This is California. Doors open on the right in the direction of travel at California. Next stop is Logan Square. I slide out of the train doors and down the platform to the head of the staircase. I’ve just realized that it’s sunday night and everything will be closed, and there will be nowhere to get food. Beyond the turnstiles of the CTA glows the Logan Bar & Grill, a beacon of good drink and bar food. The door of the Logan has got the handles of a cheap coffin and it drifts slowly back into its place. It’s now 1:00 monday morning and the bar is decidedly empty. I settle down at the bar and order. The kitchen is closed but the barmaid comes back and sets down a coaster followed by a goose island of some sort. I don’t remember. It was the Beer of the Month. They have one every month. $4. When the month changes is sort of up to them. I put the coaster in the pocket of my sweater and take the first sip. There’s a guy at the end of the bar. Early thirties. Looks like he’s been there all night. Looks like he’s there every sunday night. There’s a handful of people at the other end of the bar. A young guy comes in and orders a shot of rye and a bottle of beer. He knows the barwoman. He signs his bill and forgets his credit card. Last call. One more and I’m back into the street. Milwaukee Ave is the main stem of these parts. The river from which Logan Square drinks and oh, how it drinks. Half of the businesses that line this strip of road between California and Logan Blvd are bars, and the other half are abandoned store fronts that have yet to discover that they are bars. I’m heading about halfway up to Bonny’s née Boni’s, a 4 a.m. dive bar turned 4 a.m. dive bar that’s now owned by the same folks that run the Logan as well as a place called the Boiler Room. I think. You can see the face of Logan Square on Milwaukee Avenue. From the boarded up windows of businesses that packed up and left to the old businesses that hold on, and some that thrive through the changes. Johnny’s Grill, right on the corner of the square, is one example. Operating for over 30 years, Johnny’s is the sort of diner that only exists in Tom Waits songs and Raymond Chandler novels. On saturday mornings Tall broad shouldered men in white shirts work behind the counter. The three foot flat top is covered in hash browns and eggs. A young girl who can only be the daughter or niece of one of these men takes the orders and pours black coffee. The fifteen or more stools are always taken. You consider whether or not you should wait a minute for someone to clear out or go somewhere else. You always wait. When it’s not busy there’s just one white shirted man behind the counter. Older men sit at the counter and speak in spanish. The flat top remains empty until you tell it not to be empty. The walls are adorned with at least 3 variations of Edward Hooper’s “Nighthawks” (The Art Institute used a composite image of the original painting placed inside the logan square eatery in a 2008 Ad campaign). Because of this my roommate Nick fears that he’s living out the epitome of American loneliness. He no longer has to order when he sits down at the counter. Scrambled eggs, bacon, plain white toast. They don’t ask, they just know. I believe it to be every man’s dream to receive this sort of treatment. Another example is Cafeteria y Restaurante & Bar De Pancho, Cuban and Puerto Rican Restaurant. Pancho retired and the family style neighborhood joint turned into Township. Adding a craft beer list and some food items that border on gourmet. Township is
by no means a facsimile copy of Pancho’s but doesn’t seem far off in ideology. A place for the people to grab a drink and a bite and a word with the man behind the counter and some fine live music on the bar side. Not to mention the best burger in Logan Square. Damn good burger. It’s just a reminder that things can’t and won’t stay the same forever. What’s now Township was Pancho’s only a short while ago. What’s now Logan Square was once called Jefferson Township. Farmland staked out by a man from New York State named Martin Kimbell in 1836. It remained it’s own Township until it was absorbed by the City of Chicago in 1889. The lavish boulevards built between the 1860s and 1890s hoped to attract wealthy builders while “the side streets filled with modest homes and apartments for workers, and everybody shopped on the commercial streets. Rich and poor lived side by side; diversity was built into the neighborhood from this point on” states a brief history of Logan Square printed in a 2007 copy of the Chicago Reader. During its run, Jefferson Township was occupied primarily by working class immigrants. Which is about exactly where it stands at present. Germans and Swedes and Norwegians then. Latinos now. But it’s changing. It’s not a new story. Affordable apartments attract young college aged folks with no money and with them come the bars and the restaurants and the coffee shops, the record stores, and the book sellers. As these things become established wealthier people start to come in and with them wealthier businesses. With the wealthier commodities comes higher property taxes which forces out the working class natives and likely the young college educated folks with no money. It’s a cycle that’s seemingly unavoidable. Displaced from the gentrification of Lincoln Park in the 60s and 70s many Latinos moved to Wicker Park. Affordable housing efforts in the 1980s drew artists to Wicker Park and the whole area today serves as a foreshadow to where Logan Square is most likely going. Artists and so called trend setters create neighborhoods that are too expensive for themselves to live in and the victims are the working class that was there before them. As a result both groups are forced to move along. Logan Square is still in it’s first stages of all this. The paint’s still drying on the bars and restaurants. staples like The Boiler Room and the Logan Bar and Grill haven’t been open more than 2 or 3 years. Places where you can buy things are still sparing. Logan Hardware, a record store/vintage arcade at 2410 W. Fullerton, opened officially in January 2010. The best record store in walking distance, Logan Hardware rivals the nearby Wicker Park Reckless Records in selection as well as being filled with video games. An unassuming aluminum swing door adjacent to the cash register leads to a room full of glowing man size boxes. Pac Man, Skate or Die 2, Robocop. My memory escapes me. This is a necessary place to see, for arcades are to video games what record stores are to music. As someone who has passed over every copy of Whipped Cream and Other Delights in every crate of records in every Salvation Army in the greater Buffalo, NY metropolitan area it’s organization and selection that stands out to me. Logan Hardware is steeped in organization and selection and affordability from used to new. Logan Hardware is an incredibly enjoyable place to spend an afternoon or to take a lady. If your lady isn’t into these sorts of things,
you should find a new one. More recently, what seems like days ago, Unchartered Books opened at the northwest corner of the square. A needed addition to the store fronts of Milwaukee, it’s one of the few places in Logan Square you can find a broad selection of reading material and is run by a man who looks like he should be teaching an Introduction to Irish Literature. The only type of person qualified to run a bookstore in my opinion. The opening of the first generic book store puts the spotlight on the holes that exist in the neighborhood. In a community of so many artist types it’s surprising it took so long for a place like Unchartered Books to come around. There exists no art supply store. And while there are two music stores: Shake Shop, Disco City #7 and Disco City #8 (Disco Cities 7 and 8 are the same place), Shake Shop is more of a repair shop then a place to buy equipment and Disco City has more in glassware than it does in musical instruments. It’s plain to see that these changes are all at their beginnings and these things are bound to come. The mystery lies in where it’ll go from there. When and
if Logan Square will turn into Wicker Park. Does that mean Wicker Park will turn into Lincoln Park. Then what becomes of Lincoln Park. Where does the cycle lead? Logan Square has no shortage of empty storefronts. An article somewhere said that it took ten days to turn Boni’s into Bonny’s. Though the tale of Uncharted Books filling in the gaps of a former shoe store told of more peril. Perhaps they’re not all destined to be bars. At 3608 Wrightwood, a ways off the main drag, certainly not a place you’d stumble into by accident, lives the West Side School for the Desperate. The store front serves as both a venue and home to poets Kevin Kern and Stephanie Lane Sutton and artist Julia Victor, and secondary home to the fourth member of the West Side, poet Nate Olison. The West Side School for the Desperate was founded by poets Kern, Sutton, Olison, and Jasmine Neosh a year ago and moved into it’s Logan Square home shortly thereafter. Started as “an attempt at creating a home for the artistically and spiritually orphaned” with a focus on poetry the West Side has put on film screenings, square dances, open mics, and
readings featuring some of Chicago’s best writers. February 24, 2011. The front door of the storefront can’t contain the music clanging from within. The door opens and the great bearded Jacob Mays is sitting to the side of the door taking donations and taking in the show. His beard is matched only by his spirit and his immense writing talent. The small room is crowded with people wearing phony beards, crudely cut from brown and orange felt with yarn to hold it up. A guitarist and a double bass player stand on the stage, 2 palettes with a sheet of wood nailed to the top of it. The room is filled with mismatched chairs, most of which were found in the street. Eyes peer out of the kitchen where beer is sold and conversations are made. The song ends and Kevin Kern takes the microphone in hand. I first met Kevin at an open mic in Lake View at a shotgun cafe called the Loose Leaf Lounge. This might not be true. I first met Kevin Kern at the Louder than a Bomb Poetry competition at Columbia College.
I can’t remember. It was this same time that I became acquainted with Nate Olison, Kern’s best friend. At times it becomes hard to tell the two of them apart. They speak in a language that is known only to them with a dialect rapid that consumes any room that finds them together. As mc Kevin Kern is sporadic and jumpy, hard glances from one corner of the room to the other, his arms swing over the heads of the crowd like the legs of a hanging man. As poet Kevin Kern’s speech is diligent and controlled. With the precision of a mechanic he lays his poems on the walls of the room. His hands are shovels to pry the words from his belly. Kevin leaves the stage and is replaced by another brilliant poet, and they’re replaced by a great fiction writer, and they leave the stage to be taken by a talented singer and this goes on for some time. The West Side School for the Desperate is most importantly a place in which an artistic community is nurtured. Here artists of all sorts can perform and watch and share and trade off one another. The School for the
Desperate hosts regular writing workshops and as of recent made the move into publishing. The Desperate Press began for the same reason that the School for the Desperate started, to give a home to talented independent voices. The first work, The Desperate Reader, is filled with the same people you’ll see on the stage and seats of the West Side shows. Jacob Mays, Nick Narbutas, Sarah Jedd, Stevie Edwards to name a few as well as each of the resident members. The Desperate Reader is a near sight different than the standard poetry anthology. Rather than being organized by writer, a poets works traverses the entire length of the book which is broken up into sections and the poems are ordered with a specific rhythm in mind. The book is adorned with a number of paintings/illustrations/collages/drawings, by artist in residence Julia Victor, which were inspired by the works included in the book. The Desperate Reader is a major milestone in the life of the West Side School for the Desperate in that it is a tangible representation of all the work they’ve done in the year of its foundation. Back on the plywood stage at 3608 Wrightwood, Poet Ben Clark takes the stage holding a copy of his first full length book of poems, “Reasons to Leave the Slaughter” (Write Bloody. 2011). His right hand pocket fishes around the pockets of a baggy pair of jeans and his long scraggled rust colored beard explains why the audience is filled with people wearing felt replicas of Ben’s signature locks. Ben Clark starts slowly into a poem and the room goes silent. Back on Milwaukee it’s starting to rain and it’s 2 a.m. and neon signs don’t keep their promises. I look at the empty storefronts and picture them as other things but right now they’re just bricks and mortar and plywood. The burnt out neonw of the Milshire Hotel lies on the horizon of some hideous postcard. Some kid comes running out the front door of the 711 cradling a 12 pack of Busch cans. About half way across Fullerton the box starts to give. By the time he meets his friends on the corner it empties into the sidewalk. They scramble to pick up the loose cans while managing to keep up a frenetic running pace. A guy in a red polo and name tag steps out the front door of the 711 and lights a cigarette, which changes my mind about the beer being stolen or maybe he just doesn’t care. Bonny’s is marked by a champagne glass sign that reads “Iggy’s” in faded letters where a neon sign used to be. On a weekend this place is a shit show. Wall to wall: those not drunk enough to go home and those too drunk to go home. Some sort of horrible drunken dance party. Could be good if you’re into those sorts of things. Tonight, though, it’s quiet. there’s four or five people quietly talking. I look over the taps and wait to be addressed. The barman brings over a pint of pale yellow beer and I start to get a good look at the place. Red lights and the wood panels and the black and white photo booth photos surround the bar and I start to think about the inherent contradictions of the hipster culture that envelopes Logan Square. Hipsters demand for things to be both new and old simultaneously. For something to be desired it must be undiscovered and untarnished while at the same time being worn and holding some level of community appointed authenticity. But something cannot
be both untarnished and worn. Something undiscovered can’t get worn, and something brand new can’t attain this authenticity they search for. The reason old things, old bars and old clothes and old furniture, build up this so called authenticity is because they’re storied. Theres a story to the scratches in the bar your dad goes to. The tears in a pair of blue jeans don’t mean anything to a machine. Which brings me to a thought I’ve struggled with here in Logan Square. I like old things. I like my grandpas clothes and my parents furniture. Because the nicks and the tears tell stories of moves and the last name on my Army coat and the inscription on my grandfathers cross connect me to something bigger than myself. They serve as important reminders of where I came from. But at the same time, I don’t deserve these things. Nicks in furniture must be earned. Stories can’t be bought. I guess thats at the root of it. We yearn to be part of something bigger than ourselves, a piece of a contiguous history but at the same time we want to be individuals. We want things that our uniquely our own. But I guess this must be the struggle of all people of all generations. How do we distance ourselves from our parents while still embarrassing all we’ve inherited from them? It’s too late and I can’t find any answers. I lay a dollar on the bar and leave the red lights of Bonny’s behind. There’s a man on the corner of Fullerton and Milwaukee smoking a mint flavored cigarillo. Says he just got out of prison. Needs money for the bus. I fish around my pockets as the mint smoke envelopes the corner. I find what looks like a dollar ninety-five in change. He says thank you and I say good night. It’s too late and I can’t find any answers.