Wrigleyville: Raising the bar, while making room for families

Chicago neighborhoods can be like high school cliques. Some are home to the art kids, talking fast and loud with their friends at local coffee shops. We know others as the rich kids, bragging about that top-rated restaurant reservation. Historically, Wrigleyville has been characterized as the jock crowd, a post-college frat bubble where it’s all Cubs, all the time. But with nineties-era fans growing up, and the neighborhood filling out, more families are moving in. So what clique does this North Side Cubs’ stomping ground fit into now?

When we dig deep into who we are as Chicagoans, none of our neighborhoods actually fit into a cookie-cutter description. Much like the kids we went to high school with, the ones we thought were exclusively dumb jocks or only stuck-up rich kids, they have more complex identities and intricate histories. Think of it like the realization in the movie “The Breakfast Club.” “You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain … and an athlete … and a basket case … ”

Wrigleyville has got them all, too. Still, there’s no denying it is a Cubs fan’s paradise, and they flock to live there accordingly. Patrick Nagle is one of those enthusiasts and a co-founder of Wrigleyville Nation, a website and weekly podcast motivated by Cubs’ fandom and neighborhood love. Since 2013, their following has grown to more than forty-one thousand people. “We started it when the Cubs were still pretty bad,” Nagle remembered, laughing. As the team improved, he said, change in the neighborhood stirred. “Everything that’s happened, on and off the field, has really piqued the interest of a lot of people, not just locally but nationally.”

Nagle has lived in the neighborhood for more than twenty years, and said he feels it’s grown up with him. In his twenties, it was a neighborhood built for Cubs fans and bar-hoppers. Now restaurants are going up in place of bars, and it feels more like a community than a nightlife amusement park. “The characterization that Wrigleyville was just a place for young Cubs fans was true for a long time,” Nagle said. “It’s morphed to where the average age of residents seems to be going up and there are baby strollers going down the street.”

Wrigleyville is technically not one of Chicago’s seventy-seven community areas but a neighborhood in the community area of Lakeview. Its borders run on Addison Street, Irving Park Road, and Southport and Sheffield avenues. It is anchored by Wrigley Field, just three blocks from the lakefront, and captures some of the vast and historic Graceland Cemetery. It defies Chicago’s identity as a violence-ridden city. Lakeview’s peak crime statistic is property crimes, coming in at its highest most recently in August 2004 with four hundred eighty-two that month. In August 2016, there were two hundred seventy-two, nearly half as many and still dropping as of April 2017. As a whole, Lakeview ranks number sixty-two out of seventy-seven for most violent community areas. Another perk for those incoming families.

The family vibe can also be attributed to nostalgia for the neighborhood’s iconic landmarks and historic feel. Its streets are lined with three-flat condos, many with balconies and rooftops to watch the mayhem that ensues on game and concert nights. In the interior streets, you’ll find renovated historic gems that list at a million dollars minimum. Also of note: convenient amenities like public transportation and proximity to the lakefront. “The neighborhood has transformed in terms of building stock,” Nagle said. “There’s new construction in housing and restaurants.”

Part of that construction is thanks to the Cubs World Series win, including the Park at Wrigley, a triangle-shaped plaza with coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, and a two-story merchandise store. It will also host family-friendly activities like a farmers market and movie nights in the summer, and an ice skating rink in the winter. “Wrigleyville has found that niche where there are a lot of parents who don’t want to live in the suburbs but want to live in a walkable neighborhood with the perks of the city,” Nagle said.

Don Lewis is another neighborhood aficionado, who lived in Wrigleyville for seven years and started up the website wrigleyville.org. He bought the domain twenty years ago when he predicted a growing interest, and an eventual Cubs victory. Now, he’s got two kids and has moved out to the western suburbs but still frequents Wrigleyville as a season-ticket holder and lifelong Cubs fan. “It’s such a unique neighborhood. It’s a destination. You can grab breakfast, have a few drinks, go to the game, and check out the nightlife afterward,” he said. “You share the same passion as the like-minded sports fans who are also there and find something unique to do every time you visit.”

For Lewis, Wrigleyville brings his past and present together. He has attended opening day with the same group of friends for the past twenty years and enjoys games throughout the year with his two sons. “We have so many opening-day stories from over the years. Some years it was snowing, other times raining. Some years someone would get lost for four hours and we couldn’t find them,” he remembered, laughing. “Now I take my eleven-year-old and four-year-old son there, and I see the excitement I’ve always had through their eyes.”

Guthrie’s is a rare neighborhood spot on the frantic Wrigleyville bar scene.

Some favorite local spots of residents outside the Wrigley area include Uncommon Ground, a farm-to-table restaurant and coffee shop with live music; the Music Box, which shows independent, foreign, and classic films in a nineteen-twenties-era historic theatre; and Guthrie’s Tavern, a neighborhood-style bar.

Guthrie’s, originally a corner grocery store in the nineteen hundreds, became a tavern after Prohibition ended in 1933. It’s been under its current ownership since 1986, which is about as long as manager Mark Fellows has tended bar there. “Outside of us, there are a lot of large, corporate-owned bars that are designed to cater specifically to Wrigley Field crowds, and we just try to maintain what we’ve always been: a little neighborhood place for the neighborhood people to come and relax,” Fellows said.

It’s a destination where college-age kids bring their parents when they visit from out of town. It’s a place for folks to meet with friends and play one of the many board games lined up by the bar.

The two-story house-like exterior is covered with ivy and has a red door for an inviting entry point. Inside, the oak-colored bar winds the length of the single-aisle front room, and artwork and crown molding adorn the ceiling. Twinkling lights hang above red-checkered table cloths, inviting diners to enjoy bar fare or order in from local delivery or carry-out spots in the back. “It’s so different from so much of the chaos that surrounds Wrigley,” Fellows said. “It’s very much a Chicago neighborhood bar but it also reminds people that move to the city from rural hometowns of a spot they might have grown up with back home.”

It’s known specifically for being a good first-date bar. “The board games help to break the ice when you run out of things to say,” Fellows said. “We have people coming into the bar all the time telling us that they’re married now and had their first date at Guthrie’s. We’ve seen a lot of proposals here, too.”

While in the past the neighborhood was bustling with young people who lived in the neighborhood every night of the week, Fellows said that now older people live in the neighborhood, tend to stay in on the weeknights, and the crowds come from tourists and Wrigley Field events. “It’s becoming like a whole year-round tourist attraction. There’s not as many young people in groups like there were before when there were more apartment rentals,” Fellows said.

Old bars tend to be packed with histories and stories, including ghost stories. Guthrie’s is no exception. “A lot of the employees swear that there are unexplained sounds and shadows when it’s late at night after closing the bar, noises and goings-on that don’t make sense,” he said. Some believe it’s the previous owner, a rumored alcoholic who died in the building. “There are grumblings that he has haunted the place ever since, but it’s one of those things that there’s not a lot of scientific proof to support the claims,” he said.

One presence that couldn’t be denied within Guthrie’s was not a ghost but a longtime patron named Fred. Fred came in night after night, telling stories and talking with the other customers. “He was a colorful character, rather gregarious,” Fellows told. “Everyone knew him as ‘that big guy that talks really loud.’ He was our number-one fan. He was just one of those guys, a great person with a great personality. Everyone who worked at Guthrie’s has a Fred story.”

Fred has since passed away, like many of the customers Fellows has known over the years. Still, the bar maintains a consistent clientele, because of its distinct, special vibe. “There’s always a new generation stepping up. In my time, I’ve known customers since before they were married and now they have kids who are drinking-age that come in. That gives you some perspective,” he said.

The special vibe is what has kept Fellows there all these years, too. “A job like this can grind on you but this place, not so much,” he said. “It’s what we’re about. People come here to relax.”

With the Cubs World Series win, decades of a reputation for partying, and new construction and families coming in, maybe that’s just what Wrigleyville needs. Time to relax. Time to reflect, as fans, on a job well done. No more next year. Right now.

About the author

Jamie Lynn Ferguson has lived on the west side of Chicago for nearly a decade. She serves as an advocate for anti-poverty nonprofits throughout the city, writes full-time for Catholic Charities Chicago, and is a freelance community reporter for DNAinfo-Chicago.

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