May 7, 2023 - Business

Revisiting Clark Street: Andersonville's robust small-business strip

Patrons eat outside in Andersonville.

Clark Street in Andersonville. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Each month, we pick one Chicago street, avenue or boulevard to play tourist in our own city.

  • This month, we're revisiting Clark Street in Andersonville.

Why it matters: This North Side stretch, between Foster and Bryn Mawr, is home to several vibrant LGBTQ+ small businesses and restaurants.

What's happening: Andersonville has transformed in recent decades from a quaint Swedish-American enclave to a busy collection of bars, restaurants and shops.

Driving the news: The longtime 7-Eleven at Clark and Catalpa was razed a couple of years ago, making way for the popular Pizza Lobo, which turned the parking lot into an outdoor patio.

Old favorites: We're glad stalwarts like Andie's and Reza's, Women and Children First Bookstore, Alamo Shoes (and its parking lot), Simon's Tavern, Middle East Bakery and Grocery, Svea Restaurant and, of course, Kopi Cafe have stuck around.

  • And, even though it's technically south of Foster, Hopleaf remains a neighborhood gem — and not just for beer lovers.

Flashback: Though Nordic fans can still visit the Swedish American Museum and Svea Restaurant for a taste of Scandinavia, they lost an important landmark in the 88-year-old Swedish Bakery in 2017.

Two people in red vests stand outside Lost Larson Bakery.
Lost Larson. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Yes, but: The following year, Lost Larson bakery opened on the same block, with innovative pastries including nods to Swedish Bakery's cardamom buns and princess cake.

State of play: Throwback eateries like Calo Ristorante used to rule the strip, but these days you're more likely to find artisanal fare driven by local produce at Big Jones and Land and Lake or global flavors at Little Bad Wolf.

Photo of a cheeseburger on a plate.
Along with Asian and Mexican inspired dishes, Little Bad Wolf also makes a mean cheeseburger. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Zoom in: This strip of Clark has long nurtured a robust small-business landscape, led by bookstores and cafes.

  • Anecdotally, it's hard to think of any stretch in Chicago that has as many coffee shops. Also, baby stores!
Photo of a coffee shop
The Understudy on Clark Street in Andersonville. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

My favorite: Fiya is the hot spot on Clark Street, but that building has housed many other businesses, including Jerry's Deli, Star Gaze nightclub and Cafe Ashe, which was the first place I did improv in Chicago back in 1996.

The intrigue: Once a haven of lesbian culture, the neighborhood has changed as more gay men have migrated from Northalsted to find cheaper housing and safer streets.

Between the lines: Traffic is decidedly pedestrian friendly, with stop signs and crosswalks everywhere. Meaning, by car it's a crawl to get through this stretch of Clark Street.

  • Drivers may have more luck on Ashland.

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