Tucked away north of Belmont, running east-west between Western Avenue and Damen, lies one of Chicago’s great open secrets, the commercial district of Roscoe Village. For several blocks, this peaceful, tree-line street is laced with small restaurants (a few chains, but mostly local), stores and shops, delightfully intermingled with houses and apartments, both old and new. It may well be the prettiest commercial strip in the city of Chicago.
Roscoe is not a street you would naturally tend to find yourself on; it is not one of the city’s major arteries, with Belmont only a few blocks south. And its architecture is not great art; in fact it’s hardly noticeable at all. It blends into the background – a stage set, subservient to the performers.
What truly brings the street together and makes it sing are the trees. For blocks, the sidewalks are gently sheltered by great branches that overhang street and walkway alike. There is an intrinsic comfort to the place.
And the difference is perfectly illustrated by the gas station on the corner of Roscoe & Damen, where the trees come to an abrupt and unfortunate halt.
Some of the restaurants have wisely enhanced that sense of sheltering space with the layout of their sidewalk seating. A second layer of open enclosure makes the outdoor dining along Roscoe utterly irresistible – a perfect model of urban space.
The name “Roscoe Village” doesn’t appear in the Tribune archives until 1975. The original European settlers on this land built greenhouses, part of a booming produce industry based in and around the Lincoln Square area. Industrial development along the Ravenswood rail corridor, and the success of the Riverview Park amusement park on Western Avenue post-1903, caused the land around Roscoe Street to develop rapidly with stores and worker’s flats. The area suffered through a long funk from the Depression into the 1970s, but then began lifting itself up by the bootstraps. By the late 1980s, the area was booming as low rents attracted first-time store and restaurant owners who couldn’t afford pricier locations east and south; the street was for a time a mecca of 1950s and 1960s retro design and nostalgia. Today there are a healthy mix of chains and local restaurants, and all the charm you could want.
- History of the neighborhood at Roscoe Village Neighbors website