Outdoors in Uptown: Lawrence and Broadway intersection hits critical mass

Marigold's outdoor cafe, next to the new Annoyance space

We expressed the other day how impressed we were by the changes on Wilson Avenue in Uptown, a stretch of road that even intrepid urbanites used to find a little daunting. The transformation underway at the prominent intersection of Broadway and Lawrence might be even more dramatic.

New restaurants, bars and other businesses – and the renovation of some old ones – have been changing the tenor of this corner for some time, but it’s only now that the “Uptown Entertainment District,” as some are calling it, has reached critical mass.

Outdoor cafes have been key to the changes here. Newer establishments like Crew Bar & Grill, Marigold and Agami have capitalized on the crowds going to hear jazz at the Green Mill or to attend concerts at the Aragon and Riviera theaters, next door – and on Uptown’s shortage of trendy restaurants and bars. By creating outdoor seating, they also have taken the edge off what used to be a fairly grim corner.

Is the intersection of Broadway and Lawrence any safer? Maybe not. On some level, the restaurants and bars just mean there are more people to harass, but this corner feels about a hundred times safer than it did five years ago. Patrons of the Green Mill taking the el up from the Loop or other lakefront neighborhoods used to feel as if they were running – sometimes literally – a 100-yard gantlet from the Lawrence el stop to the Mill.

Now there are places for them to have dinner or a drink before the show, and when the weather’s right, all that alfresco dining has thoroughly altered perceptions of this wide intersection.

And there’s more to come. Demera, an Ethiopian restaurant, has hung its sign at the northeast corner of Broadway and Lawrence, where the new dining space is under renovation. The owners of Crew (touted as Chicago’s best gay sports bar) will be opening Wilde Pug (as in Oscar and the lovably ugly dog – yeah, we’re not sure either) two doors north, reportedly by the end of the year. The Riviera Theatre building, responsible for many of the feet on the street at this corner, where concert-goers line up before shows, also looks to be nearing the end of its renovation.

New places like Fat Cat, 4840 N Broadway, (by many accounts serving up the best braised pork belly sandwich in Chicago, a distinction not unlike “best gay sports bar in Chicago”) must be happy to see this strip’s continued momentum. A battle began brewing in spring over the historic and tragically neglected Uptown Theatre, which seemed in danger of dying of disrepair over the years. Last we heard, concert promoter Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions, which purchased the Riviera, was keenly interested in restoring The Uptown as a concert venue.

If Borders, which kicked off the current spate of commercial development by anchoring Joseph Freed and Associate LLC’s Uptown Square project, does decide to close its doors here, that won’t be a good thing for the neighborhood, but it might not be a disaster either.

Fat Cat

Crew Demera will feature Ethipian cuisine

Riviera Theatre renovation Borders

Agami The Kinetic Playground

Future home of Wilde Pug, a modern English Pub from the owners of Crew Uptown Lounge

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