Nothing gets me more excited than when an improviser from another city reaches out to me because they are thinking about moving to Chicago. Of course we talk about classes, performances opportunities and their goals. What we often forget to talk about is something equally important: Where are they going to live?
So, if you’re an improviser who’s been performing for a couple of years in a smaller city or you’ve been killing it on your college improv team and your thinking of making the big move to Chicago, this blog is for you.
I know moving across the country to a brand new city can be overwhelming. Chicago, especially, is a sprawling city with a reputation for being the murder capital of the country, so picking the right place to live can be tricky.
To get the lay of the land, start by taking a look at the map of the L, which is our (mostly) above ground transportation system. In Chicago, you won’t really need a car, because the L takes you everywhere you need to go, plus it’s usually cheaper and easier than looking for parking. The buses are pretty good here and if you are brave enough, some improvisers get bikes and hopefully a light and a helmet.
For reference, Second City is located near the Sedgwick stop on the Brown Line, and iO Chicago is at the North/Clyborn stop on the Red Line. But living right near either of those institutions is going to be cost-prohibitive (we’ll explain more below).
So that means, you’ll need to find another neighborhood to live in (preferably along these two L lines). To help you out, I’ve put together a list of the five best neighborhoods to live in if you’re an improviser. I recommend you look for an apartment within several blocks (walking distance) of one of the L stops mentioned below.
Good luck and welcome to Improv Capital of the world. You are going to love it here and may never want to leave.
- Andersonville/North Edgewater
Look near these L stops:
Berwyn (north of Foster Ave.), Bryn Mawr, Granville and Thorndale on the Red Line. Bus lines: the #22 Clark, #36 Broadway and #151 Sheridan.While this neighborhood is the furthest north in my list, there are advantages such as reasonable rent. Parking is tricky, but who needs a car when you can ride your bicycle like a true improviser? But if you’re willing to share a two-bedroom apartment with a fellow improviser, you can find a place for as little as $1,000 a month ($500 per person). Also, the father north in the city you go, the apartments tend to be a little larger. Andersonville is filled with hipster-classy bars (don’t miss The Hopleaf Bar and Simon’s Tavern) and some of the north side’s most unique shops including Women & Children First Book Store, Alamo Shoes, The Swedish Bakery and Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery which has the best hummus and pitas in the city. The area is a mecca of coffee shops from Kopi A Travelers Café to The Coffee Studio, La Colombe Coffee Roasters and First Slice, not to mention a hub for breakfast spots like M.Henry, The Bongo Room and Tweets. These restaurants can be a bit pricey, but keep them in mind when your parents come to visit.Other restaurants include Hamburger Mary’s, Little Vietnam, Calo Ristorante, Andies Restaurant and Reza’s. For grocery stores, there’s the Jewel on Broadway and Berwyn and a brand new Mariano’s on Foster and Sheridan in Edgewater. Andersonville has the local Edgewater Produce and their own Jewel-Osco on Clark.This neighborhood has a few performance venues that may be of interest to improvisers, as well, such as pH Comedy Theater and Mary’s Attic.
- Wrigleyville/Southport Corridor/Roscoe Village
Look near these L stops:
Belmont and Addison on the Red Line. Southport, Belmont and Paulina on the Brown Line. Bus lines: The #22 Clark Street and #9 Ashland buses. Even if this is your first run in Chicago, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of the Cubs’ home base, Wrigley Field. Wrigleyville is ground zero for serious baseballs fans, so put on your Cubs gear, grab a beer on the stoop, and go people watching for an entire season. You’ll never run out of characters for the improv stage, and you can try them out on the regulars at the endlessly noisy sports bars and nightlife spots.If you’re a light sleeper, you’re in the wrong ’hood. And forget having a car, especially on game days. But who needs sleep or wheels when you’re getting some serious stage time in the improv scene?Belmont is one of the best areas of the city for improv venues. It’s become a regular comedy corridor. The street boasts multiple improv schools and venues including the Annoyance Theatre, ComedySportz Chicago, Stage 773, MCL, The Public House Theater, The Playground, Under the Gun and CIC.Also, this neighborhood has a true, old-time movie palace, the historic Music Box Theater, which shows some of the most eclectic art house movies in the country.
Fuel up at bars and restaurants like Penny’s Noodle Shop, Cozy Noodles n’ Rice, Wrigleyville Dogs, Costellos, Chicago Bagel Authority, and Red Ivy. For grocery stores, you’ve got a Whole Foods on Ashland and newly remolded Jewel on Southport.
Apartments may be small, and you’ll likely live by yourself or with one roommate. A two-bedroom averages about $1,700 a month.
- Lincoln Square/North Center
Look near these L stops:
Irving Park, Montrose, Damon and Western, all on the Brown Line. If Wrigleyville is the noisy kid, Lincoln Square/North Center is the more responsible parent. This old German neighborhood has been gentrifying for some time now and has many more families than drunk Cubs fans. Grab a roommate and split the $1,500 rent money for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment. Bonus: There’s a good chance you’ll get a yard, ideal for barbecuing with your improv group.You’ll also find unique stores such as Sacred Art, Magic and Enjoy, and An Urban General Store. Make sure to get a library card and utilize the fantastic Sulzer Regional Library. Restaurants provide everything from burgers (The Bad Apple) to more diverse selections such as Cho Sun OK Restaurant and Los Toritos. Grocery stores include Mariano’s, Trader Joe’s and Jewel.This ’hood also boasts a true Chicago gem in The Old Town School of Folk Music You, where you can learn to play almost any instrument, take theater classes, sign up for a rock ensemble, or simply watch one of their amazing concerts.
It also has the Davis Theater, which is one of few indy movie theaters still left in the city, a great book store called The Book Cellar, and one of my favorite stores in the city if you are into holistic healing, Merz Apothecary.
As for improv performance opportunities, North Center is the home of Corn Productions, which hosts a slew of shows, including its long-running Improv Gladiators.
Look near these L Stops:
Damon and Montrose on the Brown Line.Looking for a quieter, more mellow location? Ravenswood offers a more serene living experience and might almost feel as if you’ve moved to the suburbs. If you want to have a car, then this is the neighborhood is for you, because it’s not as congested and parking is easier.You’ll find coffee shops such as The Perfect Cup, where you can power away your morning writing a future sketch show or television pilot, and Lillstreet Art Center where you can explore painting, ceramics or glass-fusing.Grab a scene partner to be your roommate because renters get more bang for their buck with apartments averaging about $1,500 for two bedrooms.At the Montrose Brown Line Stop you’ve got Beans & Bagels, Margie’s Candies and Glenn’s Diner, a popular neighborhood fish restaurant.
As for grocery stores, there are tons to choose from, such as the brand new Mariano’s on Lawrence and a Jewel on Lincoln and Montrose.
- Lincoln Park/Old Town
Look near these L stops:
Sedgwick, Armitage, Diversey, and Fullerton on the Brown line. Getting back to the note we made at the top. These two neighborhoods are where Second City and iO are located, so you can’t get closer to the action. Plus, you’re minutes from downtown, close to beautiful Lake Michigan and the Lincoln Park Zoo. Unfortunately, rents are high here, so you probably won’t be able to afford this neighborhood unless your parents are funding your housing or you have a well-paying day job. Also, the size of the apartments tend to be on the smaller size. You might be able to find a tiny apartment for yourself, or expect to split $2,000 for a two-bedroom.Want to bond with Second City classmates over beer? Head across the street to nearby bars such as Corcoran’s Grill and Pub, Wells on Wells and Old Town Ale House.When your parents come to see your level E or Conservatory show, take them to Bistro Margot, Orso’s or Dinotto. If you want to grab a bite with potential teammates, get cheap eats at Old Jerusalem, Old Town Social or Dog House Grill.
Aside from being near Second City and iO, if you’re into stand-up, there’s also Zanies Comedy Club. And a couple of stops away, you’ll find yourself at Comedy Clubhouse where the One Group Mind house teams perform. These neighborhood are chalk full of grocery shopping, there is one of the cities biggest and coolest Whole Foods right across from iO and a Treasure Island across from Second City.
If you’re already an improviser living in Chicago, let us know if you have any additional comments to add to the list. You may just be helping out a future teammate!