Young. Vibrant. Aspirational. As Williamsburg is to New York, Wicker Park is to Chicago.
Last weekend, I visited the Midwest’s best pantomime of a hipster paradise for a day full of eating, shopping, and touring. This was my second visit to the neighborhood, and therefore provided a great chance to avoid tourist traps in favor of seeking out the local character. After a long day of drinking in all Wicker Park had to offer, I decided to type up this guide to help you plan your own visit to one of Chicago's most eclectic neighborhoods. I even made a custom Google My Map (link) so you can follow along.
Cool, right? Without further ado, here are the stores and sites that made the cut:
RSVP Gallery (1753 N Damen Ave)
If you interpret the word “Hypebeast” as “news source” instead of “insult,” you’ve probably heard of RSVP Gallery. The Wicker Park boutique is one of Chicago’s highest-end menswear outlets, a curated collection of everything luxury streetwear under the helm of street culture legends Virgil Abloh and Don C (of “Just Don”).
It is also, sadly, a strict “no photos” zone. Considering the art on display (vintage neon signs, displaying everything from Pepsi to Chanel) and the art on the racks (Cav Empt to Rick Owens; Undercover to Givenchy), this museum-style approach to photography coverage is understandable. Somethings are just best experienced in person. Start your tour of Wicker Park here to drink in the freshest boutique in the area code.
Fjallraven (1708 N Damen Ave)
If latitude is any measure, Chicago and Stockholm are worlds apart.
Good thing “thermometers” came around.
In one of America’s most notoriously-frigid cities, this outpost of the legendary Swedish outdoors brand Fjallraven seems both welcomed and expected. A quick stroll through Wicker Park reveals many Fjallraven products in action – the Kanken backpack and Greenand jacket, both heritage functional gear in their own right, are at home within the urban rustic aesthetic favored by the “single-origin coffee” set.
Perhaps Fjallraven’s gorgeous Wicker Park store (kitted out to look like a Swedish hunting cabin, antler chandelier and all) was just an inevitable step towards a Sweden/Chicago synthesis. After all, if you go back far enough, most of the Midwest was settled by Northern Europeans – now, it’s just their clothing’s turn to colonize. Special thanks to Lucas for walking me through the Spring line, including the innovative Eco-Shell rain jackets.
Marine Layer (1636 N Damen Ave)
Need to escape the Swedish tundra? Salt spray and palm trees are only a block away.
While other stores in the neighborhood seek to keep you warm and dry, Marine Layer (a California-based apparel brand) has staked a claim on maximizing fabric comfort. The supersoft cotton blend found in their t-shirts is as welcome as San Diego sun, and, as the name suggests, styled to layer. For a Northern audience, that means bulky utility parka on the outside, buttery cotton tees and sweats where fabric meets skin. It’s the best of both worlds without compromising either.
Oh, and lest I forget - speaking of “no compromises,” Marine Layer is the first store I’ve ever seen to offer a “Marge” in men’s shirting. No, that’s not Mrs. Simpson. As the portmanteau suggests, a shirt sized “Marge” is the perfect middle ground between sizes Medium and Large: skinny body, long arms, and shoulders sized for the person who has both.
I tried on a Marge long sleeve (above) and it is, without a doubt, the best-fitting shirt I’ve ever worn. Tall skinny dudes of the world, rejoice.
Arc’teryx Chicago (1630 N Damen Ave)
Just a few doors down from Marine Layer, functionalized form awaits.
As track shoes are to loafers, Arc’teryx is to its “heritage” outdoors brand neighbors. In short: the Vancouver-based outdoors innovator is responsible for the modern outdoors performance industry. From the technology behind the jackets (GORE-TEX Pro; taped zips) to the look of the gear itself (just compare a Patagonia jacket before and after Arc’s 1990’s apparel debut), the “Dead Bird” reigns supreme.
Most impressive of all: it’s no slouch for style.Given Wicker Park’s *ahem* sub-Alpine elevation, the Arc’teryx Chicago store carries a full selection of the brand’s lifestyle line “24” as well as the elevated techwear line “Arc’teryx Veilance.” Both are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and worth a visit to ogle alone. Where else will you find laser-cut seams and 3L GORE-TEX fabrics on a street-ready fishtail parka?
While neither line comes cheap, the brand’s devotion to materials research and construction quality means your purchase is both 1) lightyears ahead of the industry and 2) built to last that long, too. If you have the coin, please cop a Veilance jacket so I may live vicariously. A special thanks to Bryce for showing me some of the fabrics and technologies behind the new spring Veilance line.
The Wormhole Coffee (1462 N Milwaukee Ave)
If you yawned once today, you now have an excuse to visit Wicker Park’s most eclectic coffee shop. Walk down Damen to the six-point intersection, then hook a right down Milwaukee and walk until you see the black storefront with a gleaming white “WH” out front.
Then, enter the Wormhole.
The Wormhole Coffee is nostalgia distilled, then served up hot. In short: the saccharine memories stirred up by 80’s homages like “Stranger Things” are one-upped by a coffee break in Wormhole. Collectibles peak out of every shelf. Vintage movie posters line the walls.
There’s a DeLorean in the back.
Oh yeah – and the coffee’s phenomenal, too.
Grab a drink, settle in for a quick game of Duck Hunt on the NES by the couches, and let the childhood memories wash over you. My recommendation: try the Koopa Troopa latte, a mousse-and-peanut-butter concoction made with Halfwit Roasters espresso. It’s just adult enough to keep you grounded while your inner child comes out to play.
Mildblend (1342 N Milwaukee Ave)
Take that last sip at Wormhole, rejoin Milwaukee, and walk a few short blocks away from the six-point intersection to find Mildblend, the most whimsical high-end boutique you’ll ever visit.
Like a Parisian antique bookstore, Mildblend is more product than place. Everywhere you turn, there’s another stack or rack – a gratuitous visual clutter that is as charming as it is overwhelming. Lean in to any part of the maelstrom, however, and the world will snap into focus: just like that antique bookstore, what was once visual noise turns out to be made of treasures.
Mildblend (specializing in raw denim) carries dozens of hard-to-find brands including Studio D’Artisan, Momotaro, and DENIM by VANQUISH & FRAGMENT. They are also one of the few US accounts of the Japanese outerwear brand Monitaly, who make some of the most artful (if slightly impractical) jackets on the market.
As long as you embrace the pure quantity of goods on display, Mildblend is sure to please.
Kokorokoko (1323 N Milwaukee Ave)
As day follows night, all cool neighborhoods must naturally have vintage shops. However, that doesn’t mean all that organic growth is up to snuff. For the blue ribbon in recycled clothing, walk just a few doors past Mildblend and cross Milwaukee to find Kokorokoko. Whereas Wormhole presents a curated vision of 80’s nostalgia, Kokorokoko lets you drink from the firehose.
The layout is simple: collectibles up front, clothing in the back, neon everywhere. A massive t-shirt rack is organized by color; shoes and accessories are arranged in era-evocative dioramas. Pop hits blare over tinny speakers. Yes, there are fanny packs.
I spent the longest here out of any shop I visited, both searching for purchases (I left with an oversized Weird Al concert tour tee) and merely enjoying the hunt. The prices are reasonable; the selection, out of this world. If you’re in Wicker Park, you must visit.
Saint Alfred (1531 N Milwaukee Ave)
Last but not least: from Kokorokoko, head back up Milwaukee toward the six-point intersection and look for the unassuming white-on-black “A.” Just below it lies an unassuming white-on-black store front.
Just inside that lies Wicker Park’s premier sneaker store.
Saint Alfred (founded 2005) is a world-famous streetwear boutique that has gained notoriety for its killer collabs, notably with New Balance and Asics. On one half of the store, Saint Alfred stocks one of the largest sneaker selections in the city, with everything from Converse to Raf Simons x Adidas elbowing for shelf space. On the opposite wall, a selection of premium streetwear (HUF to Visvim and everything in between) rounds out the space.
Of course, in this era of hype cycles and sneaker campouts, I’d be remiss not to mention that Saint Alfred is also one of the few stores in the city to reliably score highly-vaunted releases like the Yeezy Boost. But, if you’ve been in the sneaker game long enough to remember a life before Yeezy, a visit to Saint Alfred is as much pilgrimage as it is quality shopping.
Stan’s Donuts (1560 N Damen Ave)
After a long day on your feet, it’s time for a just desserts. Directly between Saint Alfred and the Damen CTA station lies Stan’s Donuts, a specialty pastry shop that’s become world-famous for both its mouthwatering food styling (toppings on toppings) and its sheer volume of flavors on tap.
With the sun setting on a February night, I grabbed a cup of coffee and a divine Toffee Cake donut before catching my train back to The Loop. Just as I finished, two of Chicago’s finest walked and gleefully asked the cashier for “the usual.”
If that’s not a donut shop co-sign, then what is?
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this shopping guide to one of Chicago's most exciting neighborhoods. Anything else I should add? Did I miss your favorite store? Sound off in the comments below or on my Facebook here to start the conversation.