When I moved to Chicago over six years ago, I shared a tiny studio with my now ex-fiancé on the north side of the city. I was within walking distance of Andersonville, a quaint neighborhood filled with wall-to-wall restaurants, cozy coffee shops and amazing antique marts. At the time, I felt little connection to the city. I was frustrated by the lack of navigational knowledge I had and spent the first couple years getting lost. Not to mention, all my friends and family were back east and here I was practically starting my life from scratch. It was terrifying. Yet there were certain creature comforts that I enjoyed. I always knew what days certain secondhand shops got the best items. I always had the best seat on the express bus in the mornings (and a lovely view of the lake). Plus I knew who had the best pizza, tacos, burgers and coffee within a five-mile radius. The area also had the added bonus of reminding me, in small ways, of home. This quaint, quiet neighborhood felt much like some of the towns I frequented when I lived on the East Coast. Whenever I felt depressed or homesick, a jaunt around Andersonville would often liven my spirits and quell my nostalgia. If that didn’t do the trick, a bottle of wine from In Fine Spirits always did.
However, after my breakup, I knew I had to move. To my dismay, I couldn’t afford a place on my own so it seemed serendipitous when a co-worker and friend mentioned that he needed a roommate to share a three-bedroom apartment near Wicker Park. Having passed through the neighborhood many times, I’d been dying to live there. The beautiful homes and awesome shops on Damen and Milwaukee suckered me in (particularly Myopic Books). I was sold immediately.
I’ve enjoyed the new life that I’ve built for myself post-breakup. However, over the last few months there has been this overwhelming nostalgia that washes over me when I think about my old neighborhood. I miss the comfort of the fast, and incredibly easy, bus trip home. I miss the antique shops where I’d lugged so many of my incredible finds from and I miss the homey feel that the neighborhood provided me. It took years to realize just how much like home it felt.
I wish I had the same connection to the neighborhood I live in now, but the same feelings just aren’t there. It’s much more difficult to get to work in the morning, the closest coffee shop is at least five blocks away and there’s no antique shops of which to speak. I miss buying delicious, cheap fruits and veggies from Edgewater Produce. I miss just walking across the street for a latte from Pressure Café. Deep down what I miss the most is having something constant in my life. With all the changes over the last year and a half — a broken engagement, a major move, a new job — I realize the stress of this sudden change has culminated into me desperately grasping for something that feels familiar. I guess the closest I can get to the familiar is returning to the neighborhood that began my journey here — something that, despite all the other change in my life, would still be exactly as I left it. There’s something very comforting about that. When things seem to change dramatically, I revert to unchanging comforts. Just like mac and cheese is the comfort food of choice for some, I seek out familiar surroundings to calm my anxiety. I guess you could say Andersonville is my mac and cheese.
No other place in the city provides the warmth and comfort that this little Chicago sanctuary does. On a recent Sunday, my boyfriend and I found ourselves knee deep in a drag queen bingo game at Hamburger Mary’s, sipping cocktails and enjoying mouthwatering burgers. Neither one of us had ever played bingo — or considered playing it — and we most certainly never thought we’d be caught spending our weekend this way. I just laughed and thought, “That’s Andersonville for you!” It’s surprisingly unpredictable what you’ll find yourself doing because of this magical little refuge.
On the other hand, there’s Wicker Park, which often makes me feel disconnected from the rest of this fabulous city. I rarely visit other neighborhoods like I used to because it’s too difficult a commute. It’s harder to get to friends, who mostly live up north, and even getting downtown is harder than it was when I lived in Andersonville. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay around my neighborhood than take two buses or walk a mile to the train to go anywhere else. Wicker Park often feels like a little pocket of its own, alienated from everything else. It also doesn’t help that the neighborhood often feels overrun by post-college students drunkenly screaming at the top of their lungs at 4 a.m.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some wonderful finds in my neighborhood. I love shopping for my red wine of the week from Joe’s Wine Cellar. I love, but often try to avoid, the mouthwatering pastries at Alliance Bakery. I also love that my gym is within walking distance of my apartment. However, these things aren’t enough to make it feel like home. I’ve attempted to enjoy my neighborhood — taking in all the shops, restaurants and cafes like I did in Andersonville — but it’s just not the same.
Over the last few months, I’ve started dreaming of buying my own place. I immediately looked into moving back to Andersonville. While, I don’t see myself purchasing for at least another year, preparing myself for the move back to the neighborhood that began my life here is both refreshing and also a bit surprising. I’ve looked at apartments all over the city and drooled over the gorgeous abodes near the Armitage El stop, marveled at the stunning lofts in the West Loop and fell in love with the quaint side streets and tucked away restaurants in Lakeview. However, nothing compares to the pure happiness I feel when I’m in Andersonville.
If I want cheap groceries, I know all the markets. If I need a stiff cocktail after a long week, I know about a dozen places that would soothe my stressed soul. If I’m dying to find a cute vintage dress, I know exactly where my hunt should start. I miss the ease of just knowing — much like how I felt when I would visit my childhood haunts back east. The small quiet streets full of cozy cafes, decadent wine boutiques, antique shops and vintage clothes stores remind me of my hometown. After moving hundreds of miles away, I’ve come to realize the one place I actually feel happiest in is a place that feels most like the home I chose to leave.