One of the distinctive features of the West Loop is its vast collection of street art created by numerous artists, present amid the streets lined with restaurants and on the side of overpasses and railway embankments. Painter and muralist Jenny Vyas is one of those artists whose work has helped to shape the former industrial area, adding splashes of color and creativity to the trendy destination for nightlife and dining that it has become.
A self-taught artist, Vyas first became inspired to paint while recovering from a breakup in 2013. She said that much of her work is inspired by “a lot of the darkness in life that we don’t really talk about.”.
Her latest show, “Awaken,” opened last month and is on display at Pilsen Yards through October 31. The show features 15 of Vyas’ paintings, all of which center on themes of vulnerability and finding strength through exploring one’s own demons.
“It’s the show I’ve been working toward for the last five years so it’s been really great to bring it all together,” Vyas said. “It’s my largest body of work, ever.”
Although she’s originally from India, Vyas has lived in Chicago for more than two decades and considers the city to be her home.
“I love the inclusivity and different cultures in Chicago,” Vyas said. “I’ve been to so many cities in America and the feeling of home that you get, it’s very much integral in Chicago. You can go to a bar and make friends that night.”
One of the painter and muralist’s favorite neighborhoods in the city is West Loop, where some of her work is featured, including her #BetheBridge mural, located at Soul City Church in the West Loop, as well as her #HowYouWillRISE mural, which features a woman with large wings emerging from her back, on the side of Nonna’s. Vyas shared her go-to spots for food, drinks, shopping and art in the West Loop with us.
“For lunch, I love Beatrix. They have this incredible cafe area outside. You can just sit outside and pull up a couch, or you can go inside and dine,” Vyas said, admiring the convenience of this all-day Fulton Market restaurant, where you can grab pancakes breakfast, a sandwich for lunch or lemon glazed salmon for dinner. “The variety of the menu is amazing and you can get this elevated lunch experience.” 519 N Clark St.
2. Bar Siena
While Bar Siena doesn’t boast the wind-swept hills and vineyards of its namesake city in Italy, the two-story restaurant and bar’s food and drinks help to capture the essence of the Tuscan experience, making it one of Vyas’ favorite places to stop for a cocktail. Inspired by their time in Siena, owners Lucas Stoioff and David Rekhson oversee a spot that’s fit for after-work cocktails or a multi-course meal. “Bar Siena is my go-to,” Vyas said. “I can park myself at the bar, which I have, for eight hours straight.” 832 W Randolph St.
3. ROOH Chicago
“This is one of my favorite places to go for Indian food because it’s elevated Indian cuisine. If people are expecting traditional Indian food, this isn’t it, which is a great surprise. It’s a gastronomy concept, so you’ll find flavors that are very creative. The cocktail program there is fantastic, they have incredible Indian cocktails that are refreshing, sweet, spicy and full of flavor. They’re just delicious.” 736 W Randolph St.
4. “Wings” mural at Federales
“I was approached to create ‘Wings’ in my style, here in Chicago. The mural was inspired by Kelsey Montague’s [in Nashville], but they wanted to bring in a local artist with a local artist's touch. I used a henna pattern to create my end of the wing, but they also wanted a bit of a graffiti element. I decided to bring in a local street artist, Czr Prz. He does these incredible effects with spray paint. He added the feathers on top with the shading. They were an instant hit, and after that people started asking me to create work in the area, which is why I have multiple works in the West Loop.” 180 N Morgan St.
When Vyas is in need of a gift for, well, anyone, she typically heads to Smitten Boutique in the West Loop. The store stocks a host of gift-able items, including baby clothes and candles that draw inspiration from various travel destinations, making it an appropriate stop for almost every sort of gift-giving occasion. “It’s a great shop to go to for gifts. They have the coolest, most delicate and unique gift items,” Vyas said. 1047 W Madison St.
6. The Darling
Located amongst the numerous restaurants that have made the West Loop a go-to destination is The Darling—a creative bar, elegant restaurant and social club wrapped up in one concept. The location is broken up into three different areas, styled after a speakeasy that transports customers back to 1920’s. “They have these performers pop up in different areas,” Vyas said. “The Darling hosts burlesque dancers, singers, and they’ll just come and perform in these boxes all around the restaurant. They have those fancy dining pods for the pandemic if you want an exclusive experience.” 905 W Randolph St.
7. Skinner Park
With a perfect view of the Willis Tower and a lengthy history that goes back to 1848 when the city first designated the area as a park, Skinner Park is also one of Vyas’ favorite spots to spend time with her family. “My nephews love this park because we stop by here on our way walking home from their schools. It’s a small enough park where you can let the kids play freely and still keep an eye on them.” The seven-acre park features a children’s playground, as well as a community garden, basketball courts and baseball fields. 1331 W Adams St.