The Story of Uptown
In the early part of the twentieth century, Uptown was a ritzy shopping and entertainment district that rivaled the Loop as a glamorous destination. Even its name implies an alternative to “downtown.” Its main thoroughfare was also renamed Broadway for its New York City association. Department stores and banks drew shoppers and business, and the presence of Essanay Studios meant you might catch a glimpse of a silent film star. The Green Mill offered live jazz, and the Riviera Theatre, Uptown Theatre, and Aragon Ballroom offered movies, dancing, and shows.
Before the turn of the century and the extension of rail lines north, Uptown consisted of residential neighborhoods such as Buena Park and Sheridan Park, as well as Graceland Cemetery, which was founded in 1860. After the Depression hit and Lake Shore Drive was extended further north, the luxury left and new groups began moving in to the sectioned-up, deteriorating housing. Appalachian whites, Native Americans, Japanese Americans, and later Vietnamese refugees moved in, making Uptown a diverse neighborhoods.
By 1970, parts of Wilson Avenue were plagued with high crime and poverty. But in the decades since, residents have led redevelopment to create a thriving neighborhood, with a noteworthy stretch of Vietnamese and Chinese stores, businesses, and restaurants centered on Argyle Street and newly announced plans to restore the massive Uptown Theatre. Today, concerns are about gentrification rather than disinvestment.
There are three Red Line stops in Uptown, at Wilson, Lawrence, and Argyle.
Watch: Argyle Night Market
Neighborhood Spotlight: Argyle Night Market
The stretch of Argyle Street between Kenmore Avenue and Sheridan Road features a lively mix of Vietnamese and Chinese businesses, and since 2012, it has showcased those establishments and their cultures in a vibrant fair of eating, drumming, dancing, and mingling on summer evenings during the Argyle Night Market. The market is a weekly, free event hosted by Uptown United, the neighborhood’s community economic development organization, and 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, with extra support from Asian Human Services, a nonprofit that provides immigrants and refugees – like the ones who have made Argyle a thriving commercial strip – with support and resources.
The Night Market features many of the local restaurants as vendors, including Chinese Sun Wah BBQ and Vietnamese Pho Xe Lua and Pho Viet, as well as local businesses. It also includes performances by Taiko drummers, Hawaiian dancers, or circus artists.
Things to Do
Try the legendary roast duck, carved tableside with buns and also served in fried rice and soup, at Sun Wah BBQ, then swing into the wee hours of the morning listening to live jazz at the Green Mill.