Alaskan native and aspiring novelist London Crockett cuts a dapper figure as he perambulates through Lincoln Square’s urbane avenues. After moving to Oregon as a teenager, he arrived in Chicago as a college student and immediately bonded with the city and its myriad cultural offerings and experiences.
After living in Hyde Park for ten years, Crockett moved northward, eventually settling in Lincoln Square and becoming a loyal denizen of its local cafes, bookstores, shops, and restaurants. Currently he is writing a fantasy novel with an extremely unique protagonist in a very unusual setting. You can read more about the book, as well as London’s ongoing adventures on his website, brokengirl.info.
1. Where are you from originally and what chain of events led you to Chicago and Lincoln Square?
I grew up in the arctic wonderland of Fairbanks, Alaska. At least my little portion of that tiny town was the heartland of DIY before doing it yourself was DIY. In addition to the copious bike trails that turned me into a lifelong cyclist and swampy little forests perfect for The Best Blueberries in the World (accept no substitute), the community built around my father’s log cabin church (Yes, I grew up next to a log cabin) was full of artistic people who didn’t have anyplace else to go to fill their aesthetic jones. If you wanted to see theater, you had to get some people together, make the props and costumes, rehearse, rehearse, and then put on a play.
Moving to a similar sized town in southern Oregon just as I entered junior high was a huge culture shock (much more so than moving to Chicago). There, people could travel an hour to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or spend the weekend in Portland or San Francisco fairly easily. Combined with a general hostility to anything different, it was a town devoid of art except perhaps some isolated and bitter landscape painters, whose existence I can only speculate on.
I was desperate to get out of small town by the time I was approaching high school graduation. As it turned out, I was only accepted to the University of Chicago (at the time, being rejected by Northwestern but accepted by Chicago was unheard of). After a decade in Hyde Park, I followed a friend to Ravenswood, which lead to Lincoln Square, which is a much more engaging pedestrian neighborhood.
2. You are working on a novel. What kind of inspiration do you draw from the environs and residents of Lincoln Square?
Ha! None. My novel follows a handicapped girl living in a fantasy world similar to France and Spain around the time of the French Revolution. As much as The Grind [coffee shop] has some very distinctive personalities who congregate there, none of them have managed to embed themselves into my imagination quite enough to come out sideways someplace in The Forty-Seven Words of the Broken Girl. Nor does Lincoln Square have any resemblance to a late 18th Century farming village in olive country.
Perhaps ironically, the place that exerts the most influence on my writing is Fairbanks. Geographically, politically, climatologically, socially—in every reasonable metric, Fairbanks has nothing in common with my protagonist’s home village, Naserys. But the experience of living there is almost on every page, however muted and mutated from my actual experience.
3. Do you feel that the neighborhood is supportive of its artists, writers, and performers?
This is a difficult question. Lincoln Square is choc-a-bloc with creatives. I meet them all the time, especially just looking over what other people are working on at The Grind. My suspicion is that artists tend settle in communities with things like farmers markets, good coffee shops and the other services that Lincoln Square is robust in. The Western ‘L’ stop plus the Ravenswood Metra stop make it a non-drivers’ loci, which is definitely a bonus for many serious artists who struggle to balance art and finances.
However, the art community is either very informal or invisible to me. Chicago has so many resources, I suspect people go to many different neighborhoods to find their support. I occasionally attend a writing group in Lakeview, have gone to Evanston for another one and am intensely involved in a small group that exists only on-line. The brilliance of Chicago is that you can live anywhere and have access to the artistic resources.
4. When you are not immersed in your book, where do you dine, shop, and relax in the area?
Obviously The Grind. Apart from having some of the best coffee in the city and being the place where everybody knows my face (I walk in and whomever is at the counter asks if I want a four-shot latte), it’s full of interesting people and has wonderful ambiance. I rarely defect to other coffee shops. I go to The Grafton often. I love the informal Old Town School connection and it’s a good place to sit at the bar and review or write over a pint. Fork is great for dates and drinks. I’d rather buy a book at Book Cellar than anyplace else. My barber, Haydar [at Studio 4 Hair] is the best. I think I’d travel from Logan Square or even the Loop to get my haircuts. A man should look sharp, and Haydar will do what he can to help with your mug.
5. What neighborhood cultural happenings would you recommend for those who are looking for something unique to do?
I tend to avoid the variety of festivals—hanging out in a tent drinking overpriced beer isn’t really my thing. However, a visit to the Huttenbar is worth it anytime of the year. I don’t think there’s another bar quite like it anywhere else in the city. During the summer, just wondering around the square is a great experience, as are all the concerts in the park. I live close enough that the music drifts up and I enjoy that a lot.
Shoppingwise, the Apothecary is essential. I’m a licorice fiend and I can always get the good stuff there, not to mention things like pure oil extracts for making my apartment smell nice, good soaps, organic cleaning products, etc. Laurie’s Planet of Sound is one of the city’s great music stores. My wine guys at Fine Wine Brokers rarely steer me wrong.
However, the real charm of Lincoln Square comes just from rambling about. Come and get out of your car. It’s a pedestrian neighborhood that rewards a slower pace and openness to it’s unique charms. There’s no other neighborhood in the city like it.