 N Ogden Ave - (312) 850-3247
- Pie-Eyed Pizzeria - 1111 W Chicago Ave - (312) 243-3735
- Toni's Pizza & Organic Pasta - 457 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 243-1500
- The Dawson - 730 W Grand Ave - (312) 243-8955
- Butterfly Social Club - 722 W Grand Ave - (312) 291-8633
- De Lux - 669 N Chicago Ave - (312) 850-4008
- Funky Buddha Lounge - 728 W Grand Ave - (312) 666-1695
- The Matchbox - 770 N Milwaukee Ave - (312) 666-9292
Sometimes it makes more sense to view the city of Chicago as a bunch of separate neighborhoods-especially when it comes to real estate.
Whether you are in the market for a loft, condo, townhome, or house, it is just as important to inspect the surrounding area as it is to inspect
the home's foundation. River West neighborhood is just one Chicago community with an abundance of residential properties, and a life all its own.
From where you send your kids to school to where you dine at night, the information we provide is an essential piece of the puzzle when you're
trying to decide whether or not to buy that beautiful loft or adorable house in River West.
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