Originally from the suburbs, Lincoln Square resident and local musician Josh Cantor is a passionate advocate of the neighborhood and its many charms. Although he seems to be perputally in motion on his bicycle along Lincoln Avenue, Josh can also be spotted enjoying the offerings and ambiance at local cafes, public spaces, and farmers markets.
As the rhythm guitarist and singer of local band The Hooks, Josh has been picking the same acoustic guitar for as long as he can remember. His influences are his dad (who plays no instrument but introduced Josh to Van Halen at the tender age of nine), Django Reinhart, Chet Atkins, Tony Rice, Tom Petty, Doc Watson and John Mayer.
As he explains about his process for songwriting, “First I write the music in the form of a chord progression that gets stuck in my head, then I keep whistling until I have a melody that wraps itself neatly around the chords, and finally, the heartfelt lyrics. When those three steps are performed in perfect harmony, the end result is a hook.”
1. You are a man of many interests and talents. With so much going on in your life, why did you choose to settle in Lincoln Square?
I have always been a North Sider, ever since moving here from Buffalo Grove. I have never lived south of Irving Park Road or west of Lincoln and now I’ve been in Lincoln Square proper for 5 years.
I was drawn this far north by the Old Town School of Folk and the atmosphere it engenders in this neighborhood. I am not a student at the school but am a huge fan of their live music venue. It’s the best venue in the city for watching people rock out. After moving here I realized just how cozy and lively the neighborhood is. Once you’ve been here for a while it’s very much like living in a small town where everyone knows everyone. My kind of place.
2. Your bike is your primary method of travel. Do you feel that Lincoln Square/North Center is a bike-friendly neighborhood? Do you have favorite routes or paths?
Yes, in the summer my bike is definitely my main mode of transportation. Usually when I’m riding to a destination outside of Lincoln Square I’ll go out of my way to start off with a leisurely ride down Lincoln Ave. just because that stretch of road between Lawrence and Wilson has such a good vibe. It’s not a long ride but it is a great, uplifting route out of the neighborhood.
3. Beer, bakeries, and bratwurst dominate summer fests and restaurants in the area. Do you have any recommendations for lighter fare in the area?
I have a couple suggestions. First, I make it a point to go to both the Tuesday morning and the Thursday night farmers markets. They are smaller, more intimate markets that I like to visit even if I’m not planning on buying anything. The one vendor I buy from the most is the mushroom farm, River Valley Ranch. Not only do they grow great mushrooms but they create other foods with their beautiful shrooms. My favorite thing to get from them is their homemade veggie burgers. They are vegan, made primarily with mushrooms and rice. Get them!
Secondly, go to Drew’s on Montrose, a couple doors west of Lincoln. Aside from being a super nice guy all the time he is running a very “green” little place over there. It’s primarily a hot dog place but he has everything from a couple of very tasty veggie dogs, to a super indulgent grass fed, beef hot dog, with lots of nice, fresh condiments.
4. How have you seen the neighborhood change since you moved in, and what sort of improvements would you like to see happen?
Change seems to be the only constant, period. When I apply that thought to the Square I don’t know where to start.
A few years ago I started jokingly referring to the hood as Stroller Square because of all the young families moving into the area. Every summer there appears to be exponentially more of these incredible double wide, double decker, off road strollers zooming around. In connection with this phenomenon there are more new condos and rehabs going on all over the place.
Due to this influx, which is not at all a bad thing by the way, in the spring and summertime the actual square has turned into somewhat of a carnival all day and night. On any given day you can sit on a bench by the fountain, listen to an assortment of live music, watch one or two balloon artists hand out their creations, watch an incredible…INCREDIBLE juggler juggle up to 7 balls, and observe a clown (he’s there all the time) entertaining the kids with his marionettes and HIS juggling…which is not as technically entertaining as the 7 ball juggler but enthralling in its own right as he is known to juggle hammers with little kids looking up at him just steps away.
Dangerous? Check. Entertaining? Check.
5. What feedback or advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to Lincoln Square?
This has turned into a place that really has something for everyone and it is catching on. If you have a fear of being run over by an off road stroller (strollaphobia) you may want to work on that before making the move. I happen to like the feel of having families all over the place surrounded by somewhat of an artistic/creative community, a nice selection of bars and restaurants, bookstores, cafes, more than one wine shop, a 90-year old movie theatre, and my list could take up half a page.
All of this is crammed into a small space and it still has a quaint, quiet, familiar, neighborhood feeling. I love just waking up in the morning and walking up Lincoln to The Grind for a cup of coffee to start my day. I feel like I’ve lived here for ever.