Editor’s Note – Everyone has their favorite spots, bars, and shops across the city. However, all of these establishments exist in the city’s multiple micro-ecosystems known as neighborhoods. When thinking of buying a home in Chicago, the neighborhood amenities are almost as important as any factor in the house as to whether or not you should buy.
So, we are focusing on specific neighborhoods in our great city to help those who may be looking to move or have recently moved into these locations.
Likewise, we have leaned on Coldwell Banker Gold Coast real estate agent Samuel Ciochon, who uses Truepad to help home buyers gain insights from his published home reviews, to highlight what makes Gold Coast such a great place to live.
Welcome to Gold Coast
Historic, bustling, iconic, and rich. Those are a few words used to describe the Gold Coast of Chicago, a stretch of prime real estate and culture along Lake Shore Drive just north of Downtown.
Stuffy, expensive, touristy, old—these are the stereotypes you might hear about the Gold Coast (itself a smaller part of the Near North side), which spans from North Avenue to Chicago Avenue (or Oak, depending on who you talk to), and from Lake Shore Drive to around Clark Street.
And some of the stereotypes are true at least the expensive part. Right next to those bustling bars in the Viagra Triangle (Rush and State are the nexuses) like Gibson’s and Tavern on Rush stands a Rolls Royce dealer, a row of shops to rival Rodeo Drive, a cathedral and bank of high-rises anchoring the neighborhood, and the Magnificent Mile minutes away.
But the Gold Coast has such visual interest and a diverse street life, it’s hard not to be charmed even if you sniff at the likes of Neiman Marcus.
We talked to local agent Samuel Ciochon to try to highlight some gems and separate fact from fiction.
Samuel has been working the lake neighborhoods for a few years and is an architecture buff. He’s also one of those people who doesn’t necessarily accept “common knowledge” and likes to find opportunities in the neighborhood where other people see blockages.
Parsing the Near North Side
Since figuring out where the heck you are downtown is a challenge for even longer residents, I asked Samuel to help us differentiate between the Gold Coast and the rest of the Near North Side, which includes River North, Old Town, Streeterville, Gold Coast, and Goose Island.
“River North’s new and hot, nothing there over 15 years old. Old Town’s quirkier, artsier, I’d say. And older, like the Gold Coast, but it’s changing, with tons of new development,” he said. “Streeterville is like a little NYC to me, but also, dominated by Northwestern’s hospital complex and the high-rises along LSD,” Samuel said.
“And Goose Island is an industrial corridor that’s currently being ‘reimagined,’ according to local lingo, which I’d say is a real estate euphemism that comes just prior to ‘redeveloped.’ For examples of this, see the River West and Cabrini Green sub-neighborhoods.”
Gold Coast has all of these characteristics (except maybe the industrial past), all in one neighborhood.
“It’s littered with opportunities to enjoy the city, which is great for new Chicagoans,” Samuel said. “You don’t have to wander far. The beaches (Oak St. and North Ave.) are the best in the city, with outdoor cafes where you can enjoy cocktails on the beach.”
It’s such a wide span between the north and south sides of the neighborhood, too, Samuel said. On the south side, it’s more like a Streeterville downtown vibe, while up on the north end it’s closer to Lincoln Park. “The best thing about the Gold Coast,” Samuel said, “if you want the downtown feel, but with tree-lined streets, it’s the epitome of a quaint, iconic Chicago neighborhood.”
Diving into the striking look of the neighborhood, Samuel said, “For architecture lovers (and house hunters) the Gold Coast is one of the most diverse neighborhoods downtown. You have row homes, single-family homes, skyscrapers, commercial and residential properties.”
Want to live in an iconic bit of architectural history? You can buy in one of Mies van der Rohe’s famous steel high-rise buildings at 860/880 Lake Shore Drive. Cost: $300–650K (Caveat: it may be in Streeterville, depending on whom you ask. See why this is difficult?).
He continued, “There’s a reason why the wealthy all moved there back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, following Palmer.”
Potter Palmer was a wealthy businessman who built up State Street and created the Gold Coast when he situated his mansion (long since demolished) on Lake Shore Drive in the 1880s.
Before then, the really well-heeled lived in the South Loop along Prairie Avenue.
Location, Location…You Know the Rest.
One major pro for downtown living, including the Gold Coast, is the excellent public transportation options. It’s close to the Red line, Brown Line, Lake Shore Drive, and the Division bus, so it’s easy to get pretty much everywhere.
Yes and no, he said. Once the second-richest district in the nation (it’s now around seventh), the Gold Coast is still assumed to be out of reach for many. Ciochon says that’s true of the intimidating, ornate single-family homes and elegant walk-ups that dot the neighborhood, which fetch millions. But the vintage condos and high-rises are more accessible to the middle-class buyer.
For many people looking in the area, River North is the boomtown. It’s all brand-spanking new, with most development starting in the 2000s. Gold Coast, in contrast, was born in the late 1800s, in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire. Many of the vintage buildings here are from the 1960s and 80s. And you know what that means…to Samuel, it spells opportunity for hands-on buyers who want to renovate.
“Lots of people don’t even bother looking in Gold Coast because of its reputation for being a bit rich,” he said, but that circumstance creates a bit of a vacuum in the middle end of the market. And this vacuum, the savvy buyer can fill.
“There are a lot of vintage properties that are old and usually, have a bit smaller area. I’ve seen condos that are absolutely gorgeous. They have great bones,” Samuel said.
“And if they are not already renovated they tend to be under priced, because the people who have money moving into the neighborhood may be skeptical of vintage buildings, or having to do the rehab themselves.”
But once renovated, he says, “a vintage apartment in Gold Coast will go for a lot, so it’s also a good opportunity financially.”
In short, though people think they can’t afford it, you can still find a really good deal in Gold Coast. That’s like, under $400K for a condo. Sure, you’ll get twice the area in Lake View, but this is the Gold Coast.
And it’s worth it, say the residents we’ve met. And, speaking of residents, by the way, living here you will be surrounded by some of the most successful people in Chicago. (If that’s your bag, baby.)
For newer residents, the “little bit of everything” location, the ease of its central location in getting around a new city, and the influx of new people to the area almost daily can lead to a very exciting social and professional life. And that’s exactly what you want to have when you live downtown.
Sure, you’ll hear a few snarky comments about the area, for its richness, its beauty, its residents’ high praise. Are the naysayers just jealous, or is the Gold Coast overrated? It’s hard to say. People are fiercely loyal to their communities, here, and have fun to pick on other neighborhoods. So we’re not sure how serious they are. But in the grain of truth scenario, we’ll tell you that not just the Gold Coast but anywhere on the east side, parking is difficult and expensive. The nightlife here, while vivid, ain’t cheap, and rent can also break the bank, and that’s not taking monthly assessment fees (if you buy), which can be expensive in high-rises, to pay for amenities like 24-hour doormen, fitness center, lounges, pools). But if you know what you’re getting into, the Gold Coast can be the perfect jumping-off point for the Chicago adventures in your future.
Gold Coast specializes in (surprisingly affordable vintage) high-rise apartments with spectacular views of Lake Michigan, beaches next door, and everything downtown Chicago has to offer at your doorstep.
Neighborhood gems and local haunts: Gibson’s, Zebra Lounge, Pump Room, 3 Arts Club Café (inside Restoration Hardware), Chicago Q.
Vibe: A little bit Downtown, a little bit Lincoln Park
Key words: Iconic, downtown, architecture, Viagra Triangle, Navy Pier, Oak Street beach, North Avenue beach.