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Field Guide

Berwyn

The western suburb is reconciling its campy past with its foodie-destination present.

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Above:Proksa Park Photo: Still & Motion Media

Berwyn has come a long way since it served as the perennial butt of Son of Svengoolie jokes. (Say it with us: “Berrrrrrr-wynnn.”) Over the past few years, the town has undertaken an aggressive marketing campaign to champion its combination of kitsch and ’50s Americana. Gone is the infamous sculpture Spindle, eight cars threaded on a spike in a strip mall parking lot, and these days the town proudly celebrates its 1,000-plus classic Chicago-style bungalows and proclaims its place on Route 66 with signs along Ogden Avenue. All that, plus restaurants that draw celeb chefs from afar. Maybe, as the campaign insists, Berwyn is “nothing like a suburb” after all.

Berwyn map
Illustration: Michael A. Hill
See
FitzGerald’s
FitzGerald’s Photo: Andrew A. Nelles/Chicago Tribune

1. 16th Street Theater

This award-winning 60-seat theater has been putting on incisive Chicago-written plays for more than 10 years. The best part: Tickets will only set you back about 20 bucks.

2. FitzGerald’s

Everyone from Neko Case to Stevie Ray Vaughan has played this iconic music venue, a former roadhouse. A highlight: its annual American Music Festival, featuring roots and regional performers.

3. Proksa Park

Bring your Frisbee to the nine-hole disc course (watch for the water hazard on the third), or meander the path that winds through its 15 acres.

4. Silhan House

Built in the late 1930s, this art moderne house, made of the same ceramic bricks used for White Castle restaurants, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

5. Striker Lanes

Forget sensory-overload bowling: Give us 12 lanes, a charmingly retro vibe, and cold Lagunitas beer.

6. Wire

Catch a show from a band like industrial rockers My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult or a Bears game on the bar portion’s 30-foot high-def TV. Feeling more ambitious? Start your career as a producer at Wire’s buzz-worthy School of Music and Technology.

Shop
Silhan House
Silhan House Photo: Berwyn Historical Society

7. Berwyn’s Toys & Trains

Sure, amateurs are welcome at this model train mecca, but watch out for the pros: They’re the ones buying the $1,500 cast-iron trains from the 1930s.

8. Mamma Susi’s

Stock up on Turano baked goodies—and get a free cup of coffee if you spend more than $5.

9. Reel Art

This quirky pop culture nirvana, which claims to be the biggest collectibles dealer in Chicago, dives into the realm of obsession—tons of Star Wars memorabilia (natch), actual playing cards from Inglourious Basterds, and even an original movie poster from Casablanca. (Be warned: That last item ain’t cheap.)

10. Top Cut Comics

Sort through the endless stacks of comic books or trading cards, rescue the fairy princess on one of the vintage Nintendo systems, or settle in with the hardcore gamers and play Magic: The Gathering for hours.

Eat & Drink
Autre Monde
Autre Monde Photo: Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune

11. Autre Monde

The chefs at this justifiably hyped Mediterranean spot cut their teeth at Spiaggia. But it’s far from pretentious: Grab a seat on the serene outdoor patio and enjoy the housemade duck sausage flatbread with smoked tomato.

12. Big Guys Sausage Stand

If the name didn’t make it clear, this is the place to go for juicy homemade Polishes, brats, and red-hots. (Food Network stars Bobby Flay and Jeff Mauro are fans.)

13. Capri Ristorante

Fill up on old-school Italian fare, such as the Mayor Lanzillotti Special (shrimp, clams, squid, and mussels over linguine), before hitting a show at its next-door neighbor, FitzGerald’s. Or get it to go: It delivers there, too.

14. Friendly Music Community

Chill at the coffee shop, take a guitar class upstairs, then hang out at the bar … all under one roof.

15. Lavergne’s Tavern

This recently renovated spot has an embossed tin ceiling, a reclaimed black walnut bar—and an eclectic menu that includes pork belly banh mi, cactus tacos, and Italian beef egg rolls.

This Month

May 3 to 5:16th Street Theater presents acclaimed playwright Ike Holter’s The Wolf at the End of the Block, a thriller about the uneasy relationship between Chicagoans and the police.

May 4:Reel Art celebrates May the Fourth Be with You (get it?) with an all-day Star Wars extravaganza, including film screenings and costume contests.

May 18:Southern guitar maestro Tinsley Ellis will undoubtedly play the blues at FitzGerald’s, but he just might do a few R&B-tinged tunes by the Grateful Dead, too.

May 19:Little Women turns 150 this year, so learn more about Louisa May Alcott in actor-historian Leslie Goddard’s portrayal of the author at the Berwyn Public Library.

Did You Know?

FitzGerald’s was transformed into the Suds Bucket for the swing-dancing scene in A League of Their Own.

If You Want to Live Here

Population Median houshold income Median sale price (house)
56,700
(59% Hispanic, 31% white, 7% black, 2% Asian)
$59,600 $199,000

Listing of the month

3246 East Ave.

3246 East Ave.
Photo: Courtesy of Robert Eby

Asking price:$799,900

Specs:2,189 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 4 baths

This leafy Cape Cod–style house, on two lots, is close to the lake, the high school, and about five bazillion trees.

NOTE: Real estate data are for January. SOURCES: Statistical Atlas, Zillow
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