Over the past 15 years, Wicker Park has seen a more drastic change than perhaps any other neighborhood in Chicago. What was once a grungy, artsy, working class nook has become an area populated by boutiques and bros. Spend a Saturday night at The Crotch (the six-cornered intersection of Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues), and you’ll likely witness an unfortunate display of drunken buffoonery and pissing contests. And let’s not even talk about how impossible it’s become to get a seat at Big Star.
Simply put, Wicker Park is becoming more douchey by the day and shows no signs of stopping. The neighborhood is at the tipping point of turning into what locals have long feared it would become: the new Wrigleyville. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs said in Almost Famous, “You got here just in time for the death rattle. The last gasp… The war is over. They won.”
Wicker Park will never become a full-fledged dude haven like Wrigleyville—the Cubs are the driving force behind that phenomenon on the North Side, and comparing the two neighborhoods’ food and drink scenes isn’t even close to fair. But the bros have arrived in Wicker Park. They’ve set up camp, and they’re not going anywhere.
But beyond the increased presence of bros (a stereotypical term that refers to young men who are fresh out of a Big Ten business school and, more often than not, leave their manners at the fraternity house), the symptoms of Wicker Park turning into the “new Wrigleyville” are pretty clear.
Rent is skyrocketing in the area
It currently costs more to rent an apartment in Wicker Park than it does in Wrigleyville, a statement that would seem insane 10 years ago. According to a report by Zumper last April, the median rental price per bedroom in West Town (the community area that encompasses Wicker Park) is $1,290. In Lakeview, that figure is $1,200. Rising rent prices alone are not an indication that the neighborhood is losing its charm, but when housing becomes less affordable, you lose an element of economic diversity that once gave Wicker Park its pulse.
That goddamn boozy Taco Bell
There are only a handful of Taco Bell locations in Chicago proper, one of which is on Addison Street in Wrigleyville. On weekends after midnight, that location looks more like a scene from The Walking Dead than a fast-food joint. Over the summer, the new “Taco Bell Cantina” on Milwaukee Avenue became the first of the chain’s locations in the country to serve alcohol. It’s open until 4am on Friday and Saturday nights, and it's quite possibly the most depressing scene on the entire Northwest Side.
Crime in Wicker Park bars is becoming a real issue
Last year, Chicagoist put together a piece on the city’s “Douche Vortex,” which was a heat map of crimes that took place in bars and taverns. Wicker Park ranked high on that list next to Wrigleyville, River North and the Viagra Triangle. A quick look into the city’s data portal shows that the problem isn’t getting any better in the neighborhood. From the start of 2015 through October 19, 31 crime incidents were reported in Wicker Park bars, almost identical to the 32 incidents over the same period last year. Here’s a heat map of crime incidents reported in bars on the North Side this year (click here for a detailed version):
The influx of sports bars on Division Street
Wicker Park has plenty of groovy places to grab a good cocktail or beer, but Division Street has become the front line of Wicker Park’s douchebag invasion over the past five years. Sports bars like Boundary, Fifty/50 and Fat Pour serve up your stereotypical fare of chicken wings, waffle bites and Goose Island beer. In a neighborhood that’s capable and willing to support a great dining scene, the recent surge of frat-minded bars on Division feels like a gross waste of real estate.
The kicker: Budweiser’s latest targeted ad campaign
Budweiser recently released a cringeworthy commercial for the Chicago market. It features a woman in a “bar in Wicker Park” giving out samples of a mystery “lager” to patrons who “don’t know” they’re being recorded by hidden cameras. Of course, everyone featured falls in love with the beer and, oh my, the looks on those poor saps' faces when they learn they’re drinking Budweiser is just priceless.
That ad all but seals the deal: Wicker Park is the new Wrigleyville, or at least the world’s largest beer company thinks so.
So enjoy Wicker Park’s last hurrah. Before you know it, you'll see the next generation of implants chowing down at a Buffalo Wild Wings on North Avenue, screaming at a sports game on the TV.