To call Wicker Park one of Chicago’s most popular neighborhoods would hardly be an overstatement. Although lacking the instant recognition of the city’s downtown neighborhoods, Wicker Park somehow holds that unique spot as a favorite among both locals and out-of-towners.

Of course, that wasn’t always the case. Wicker Park was once the grungy, unkempt outsider of Chicago’s Northwest side. All it took was a handful of coffee shops, a few cocktail bars, painted bike lanes, and some of the city’s most talked-about restaurants to change all of that.

Wicker Park had a starring role in a titular 2004 film starring Josh Hartnett (Note: It’s not very good, and it didn’t make any money). It’s also the location of John Cusack’s character’s record shop in “High Fidelity,” and the ill-advised setting of a season of “The Real World.”

Those cameos did little to temper enthusiasm for Wicker Park, which is still widely considered one of the city’s standout neighborhoods.

Before the Beer Drinkers Moved In, It Was Full of Beer Makers

Around 1870, brothers Charles and Joel Wicker purchased 80 acres of land off Milwaukee Avenue, intending to create a neighborhood where “people of all economic backgrounds could afford to live and work.” In order to make this possible, they split the land into various lot sizes—some big enough for mansions, others with just enough space for a bungalow.

And, of course, the brothers took the liberty of naming the new neighborhood after themselves.

Thanks to the influx of Central and Northern Europeans, one of the city’s largest industries at the time was beer brewing; a significant number of the city’s wealthier citizens were brewers. After the Great Fire consumed much of downtown, many of those brewers moved to the Wickers’ new neighborhood, creating what was then called “Beer Barons Row.”

This area, north of Pierce on Hoyne Avenue, represents one of the most striking examples of Victorian architecture in Chicago. While these homes are impressive by even today’s standards, the sheer size and value of those homes in the late 19th century led this block to become one of the first paved streets in the city.

The Homes Are Great, But Just Wait Until You Try the Restaurants

Wicker Park may not have the nickname “Restaurant Row” (that honor goes to the West Loop), but that doesn’t mean it lacks in incredible food. Just ask any Chicagoan where to get great tacos—you won’t get to “two Mississippi” before they say Big Star.

On the other side of Damen Avenue and north a couple of doors is Blue Line Lounge, an unashamedly boozy bar and restaurant designed like a train car from the 1940s. While Big Star’s casual fare and buzzing patio draw diners from all over, Blue Line Lounge is a favorite among locals—especially locals fresh off a hellish commute (it’s just a few steps from the Damen Blue Line entrance).

Down the block is Publican Anker, a meat-and-seafood-forward restaurant from the team at West Loop favorite Publican that’s helmed by one of the city’s culinary heroes, chef Paul Kahan.

There’s also Schwa, a fine-dining restaurant that eschews fine-dining conventions like servers (cooks run plates out to tables) and, until recently, online reservations.

Wicker Park also features vegan-centric Handlebar, pizzeria-and-brewery-hybrid Piece, and the unassuming yet spectacular Mirai Sushi. “Restaurant Row” status or no, Wicker Park is one of Chicago’s dining hotspots.

For All Its Nightlife, It’s a “Morning to Last Call” Kind of Neighborhood

If there’s a better way to start off your day here than with a coffee and a donut at L.A.-transplant Stan’s, we certainly haven’t found it. Although, if you want something a bit more local, head to the 1980s-themed Wormhole Coffee, which has a DeLorean (the “Back to the Future” car) inside the cafe.

The neighborhood’s namesake four-acre park, located just steps from the Blue Line, hosts a small farmers market on Sundays during the warmer months. You’ll appreciate the fresh air after an oversized brunch at the Bongo Room or after sampling the “this-doesn’t-make-any-sense-but-it’s-still-good” menu at Dove’s Luncheonette.

But the neighborhood is also prime for a more traditional morning. Commuting downtown is simple, as the Damen Blue Line will take you straight there. If you’re flying out of town via O’Hare International, simply take the Blue Line in the other direction.

What It’s Like to Live Here

By day, Wicker Park is relatively residential and quiet; by night, well, the clubs and bars are what make the neighborhood popular after the sun goes down. 

But for everyday life, the neighborhood has a few dozen fitness clubs, from yoga to HIIT studios to boxing gyms. Grocery stores are another matter, though—while there is a Jewel-Osco on the easternmost edge of the neighborhood and some local, independent stores (GoGrocer and Olivia’s Market in particular), there really aren’t any larger stores where you can knock everything off your list.

One of the things that makes Wicker Park so desirable is the sheer range of home types available, from lavish, historic homes to bungalows to brand new condos. But Wicker Park’s popularity comes at a price. It’s one of the priciest neighborhoods in Chicago, with a median price in the low $500s, according to data. If you want a friendlier price point while still being close to the action, neighboring Humboldt Park and Logan Square are your best bets.

But, overall, it’s a small price to pay to live in, what’s essentially, Chicago’s worst-kept, but still-absolutely-worth-it secret.