This is the first in a 26-part series that will explore Chicago from A-Z. Curious corners will be revealed and well-known places will be given a new look. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for "B" in a few weeks.
What is a street? For that matter, what is an avenue? To my mind, an avenue is a street with a refined pedigree. Close your eyes and think of your favorite avenue. Yes, that's right, you're thinking of distinguished shade trees, well-appointed benches for people-watching, and storefronts that have baubles, bangles and rather posh beads.
True enough, the avenue that is Armitage around the El stop that bears its name has these things, along with a tony chocolate shop, a bagel store of some repute, and shopping that ranges from bargain deals to high-end merch. But what of its other corners, intersections and sidewalks?
After all, Armitage Avenue moves people and goods east and west through Chicago for almost six miles as it passes under railroad trestles, the Kennedy Expressway and other key pieces of the city's infrastructure. There's much to see out there and I recently stepped out there to bring you three moments from its lesser-known precincts.
West of Kimball, Some Serious Blues Power
When I was a kid, my father's work colleague told me "You'll understand the blues better when you're older." I was dismissive of this remark until I became older. Then I knew he was right.
You'll get to know the blues quite well at Rosa's Lounge, and if you're lucky, you might meet Rosa in person. It's an unassuming place on Armitage west of Kimball (you can take the Armitage bus out there, but there's no late night service via CTA) that features Chicago icons like Melvin Taylor and the pride of the South Side, Mr. Vance Kelly. Special guests drop by and if you have a good enough time, maybe you'll rent the whole place out for your own event.
They get down to business about 9 p.m. every night and the cover ranges from $5 to $15. Of course there's a full bar and occasionally they'll have a cookout with some tasty items. There is truth in their advertising when they say it's "Chicago's friendliest blues lounge." Truly, it is.
Americana, Logan Square Style
Where can one go to experience a bit of classic Americana in Chicago? It can be a challenge, but if you crave the experience of soft-serve ice cream, non-artisanal grass fed burgers, fries, and other such matters, you'll enjoy the Tastee Freez on Armitage west of California Avenue.
This particular outpost of the Tastee Freez empire has the requisite bright lights, a bit of neon, and an imposing sign reminding you that, well, hey, you're at a Tastee Freeze. I'd suggest a burger and a banana split while sitting outside on one of their tables. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, they also have 70 different flavors of milkshakes beckoning you.
Stop on by Carniceria Leon II and Have a Gordita
Hundreds of bodegas and taquerias are scattered throughout the city of Chicago, standing as testimony to its entrepreneurial spirit. The modest Carniceria Leon II at the corner of Armitage and Kildare serves up a number of Mexican favorites, including tacos, gorditas and much more.
You'll enjoy wandering through the store and you might also consider getting a sweet treats as well. They have a wide arrangement of frozen novelties for after your meal, so make sure and stick around. It's a great way to learn about this corner of the city and you might make a new friend.
Photos: Armitage Avenue by Dan Rentauskas; Rosa's Lounge and Carniceria Leon II by Max Grinnell; Tastee Freez courtesy of Tastee Freez