Evanston, Illinois

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This was supposed to be a Chicago weekend. You had planned to eat, drink, and rediscover your love of the blues in the Windy City. So you started asking for recommendations. Favorite pizza joints and an unobtainable restaurant reservation were recommended, of course. Activities better suited for much warmer weather were, too. It was another place, which kept being thrown into the mix, that made you pause, though.

You had vaguely heard of Evanston before. You knew that the suburb is on the North Shore and is the home of Northwestern University. As a college town with gorgeous lakefront mansions, it sounded like a nice place to live. Multiple stops on the L’s Purple Line make it an easy commute into the city. But now it seems like people are riding the train in the opposite direction. Farm-to-table restaurants and coffee shops, breweries and distilleries are turning it into a foodie destination. New galleries and hip music venues are making it a cultural center. It’s even home to one of Chicagoland’s oldest record stores.

Evanston sits in between Chicago and the Wisconsin border along Lake Michigan. The area’s swampy forests weren’t of much use to the Potawatomi people, so the first settlers didn’t have to fight for the land when they arrived in the early 19th century. The French called it Grosse Point, since it juts into the lake. Methodist businessmen, who established the town and the university, renamed it Evanston after one of its founders. Nicknames included the City of Churches (self-explanatory), the City of Homes (due to those lake estates), and the People’s Republic of Evanston (thanks to its liberal activists) as the city expanded.

Now, as hipsters move in, Evanston is evolving once again. You start by making a dinner reservation at Boltwood. The chef, who grew up in Evanston, was a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes a few years ago. His food and cocktail menus change daily based on the season, the market, and the local farmers. Fingers crossed that the rustic pork pâté—served with raspberry jam and toast—is still being served.

You plan to make Hewn, an organic bakery known for their amazing baguettes, your first stop of the day. Your coffee fix will come from either Kafein or Brothers K. Shopping on Davis Street is a must; you can fulfill your blues craving at Vintage Vinyl. That’s not far from Smylie Brothers Brewing Co., a craft brewery that looks like a mountain lodge, complete with exposed beams and a wood-burning oven for pizzas. Don’t miss Few Spirits (a gin and whiskey distillery) or Ward Eight (a cocktail lounge with church pews instead of booths) either.

Then, after dinner, you can check out SPACE to see if a big name is playing at the music hall. Though you might see a better show if you’ve never heard of the band. Suddenly your little day trip feels like a much larger adventure. This might not end up being a Chicago weekend after all.

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