The colorful Ravenswood corridor in Lincoln Square hugs the Metra right-of-away as it makes its way north through a clutch of North Side Chicago neighborhoods. Many of the former industrial buildings along this street now house a range of booming businesses (including craft breweries!), and spending an afternoon in these parts is quite pleasant. Why not take a short trip and visit a few of our favorite Ravenswood gems. Let's get started!
Founded in 1975, the Lillstreet Art Center moved to this former gear factory in 2003 from their building in Lincoln Park. Today, their work includes studio art courses, the wonderful nonprofit First Slice cafe, and a lovely art gallery and shop with rotating pieces for sale and for general browsing.
You’ll want to grab a piece of pie from the First Slice cafe and linger awhile. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and you might find yourself even thinking about coming back for one of their courses in the future.
Lillstreet Art Center | 4401 N. Ravenswood Avenue | 773-769-4226
After a bit of time surrounded by the visual arts, it might be time to visit a Ravenswood institution and never fear: it’s just a few hundred feet away at the corner of Ravenswood and Sunnyside. At Spacca Napoli, you’ll find the best Neapolitan style pizza in Chicago, bar none.
Over the past decade, the team here has crafted an inviting atmosphere that features tremendous antipasti, sweets, and of course, their pizza. Each day, Chef Jon Goldsmith (a certified pizzaiuolo) greets his dough and gets started by thinking about that day’s offerings. It’s an inspiring list and I’d give the nod to the Puttanesca and Sorrentina pies. Of course, you’ll want to make sure and save room for their Tiramisu, which is prepared fresh daily.
Spacca Napoli | 1769 W. Sunnyside Avenue | 773-878-2420
This repast may have you in the mood for some literary history, so stroll a block or two to the north to 4646 North Hermitage. While this might seem like just another modest wood frame house, it was once the home to Carl Sandburg and his family.
Sandburg came to this home in 1912 with his wife Paula, and his daughter Margaret. At the time, this corner of the city was a bit more bucolic, and certainly less frenetic than Chicago's Latin Quarter, which was then headquartered in the bohemian precincts around the Water Tower. At the time he was writing for the Chicago Evening World paper and writing about seemingly pedestrian matters, such as petty crimes, labor issues, and local politics.
His mind was restless, as was his spirit. In the summer of 1913, Sandburg turned his careful attentions to the urban messiness and chaos of Chicago. It was at that juncture that he started writing the first stanza of the poem that would make him quite famous: "Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; Stormy husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders." This was the introduction to the poem "Chicago," which would be memorized by thousands of school children for decades to come.
The poem was not an immediate success, and after it left his house here, it was summarily rejected by several magazines. Fortunately it was picked up by the upstart Chicago-based journal, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. This marked the beginning of Sandburg's illustrious career as a crafter of verse that detailed the American condition. In many ways, it is fitting that it started here at this most modest and unassuming structure.
Carl Sandburg's Former Home | 4646 N. Hermitage Avenue
After snapping a few photos and paying your respects, you can wander back to the Damen Brown Line stop to get back on the train to the Loop. Or maybe you'll head out to the Albany Park neighborhood, or stick around for a nightcap at a Ravenswood brewery or distillery.
"R is for Ravenswood" is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique Chicago place and theme for each letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned for more entries!