For years, Portage Park was best known for its mammoth Sears store at the Six Corners intersection. But with new businesses opening and civic projects from murals to sidewalks freshening up city streets, the Far Northwest Side neighborhood is actively pursuing an updated image: friendly. How is it faring? This holiday season, explore the bungalow-filled enclave and judge for yourself.
THE PORTAGE AND PATIO THEATERS
There’s something about watching a film in a historic movie palace—and now Portage Park has two. The recently restored Patio  shows new releases in an Art Deco setting, while the Portage  is all about classic and quirky (think Vincent Price). Patio: 6008 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-685-4291, patiotheater.net; Portage: 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-736-4050, portagetheater.org
 This 36-acre green space just scored a new playground dotted with tot-scale canoes, honoring Irving Park Road’s original function as a portage connecting the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers. There’s an outdoor Olympic-size pool where the gold medalist Mark Spitz trained, but you can swim laps all winter long for free inside. 4100 N. Long Ave.; 773-685-7235, chicagoparkdistrict.com
 The cozy vibe and upscale comfort food at this year-old gastropub give locals bragging rights—and downtown foodies a reason to cross Cicero. Order the fried chicken. 3938 N. Central Ave.; 773-853-0779, theportagechicago.com
 Affordable raw and refinished vintage furniture—grandma stuff updated with pretty fabrics and awesome paint jobs—fills designer Kelly Rauch’s appointment-only workshop. Bonus: Rauch also does window treatments and wallcoverings. 5450 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-467-9063, kellyrauch.com
 Can’t find what you like? Just ask. Martin Mann will track down any topper from his 35,000-strong collection, featuring brands such as Stetson and Borsalino. 4706 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-286-5577, hats-plus.com
CHICAGOLAND CANOE BASE
 A quintessential mom-and-pop, this throwback outfitter is run by a charismatic octogenarian who still refurbishes old canoes. He also sells and rents new ones, along with other river equipment. 4019 N. Narragansett Ave.; 773-777-1489, chicagolandcanoebase.com
 Print lovers, rejoice! This 23-year-old institution selling 60 papers and nearly 6,000 magazines just expanded and added a café. 4018 N. Cicero Ave.; 773-545-7377, citynewsstand.com
 At the largest Polish bookstore in the United States, you’ll find English-language cookbooks, novels, and histories by Polish authors, plus thousands of other tomes in the mother tongue. 4738 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-481-6968, polonia.com
HAGEN’S FISH MARKET
 Fresh seafood, from salmon to oysters, arrives daily at this 65-year-old standby. Bring in your own catch, and shopkeepers will smoke it for you. 5635 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-283-1944, hagensfishmarket.com
ON THE HORIZON
Pomo Dolce, an Italian spot aiming to open in January (4029 N. Milwaukee Ave.) . . . a to-be-named theatre for dance and music coming in the fall of 2012 (4901 W. Irving Park Rd.) . . . Six Corners Bistro, planned for 2012 (3930 N. Cicero Ave.).
Four Holiday To-Dos
Mark your calendar for the Portage Theater’s annual sing-along and screening of It’s a Wonderful Life on Dec. 17 . . . . Pick up a Santa suit at the city-block-long Fantasy Costumes  (4065 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-777-0222, fantasycostumes.com). . . . Sweeten your holiday party with a traditional Polish poppy-seed strudel from Oak Mill Bakery  (5753 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-237- 5799, oakmillbakery.com). . . . Drive by the area’s most beloved Nativity scene at St. Bartholomew  (4949 W. Patterson Ave.; 773-286-7871, stbartholomew.net).