Chicago: Vintage love in Wicker Park

Hipsters: A subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, respectively.
– The Urban Dictionary

The Vintage Underground beckons patrons to "Come's fun!"

The Vintage Underground beckons patrons to “Come down…it’s fun!”

Our vacation to Chicago would not have been complete, in my estimation, without the thrill of a vintage hunt. I didn’t have time before our trip to conduct research, so I did a quick Internet search of antique and vintage shops while in town, trying to narrow it down to walkable places within the Loop. If I had my way, I would have set aside an entire day, ideally two days, to hop from one vintage shop to another. As is, I only had a precious three hours on our last day in Chicago. My strategy: Curate and find two shops near one another that had stellar reviews. Given my time constraint, I figured I would spend quality time in a couple of places.

Not knowing which neighborhood was my destination, I struck out for W. North Avenue. It took some effort to find the Blue line train, but once I did, I was on my way to the thrill of the hunt. It turns out I was in Wicker Park, a neighborhood described as hipster not only by the Urban Dictionary but by Forbes and, which ranked Wicker Park fourth in its Top 10 “Hippest Hipster Neighborhood” in the U.S. And it turns out, as a hipster place, Wicker Park was at the epicenter of vintage shops.

Strands of pearls at Vintage Underground.

Strands of pearls at Vintage Underground.

My first stop was Vintage Underground (1834 W. North Avenue, 773.252.4559), an unassuming basement establishment. When I reached the last step, I was greeted by a friendly young sales assistant who, upon letting her know of my vintage love and blog, happily let me take pictures of the 3,500-foot shop, which housed a dizzying number of mirrored display cases dripping with vintage costume jewelry, ranging from mid-century on up. This was not a vintage basement, it was vintage heaven, like Twentieth Century in Boston.

Display cases are brimming with mid to late 20th century costume jewelry.
Brimming with mid to late 20th century costume jewelry, display cases are organized by color or type of jewelry.

But Vintage Underground had jewelry whose price tags range from very affordable to I’ll just admire longingly from afar. The shop has more than just jewelry. It carries purses, shoes, clothes, and other accessories, but I don’t look at clothes when I’m in a time crunch or when there is so much inventory that I am overwhelmed, as was my case today. I can quickly scan display cases and see what catches my eye. Despite the amount of jewelry on display, they are grouped by type of jewelry – rhinestone, pearls, colored rhinestones, and so on – which enables efficient scanning. I completed my once-over and then honed in for the kill.

Unusual vintage purses are also on display.

Unusual vintage purses are also on display.

I wish I had asked the sales assistant for her name, so I could do a shout out on her behalf by name. She was incredibly helpful and cheerful. I had spied a tall display case with unusual jewelry. It belonged to the owner, Carlos, who fuses steampunk-style parts such as watch gears to vintage or antique jewelry and accessories to create original pieces. The sales assistant showed me gleaming wide silver cuffs with watch parts and a necklace with a silver bullet. Carlos appeared, and I had a great conversation with him – so great that it will be a blog topic on Wednesday! One of the things I love to do in vintage shops is get a feel for the shop and a sense of the owner and/or the people who work there.

Rhinestones, anyone?

Icy rhinestones, anyone?

Carlos and the sales assistant recommended that I check out their sister store, Vintage Underground Boutique (1507 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 773.384.7880), a curated vintage shop styled as a boutique just a few blocks away. The sales assistant was kind enough to escort me there. I loved the boutique concept and enjoyed looking at their jewelry, though I didn’t have time to check out the great selection of dresses. It was back to the Underground, where I settled on two unsigned pieces – an etched sterling silver tiny purse on a long sterling silver chain and an ornate chocker locket. I’m told that both are Victorian, but I’d love verification. I have not been able to find similar pieces online, so if anyone can shed light on these pieces, I’d appreciate help learning more about them. My neighbor, an eBay veteran, thought the chocker was a mourning locket. Regardless of their age, among the many wonderful pieces at Vintage Underground, those two were the ones I kept coming back to, which meant they were coming home with me.

Victorian chocker with locket.

Victorian chocker with locket.

Sterling silver miniature etched purse on a long sterling silver chain.

Sterling silver miniature etched purse on a long sterling silver chain.

While walking back to the Blue Line train station, I retraced my steps to N. Milwaukee Avenue and found Store B Vintage (1472 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 773.772.4296) and Eskell (1509 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 773.486.0830), which were on my original list. I didn’t find anything at Store B Vintage. Eskell was also on my list. This boutique carries contemporary brands and its own line, which is vintage inspired. Happily, I managed to find a couple of pieces of jewelry here by local jewelry designer Laura Lombardi, who was profiled by Refinery29 back in April.

It was time to head back, though I am sure there are probably other vintage or unique shops on this busy street that I didn’t see. As I waited on the platform for my train back, I saw a street faire going on below. Oh to have one more day in Chicago! Under three hours – including subway and walking time – is not adequate time to explore vintage shops in any city – let alone Chicago – but I think I made a pretty good go of it.

Laura Lombardi's necklaces are made from reclaimed vintage brass findings.

Laura Lombardi’s necklaces are made from reclaimed vintage brass findings. The necklace on the right is a vintage locket hung on a six-inch single strand and then attached to the loop that goes around the neck. Both necklaces from Eskell.

The Purple Pig
We finally made it to the Purple Pig, which is downtown, on the Magnificent Mile (500 N. Michigan Avenue, 312.464.1744). Our strategy was to get there right at five, when dinner is served, and we had no problem getting seated at a communal table this time around. The Purple Pig – whose tag line is “cheese, swine & wine” – was voted one of the 10 best new restaurants in America by Bon Appétit Magazine in 2010. We know why! The kids told us they weren’t hungry at all when we were seated, but once we looked at the menu and our waiter answered our questions, suddenly the kids were hungry – and they had no trouble eating.

The Purple Pig is starting to fill up and the servers are whizzing by.

The Purple Pig is starting to fill up with customers and the servers are whizzing by.

We started off with antipasti – Broccoli with Roasted Garlic & Anchovy Vinaigrette and Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Pecorino Noce & Parmigiano Reggiano. Then on to the a la Plancha: Isabella downed her Razor Clams with Oregano, Lemon & Olive Oil, Jacob and I ordered Scallop Spiedini with Chickpea Aioli, and David had the Prosciutto Crusted Cobia with Manila Clams & Sea Beans. David and I shared a bottle of Pasion De Bobal 2010, a Spanish varietal of the Valencia grape. We had to order a plate of cheeses, since it was one of their specialties, and while we were stuffed, we couldn’t pass up the dolci – Grandma D’s Chocolate Cake with Almond & Orange Marmellata and Bread Pudding with Marsala & Citrus. We were very content when we waddled out and we were happy we made it to the Purple Pig. We didn’t have another opportunity to try Fontina Grill, so we’ll have to try the next time we’re in Chicago. It was a great trip, but I have to add – which has become my mantra – I wish I had another day or two.

The Purple Pig is tucked away from N. Michigan Avenue.

The Purple Pig is tucked away off N. Michigan Avenue.