Welcome to the Wild West: the West Loop Blows Up the Windy City
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for most of the recent past, you know that the area just west of Chicago’s famed Loop is the place to be in the city right now. As it turns out, the West Loop, extending from the Chicago River west to Ashland Ave. and bordered by Lake St. and I-290 to the north and south, respectively, has been around for a while, with a storied history to rival that of its more well-known neighbors like River North or the Gold Coast.
In the 1800s, the broad shoulders that built Chicago were largely concentrated in the near west side, where immigrant communities settled along the banks of the Chicago River and near the developing railroad tracks. Ethnic and religious diversity remained characteristic of the neighborhood through a century of transformation, which saw creation of the West Side Medical Center, tumultuous labor strikes (including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886), and pockets of gentrification. By the 1900s, the West Loop became increasingly industrialized, resulting in the development of many of the warehouses that the area is still known for today.
More recently, the West Loop was revitalized when the United Center hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1995, and it hasn’t looked back since. You know you’ve made it when the Big O moves in, and though Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios was recently sold after calling the West Loop home for a well over a decade, other behemoths are poised to make their mark on the community. From Google to Twitter to Uber, tech giants seeking modern loft work spaces in a geographically accessible location have unequivocally determined the West Loop as the ideal fit.
Sure, the West Loop has flourishing industry and expanding job markets, but it’s not all work. Indeed, the area is probably best known for its exceptional dining, arguably some of the best in the city if not the world. The Girl and the Goat (809 W. Randolph St., http://www.girlandthegoat.com/), the brainchild of revered Top Chef and Chicago native Stephanie Izard and origin of countless #foodporn Instagrams, is located on Restaurant Row (on Randolph St. between Halsted St. and Ogden Ave.) along with many other popular establishments. A stone’s throw away is the equally impressive line-up of restaurants on W. Fulton Market. Here, you’ll find the elusive Next (953 W. Fulton Market, https://www.nextrestaurant.com/) and sister bar Aviary (955 W. Fulton Market, https://www.theaviary.com/), both from undisputed culinary god Grant Achatz.
The only thing worse than waiting for dinner reservations is waiting empty-handed. Not to worry, there is a plethora of options for a libation (or two) in the West Loop, ranging from cozy cocktail lounges (Maude’s Liquor Bar, 840 W. Randolph St., www.maudesliquorbar.com/) to beer-focused neighborhood joints (Lone Wolf, 806 W. Randolph St., http://www.lonewolftavern.com/#new-page) to upscale and intimate champagne bars (RM Champagne Salon, 116 N. Green St., www.rmchampagnesalon.com/). Importantly the trip from downtown entertainment to West Loop dining and drinking that was once insurmountable on public transit is now easy with the creation of the Morgan El stop (located at 958 W. Lake St. and accessible on the Pink and Green lines).
So what does all this mean for the West Loop? The once island of warehouses and remote art studios has been turning some heads. Quite a few, actually. In addition to businesses, young professionals and families have been flocking to the neighborhood in droves, eager to take advantage of the economic boom and endless dining options within walking distance. The trademark lofts in the area are the hottest commodity in the Chicago market right now and with good reason. Property value is skyrocketing for those who were lucky enough to get a piece of the pie. But like the older, more established areas of downtown, the newest frontier in the Chicago real estate wont last forever, so check out all the West Loop has to offer while you still can.