The Bourgeois Pig: A ‘hog in the wall’ café makes nostalgia cool


Quentin Blais

The Bourgeois Pig Cafe in Lincoln Park offers food and beverages to DePaul students.

The Bourgeois Pig Café on 738 W. Fullerton Ave, just a few blocks from DePaul University’s Lincoln Park Campus, is a ‘hog in the wall’ delight that makes nostalgia cool. 

Upon entering this modern-day time capsule, customers are enveloped by the distant serenade of Ella Fitzgerald and waves of lively conversation among friends and strangers.

Hundreds of books line tall shelves on nearly every wall of the two-story café, along with multiple distinct, and rather large, portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington that lurk as patrons sip tea and devour simple, yet delicious fare. 

“It’s got an old-world style, that’s what I always call it,” said the café’s owner and founder Mason Green. “It is a throwback to the early 20th century with an emphasis on literary themes.” 

Green said he only displays books that predate 1960, such as “The Scarlet Letter,” “The Importance of Being Earnest” and even dictionaries. 

The literary theme does not stop at the towering bookshelves. The Bourgeois Pig’s sandwiches are named after classic books and plays such as “The Great Gatsby,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Hamlet.” 

“[The café] feels like an old library or maybe even an old general store,” Green said. “Some parts of it feel like an old schoolhouse.” 

The Bourgeois Pig is a cohesive hodgepodge of literary artifacts, American heroes and jazz music accented by a telephone booth near the door that nostalgic adults and curious teenagers flock to for Instagram-worthy photo-ops.  

Describing The Bourgeois Pig as old or nostalgic comes as high praise to Green who is proud to have created a sophisticated aesthetic that customers love.   

Green had the idea to open his own independent café while he lived and worked as a waiter in San Francisco.  

“An old friend of mine suggested that Chicago would be the perfect location for a café…She was right of course,” Green said. “Chicago was just right, and it had the historical factor that I loved.”  

Green said that in May 1993, “The Pig,” as it is commonly referred to, was opened on a meager budget and only $100 in the cash register for change. He was the only employee for the first six months before hiring a barista.  

Green’s model gained traction and a steady customer base that he said has made small business ownership a joy for 30 years.  

“I love the ambiance,” said Riley Richards, DePaul sophomore and frequent patron. “I don’t even have to have my earbuds because I’m so entertained by the music and the vibe.” 

Richards raved about the lavender lemonade and “Great Gatsby” sandwich with pesto sauce, bacon, turkey, avocado, swiss cheese and spinach. Their sandwiches range from $9.95 to $14.95 and are large and filling. 

An afternoon at the Pig can be both entertaining and satisfying. If you are feeling peckish, their black tea flavored scone is a crumbly reminder of afternoon teas past. Pairing the scone with one of their many blends of herbal tea makes for a cozy snack that can only be elevated by snagging a seat next to one of their two wood burning fireplaces.  

For a heartier meal, try the all-day breakfast. The Pig’s breakfast bowl at $12.95  includes avocado, egg, tomato, onion and a choice of protein. The Pig brings spice to a morning classic that tastes just as good at 5 p.m.  

The Pig is a great place to camp out for either a study session or coffee with friends. There is a steady stream of people at every hour emphasizing a sense of community in this neighborhood favorite.  

Emily Robinson, another café regular, admires the old-fashioned aesthetic, good food and the proximity to DePaul’s campus.  

“The atmosphere is the best, it’s so unique. Plus, it’s close to campus, so it just makes sense,” Robinson  said. “The staff is all mostly DePaul students and I have hosted events here for clubs.” 

A 10% student discount makes The Pig even more of a no-brainer study spot for college kids. 

Well before Richards and Robinson started coming to this vintage hang-out, Green said exposure via The Rachael Ray show was crucial in making business boom.

“I couldn’t believe it, it was incredible,” Green said about The Bourgeois Pig’s debut on “Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels: Chicago” in 2006.  

He said after the show aired, business doubled in the next year. 

This good fortune was countered with a drastic change to the neighborhood in 2008 when Lincoln Park’s Children’s Memorial Hospital, now an apartment complex and Chase Bank, closed. 

“We had a big captive audience with hospital employees, patients and families,” Green said. “It was always a good escape to get out of the hospital atmosphere and go to another world, another time and escape a little bit.” 

He said the café’s high point was just before the hospital closed. 

A greater blow occurred when the Covid-19  pandemic hit. During this uncertain time, Green said he had no choice but to lay off staff and convert to delivery and takeout by himself. 

“I worked about 380 days straight, open to close by myself during the pandemic. I was determined to keep our costs as low as possible by working myself,” he said.  

Now, three years after the outset of the pandemic, Green said that The Pig’s patronage is up nearly three times what it was during the worst of Covid-19.  

Though The Pig prides itself on being a renaissance of nostalgia, Green said the future looks bright.  

“I would like to thank the customers for 30 years of keeping us alive, keeping the dream alive and being a part of the time travel that is The Pig,” Green said.