BUCKTOWN — If the intersection of Damen and Armitage had a name, it would be "The Cork," which is the translation of the name Le Bouchon, a 40-seat French bistro on the southwest corner that's long held court there.
For two decades, Chef Jean-Claude Poilevey has bubbled the energy of the changing and dynamic neighborhood into Le Bouchon's tiny red and dark green storefront that's always jam-packed with diners, even on hot and steamy summer nights.
On a recent Tuesday night, patrons were enjoying a weekly three-course dinner special at the eatery at 1958 N. Damen Ave., their heads bowed over noodly and brothy soup.
Valet Brandon Bensen, 27, who handles the parking for both Le Bouchon and neighbor Takashi, a Japanese restaurant, said he and his wife have recently enjoyed Le Bouchon's blood red sausage, steak and fries, and creme brulee.
"It's very down to earth, friendly. I've eaten there several times," Bensen said.
Over the years, the French-focused Le Bouchon has certainly gained its fair share of attention from food critics.
"Poilevey could pack this place every night just with regulars addicted to the house specialty of roast duck for two, bathed in Grand Marnier-orange marmalade sauce," Frommer's reported. A Citysearch reviewer called it "the ultimate neighborhood date place," adding, "Cozy little Le Bouchon is crowded just about every night and it's not hard to see why."
Centerstage cited as standouts the hangar steak in red wine sauce, escargots, frog legs and veal kidneys, saying, "Don't bother flying to Paris. Just go to Le Bouchon."
The success of the upscale restaurant, marking its 20th anniversary, reflects the development of the area.
In the neighborhood since June 10, 1993, Poilevey, 68, said Bucktown has changed a lot over the years.
"It was kind of a ghetto with a lot of gangs. The housing was very cheap and there were more artists and musicians here. Now, it's more like Lincoln Park. Some of the houses are a few million," Poilevey said of Bucktown in the 1990s versus today.
Recently the City Council passed a resolution sponsored by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. Bob Fioretti (32nd) congratulating Le Bouchon on two decades of "gustatory greatness."
Read the complete resolution here.