To tourists, conventioneers, and suburban teenagers, "Old Town" means the tacky stretch of Wells Street between Schiller and Eugenie. This was one a thriving entertainment center, but now it's a tasteless conglomeration of go-go joints and porno movie houses, junk food stands, and arcades full of "Hippie" paraphernalia. A few worthwhile stores—Crate and Barrel, Barbara's Bookstore, a Treasure Island supermarket—still exist on Wells Street, however, along with a couple of surprisingly good restaurants, the Second City theater, and the bastion of Chicago folk music, the Earl of Old Town.
To residents, "Old Town" means a quiet residential area that's technically a part of Lincoln Park but has come to have an identity of its own. It's tucked away in a maze of one-way streets and alleys around historic St. Michael's Church, at Hudson and Eugenie. The area was originally setted in the 1840s by German cabbage farmers; many of the sturdy brick cottages they built after the Great Chicago Fire still remain, as does Old Town's low-keyed charm.
The oldest black community on the North Side lives just behind Wells Street, a poor but stable neighborhood that the city recently decided was "slum and blighted" and threatened to demolish. A few blocks further west are the Cabrini-Green Public Housing Projects, which are among the city's worst. The sound of sirens is never far away. But on the other side of North Avenue, it's a different world.