This sketch is a part of my Western Avenue Series, through which I'll be making 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue, in Chicago. I started this project because while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. In the words of Stuart Dybek, "Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street, Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods." Check back next Monday to see the painting completed based on this sketch.
When I first moved to Chicago, I lived just over a block west of Western on Carmen. So this mile and the next are among the most familiar portions of the Avenue to me. One of things I found fascinating about the stretch of Western between Irving park and Lawrence was that it is home to a large number of Thai restaurants.
In a 2008 article by Louis R. Carlozo in the Chicago Tribune, I discovered the reason for the concentration of Thai restaurants. There is not especially large Asian population in the area, only about 5 percent. Apparently, in the 1970s there was a large Thai grocery store located on Western, near to the current location of the Opart Thai. This began a draw Thai restaurants and the possibility of a Thai town. I will include Mr. Carlozo's review of the Thai restaurants located along this stretch of Western below.
Also, located along this stretch is the Waveland Bowl, a bowling alley which has been in operation since 1959 and accomodated portions of the "Lebowski Fest Chicago," a 2008 festival celebrating the movie "The Big Lebowski."
I also took note of the F.L. Siegel Jr. Studio Photography, being charmed by the storefront operation of an independent photographer. In researching the studio, I was sad to find that Francis L. "Larry" Siegel, Jr. died this Febrary at the age of 72. According to his obituary, he was born in Joliet and employed by Signode Steel, Chicago as a systems analyst. As well as being self-employed as a photographer, videographer and award manufacturer operating F. L. Siegel Jr. Studios on Western Avenue.
Finally, I've always been curious about Jeri's Grill, a classic diner at the corner of Montrose and Western. I've never ventured in but the reviews are unsurprising. I particularly enjoyed one Yelp review, which reads:
"Memories, memories, memories. The food is really nothing special and not worth talking about. Your average diner food, basically. The ambience and feel of this place is just classic though. It's a dying breed sort of place. These places used to litter the city, now they are few and far between. This is the sort of place your dad used to sit and read "The Chicago Daily News." My parents used to take me in here, many years ago, so I've literally been going there for 20 years. My dad used to run his business a block away so he frequented it, and upon my descending to the earth, the gift was bequeathed to me. Also, this is the only place in the city, to date, that can get over hard eggs right."
Here are a summary of the Thai Restaurants located along Western according to a 2008 article Chicago Tribune article by Louis R. Carlozo:
Thai Room, 4022 N. Western Ave., 773-539-6150
The vibe: Open since 1979, it's a hushed, elegant Baby Boomer magnet capable of dishing takeout in a stunning 12 minutes. Signature dish is Thai room chicken, fried and glazed in an orange sauce.
Sticky Rice, 4018 N. Western Ave., 773-588-0133
The vibe: Only northern Thai spot, which means fewer curries and lots of adventure foods, from fried worms to durian (a fruit some have compared to eating a gym sock). Haven to hipsters from Wicker Park and beyond.
Spoon Thai, 4608 N. Western Ave., 773-769-1173
The vibe: Relaxed but spiffy, and proud of its Zagat recommendation. Only place you're likely to find mussel omelet or curried catfish cooked in banana leaves.
Thai Oscar, 4638 N. Western Ave., 773-878-5922
The vibe: Bangkok dining spot meets Japanese teahouse. Only Thai restaurant on the strip with a sushi bar, decorated with a sign in Japanese.
Opart Thai House, 4658 N. Western Ave.,
The vibe: Tucked under the Western Brown Line stop, this spacious restaurant is family and vegan friendly. Ideal place for newbies to sample their first pad Thai.
Rosded, 2308 W. Leland Ave., 773-334-9055
The vibe: Less than 100 steps from Western and Leland, Rosded came first, in 1976. Cozy enough for 10 small tables -- and enough loyal customers that the staff says it would discourage a visit from "Check, Please."
Snow Spice, 4825 N. Western Ave., 773-754-7660
The vibe: Open just five months, it's the only predominantly takeout Thai restaurant on the Western strip -- and the only place where you can also snag the occasional Mexican dish too.