The selection at HouseRed

At Chix with Stix, a yarn shop

When Augie Aleksy uprooted his histories-and-mysteries bookshop from well-heeled Oak Park to the rundown main drag of Forest Park in 2000, the locals scoffed. But it proved to be a brilliant move: Centuries & Sleuths is now one of a multitude of hip, city-worthy boutiques and restaurants lining the three-block stretch of Madison Street from Harlem to Des Plaines Avenues. Located ten miles west of the Loop, the strip is just a few blocks north of the Eisenhower Expressway and has the advantage of free parking, thanks to the village’s decision to remove the meters on Madison. You can also take the Green or Blue Line, both of which have el stops a few blocks away.


From left: the trendy M. Santana; world-class tea merchant Todd & Holland; Treehouse Boutique for kids’ clothing


Foodies will find several appealing shops, starting with Flavour Cooking School. Besides offering classes in everything from knife skills and mixology to Sichuan and French cooking, Flavour also sells cookware, utensils, and gourmet foodstuffs, such as intensely flavored A L’Olivier passion fruit vinegar. Next door at HouseRed, Saturday afternoon means free tastings from among the in-depth selection of 200-plus wines. And at the world-class tea merchant Todd & Holland, co-owner Bill Todd willingly shares his encyclopedic knowledge of the 200 loose-leaf teas and dozens of teapots he keeps in stock.

If it’s fashion you came for, start with a good foundation at the lingerie shop Baubo’s Garden, named for the belly goddess. At newcomer Deedee & Edee, find a chic copper-colored swing coat created by the owner, a former banker who is living her dream of designing clothing based on vintage Vogue patterns. Pick up some high-end jeans from 1921 or Fidelity at M. Santana; then pair them with jewelry and a bag from Team Blonde’s selection of socially conscious options, such as a pop arty Vy & Elle purse made from recycled billboards. Complete your look with dressy designer shoes from Afkara or some adorable retro-style Re-Mix peep-toes from Heels. For the young fashionista in your life, hit Treehouse Boutique, which carries hip kids’ clothing up to size 8 for boys and 12 for girls.

A half-dozen antiques stores, several artsy home goods boutiques (such as Two Fish Art Glass), a luscious yarn shop (Chix with Stix), bead store (Briolette), and top-notch used CD and vinyl store (The Old School Records) round out the offerings.


Latte and brunch at Caffe De Luca; old-fashioned treats at The Brown Cow



You needn’t be Irish to imbibe in Forest Park—but it doesn’t hurt: Eight Gaelic-themed pubs populate this stretch of Madison Street. Light and airy O’Sullivans is among the best, with Irish beers on tap, formidable burgers and onion rings, and an outdoor patio. Molly Malone’s also is popular, with an eclectic menu that includes Irish favorites Guinness stew, fish and chips, and corned beef and cabbage. Shanahan’s, oddly enough, specializes in gumbo, po’ boys, and other Cajun classics.

Excellent Italian fare is the other dining theme here. At La Piazza try ultra-fresh roasted chestnut–butternut squash ravioli with black butter, figs, and sage, or go for the Chef’s Choice, a four-course menu based on whatever chef Gaetano Di Benedetto picked up at the market that day. Francesca’s Fiore, part of the popular Francesca chain, features a seasonal menu of Northern Italian fare that changes every two weeks. Caffe De Luca is the charmingly rustic outpost of the Bucktown restaurant, and serves an ample weekend brunch where the Café Milano—coffee, sambuca, and amaretto—will kick-start your day.

Slightly off the strip, Goldyburgers may look like a dive, but this 81-year-old bar makes what many aficionados swear is the best burger in Chicago. For a cup of fair-trade organic java, check out Blue Max Coffee, which serves soup, sandwiches, salads, and breakfast all day in a converted house with a fireplace and new deck. Wind up your day with dessert at The Brown Cow, an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor that makes its own super-dense brand.




Click map for an enlarged view

All phone numbers are in the 708 area code.

1.  Afkara
7247B Madison St.; 771-7463

2.  Baubo’s Garden
7234 Madison St.; 771-8900,

3.  Blue Max Coffee
26 Lathrop Ave.; 366-9224,

4.  Briolette
7322 Madison St.; 366-8318

5.  The Brown Cow
7314 Madison St.; 366-7970,

6.  Caffe De Luca
7427 Madison St.; 366-9200,

7.  Centuries & Sleuths
7419 Madison St.; 771-7243,

8.  Chix with Stix
7316 Madison St.; 366-6300,

9.  Circle Theatre
7300 Madison St.; 771-0700,

10.  Deedee & Edee
7453 Madison St.; 209-1448

11.  Flavour Cooking School
7401 Madison St.; 488-0808,

12.  Francesca’s Fiore
7407 Madison St.; 771-3063,

13.  Goldyburgers
7316 Circle Ave.; 366-0750

14.  Heels
7423 Madison St.; 488-8601,

15.  HouseRed
7403 Madison St.; 771-7733,

16.  La Piazza
410 S. Circle Ave.; 366-4010,

17.  M. Santana
7247A Madison St.; 488-1882

18.  Molly Malone’s
7652 Madison St.; 366-8073,

19.  O’Sullivans
7244 Madison St.; 366-6667

20.  Shanahan’s
7353 Madison St.; 366-0775

21.  Team Blonde
7324 Madison St.; 771-5590,

22.  The Old School Records
7446 Madison St.; 366-7588,

23.  Todd & Holland
7311 Madison St.; 488-1136,

24.  Treehouse Boutique
7330 Madison St.; 488-9780

25.  Two Fish Art Glass
7401 Madison St.; 366-6800