Nilda’s is one of those places that hasn’t benefited from the gentrification of Wicker Park. It’s in a tough location, on Iowa street that is just far away from Damen Ave and Chicago Ave that it could go unnoticed by residents who have lived in the neighborhood since it became the “hip” place to live 10 years ago. Face it, the action is on Division or Chicago, and if you’re not there, you’re in trouble.
We entered the open door with a little hesitation… No lights were on, a woman was cleaning up some wrappers from a take out meal, and there was tiniest dog I have ever seen scurrying around the place. Almost stepped on the poor thing. We asked if they were open, and the woman said “si”.
Nilda is a fascinating woman…here is what we learned in the course of drinking our Old Styles, in the dark:
· She came here from Puerto Rico and opened the bar 25 years ago and lives upstairs
· The neighborhood used to be real rough…there have been a few shootings mere feet from her doorstep
· The smoking ban really has hurt her business
· The dog’s name is “Cosita”, which means “little thing”
· When she spoke to us, she spoke English, but repeated many words in Spanish, and waited until we said them as well. Not being rude, but more of a “if you’re gonna drink in my bar, you’re gonna speak a little of my language, and I’ll help you”. I really appreciated it.
· Has 3 children and 5 grandchildren, two of which graduated from UIC and IU last year.
· Has three parakeets in a cage behind the bar
· Doesn’t keep set hours…if the door is locked, just knock. She may be curled up on the couch by the door taking a nap
· Five years ago she was offered $1 million for the building, and she declined. The building has recently been valued at $190k
· When she retires, she wants to move to Alaska