Chicago

Essential Ukrainian-Owned Businesses to Support in Chicago's Ukrainian Village

Chitown's Ukrainian Village is a must-visit destination for art, culture, bars, restaurants, and more.

Ihor Pasternak/Shutterstock
Ihor Pasternak/Shutterstock
Ihor Pasternak/Shutterstock

While the current Ukraine crisis unfolds in Eastern Europe, our Midwestern metropolis is home to a large Ukrainian community of its own, with many members remaining deeply connected to the people and organizations currently under duress. And that means there are dozens of Ukrainian-owned businesses you can support locally.

According to the 2019 US Census, the Chicagoland area is home to a whopping 54,000 Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American residents, the second largest in the country, with an immigration history that dates back well over a century. The proud Eastern European people first began making their way to the region in the 1880s, followed by subsequent waves after the fall of the Austrian Empire in 1918 and later during World War II, when upwards of 8,000 refugees fled areas annexed to Soviet Ukraine in 1939. The fourth and final wave brought younger generations to Lake Michigan’s shores throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the former Soviet Ukraine. With each rising tide, these newly minted Chicagoans brought with them vital aspects of their culture, settling into ethnic enclaves like Ukrainian Village and lining the streets of Kyiv’s sister city with dazzlingly elaborate cathedral architecture, folk music and dance, and, of course, loads of delicious homestyle food.

Wondering how to show your support for the affected population in Ukraine? Just head over to Ukrainian Village and stop into one of these amazing Ukrainian-owned businesses, from innovative restaurants and mom-and-pop bakeries to cutting edge art museums, charming gift shops, and more. And if you’re still eager to help, consider throwing some funds to crucial nonprofits like Doctors Without Borders, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, UNICEF, and the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, an independent news organization providing much-needed coverage on the ground.

Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen
Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen
Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen

Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen

You’d be hard pressed to find a Chicago restaurant more invested in educating diners about its culinary muse than this one, where multiple flatscreens showcase lavish Ukrainian music videos on loop, floor-to-ceiling murals depicting street scenes from the motherland grace the walls, and traditional handicrafts inform the colorful tilework adorning the small bar area. The menu, of course, is no exception when it comes to Ukrainian evangelizing, an enticing roster of owner Myron Lewyckyj’s age-old family recipes imbued with slight American twists meant to draw in customers of all backgrounds.

Creative cocktails kick things off-the Kharkiv Mule (infused honey vodka, kvas, lime juice) is a quirky and refreshing spin on the Russian refresher-followed by hearty highlights like Crispy Pork Schnitzel, pounded thin and marinated in Lewyckyj’s Aunt Nyska’s secret sauce, Red Pierogi stuffed with tender beef and house-pickled tomatoes, belly-warming vegetarian Borscht, and Mama Gena’s Pork Burger topped with pickled red onions, tomatoes, bacon, mozzarella, and crunchy cabbage. When selecting said burger, you might wonder why it comes in at a curious $16.48-and no, it’s not a Chicago tax trick. As lines of text running along the menu’s border reveal, 1648 was the year Bohdan Khmelnytskyi led the Ukrainian War of Liberation. Finish up with a devilishly tart Sour Cherry Varenyky layered with sour cherry cream and dark chocolate sauce, a steal at $11.11 (when the Ukrainian empire defeated the Pechenegs, of course).

Delta.gift.shop
Delta.gift.shop
Delta.gift.shop

Delta Gift Shop

Looking for a one-of-a-kind gift that also supports the local Ukrainian community? Pop into this sunny Chicago Avenue outpost and leaf through the shop’s massive collection of imported items, from traditional embroidered clothing and textiles to books, artwork, souvenirs, accessories, religious paraphernalia, decorative home goods, and stunning hand-painted Easter eggs. It claims to be the largest of its kind, peddling a 100% Ukrainian bill since opening its welcoming doors in 1960.

 

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

Perched along Chicago Avenue near Western, it’s easy to miss this elegant, sparsely decorated low-slung building at first glance. But step inside the curving cement facade and you’re immediately confronted with an onslaught of vivid, striking art spanning all forms. Both permanent and traveling shows exemplify the best in contemporary Easter European and Ukrainian-American works, drawing attention to masters like Kandinsky, Andreenko, and Hurtig alongside emerging and undiscovered artists. Political engagement is also front and center, with curated shows touching on themes of war, independence, resilience, poverty, and liberation. Aside from dazzling the senses, the UIMA also spearheads outreach campaigns via lectures, workshops, film screenings, concerts, and other community events intended to preserve and promote Ukrainian cultural expression in Chicago.

Shokolad Pastry & Cafe
Shokolad Pastry & Cafe
Shokolad Pastry & Cafe

Shokolad Pastry & Cafe

The humble omelet might sound like a sleeper of a breakfast order, but-trust-the mother-daughter team behind this charming Ukie Village cafe has managed to crack the code when it comes to throwing beaten eggs into a frying pan. Good enough to eat without a single filling, the endlessly fluffy, perfectly seasoned plate-sized round is nothing short of a culinary feat. The crepes also shine, stuffed with savory odds and ends like spinach, mushrooms, feta, ham, and gruyere, as do any one of the nine pierogi options plus the elder owner’s legendary cakes like the particularly light and airy Napoleon with lemon pastry cream and apricot puree, available by the slice until it sells out (and it will).

 

Ukrainian National Museum
Ukrainian National Museum
Ukrainian National Museum

Ukrainian National Museum

Take a deep dive into Ukraine’s past and present inside this landmark institution, located just off Chicago Avenue’s main drag in the shadow of Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church’s ornate expanse. Permanent displays cover all aspects of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American history and culture, room after boxy room giving way to gorgeous handicrafts and embroidery, finely painted faberge eggs, artifacts from World War I and the Chicago’s World’s Fair, historic paintings and documents, and a moving tribute to the Holodomor Genocide of 1932-33, when Stalin’s forces spured a famine that claimed millions of lives. Modern exhibits are also on hand, covering current events like protests against the Russian invasion dating to 2013.
 

Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble of Chicago
Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble of Chicago
Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble of Chicago

Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble

If you live anywhere near Ukrainian Village, you’re probably already familiar with the various cultural celebrations that routinely go down at the sprawling Chicago Avenue complex that houses both the Ukrainian Cultural Center and the towering Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church. Riveting folk music blasts from the outdoor speakers until late in the evening, propelling group after group as they take to the stage atop the church’s front steps and launch into dance. Many of those skilled performers are members of this celebrated dance school, where director Roxana Dykyj-Pylypczak and her daughter, assistant director Daniela Pylypczak-Wasylyszyn, lead the organization in its mission to both protect and redefine Ukrainian dance traditions via intensive training, inspired choreography, and choice musical accompaniment. And the illustrious ensemble isn’t confined to Chicago block parties-they’ve traveled the world, bringing their talents to cities across North America as well as Eastern Europe.
 

Ann's Bakery & Deli
Ann’s Bakery & Deli
Ann’s Bakery & Deli

Ann’s Bakery and Deli

Tart rye breads and flaky pastries baked fresh daily crowd the shelves inside this lively neighborhood fixture, sharing space with imported grocery items and a full-scale deli churning out sandwiches, salads, tinned fish, and other prepared goods. Owner Walter Siryj’s commitment to the community runs deep, happily tracking down hard-to-find ingredients and Ukrainian specialty snacks for his loyal customer base and, according to a 2014 student interview, standing strong in his decision to boycott Russian-made products in response to the annexation of Crimea. The vibe inside is upbeat and bustling from open ‘till close, thanks in part to the case of Ukrainian novelties stashed near the checkout lane that tempts shoppers of all ages with frosty packaged ice cream cones that hit just right on a warm summer day.

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Meredith Heil is a Senior Cities Editor at Thrillist. She’s originally from St. Louis, now lives in Chicago, and in between has been to all 50 states (that’s boots on the ground, no airport BS). She enjoys all things cocktails, crosswords, and women’s soccer. Challenge her to a game of Hoop Shot at @mereditto.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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