“Other side of the tracks” is an expression used to describe the stark differences that can exist between neighborhoods in close proximity but separated by an imaginary geographical barrier. This phenomenon has gradually come to fruition right here in our own backyard. Newsletters from places like the West Central Association and the West Loop Community Organization highlight the new developments and new businesses flocking to the West Loop in recent years. They are actually describing two completely different neighborhoods, divided by I-94, with their own distinct landscapes, personalities and energies.
The West Loop exists in the shadows and canyons created by dozens of skyscrapers developed over the last couple of decades. Originally almost 100% commercial, recently it is also home to numerous high rise condominiums and apartment buildings. The West West Loop, while neatly framed by buildings like Arkadia Tower and Skybridge, is a cornucopia of diversity, teaming with low and mid-rise residential buildings, public parks, historic districts, shopping and a robust nightlife and entertainment component.
Both neighborhoods can boast renowned Chicago dining institutions like Lou Mitchell’s in the West Loop and The Palace Grill in the West West Loop. While the West Loop is home to excellent dining options like Blackbird and Avec, there is no doubt that the West West Loop is the preferred destination for both local and national chefs and restaurants, with Monteverde, Roister, Bar Siena, and Unami Burger joining Stephanie Izard and countless others to create a unique and varied culinary experience.
These two neighborhoods also have their own unique activities and other forms of entertainment for their new influx of residents. Fitness clubs, rooftop terraces, and Divvy stations sprinkle the landscape in the West Loop. There’s no doubt that CH Distillery is one of the best places anywhere for wrist curls. The more adventurous crowd probably wanders over to the West West Loop for some spectacular rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders or to go a few rounds with Owner Graham Goy at the Title Boxing Club. Last winter Kaiser Tiger even set up curling rinks in their garden.
Corporate America certainly appreciates the many advantages of locating in the neighborhood. Companies as diverse as Morton Salt, Uber and Hyatt recently chose to locate HQ or large offices in the West Loop due to its’ easy access to area expressways and other forms of transportation, in addition to an expanding pool of close-by talent. Google is moving to the West West Loop.
There are clearly benefits to both companies and residents to be in close proximity to one another. Often, residents of the West Loop now have nothing but a short walk to commute to work. Others can hop on a Metra train if they need to go to work in the suburbs. On the other hand Patrick, who lives and works in the West West Loop, rides his electric skateboard to work each day.
Commercial office buildings and public parks have always been a bit contradictory, as has been the case in the West Loop. While the Heritage Green Park on Adams is a very nice place for a stroll, it is just that. Union Park and Skinner Park provide some wide open spaces in the West West Loop, as well as a variety of activities. More recently, of course, Mary Bartelme Park has become a peaceful and fabulous place for the whole family. On nice summer days, that’s why there is a steady stream of strollers heading west, crossing over the bridges to the other side of the tracks.