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If the Chicago’s River North neighborhood was the Red Light District back in the day, then West Loop Chicago was known as Skid Row. In 1949, Times Magazine called the West Loop the “Land of the Living Dead.”
It got that name from the overwhelming number of men who were down on their luck, broke and alcoholic who dwelled in the West Loop. The neighborhood reeked of broken dreams, broken wine bottles, and vomit.
Fast forward 70 years later, and the West Loop is one of Chicago’s hottest neighborhoods. It is famous (infamous?) for its dominant food culture prowess. Now the neighborhood reeks of good food cooked to perfection.
In this article, I focus on the downtown neighborhood of the West Loop – once the land of the living dead and now the land of excellent tasting food. I will discuss:
- What you should know about Chicago’s West Loop
- where to stay
- things to do in Chicago West Loop
- where to eat
What should you know about West Loop Chicago
For the most part, the West Loop is a hip culinary extension of downtown Chicago. The West Loop is a food mecca with plenty of restaurant choices for every palate. It is the ultimate food destination for the foodie looking to experience world-class, Michelin-award winning restaurants.
Wanted: serious food-lovers only.
Along with Restaurant Row on Randolph, you can find good eating in the Fulton Market District and Greektown of the West Loop.
Where is the West Loop in Chicago
The West Loop is a downtown neighborhood located west of the loop (hence its name). Roughly, its boundaries are Grand Avenue to the north, Ashland Avenue to the West, Chicago River to the east, and Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) to the South.
What do I mean by roughly?
Like most neighborhoods in Chicago, it’s hard to nail down where one neighborhood ends and another begins.
When I first moved to Chicago, Greektown (Halsted Street) was considered the western border of the West Loop neighborhood. I would say most Chicago residents didn’t venture too far past Greektown after dark.
And Fulton Market?
This part of the West Loop was the meatpacking district with lots of warehouses that people frequent for choice meat and fish during the day. Mmmm…not somewhere you wanted to hang out at night. It looked a little scary once the sun went down.
History of the West Loop
West Loop has evolved over the decades. It has quite a history –
- a famous labor union demonstration and subsequent massacre (Haymarket Incident) occurred here
- it was Chicago’s skid row
- home of the Oprah Winfrey (Harpo) Studios (it is now the new McDonalds Headquarters)
- the best area in Chicago (dare I say nation) for great eating
During the 1980s and 90s, I would sometimes tag along with my Mother-in-law on her weekly trip to the Wholesale Florist Exchange at 1313 West Randolph Street (now condos). Then she would head over to Peoria Meatpacking on Lake Street in the Fulton Market area to stock up on meat for the week.
Back then, the West Loop was full of warehouses that catered to and supplied restaurants and businesses with wholesale flowers, meats, and produce.
The West Loop is still known for it’s connection to food (not so much flowers anymore). It is the home to quite a few Michelin award-winning restaurants and eateries.
In the next section, I will discuss cool things to do in the West Loop.
Exploring the West Loop
As I keep mentioning in this article (Lol, just in case you missed it), West Loop is for the serious food hound. But what else is going on? Most must-see attractions and museums are located in the Loop area of downtown. However, there are a few things that I recommend you do in the West Loop (other than eating).
Things to do in Chicago West Loop
1. Haymarket Memorial (175 North Desplaines Street)
This landmark marks the spot wherein 1886; labor activists held an informal meeting to protest the recent deaths of workers during a labor lock-out in another part of the city. A crowd gathered, police arrived to disperse, and someone threw a bomb. After the smoke cleared, several police and civilians had lost their lives. The Haymarket Memorial was built to remember those who lost their lives to the labor cause.
2. Randolph Street Market (1340 West Washington Street)
It is a year-round inside/outside world market famous for its antiques, home furnishing, and indie fashion. The magic happens during the summer months. The Randolph Street Market has been compared favorably to New York City’s Chelsea Market.
For more information, click here.
Museums in the West Loop
National Hellenic Museum (333 South Halsted Street)
Located in the Greektown portion of the West Loop – The National Hellenic Museum is dedicated to the social and cultural contributions that Greek Americans have made over the century to the United States. The National Hellenic Museum is full of artifacts, photos, and audio-visual archives, giving us a real understanding of Greek life here in America.
Click here for more information.
Architecture in the West Loop
The West Loop’s most significant contribution to Chicago architecture (at least in my opinion) is Union Station (225 South Canal Street).
It opened in May of 1925. This beaux-arts train station is the size of ten city blocks. The most amazing (and beautiful) part of Union Station is its Great Hall with its Grecian columns and marble floors.
For a guided tour of Union Station, I recommend taking the Chicago Architecture Center Tour, “Union Station: Icon of a Great Age.
Click here for more information.
Tours of the West Loop
A great way to get to know the West Loop is to do a walking tour! Free Tours by Foot offers a tour of part of the eastern section of the West Loop. It includes some significant aspects, such as:
- Great Hall Union Station
- Mercantile Exchange
- Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant (excellent spot for breakfast)
- Civic Opera House
For more information on Free Tours by Foot’s West Loop Tour, click here.
The West Loop is…yes, you guessed it…a foodie paradise! So no exploration of the West Loop is complete without doing a food tour. You will love the Chicago Gateway to the West Loop Food Tour for its introduction to the West Loop food scene.
For more information on Chicago Gateway to the West Loop Food Tour, click here.
Where to stay in the West Loop
Whether it be either hotel, Airbnb, or hostel, there are amazing choices when it comes to accommodations.
The West Loop has become the area for good eating with Restaurant Row on Randolph Street. Greektown is also located in the West Loop (plenty of great dining here as well…Opa!). Several cool bars and wineries have sprung up in this neighborhood, making it a great area to stay while visiting the downtown area of Chicago.
Check out my favorite European inspired food court at the French Market (131 North Clinton St at the Metra Station) for a quick bite or lunch.
Hot spot: Home to Chicago’s version of the meatpacking district – Fulton Market District.
Is the West Loop neighborhood safe?
The West Loop has come a long way from its checkered past. You will see people out and about enjoying themselves at all times of the day and night. Like most of downtown, it’s relatively safe, but you still need to do your part by not making yourself a target for crime.
A visitor to the West Loop should treat this city like any other metropolitan oasis – with some common sense. Stick to well-lit streets when going out at night and no taking short cuts through alleys.
The West Loop is patroled by the Chicago Police Department and is excellent at keeping the downtown area safe.
Hotels in Chicago West Loop
Hotels located in the Chicago West Loop are the best options due to their proximity to many attractions, restaurants, museums, and cultural experiences.
The following hotels are excellent choices: (click on each hotel to research prices on Booking.com):
- Crowne Plaza Chicago West Loop (25 South Halsted Steet) – $
- Hampton by Hilton Chicago Downtown West Loop (116 North Jefferson Street) – $$
- Ace Hotel Chicago (311 North Morgan Street) – $$$
Staying at an Airbnb in the West Loop
Staying at an Airbnb located in the West Loop is the best way to experience this neighborhood. Also, it can be a less expensive way to stay downtown. Hotels rates, even for “budget” accommodations in the downtown area, can be costly.
Staying at a Hostel Chicago West Loop
Staying at a hostel is the best option If you’re on a strict travel budget. No accommodations, either hotel or Airbnb, is going to beat the prices offered at the Chicago Parthenon Hostel (310 South Halsted Street).
The Chicago Parthenon Hostel has excellent amenities and is located in the heart of Greektown in the West Loop neighborhood.
Where to eat in the West Loop
Let the food revolution begin! If you’re a foodie, then the West Loop in Chicago is the destination for you. The West Loop has excellent food options available in Restaurant Row, Greektown, and Fulton Market.
Here’s a list of restaurants you should try –
- Girl and Goat (809 West Randolph Street, Restaurant Row) – American
- Au Cheval (800 West Randolph Street, Restaurant Row) – American
- The Publican (833 West Fulton Market) – Cafe/Diner
- Carnivale (702 West Fulton Market) – Latin American
- Geek Islands Restaurant (200 South Halsted, Greektown) – Greek
Getting around the West Loop
The best way to experience the West Loop is by foot. Uber, taxi, or public transportation are also great options.
Everything is convenient and right at your fingertips (or walking distance).
The West Loop is part of the over 200 neighborhoods that make up the city of Chicago. It is one of 6 neighborhoods that make up the downtown community.
The West Loop (once called the Land of the Living Dead) is a vibrant part of downtown Chicago. It has become world-famous for its rapidly emerging food scene.
It is the perfect travel destination for the serious food lover.
More articles on Chicago:
- Where to stay in Chicago: An Overview
- 17 Chicago Festivals and Events You Don’t Wanna Miss
- Top Five Things To Do This Weekend in Chicago
- Chicago Downtown Loop: Hot Chicago Neighborhoods You Should Visit
- Chicago’s River North: Hot Chicago Neighborhoods You Should Visit
- Chicago Streeterville: Hot Chicago Neighborhoods You Should Visit