Architecture in Greektown is varied; high-rise condominiums and office buildings are scattered among traditionally Greek restaurants bedecked with pillars and fluting. There are striking pavilions at certain intersections around the neighborhood. At Halsted and Monroe, there is a 6-pillared Greek pavilion standing majestically above the traffic. At Halsted and Van Buren stands a unique Greek peristyle comprised of 4 pillars. Also at that intersection is a large bronze statue of Artemis, the goddess of beauty.
Unlike other ethnic neighborhoods around Chicago, the inhabitants of Greektown are not predominantly Greek. The proximity of the neighborhood to the Loop results in a Greektown community that is diverse and urban; professionals, families, Greeks, and non-Greeks all co-exist in this small but colorful neighborhood.
Yet despite the diversity of the inhabitants, living in Greektown lends itself to participating in Greek nationalism. The area celebrates its Greek identity constantly; restaurants display bright Greek flags, signs are in Greek as well as in English, and many buildings, reminiscent of Greece itself, are painted a pure white.
The Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center in Greektown is another monument to the heritage of the area. The museum is dedicated to honoring the contributions of Greeks to Western Civilization and preserving Greek culture for generations to come. People of all ethnicities and backgrounds are invited to explore the museum and partake of its resources; there are free exhibits held throughout the year, as well as informational seminars, plays, and educational outreach programs. At the time of this writing, the showcased exhibit is “Remembering Generations: The Greek Immigrant’s Journey” which explores Greek immigration through art and photography.
Festivities and lively celebrations abound in Greektown; there is the Annual Hellenic Heritage Parade, which celebrates Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire and honors the contributions of Greeks in Chicago. The parade features colorfully decorated floats and hundreds of marchers. The Taste of Greece is another festival held annually, celebrating the flavors and colors of Greek cuisine. Other ethnic festivals include the St. Basil festival and the St. Demetrios festival.
In the summer, experience A Celebration of the Grecian Urn: A Street Art and Floral Exhibit. Huge urns have been placed throughout Greektown; each one is hand-painted by a local artist and filled with flowers from a local florist. The effect is a truly stunning visual display of art and culture, enjoyed by all who stroll the paths of the neighborhood.
To visit Chicago’s Greektown is to be welcomed wholeheartedly into the ethnicity as well as the neighborhood. Every facet of the area is meant to involve the visitor in Greek culture; come and take part in the festivities!
In Greektown, shopping is unique from that of other neighborhoods. Apparel and franchised retail are not emphasized here; rather there are several small, independently owned shops that sell a variety of specialized goods.
Athens Jewelry sells fine and costume jewelry; Giorgio’s Cigars is a popular source of pipes, cigars and tobacco. The Athenian Candle Company sells incense, candles, statuettes, books and many knick-knacks. Greektown Music sells popular music as well as Greek selections, for those who want to experience the genuine tunes of Greece.
There is no shortage of restaurants in Greektown. Fine restaurants are on every corner; try Pegasus, Greek Islands, Parthenon and Athena to experience the best Greek cuisine that the neighborhood has to offer. Other popular establishments include Santorini, Costa’s and Venus for Greek fare as well, the Starfish Sushi Lounge for sushi or de-cero for Mexican cuisine. Phil and Lou’s is a well-known spot with an American menu and Artopolis Bakery and Café is a cozy Mediterranean café with fresh breads and Greek specialties.
Some well-known chain restaurants in Greektown include Giordano’s Pizzeria, Flat Top Grill and Pockets. For fast food and gyros, the most popular staple of Greek cuisine, try Mr. Greek, Greektown Gyros and Zorba’s Gyros.
Greektown has its share of bars and clubs. Spectrum and 9 Muses are both bars that also have a full menu. Dugan’s Pub is a true Irish pub, located, interestingly, in the heart of Greektown. Dugan’s is famous for hosting festive St. Patrick’s Day parties and attracting a range of tourists and locals. Byzantium, a Greek pub, showcases live Greek music and hosts an International Night every month.
GREEKTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD MAP
Greektown is located west of the Loop and Interstate 90/94. This is a growing neighborhood, but one that holds on to traditions through its ethnic festivals and parades. Lots of great Greek dining as well.
The first Greeks to inhabit Chicago came by ship in the 1840s. They worked hard to establish themselves upon landing in Chicago and eventually many of them became restaurant owners. This fledgling community was originally concentrated around Harrison, Blue Island, and Halsted. Since the majority of this population was Greek, the area quickly became known as Greektown.
In the 1960’s Chicago saw development on the West Side; the Eisenhower Expressway was built, as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago. Thus the Greek community was forced to relocate a few blocks away. They settled in what is now known as modern Greektown. Although the Greek community was established by this time, it wasn’t until the first gyros in America were made in Greektown in 1968 that the Greeks began to have notoriety in Chicago. The instant gyros were introduced, they became wildly popular.
Using this success as a starting point, Chicago’s Greek community began to celebrate its heritage more boldly. Over the next two decades, the number of restaurants and small businesses grew dramatically and Greektown became the most popular destination for Greek cuisine. The Taste of Greece and several parades were instituted as annual celebrations during this time as well. In 1996 the City of Chicago funded street renovations and the building of traditional Greek pavilions at various points in the neighborhood. Today’s Greektown proudly displays its heritage and enthusiastically shares it with every visitor.
Greektown is part of the Near West Side community, made up of several neighborhoods. The area is bounded on the north by Lake Street, on the south by Congress Parkway, on the east by the Kennedy Expressway, and on the west by Racine Avenue.