Westmont Town Focus 2018
This west suburban town offers old-time Americana charm including summer festivals and car shows, the beautiful Ty Warner Park, and plenty of dining options
In many, if not most, parts of the United States during the month of July, similar scenes unfold in small downtowns: colorful flower baskets hang from lamp posts along the sidewalks, rows of American flags flap in the summer breeze and locals stroll around, running errands or headed out to meet friends for a bite to eat. There’s a charm in that kind of scene, which is commonplace yet unique in the sense that each town has its own character.
Westmont has those downtown flowers, flags and favorite local spots, not to mention the quintessential tradition of Independence Day celebrations that draws together family, friends and neighbors. Yet this western suburb of nearly 25,000 residents, located between Clarendon Hills to the east and Downers Grove to the west, offers more than throwback charm. It also boasts pockets of business, industry, entertainment and recreation that serve as a reminder that this town is part of the greater Chicago-area metroplex and all it has to offer.
“Citizens in the community refer to their town as ‘Bestmont,’” says Larry McIntyre, communications director for the Village of Westmont and founder of the Westmont Special Events Corporation (WSEC.) “Their pride in the town and affinity to its small-town charm speaks to the fact that Westmont is a great place to live, work, play, volunteer, buy a car, go out to eat, attend school and eat award-winning barbecue.”
Peeking past the traditional tree-lined streets, vintage storefronts and central train station, one can find a variety of things to do and see that are decidedly Westmont.
Patriotic Display: 4th of July Celebrations
Summertime, especially July, is big for residents and visitors alike. “Community-wide events and summer activities bring so many people to Westmont,” says Larry Forssberg, executive director of the Westmont Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.
To that point, this suburb puts on one of the area’s biggest and most popular fireworks displays on Independence Day. There are actually two displays. “The main fireworks are set off from an area north of the park, and there is also a ground display of fireworks launched from the northeast corner of the park, which is roped off,” explains Kim Baxter, marketing coordinator for the Westmont Park District.
The dual aerial-ground show makes for some special viewing for people who come from all over the western suburbs. Depending on their location, visitors may also see parts of the fireworks show from the nearby Hinsdale Golf Course in Clarendon Hills.
Prior to the fireworks, Ty Warner Park is a hub of 4th of July fun. “Many people come in early and bring their own foods or purchase concessions so we try to make an afternoon and evening of it. It’s a free event, too,” notes Baxter. The fun begins at 4 p.m. with food vendors, children’s craft-making, a petting zoo and other family-friendly activities, like “bubble balls,” face painting, games and entertainment by a stilt walker.
The Independence Day event features some oldie-but-goodie activities, too, such as a watermelon eating contest, a “Little Mr. and Miss Sparkler” program and a performance by a traditional big band at dusk.
Summer Street Fests and Fun: Taste of Westmont and Cruisin’ Nights
Another major summer event for which Westmont is known is the Taste of Westmont, running July 13 – 15 this year. In the wake of the deep recession that began almost a decade ago, many communities canceled their “taste of” events due to budget cuts, but Westmont’s has continued and is still going strong.
A highlight of the Taste of Westmont is a nod to one-time Westmont resident McKinley Morganfield, otherwise known as blues artist Muddy Waters. Waters performed at several local festivals before he passed away in 1983. As a tribute, the Taste of Westmont includes two Muddy Waters-inspired blues performances on Sunday, July 15 and also features an open mic blues jam.
Several other local bands and entertainers will hit the stage during the event’s four-day run, playing a range of music. In addition to live performances, there will be a carnival, car show, craft show and kids’ activities.
As its name implies, Taste of Westmont includes fare from a host of the town’s eateries. Restaurants like Neat Kitchen + Bar, Uncle Bub’s BBQ & Catering and Papa Passero’s Family Pizzeria, among others, have food booths, and there are beer and margarita tents.
Throughout the summer, people descend on downtown Westmont on Thursday evenings for the village’s Cruisin’ Nights and Street Fair. Each week has a different car theme — Chrysler night, sports car night, truck night, etc. — and visitors can also take part in family activities and listen to live music.
“Our Cruisin’ Nights was recently recognized as the best weekly summer car show in the Chicagoland area by WGN Radio. We average over 250 classic cars and 2,500 visitors every week,” says McIntyre.
Music fans, meanwhile, can set up blankets, chairs and coolers in one of the town’s parks and listen to live performances on Wednesday nights. The Westmont Park District offers a free summer concert series, with four concerts slated for this summer at Ty Warner Park, Veteran’s Memorial Park and Diane Main Park.
While summer is an apex for events here, there are plenty of special happenings throughout the year, says McIntyre, citing the annual Red, White and BBQ Festival held very Memorial Day weekend, one
of the biggest sanctioned barbecue competitions in the Midwest. Another popular event is the Wicked West Fest, a month-long celebration of Halloween.
What’s Up Downtown
Although various restaurants are spotlighted at special events in Westmont, dining establishments in this community have strong followings of their own. Uncle Bub’s BBQ & Catering on Cass Avenue has made a name for itself by winning regional and even national awards for its barbecue. The ribs, named best ribs at Naperville Ribfest in 2017, are a house specialty, as are the pulled pork and brisket. In addition to the restaurant — which evokes Southern roadhouse charm with pig icons, racks lined with dozens of hot sauces and red and white checked tablecloths.
Downtown Westmont, like other western suburbs, has become a restaurant row of sorts in recent years, with venerable favorites like China Chef and Bishop’s Famous Chili, which is run by fourth- generation owners. There are also eateries that reflect the town’s quintessentially American feel, like Johnny’s Blitz Bar & Grill, Neat Kitchen + Bar, J. Fleming’s Absolutely Delicious (with a sizable outside patio) and Amber Cafe, all specializing in some form of contemporary American fare, spanning bar food to upscale culinary offerings.
Those looking for authentic Italian food — and sometimes entertainment — can find it at Vincitori. And not far away, Maura’s Mediterranean Cuisine offers healthy, authentic fare from that part of the world.
Of course, being a downtown area, this part of Westmont is home to shops and services. Visitors can browse everything from art pieces at Artist Block Gallery to floral arrangements at Westmont Floral Shop.
To Market We Go: Other Westmont Hotspots
There are other dining and retail areas in Westmont beyond the main downtown district. The St. James Crossing development at Ogden and Route 83 is home to longtime businesses like Urban Tri Gear, Apple Valley Natural Foods and A Shade Better, in addition to newer stores and service businesses, such as Club Pilates. This small shopping center is also a restaurant draw: on weekend mornings, Citrus Diner packs in crowds for breakfast and lunch — and its famous tortilla soup — while Grill 89, part of Ditka’s Restaurant Group co-owned by former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, has become known for its casual dining offerings.
International Mall is another dining and shopping area down the street on Pasquinelli Drive that has garnered buzz and a loyal following for its Chinese and Taiwanese specialties, including the traditional Taiwanese breakfast offered on weekends at Chinese Cafe and a food court that offers everything from ramen to dumplings.
Elsewhere in Westmont, Standard Market on Ogden Avenue is part-grocery store, part-restaurant, part-upscale taco stand. You don’t have to shop for groceries to enjoy a meal at the sit-down restaurant inside the store, which features a variety of menu items like handcrafted burgers and Buddha Bowls.
Meanwhile, if it’s local flavor you’re looking for, you can find it at neighborhood bars like D.J.’s Sports Bar & Grill and Walsh’s Bar and Grill, which is literally in the residential neighborhood along Naperville Road.
“With over 100 dining options that represent almost 40 ethnic menus, our guests can ‘dine around the world in Westmont,’” says Forssberg. Indian foods, for example, are on the menu at Saffron, while European favorites can be ordered at Bohemian Crystal.
Making a Splash: Ty Warner Park
Looking to cool off on a roasting July or August day? The spray park at Ty Warner Park makes for refreshing fun for kids and, for that matter, kids at heart.
Ty Warner Park — named for the creator and founder of Beanie Babies who based his business in town and donated to the community — has several other recreational features. The expansive park, not far from Ogden Avenue, includes a playground, baseball fields, soccer fields, tennis and bocce courts, sand volleyball courts and disc golf, among other amenities.
As part of the park district staff, Baxter has an affinity for all parks under its purview, of course, but she and her family often frequent Smith Woods, formerly known as Twin Lakes Woods and Twin Lakes Park. That area near 55th Street has volleyball courts, a pavilion, small recreation area, and a nature path and walking trail.
In Westmont, acres of green space are also put to good recreational use at the Twin Lakes Golf Course, run by the Westmont Park District as well as the nine-hole Green Meadows Golf Club.
Start Your Engines: Westmont Auto Mile
Cruisin’ Nights are popular in Westmont in the summer, but legions of car fans check out vehicles all year long in this suburb. A part of Ogden Avenue in Westmont has been dubbed the “Auto Mile” for its many car dealerships.
“Our Westmont Auto Mile features the biggest cluster of award winning car dealerships in the Chicago area,” says McIntyre.
That swath is getting even bigger as several dealerships, including BMW, Audi, Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, have recently undergone expansions. “Also, within the last year, Westmont became home to Tesla, further complementing our roster of car dealerships,” he adds.
There are many other notable things about Westmont that make it, in the phrasing of its enthusiastic residents, “Bestmont.”
• The Gregg House Museum was once home to brick manufacturer Gregg House, who supplied much-needed bricks to the city in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire. The home was saved from the proverbial wrecking ball in the 1970s by the Westmont Area Historical Society. Now part of the Westmont Park District, the museum has a variety of historical exhibits and offers a number of programs for elementary school-aged children including hands-on architecture programs, a history of rural Westmont, a Victorian tea party, and more.
• Westmont has an intriguing link to an Olympic winter sport. The U.S. Olympic Luge team has picked Westmont as a location for its Midwest Luge tryouts five times over the last 10 years. Competitors use a luge sled with wheels for “street luge” as part of the tryouts, before moving on to the next phase of national tryouts.
• Speaking of sports, the Westmont Yard sports facility attracts athletes from many nearby suburbs to its soccer, football and lacrosse indoor playing fields. The attraction also offers a host of activities for kids including an on-site daycare and after-school programs.
• It’s not beyond the very early discussion phase, but a new natatorium (aquatics center) may be built on land leased by the Westmont Park District. Originally proposed for an area near the Chicago Oak Brook-Hills Hilton next to Westmont, it’s now being considered for a spot near Ty Warner Park.
• Westmont is home to a variety of arts and culture groups, including the community theatre group PVPN, the Academy of Music and Art and the Centre for Dance, among others.
• In addition to traditional grocers like Jewel, Aldi, Mariano’s and the hybrid Standard Market, Westmont has the family- owned Nature’s Best Market, featured on the TV show “Chicago’s Best.”Edit Module