Smack in the middle of downtown Evanston lies this diverse bookstore. You'll find classics of rebel-lit (from Tom Wolfe to Nick Cave and beyond), semi-collectable comics in airtight bags, and self-published zines on consignment. The price tags can be prohibitive, but there's something for most any ("alternative") tastes, if you're looking to treat yourself. Low geek factor - don't expect to be belittled by the "comic book guy" from the Simpsons.
PROS: Wide selection, convenient location
CONS: High prices
Located on prime real estate a few blocks from the Belmont L station, this sister store to Quimby's Books boasts a large, eclectic collection of mainstream and underground comics, special-interest coffeetable books, and (way in the back) self-published zines from local writers and artists. The staff keep to themselves, but seem to know their stuff when called upon. Shouldn't be intimidating to non-geeks. Could use a selection of second-hand books. Always worth rummaging.
PROS: Wide selection, smart staff, prime location
CONS: High prices
A photography-themed bar... sounds like a refreshing diversion, yes? Too bad this place charges through the nose, feels like a darkened steakhouse inside, and wallows in pretension. I went here for a party, and felt underdressed and out-of-place - I can't think of any other watering hole in the neighborhood with this sort of affected stodginess. It's a Ukranian Village bar that behaves like an exlusive nightclub, down to the oft-uninhabited "VIP area." Make up your minds, folks.
PROS: Alcohol, miscellaneous events, some of the art is interesting, I guess
CONS: High prices, presumptuous atmosphere
My girlfriend lives across the street, and we often end up here when we don't make other dinner plans. I never tire of the burrito, but occasionally I'll pass on it for the falafel plate or the veggie burger, which are of similar high quality. It's adjacent to the Empty Bottle, and heartily recommended for some wholesome grub before a show. And these people are the Welcome Wagon compared to the Bottle's sometimes diffident staff.
PROS: Reasonable prices, heapin' helpin's, many veggie choices, friendly staff
CONS: Sometimes the artwork is horrid (only sometimes)
Insanely high drink prices, at least from my angle, and nothing special on tap. However, I always enjoy these Wicker Park bars that used to be apartments, and retain some of the walls. On a slow night, you get your own private area. And the red theme makes the place feel classy - you could shoot an R&B video in Lava. Rotating DJs spend rotating genres, so do some research before you go if you don't want to get trapped listening to music you hate. The guys playing pool won't bite, or at least they never have when I was there.
PROS: Classy atmosphere, partitioned sections, unpredictable music
CONS: High prices, little variety, unpredictable music
Andersonville is a bit of trek from my 'hood, but perusing the complete Lonely Planet bookshelf and multi-culti bric-a-brac in this festive hidey-hole always makes me want to venture even further out. The coffee is strong and tasty, and the food (at least everything on the menu I've had) is filling and delectable. One area features seating that makes me feel tremendously uncomfortable at first, but after awhile makes me feel as if my entire body has been readjusted for the better - I'm unsure of how to describe it, save to say that it's very close to the floor. There's always animated conversation here. The staff can be flaky and dramatic, but most seem like solid characters.
PROS: Incomparable atmosphere, good coffee and food, fascinating books and junk
CONS: Somewhat high prices, unpredictable staff
If you love cheap Mexican food like I do, keep Tony's in mind next time you venture into Roscoe Village. They serve enormous burritos for under five bucks. If I ever plan on hitting area bars, I always stop here - the food pads my belly at a better value than I've seen anywhere else within a mile or two. What's more, it's open 24 hours on weekends. Not vegetarian-friendly, but consistent: I've never gotten sick off it, and I often have leftovers.
PROS: Solid food, cheap prices, quick service, long hours
CONS: Not many veggie choices, zero atmosphere
I saw one of the best concerts of my life upstairs at this Bucktown/Wicker Park club. That was probably thanks more to the bands than the venue, but the Subterranean is a cool joint, no question. It sports classy, mellow interior with lots of room. One minor complaint: If you're standing near the stairs after about 11:30, the bass from the dance club downstairs may distract you during quieter songs.
PROS: Some terrific shows, good atmosphere, cool decor
CONS: Some music cross-fading, little else that isn't annoying at any rock club
Mysterious name - I guess it's fourth in a small chain. The selection is fairly paltry; I saw mostly movies that were new releases when I worked in another video store, back in 2003. Still, it's about the only cinematic action in that part of Uke Village, and what a deal. I rented a brand new movie and paid only two dollars. (It was a Monday, which probably made a difference.) You have to set up an account, natch, but it's a painless process: no social security number or anything.
PROS: Cheap rentals, easy account set-up
CONS: Limited selection
This underappreciated Chinatown eatery has zilch for atmosphere compared to some of its neighbors, and the food isn't world-class great. But it's one of the best values in the Cermak-Wentworth-Archer triangle. I drink coffee daily, and I was unprepared for the buzz I got off the tea here. The shrimp fried rice comes recommended. The generous portions and low prices make this my favorite Chinatown lunch for one, though if I had out-of-town company, I'd more likely take them to Little Three Happiness or another more colorful place across the street.
PROS: Good food, large helpings, low prices
CONS: Minimal decor, not fit for a dining "event"