Long-time residents of Chicago can attest: the transformation of much of Lincoln Park over the last 20 years has been remarkable. Take for example the area around North and Clybourn. In the early 90’s, one would be likely to see all kinds of unsavory elements on the street around the neighborhood. Now it’s home to one of the most talked-about high rises in the city (SoNo) and the biggest shining yuppie mecca in the entire city (the Whole Foods flagship store).
For the purposes of this post, we are going to consider Lincoln Park to be the following, but going just a bit more south to catch some extra of the North/Clybourn area:
As usual, the purpose of this post is to inform the reader about what to see and do as well as go over some of the real estate trends in the area. Lincoln Park is pretty much the textbook entry under “gentrification” (a word that has become remarkably controversial in the last few years) as parts of it have gone from urban decay to relatively upscale in a pretty short amount of time. There is an actual park with a world class zoo, a beach, very high-end restaurants, most of the typical upper-middle-class shopping outlets (Crate and Barrel, Apple Store, etc.), an unbelievable supply of sports bars, and a lot of very “Chicago” feeling streets with long, narrow walk-ups and old trees.
There is a lot to do in Lincoln Park, but I’ll try to snuff out some of the notable items. Keep in mind that notable doesn’t necessarily mean best in this case…
1. For your unquenchable inner yuppie: Whole Foods. I don’t know of many grocery stores in this country where you have a really good tap beer selection and cup holders on your cart, but it’s available here. Here’s an embarrassing confession: I have actually watched college basketball with a beer here because it seemed like the best option in the neighborhood (I wasn’t the only one). Really, this is not just a grocery store, it’s an experience.
2. For the foodie who equates expense to quality: Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea. These two are right down the street from each other. They both require a big wallet and a lot of free time. I do think it’s funny that Charlie Trotter’s claims to be one of the finest restaurants of all time and has a “To Go” option…just like Chili’s.
3. For the broke animal lover: Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s an excellent zoo in a great setting and it’s free. Make sure to check out the gibbons, just don’t call them monkeys (they’re apes).
4. If you miss the Jersey Shore: North Avenue Beach and Castaway’s. Honestly, for me Castaway’s is the most disappointing bar in Chicago. It is on the beach surrounded by sand volleyball courts and all kinds of fun, and it’s in the shape of a boat. However, it is probably the most pedestrian bar I have been to. There is nothing notable about the food, drinks, service, etc. This could be the best place in the city, instead it just has the best location. Side note: you’ll really impress your server if you can eat more than 16 fish tacos.
5. To support your local (Belgian) brewery: Goose Island Clybourn. A few years ago, Goose decided to take a more gastro-pub type menu to its brewpubs. It had been pretty standard pub grub before. I’m a little torn about the change. The pub grub was unusually good pub grub, but the gastro-pub offerings are pretty average for the city. Also, Goose Island was bought out by InBev who owns Anheuser-Busch, so although it seems local (and was until about 6 months ago), the proceeds are going to Brussels. The main reason I haven’t been to Goose Island lately is this.
6. For a couple unique sushi items: Coast. The fresh wasabi and white dragon roll are awesome. The rest of the menu is pretty standard. It’s BYOB and they have carry out.
7. If you can’t get past your college days: Weed St. There are a bunch of rowdy sports bars along Weed St. My personal favorite is Sully’s but then again, I’m a beer nerd who’s getting old.
8. For the NFL fan: Kincade’s. They have a great setup for NFL with TVs everywhere and good specials. It’s also right by the Brown Line so transport is pretty easy. Side note: there is a secret back part of the bar for KU fans, but it’s usually only open for KU games and to get there you have to wear KU gear.
9. For encased meat and a dose of shame: Wiener Circle. If you watch food network or anything about food in Chicago, you’ve probably seen this place. It’s where people go for late night hot dogs. The opinions of the Circle also run the gamut from greatest fun to annoying to awful food to best hot dog ever.
10. For displaced cajuns: McGee’s. I only mention this place for their crawfish festival in May called the Headsucker’s Ball. This is one of the craziest events in Chicago every year.
The biggest story in Lincoln Park real estate over the past few years was the SoNo high rise. Why? Because it is a high rise. Somehow, the developer of that property was able to get a variance to the zoning laws to allow building a place that tall. The opinions about whether or not such a big building should be in area are all over the place. It does, however, provide unique skyline views for the area.
So, how about the general real estate market in Lincoln Park? It has stayed relatively stable with all of the downturn in the housing market over the last few years. However, in this case it is very dependent on the type of housing.
Three bedroom condos and townhouses have held up remarkably well in Lincoln Park. All other types of properties have taken some value loss. Location is a big factor, too as houses along the more desirable streets (such as Armitage) have held up.
Overall, what does this mean? It means that it’s a “safe” neighborhood to buy in investment-wise. This is reflected in the low rates of return that landlords get in the area (low returns tend to imply safer investments). Lincoln Park’s day as the next big neighborhood was gone many years ago, so someone looking for a big uptick in their property value probably won’t get it here. However, it has been more stable than almost anywhere else in the city.