My Pre-Pandemic Wicker Park Adventure

Located at the intersection of Milwaukee and Damen is a hip place: Wicker Park. The neighborhood is located a short train ride away, off the North/Clybourn stop, after which a person boards a 72 bus heading westbound. I spent an afternoon in this unique place before coronavirus took over the world and found some exciting and colorful spots along the way. There are a variety of different places to spend your time for any age.  

To start off my adventure, I exited the bus at the North and Wollcott stop. Right off the bus, I stopped at an edgy looking store. I was mainly looking for a restroom, but found a hidden gem. From the outside, Quimby’s looked like a tattoo parlor and was meant for punk-rock lovers with skulls displayed in the window. Upon entering Quimby’s, I found no restrooms but an amazing bookstore. The bookshelves contain film magazines, fiction, poetry, comic books, works written by the staff and more. The works were mainly self-published or “zines” as the store calls them. If you aren’t interested in the books, at least give the store a look for its vintage photo booth. For $4, you can have four photos taken of you in black and white. The store even provides some cool props to pose with. The photos take a few minutes to develop and print out on a strip. 

Next, I walked to the main intersection of Milwaukee and Damen to get some food. I stopped at Flash Taco located at 1570 N. Damen Ave. This small restaurant has limited seating but a tasty menu with options from tacos, burritos, tortas and other things as well. The prices ranged from $3-$12 for an affordable lunch. The mexican music played a key role in the  experience. Diners  heard the upbeat music from yards away. During my exploration of the restaurant, the place was nearly empty when I walked in. After getting my food, the small space soon filled up. Although I got a simple quesadilla for my meal, when glancing at the other customers' faces I could tell that this was no ordinary quesadilla. The cheese stretched as I took my first bite. The cheese was perfectly melted and made the meal delightful and filling. Sadly, with no dessert options I had to have something to fulfill my sweet tooth. That’s where I headed to next. 

Located two stores to the left of Flash Taco was the famous Stan’s Donuts. Being from Ohio, I had never even been inside a Stan’s Donuts so this was a must for me. Upon my entry into the shop, I was immediately satisfied. To my surprise, the shop had much more than donuts and coffee as options. I saw a variety of cookies, bagels, milkshakes and flavored lemonades. After evaluating all of the donuts that were in front of me, I chose to go with a red velvet donut and a blue raspberry lemonade. Since the shop is a very famous place, I would recommend showing up earlier than I did because they were out of a few donuts.

With all that food in my stomach, I wanted to do some shopping. I walked out of Stan’s Donuts and walked down Milwaukee to find Buffalo Exchange (1478 N. Milwaukee Ave). This buy, sell and trade store was tightly crowded and filled with lots of good finds. From the outside, it looked as if all you’ll find is grandma clothes, but on the inside I found name-brand items for a low price. The circular racks in the center of the store were filled with sweaters, jackets, tees and dresses. Along the walls were costumes, shoes, hats, purses and many more things. In the back were fitting rooms with mirrors to try on quality vintage items. This thrift store gives the shopper funky and trendy options all at the same time. It is definitely worth a look for some great discounts and a funky style. 

After spending some time at the thrift store, I was ready to head home but before I walked toward the bus stop, I passed something very interesting. Heading north on Damen Ave., right next to David’s Tea was a foldable sign that read “Palm Reading by Maria”. I was very skeptical if the $10 special was worth it and after some deep thought, I went for it. I walked up the stairs into an apartment, Maria greeted me and explained that the $10 special meant I could ask three questions and receive three answers. After agreeing to the terms, we went into a small room and she turned on the light. The environment was made to make someone feel very calm and relaxed as the room was very secluded and blocked out the outside noise. Since I decided to do this activity in the spur of the moment, I only had one question fully prepared. I recommend planning a visit and coming with three definite questions. Maria answered my questions in a way that made me feel like she knew my life before we even met. She explained to me that she answers the questions based on what she can see, for example, your facial expressions and body language. If you are interested in a unique experience, I would take the risk and ask Maria three questions.

If Stan’s Donuts was too mainstream for you, then I found the perfect place for you. Before I got onto the bus to go home, I noticed a gelato sign across the street from Quimby’s, our first stop. The cute, modern dessert place is called Eli’s Ark. It is the only one in Chicago at the moment. The shop offers gelato, macrons, pastries and some drink options as well. The unique part of this stop is the appearance of your gelato treat. Once the customer picked their size and flavor of gelato, they got to pick an animal for the workers to create with candy on their delicious treat. At the time, the choices ranged from a dog to a unicorn. The menu clarifies which options are gluten-free, vegan, or nut-free, so the establishment catered to serve all diners. The flavors of ice cream include Mint to Be, Yum Cha, Piece of Cake, Tiki Time, Pretty in Pink and many more. Once you get your sweet treat, be sure to get a picture in front of the greenery found on the left wall with the words “Life is Sweet”. 

Wicker Park offers a variety of unique things to do during a free afternoon (once this pandemic is no longer a thing of course) and it’s all within walking distance of the main intersection of Milwaukee and Damen. As soon as I got back to campus, I couldn’t wait to get back to the Wicker Park area still dreaming of my quesadilla and gelato.