[Featured photo: beautiful fall day at Barthelme Park.]
Grand Avenue to the north, Van Buren to the south, Ashland to the west, Chicago River to the east.
Often thought of as “the neighborhood that Oprah built,” the West Loop has left its industrial past behind and emerged as one of the hippest, most sophisticated neighborhoods for living, dining and shopping.
Although the West Loop was almost completely free of residential and commercial life in the 80s and 90s, Oprah Winfrey opened Harpo Studios in an old industrial building in 1988, kick-starting a complete transformation of the area. Buildings that once housed manufacturing and butcher shops were converted to lofts and offices, and new-construction condos attracted a wave of new residents.
Today, the West Loop maintains much of the character of its industrial past, although the butchers of the past have transformed into artisanal charcuterie shops. With a seven-story height limit on most new construction, the neighborhood has been able to maintain a pedestrian-friendly scale, and the addition of new recreation areas like Mary Bartelme Park and the dog-friendly Skinner Park have added to the unexpectedly family-friendly hominess of the area.
Befitting an area so close to the commercial heart of the city, commercial strips mix freely with residential areas. Randolph Row houses some of the best restaurants in the city, while Madison is a more mixed commercial area. Further west, Fulton Market, spurred primarily by Google’s Chicago headquarters, has continued the expansion of the West Loop, with new hotels, bars and restaurants popping up constantly. On the south-east side, Halsted Street centers Greektown, with a line-up of classic Greek restaurants unmatched in the city.
While it may have moved past its ‘up-and-comer’ status a number of years ago, West Loop remains a vibrant, exciting place to live, with easy access to the Loop, a varied housing stock and some of the best food Chicago has to offer.
New-construction condos sit side-by-side with renovated factories converted to high-end lofts throughout the West Loop, while a number of high-rises tower primarily on the edges, overlooking the highways. On the west side of the area, things get a bit greener, with tree-lined residential streets with vintage row houses offering a break from the more industrial center of the neighborhood.
Skinner West Elementary: Widely regarded as one of the best K-8 elementary schools in Chicago, a level 1+ school, West Loop residents have a leg-up in sending their kids to Skinner West since the attendance boundaries are roughly equivalent to the neighborhood borders.
City Winery: This combination winery, music venue and restaurant has become a community staple in the West Loop. Whether you’re taking in a show in the intimate theater, sampling some of the house-made wine, or even perfecting your own winemaking skills, City Winery is a gorgeous addition to the neighborhood.
Roister: From the team behind the higher-end Alinea comes this approachable shared-plates festive spot. While the prices may be lower, the attention to quality and sense of fun carry through here, with new American dishes prepared in unexpected ways.
avec: One of the early entrants into the West Loop dining scene, avec continues to impress with its communal seating and upscale Mediterranean shared plates. While the menu may change often, the chorizo-stuffed dates have been a staple since the beginning and remain a must-try!
Bar Siena: Whether you just swing by for a drink or enjoy a full Italian meal with a Top Chef pedigree, Bar Siena’s beautiful (and loud) two-story space is a great place to take in the West Loop nightlife.
Girl & the Goat: Stephanie Izard, another Top Chef winner, started her West Loop dominance at this insanely popular restaurant. Reservations are still recommended here, or you can cross the street for Little Goat, her take on the classic Chicago diner, or head a block away for Duck Duck Goat, a modern take on classic American Chinese food.
La Colombe: If the West Loop nightlife has taken its toll, revive yourself at this chic coffee bar. While the company may be from Philadelphia, they’ve quickly become a Chicago staple, partnering with Wicker Park’s Alliance Bakery for pastries to serve with their caffeinated offerings.
Cat & Mouse Games: Whether you’re looking to treat the kids or shopping for yourself, you’ll find plenty of options at this neighborhood toy store, offering puzzles, books and games for kids of all ages.
Billy Reid: Treat yourself to impeccable tailoring at this upscale clothing boutique for men and women. Whether you buy off the shelf or have something made to measure, you can be assured of quality craftsmanship. And the free whiskey might make the prices a little more palatable.
Randolph Street Market: Not your average flea market, Randolph Street Market comes to life once a month as antique and art dealers from around the nation offer their wares at this ticketed event. Generally held the fourth Saturday and Sunday of each month, check their website for exact opening times.
West Loop residents are well-represented by the Neighbors of West Loop, working to maintain the character of the neighborhood, expand green space and bring neighbors together through preservation, beautification and community-building events. West Loop businesses come together under the West Central Association Chamber of Commerce umbrella, working to ensure that the West Loop remains a vibrant and eclectic shopping and dining destination.
West Town is fantastic for walkers and bikers and is well-served by public transportation. The Blue Line runs along Milwaukee Avenue with stops at Chicago and Grand, while the #66 bus runs down Chicago Ave (usually in a protected lane) for quick service to Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier and the #9 bus on Ashland connects numerous train lines. On the west side of the neighborhood, Metra offers quick service to the Loop from Grand and Western.
While the former meat-packing district still bears some of the look of its industrial past, the West Loop has transformed into a chic, sexy urban neighborhood. Through some careful planning, it has managed to maintain a neighborhood feel, avoiding the pitfalls of sterile high-rises and walls of parking garages. While it’s not cheap and certainly has moved beyond the “transitional’ stage of development, for home-buyers looking to be close to the city’s best restaurants and vibrant nightlife while maintaining an easy commute, the West Loop may be the right choice. If you want to learn more, be sure to Ask Nagel – we know the West Loop!