By Sam Baldwin
I visited Andersonville on a freezing Thursday morning and the streets were quiet. There were few pedestrians; most shops and restaurants seemed empty. However, with the countless shops and dining attractions, it was easy to imagine the excitement and vitality that the streets are home to on busy evenings and warmer days. Andersonville, a cozy neighborhood just seven miles north of the Loop, is a historically Swedish-American spot with a diverse and thriving LGBTQ community. The area is known for its hip bar scene, delicious restaurants, and colorful array of locally-owned independent boutiques, galleries, and bookshops. It’s a vibrant neighborhood whose classic and simple roots have been permeated by hipster vibes and quirky street art.
Since one of the neighborhood’s main streets, Clark Street, is almost entirely comprised of restaurants, choosing a lunch spot was extremely difficult. After much wandering, I stumbled across The First Slice, a quaint pie café that features tasty sandwiches, salads, coffees, and of course delicious pie, all served on handmade ceramic plates. I sampled the curry chicken salad and a big mug of coffee. My friend elected to have the vegetable panini with a mug of herbal tea. Both meals were fresh, satisfying, and super flavorful, but what stood out beyond the food was the café’s warm and welcoming atmosphere. It was the type of coffee shop that you want to hole up in all day doing work as you sample each and every one of the delicious pies on display. So next (because how could we possibly resist?) we each chose a slice of pie to taste. It took several minutes of discussion and deliberation, but we finally decided to taste the chocolate peanut butter and sour cherry pies. Both were delicious—and super photogenic if you’re looking for that perfect food insta (we’ve all been there). Plus, The First Slice uses their amazing pie to do good for the community! Their outreach program provides meals and food donations to local shelters and youth centers. So if you’re looking to not only indulge in some sweets, but also to give back to the natives of the vibrant Andersonville community, swing by The First Slice! Your taste buds and your conscience will thank you.
Because most of the shops in Andersonville are locally-owned and independent, there are so many unique shopping opportunities in the area. I window-shopped at Women and Children First, a feminist bookstore, Scout, a furniture shop, and countless galleries, but my favorite spot was the Andersonville Galleria. The Galleria is a three story gallery and boutique that features local merchants. Within the maze of The Galleria I found beautiful jewelry, wall art, and clothing, all sold alongside more eccentric art, like a necktie made of pencils, and engraved wooden bow-ties. The Galleria was colorful and exciting—a space that you could truly spend hours in. Another local shop that I loved was the T-Shirt Deli, a custom T-shirt shop decorated like a delicatessen. Within the T-Shirt Deli were hundreds of design options, and a “menu” that let you choose font, style, and color to design a shirt that will be customized right before your eyes. If you are in the mood to go thrifting, check out Rad Vintage or The Brown Elephant. If you are more of a comic fan, head by Alleycat Comics, a comic shop that often hosts game nights and movie screenings that you do not want to miss!
Not only does Andersonville have a great food and a vibrant shopping scene, but, as a historically Swedish neighborhood, it is home to Chicago’s only Swedish-American museum. The museum is a great place to get a dose of the rich history of Andersonville. With interactive art and cultural exhibits, and events such as Scandinavian dance classes, the museum is a great destination for children and adults. Andersonville is also home to countless theater experiences, such as the Neo-Futurist theater and the Red Theater, which are both known for providing exciting and unique theater experiences.
So, if you have a free day and you’re in search of great food, unique shopping opportunities, and an exciting atmosphere, head to Andersonville. The quirky neighborhood provides a break from the sometimes exhausting big city vibes of the Loop, but between pie shops, thrift stores, and countless galleries, Andersonville remains full of excitement in its own right.