The Run Down

This is a classic neighborhood walkabout in West Town. It starts with coffee and shopping at a pandemic-inspired retail/coffee shop. You'll then grab a Filipino breakfast at at a place that's going on 30 years in the neighborhood. After, you'll visit a small art gallery focused on contemporary African and African diaspora art. Finally, it all ends with a few beers at a massive brewery nearby.

1. Coffee @ The Center of Order and Experimentation

2. Brunch @ Uncle Mike's Place

3. Art @ Marianne Ibrahim Gallery

4. Drinks @ On Tour Brewing

1. The Center of Order and Experimentation

Posters for The Center of Order and Experimentation hang from telephone poles along Grand Avenue.

While the name sounds like some Scientology offshoot, this definitely isn’t a cult, at least according to the poster. The place is part coffee shop, retail shop, and design firm, all jumbled together.

It’s the type of place you and your friends might dream up while sitting around during a once-in-a-generation pandemic — which is, in fact, the origin story here.

Founded by Julie Purpura and Jean Cate in the early parts of the pandemic, both were in a place to try something new. And in the words of Purpura, “It felt like the end of the world…let’s do whatever the hell we want.”

Before opening the Center, Cate was operating Martha Mae, an online stationery store with a retail presence in Andersonville. Purpura was running Avenir, a hospitality design firm. Both of their leases were up, so they decided to consolidate into one mega space fit for both of them.

The front of the store features a collection of notebooks, drawing tools, and everyday office items, all thoughtfully curated from Cate’s Martha Mae shop. You’re in the right place if you’re ever in the market for a notebook crafted from mulberry tree bark, utilizing traditional Korean hand-papermaking techniques.

Continue with the coffee bar on your left. A fresh batch of Monday Coffee is being brewed, and an earthy caramel aroma takes over the room. The Center is only one of two places in Chicago that carry coffee from this black-owned local roaster.

Snacks and more provisions can be found past the coffee bar. Two people are huddled in a corner with coffee, typing away on their laptops and utilizing the space as an office. Others are perusing the mix of home goods, chocolate, tea, and books.

Continue to the back, and you’ll find a small outdoor refuge leading to the alley. Depending on the day, you might find a bagel pop-up or meetups with the broader creative and food community in West Town. 


2. Uncle Mike’s Place

The neighborhood walkabout continues with Filipino breakfast. A line of people forms just down the street, waiting at the corner of Grand and Paulina to get into Uncle Mike’s Place.

There’s been a recent renaissance of Filipino restaurants making waves in Chicago, but Uncle Mike’s has been this generation’s pioneer, having opened in 1991. It’s a breakfast and lunch diner with classic All-American cuisine (pancakes, omelets, steak sandwiches, Reubens, etc.).  They also offer up a menu of traditional Filipino breakfast items.

A Filipino breakfast here consists of a side of garlic rice, fried egg, and some combination of either:

Longanisa (sweet pork sausage)
Tocino (annatto and anise-cured pork shoulder)
Grilled Milkfish
Spam (here’s an interesting read about Spam and the US influence on Filipino cuisine)

3. Marianne Ibrahim Gallery

While it may not look like it if you’re just zipping through the neighborhood, West Town is a burgeoning artist and creative enclave. There are scores of design agencies and galleries dotting the area. The next stop is to one of these galleries.

Marianne Ibrahim is a Somali-French art dealer who founded this namesake gallery in 2012, primarily focused on contemporary African and African diaspora art. The gallery showcases a diverse range of artworks from artists with roots in various African and Middle East countries and those who explore themes related to African culture, identity, and global issues.

The gallery has since expanded to locations in Mexico City and Paris.

Open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm, the exhibits in this two-room gallery are constantly changing. If you visit on a weekday afternoon, you’ll likely have the space to yourself, allowing you to take your time and quietly contemplate the artwork in front of you.

4. On Tour Brewing

We’re closing this guide with one last stop to On Tour Brewing. Located just around the corner from the Marianne Ibrahim Gallery, this is just one of the six breweries within a half-mile radius.

The sound of crowds gets louder and louder as you turn the corner from the gallery. A vast garage door entrance welcomes you inside the On Tour tap room.

Here are a few notes to keep in mind.

– Open in the early or midafternoon every day except Tuesday. Check hours here.

– Tours are also available on the first Sunday of the month at 1 pm. Details here.

– While they don’t have a kitchen here, they have tacos from Arigato Market, and sometimes they’ll have food trucks parked outside. It’s also BYOF.

– They have an active events and programming schedule. Depending on the day, they’ll have live music, a comedy show, or food pop-ups.

The massive taproom has soaring ceilings, making the space look even more impressive. Sit anywhere you can and order at the bar.

If you haven’t had On Tour beers, you can get 5oz samples of most of their beers for $2 apiece. Not a bad way to go through as much of their menu as possible.