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Grit in Old and New Epitomizes Logan Square's Cultural Vibe

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Anchors Aweigh is a new feature in which Curbed contributor Arabella Watters meanders through Chicago neighborhoods in search of cultural touchstones—or anchors—for the present day and for days long gone. Where do eras meet, where do they clash, and what harmonious possibilities exist. Up first, Logan Square.

Logan Square is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Chicago's renowned grungy student paradise, Lincoln Park. Ok, we jest. Logan Square is the real grungy student paradise, despite having no major educational institutions. There's a lot to be said for Logan Square. Known as a paradise for history buffs, Logan was built in 1870 as a part of the West Park District. The Illinois Centennial Monument (erected in 1918) is immaculately manicured and a draw for neighborhood kids and adults lazing away the afternoon. Logan Boulevard is part of a system that developer John S. Wright proposed in 1849 to circumscribe and connect the city and is now protected as a Chicago Landmark. The majority of Logan Square and the boulevards that surround it have remained unchanged. The streets are lined with trees and Victorian style mansions that look more like castles.

It's clear that Logan Square is steeped history, but over here at Curbed, we wanted to find the newer additions that are gradually becoming a part of the eclectic cultural lexicon of the neighborhood. First stop, The Congress Theater. The building, constructed in 1926, is a mess. But we guess that's part of its charm. If owner Eddie Carranza follows through on his promise to fix up the theater, tone down the decibels, and add adjacent commercial spaces, this will be a hot corner indeed. In the meantime, the Congress has an unparalleled fall lineup. Look for Miike Snow, the XX, Justice, Crystal Castles, and Matt & Kim to play under the peeling paint.

We found ourselves drawn to the diverse offerings of Milwaukee Avenue and got a little disoriented when we realized we weren't in Wicker Park. A throbbing caffeine headache forced us to seek solace at a coffee shop, and we took our time. Café Mustache, where the walls are lined with giant mustache paintings in garish colors, hit the mark. The iced coffee was great, and it was clear we'd stepped into hipster paradise: youngsters playing cards in their flannels at 2 p.m., sipping espresso. Despite appearances, we took the number of people working diligently on their computers as a sign that Logan is getting a whole new population of freelancers and entrepreneurs. Most indicative of Logan Square's cultural revolution was the copious amount of vinyl being played in the café (Abbey Road vied for spin time with Woody Guthrie). Most impressive, though, was the wall dedicated to vinyl from homespun acts, many frequent performers at Mustache, including Angel Olson, the Lawrence Peters Outfit, and the Velcro Lewis Group. This little local café clearly has a lock on the up and coming music scene, not to mention dark roast.

Next, we were delighted to receive an impromptu tour of Orchestra Hall, a small jazz music hall opened three years ago by Laney and Dave Grilley. Dave, a saxophonist, walked us through the space. Things we learned on tour: Orchestra Hall shares its space with Maynard Inc., a skin care production company that brews its own lotion in the building; the building is 100 years old, and for 50 of those years housed a funeral parlor; and, in the back lot of Orchestra Hall, there's a badass graffiti-style mural commission by a recent Art Institute grad.

Orchestra Hall wasn't the only place where saw noteworthy art. Logan Square is bursting at the seams with a gritty, unbridled creativity. The juxtaposition between the Mega Mall discount store with all its faded fringe glory, and street art emblazoned on the fencing of the parking lot grabbed us. Particular faves included a geometric stylized centipede (if that makes any sense at all) and a black and white graphic design of a dude sporting Ray Band Club masters, a trench coat, and a fedora.

We also saw inklings of cultural resurgence, as we traipsed along Milwaukee and onto Kedzie, in the dappling of coffee shops, most notably Gaslight Coffee Roasters, New Wave Coffee, and La Boulangerie. Neighboring restaurants Wasabi and The Rocking Horse, a pub that boasts sixty beers on tap, held further intrigue. Father and Son Restaurant has been in the neighborhood for over 60 years and sure is kitschy, but it's an institution. Also, note the mustaches on both father and son. Natural precursors to a neighborhood of mustaches? We're guessing that's the reason they've been around so long.

We wish we could have gotten around to taking some shots of the Logan Boulevard Skate Park, which epitomizes the emerging urban vibe of the neighborhood; it's located beneath the 1-90/I-94, and from what we've heard, it's chock full of angsty teenagers. Logan Square is teetering on the edge of mainstream visibility so check it out before all your friends live there!