Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Talking to Hyde Park Locals-Pat

This week's featured local is Pat, a career counselor and president of a local art cooperative. Here goes....

How long have you lived in Hyde Park? What brought you to the neighborhood and/or what keeps you here?
I lived in Hyde Park for 21 years from childhood through young adulthood and went to the U of C. Now I'm a member and president of Artisans 21 and work at the University as a career counselor.

How would you describe Hyde Park to someone who isn't familiar with it?
A somewhat collegiate small town that's extremely proud of its history and institutions.

You have friends visiting for the weekend-- What do you make sure to show them in the neighborhood?
The University, Obama's house and his hangouts-Valois, the barber shop, where Dixie Kitchen used to be, some of the wonderful tree-lined streets from the campus west, and of course Artisans 21.

What is your favorite restaurant and/or business in the area? What about it do you like? What do you recommend there?
I really like La Petite Folie; it's reasonable and white tablecloth. Medici never disappoints and I almost always have lunch at Shinju Sushi next door to Artisans on 53rd Street.

How do you feel about the Harper Court development project and community re-development in general? How do you feel it will impact the neighborhood? What type of development would you like to see, if any?
While Artisans was evicted, Dixie Kitchen's no more (except for a few menu items at Calypso), I think it will be good for the neighborhood. The University needs a hotel so [its] visitors would actually stay and shop and dine in the neighborhood. Hopefully there will be someplace to get "ordinary" clothes without going downtown: jeans, sweaters, socks, regular stuff.

Overall, how do you feel about the neighborhood?
Like most people who live or almost live in Hyde Park, I love it, am defensive about it and would be happy to move back.

Bonus Question: Feel free to talk about any neighborhood-related issues or topics that I haven't touched on, suggest a question to be included in future interviews, and/or plug your own website or a cause you're passionate about.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Favorite Things- Garifuna Flava Restaurant

Ok, so this week's featured spot isn't in Hyde Park, but it is one of the best restaurants I've been to on the south side, and so I think it deserves a shout out.

Mr. Hyde Park and I were feeling like something different and wanted to stay on the south side, so we did a little research and came across Garifuna Flava (2516-2518 W 63rd St), a Caribbean and Belizean/Garifuna restaurant with rave reviews on Yelp. The place, which has developed somewhat of a cult following, is known especially for its jerk chicken, but has a full menu of authentic Caribbean seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes.

Garfuna Flava (2516 W. 63rd)
Image from

The restaurant is at Western and 63rd, so it's just a quick drive west from Hyde Park. The neighborhood is a bit rougher around the edges than what some Hyde Parkers may be used to, but we parked in the lot right next to the restaurant and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. We went on a Friday night last month at 7ish and the place was completely empty except for one other group. I always feel a little uncomfortable going into a restaurant that's near empty, especially when I've never been there before or I'm not that familiar with the cuisine (I worry it'll be too obvious we don't know what we're doing...). The server we had, though, went out of his way to make us feel comfortable, explaining the menu, telling us a little about the Garifuna culture, and giving us recommendations about what to try.
Half Jerk Chicken w/ Spicy Jerk Sauce
Image from

We ordered conch fritters (which were really fresh and flavorful) to start and then both got the jerk chicken which is, hands down, the best jerk chicken--maybe even the best chicken, period-- I have ever had. (Yes, better than at Calypso Cafe...) The seasoning was on point, the meat was juicy, and it was spicy but not so hot that we couldn't taste the other complex spices. It comes with a delicious gravy/hot sauce that was so tasty I could drink it (according to the waiter, the kid at the table next to us did, in fact, drink a few little cups of it...) The jerk chicken I've had in the past, including at Calypso, often seems to have an artificial liquid-smoke taste to it, but this just tasted really fresh and tangy, with a rich natural smokiness. We had TONS of food (and Belizean beer) and, considering the quality of what we got, it was extremely affordable.
Red Snapper Dinner w/ Rice & Beans, Plantain & Potato Salad
Image from

As I mentioned above, the restaurant-- in spite of it's delicious fresh food and amazing service-- was pretty empty on a weekend night at a prime dinner hour. This makes me really sad because this type of home-grown, mom and pop business is really great for the neighborhood and the south side in general. I worry that a gem like this will not survive if people don't go out of their way to support it. With that said, I urge you to take the little trip and check it out. If you like it, tell Yelp, tell your friends, tweet about it, and do whatever you can to spread the word.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Andersonville, The Other Woman

I've been with Hyde Park for a really long time and, for the most part, I love her dearly. But our relationship is a lot like a marriage... It takes some work to keep the spark alive and there are some things about her that really irk me. I'm not going to lie, once in a while, my eyes begin to wander. I start to daydream about what it might be like to be with someone else-- Would things be more exciting? Would I be more fulfilled?

I've even gone so far as to develop a little crush on someone else. Not any of the obvious temptations-- not sleek and sexy River North, young and flirty Lakeview, classy, sophisticated Lincoln Park, or edgy and mysterious Wicker Park. Nope, I've got a little thing for Andersonville, the cute, down-to-earth girl next door. (Not familiar with the neighborhood? Check out its official website here.)

Top: 53rd Street in Hyde Park (from
Bottom: Clark Street in Andersonville (from:

What is it about her that drew me in? Well, she's definitely my type, i.e. very approachable and easy-going, yet interesting without being frivolous or overly trendy. She's also got a lot in common with my main squeeze, Hyde Park. She too is a bit off the beaten path-- she's as far north as we are south, but, like Hyde Park, she's right by the lake and Lake Shore Drive and thus easy to zip to from other parts of the city. The locals are unpretentious and cool, but not too trendy or overly hip. Also like Hyde Park, Andersonville has a small-town feel that it's very proud of-- the website even describes the neighborhood as a "quaint village in the middle of a world class city." The homes in the neighborhood are not as architecturally interesting as in Hyde Park, but the buildings along its main drag (Clark street from Hollywood to a little south of Foster) are the same low-slung, 50s-era storefronts you find on 53rd and 57th Streets.

What's different and in some ways more attractive about Andersonville is that it is packed to the gills with fun, interesting, exciting businesses and restaurants. Within a one mile stretch on Clark, are affordable tapas, sushi, small plate Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Morrocan, Belgian, gastropub, southern, and brunch spots, not to mention several fun bars. In general, these restaurants are unpretentious and affordable, but the interiors are well-decorated, the menus are thoughtfully planned, the service is solid and professional, and the food is legitimately good and even innovative at times. Andersonville is home to my hands-down-favorite bar/restaurant in the city, the Hopleaf, which has an amazing beer selection and serves up simple and cheap sandwiches and fries but also offers some upscale fare that competes with any restaurant I've been to in a so-called hip neighborhood. The place is always packed and people are willing to drive there from all over the city. I've tweeted about this before, but I see no reason why Hyde Park couldn't sustain a place like this, as it fills so many needs-- a fun bar, affordable food for college students or those on a budget, and nicer options for special occasions or those who have more expensive tastes.

Don't get me wrong, Hyde Park has some very good restaurants and fun bars. To be totally honest, though, I feel like I often have to overlook little "quirks," like slow service, outdated decor, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink menus (e.g. guacamole on an Italian menu), and excessively high prices for food that is good, but rarely innovative or exciting. There's also the obvious issue of there just not being enough options, particularly when it comes to restaurants that sit somewhere between super cheap take-out and special occasion spots. The Snail or the Med, for example, are great for a quick weeknight dinner and Park 52 or La Petite Folie are perfect for your birthday or anniversary, but they are too expensive to visit often.

Ok, ok, I'm going to stop here because Hyde Park is still my main girl and I don't want you to think that I don't love and appreciate her for what she is. (I'm not going to go into the details here because that's what I talk about in virtually every other post, but there are of course things I love about Hyde Park that Andersonville could never compete with.) It's just that I think she's capable of more. Neither Hyde Park or Andersonville is the prettiest girl in the room, but both have a special something that catches your eye and hooks you in. Andersonville, though, does a better job of keeping your attention once she's wooed you. It's like this-- Andersonville knows some people love her, but--given that she's off the beaten path and not the hippest hood in the city-- she knows that she needs to style her hair, put some perfume on, and do a little flirting if she's going to keep folks interested. Hyde Park, on the other hand, seems to have let her self go a little bit. She's started wearing sweat pants to bed. She knows that she has the University of Chicago population and folks who want to be in a thriving south side neighborhood in the palm of her hand, so she doesn't feel like she has to work at keeping the spark alive. The thing is, we (Hyde Park locals) are putting a lot into this relationship-- we pay relatively high rent to live here and we invest a lot of money in local businesses, even when there are often more affordable and/or higher quality options in other parts of the city. It's only fair that our neighborhood meet us half way. Local spots owe it to us to step up their game-- to improve their service, to get real leather menu covers, to repaint their walls, to spruce up their menus. And I think the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce should be doing more to lure businesses here, to demonstrate that there is a great need and captive market for more dining and entertainment. Yes, the new Harper Court development may help-- but Andersonville didn't need plastic surgery to woo suitors and neither should we.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Weekend in Hyde Park....

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? No need to travel out of Hyde Park! Here's what's going on in the neighborhood:

Friday (5/14)
Saturday (5/15)
Sunday (5/16)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Talking to Hyde Park Locals- TA

Talking to Hyde Park Locals is back! This week's featured local is TA, a 25 year old University of Chicago employee and soon-to-be-grad student. All of the pictures you see in this article were taken by TA himself. Here goes....

University of Chicago Campus in winter

How would you like to be referred to on the blog? (e.g. first name, initials, or a nickname-- whatever you feel comfortable with)

About how old are you? What's your occupation? Feel free to be as vague or specific as you want...
I'm 25 and work at the University. I will be starting an MA program here in the fall.
How long have you lived in Hyde Park? What brought you to the neighborhood and/or what keeps you here?I have lived in Hyde Park since the Fall of 2003 when I moved into the Shoreland as a first year undergrad at the University. After graduation, I got a job with the University and have resided in Hyde Park ever since. The University brought me to Hyde Park, but after graduation, the walkable community, great lake access, and easy access to downtown are what have kept me here. I'm particularly partial to East Hyde Park.
Behind the scenes at Doc Films

How would you describe Hyde Park to someone who isn't familiar with it?
Hyde Park is like a good-sized town/small city within the larger Chicago community. It is small enough to walk/bike wherever you want to go in the community, but it is big enough to have diverse eating, shopping, and entertainment options.

You have friends visiting for the weekend-- What do you make sure to show them in the neighborhood?

The Point! Also Doc Films (where I project), the Obama House, MSI, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago campus, and Osaka Garden in Jackson Park. Renting a bike is an excellent way to do all of this.

Lake Michigan

What is your favorite restaurant and/or business in the area? What about it do you like? What do you recommend there?
My favorite restaurant is Calypso Cafe in the soon-to-be-gone Harper Court. Definitely have the plaintain nachos with jerked chicken. With that and a tropical drink you can easily make a full meal. Another business would be Open Produce on 55th...great selection of produce, good prices, and amazing people.

How do you feel about the Harper Court development project and community re-development in general? How do you feel it will impact the neighborhood? What type of development would you like to see, if any?
If it happens, I would be excited. I'll be sad to see Calypso/Dixie Kitchen go, but I would appreciate greater shopping, entertainment, and food options. 53rd Street and Lake Park are both good streets for high-density developments like this. While other places in Hyde Park would not work for something like this, the proposed location is good.

What do you think the neighborhood is missing (if anything)? What do you see as the barriers to Hyde Park having this?
Generally: more entertainment and a transit line downtown would be ideal. Specifically: A Trader Joe's and an all night diner/eatery would be great. Seems like a perfect market for these.

Overall, how do you feel about the neighborhood?
I really love Hyde Park. You have fantastic lake views, a homey neighborhood vibe, and a surprisingly diverse and intelligent population that is completely unique within Chicago. More recognition for the neighborhood would be fantastic, but I hope that it doesn't lose its quirky vibe.

Bonus Question: Feel free to talk about any neighborhood-related issues or topics that I haven't touched on, suggest a question to be included in future interviews, and/or plug your own website or a cause you're passionate about.
The Point! Something desperately needs to be done to renovate it. I'm terrified waiting for the summer when someone is impaled on a steel girder and the city shuts the Point down for good. The Compromise Plan that was proposed a few years ago was a great idea but never came of anything. I would love to see this blog ask the Save the Point movement why this plan was unacceptable and if their opinion has changed since. An exploration of this debate would be great.


Thanks to TA for taking the time to do the Q&A! If you're interested in sharing your thoughts, you can fill out the survey here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Favorite Things: The Beach/Lake Michigan

Ok, so I know that this Hyde Park gem is pretty well known already (at least to locals), but I'm going to dedicate this "Favorite Things" post to the Lake and the cool things along its shore. Why am I writing about this now, when it's not quite summer yet? Well, partly because I've been gazing out my window at the turquoise water, fantasizing about playing hooky from work and spending the afternoon digging my toes into the sand while I read a magazine. Also, I've recently had to spend a bit of time along the lake path up north (jogging with northsider friends who, of course, would never volunteer to meet me in my neck of the woods!) and I'm pretty convinced that the south side part of the trail is better.

A little-known fact about Hyde Park is that it was once popular as a weekend getaway for northsiders. The Shoreland, Windermere, and Flamingo buildings (among several others that have been razed) were once cushy resorts that attracted tourists looking to spend a few days lounging on a quiet beach. These resorts, as we all know, have been transformed into apartment buildings and, ironically, there remain few hotels in the neighborhood, but Hyde Park still possesses a little hint of its beach town past.

Photo via

Many Hyde Park locals have the luxury of living in these one-time resorts, or in other similar buildings that are literally only steps from the water. Lakefront property south of the Loop-- for better or worse--is drastically cheaper than on the north side, which means that even average Janes like me can afford to live right on the water.

Within the boundaries of Hyde Park, the shores of the lake are clean and quiet, without industrialization or the eyesore parking lots, concrete blocks, imported palm trees, and gravel-y sand found along the lake's north-side shores. 57th Street Beach is admittedly tiny and completely under the radar of non-Hyde Parkers, but it is--probably because it's so unknown-- one of the nicest, calmest beaches I've been to in the city. It can get a little crowded on hot weekend days, but at its worst it is still waaay more low-key than any of the other city beaches I've been to. Another nice thing about it is that Promontory Point juts out into the water and essentially cuts it off from the rest of the lake, which seems to block the gravel, trash, and seaweed that so often washes ashore at huge, wide-open beaches like Montrose Beach. There's also a cute little snack shop on the beach where you can get ice cream and cold drinks.

As much as I love the beach, I know we still have at least a month or so before we will truly be able to enjoy it. In the mean time, the weather is perfect for taking advantage of the lake path. The south side portion of the trail is way less crowded than the north side--so you're not constantly having to elbow your way through crowds of joggers--but you still get the same views of the lake and a better view of the city skyline. You also get to pass some pretty nifty stuff along the way. My favorite spots along the lake are, in no particular order:

  • Promontory Point: (Locals bear with me...) A man-made stone peninsula that juts out into the water, offering the hands-down best views of the city you can get anywhere. It's a great place to barbecue-- they even have firepits! [Thanks to PhotoTravel1, aka Jim Watkins for the beautiful photo!]

  • The Promontory Point Field House: A field house that looks pretty much like a small medieval castle, which is made even cooler by the fact that it sits on a stony peninsula in the lake. FYI, this is a great, cheap place to have a wedding or other fancy reception. (Almost had mine there!) [Thanks to TonytheTiger for the photo]

  • The Model Yacht Basin, aka "Boat Pool": Ok, so this is not technically on the lake, but I'm including it since it's right on the other side of Lake Shore Drive and visible from the lake trail. Located at the north end of Harold Washington Park, the "boat pool" is a shallow reflection pool, with a sculpture by Italian sculptor Virginio Ferrari at its center. The pool/pond/whatever-it-is is pretty nice to look at, particularly at night, and-- on the off chance that you own a toy sail boat-- you can take it there for a sail. [Thanks to PhotoTravel1, aka Jim Watkins for the beautiful photo below!] Also, check out this photostream by Mojosmom for more images of the pond.

Hyde Parkers, would you have anything else to add to this list?

Apologies, etc.

As many of you have no doubt noticed, I have again been MIA from the blog for a while. I'm not going to make excuses other than to say that I have been overwhelmed at work and just struggling to find the time and energy to write. With that said, I'm going to try my best to get back on the ball, and hope you all will have me back.

Ms. Hyde Park

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On NYC and Falling Back in Love with Hyde Park

As some of you may have noticed, I haven't been very active on the blog or on twitter as of late. I've been out of town for part of this time (more about that below) and just under the radar for the rest. For a minute, as I'll explain below, I lost my way and started to question my die-hard devotion to my hometown of Chicago and then generalized that frustration to my beloved Hyde Park neighborhood. What I realize now is that, while there are many things about Chicago that I love, there are some things about it that deeply disappoint me. Hyde Park, though, is one place that manages (for the most part) to overcome these obstacles and thus, after a brief period of questioning, my love for it still burns true.

It all started with the aforementioned trip out of town. Overwhelmed by work and in need of a vacation, Mr. Hyde Park and I bought tickets to New York City. I'd never spent any time there and had never really understood why everyone made such a big deal about it. Well, 10 minutes off the plane and I was deep in love or infatuation or something else really intense for the Big Apple. I'd always imagined that NYC would be just a bigger, dirtier, more expensive version of Chicago. It was, in fact, all of those things, but also much more. It was also packed with energy, culture, diversity, and history in a way that our (comparatively little) Midwestern city just is not. Every neighborhood I saw in Manhattan and Brooklyn, whether in the center of the city or tucked in a far away corner, was full of beautiful old architecture, multicultural restaurants and businesses, and hidden history (e.g. a 17th century Sephardic Jewish cemetery tucked into a corner of Chinatown, an aging stop on the Underground Railroad in the middle of a posh Brooklyn neighborhood).

What my time in New York made me realize about Chicago is that, in spite of the amazing diversity and complexity within its city limits, Chicago can often feel alarmingly homogeneous. A white kid who grows up on the northwest side or a black kid who grows up on the south side may rarely if ever have the chance to develop a friendship with a person of another race, to try the food of a different culture, or to visit an important cultural institution outside of the comfort-zone within which his family is willing and able to travel. There are real and deeply entrenched (albeit invisible) lines and walls that exist throughout Chicago and keep us sorted into rigid groups. In my admittedly limited experience in Manhattan and Brooklyn, though, these lines seemed less apparent and less powerful. People seemed willing and able to freely move within all parts of the city, to ride the bus or train with people who looked different from them, or to walk through a neighborhood where they were not a member of the majority culture. I don't doubt that New York has its fair share of racial and economic tensions (I definitely sensed some in Harlem between new yuppy homeowners and longtime locals), but I think that, overall, New York feels far more mature than Chicago in terms of intercultural relations, and I got a little jealous. [As a side note, I fully acknowledge that I don't know NYC intimately and may not see things as locals do. If you know New York well, I would love to hear your thoughts on this!]

When I first left New York, I had a bad taste in my mouth about Chicago. I was reluctant to return to a city where many live in areas where 99% of their neighbors look just like them and the other 1% are treated with mistrust or, at best, discomfort...where many need a car to get to the grocery store...where historical buildings are often destroyed to make way for condos. But then I came home to my beloved Hyde Park and was reminded of why I chose to live here. As a resident of Hyde Park, I'm lucky enough to get to walk past buildings every bit as beautiful and historical as those I saw in NYC, to live beside people with different backgrounds from my own, to have a selection of academically solid and extremely diverse public schools to send my children to (someday), to be able to walk only a block to pick up fresh produce or tasty ethnic food, to hop a bus to get easily to anything my neighborhood doesn't have. Does Hyde Park feel a bit quiet compared to NYC? Absolutely. But, how many Manhattanites have a beautiful beach and 2 or 3 beautiful parks within a mile of their home? Also, our skyline (particularly viewed from Hyde Park) is way better than theirs. So there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Artisans 21 Gallery-- March 20th Event

Judith Guajardo from Artisans 21 Cooperative Gallery sent this press release my way. The event sounds really neat, so take a looksee....

Artisans 21 Gallery, Hyde Park’s leading gallery and gift shop, located at 1373 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, will hold a day of demonstrations on Saturday, March 20, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Learn how to create beautiful art and gifts from recyclables. Join us as our artists demonstrate some fun and easy techniques to turn your trash into treasures. Kids are welcome too.

Artisans 21 Gallery is a cooperative gallery of 20 artisans and craftsmen who sell their work in the gallery as well as work there. Prospective members (artists) are juried according to standards of originality, craftsmanship, and congeniality.

For additional information, call 773.288.7450.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Talking to Hyde Park Locals- Hannah Q.

This week's featured Hyde Park local is 25 year old Hannah Q. who works as a Library Assistant at the Newberry Library, while earning her Master of Library & Information Science. Here's what she has to say about the neighborhood:

How long have you lived in Hyde Park? What brought you to the neighborhood and/or what keeps you here?
This is my 3rd year in Hyde Park. My husband and I moved here for his graduate school program.

How would you describe Hyde Park to someone who isn't familiar with it?
I think of Hyde Park as being really relaxed. We don't have tons of retail or bar options, but we have the beautiful U of C campus, easy access to the lake and beaches, and tons of parks. I love the cultural options like Robie House, the Museum of Science & Industry, Hyde Park Art Center, Doc Films and all the amazing book shops.

You have friends visiting for the weekend-- What do you make sure to show them in the neighborhood? The Point, Jimmy's [Woodlawn Tap], dinner at Cedars [Mediterranean Kitchen], brunch at The Medici, worship at Saint Paul & the Redeemer Episcopal Church.

What is your favorite restaurant and/or business in the area? What about it do you like? What do you recommend there?
It used to be Dixie Kitchen. Brunch at
The Med is always amazing. One of my favorite places in neighborhood is Hyde Park Produce--I'm in there almost every day.

How do you feel about the Harper Court development project and community re-development in general? How do you feel it will impact the neighborhood? What type of development would you like to see, if any?
From what I have read and seen of the project so far, I am mostly in favor of it. In particular, I think that Hyde Park needs more hotel and retail options. And I would love to see more jobs created.

What do you think the neighborhood is missing (if anything)? What do you see as the barriers to Hyde Park having this? Grocery stores. I love having fresh produce stores in the neighborhood, but for my other grocery needs, Treasure Island just doesn't cut it. It is generally more expensive, poorly laid out, and lacks many items we look for. We end up driving to Jewel or Dominick's in other parts of the city to stock up every few weeks. Also, these new CTA cuts are going to make traveling even more difficult for Hyde Parkers as we rely on the 55 bus to get to the Metra and L stations.

Overall, how do you feel about the neighborhood?
Overall, I really feel at home in Hyde Park and enjoy living here. That said, I am glad that I work in another neighborhood, as Hyde Park can feel like an island within the city.

Bonus Question: Feel free to talk about any neighborhood-related issues or topics that I haven't touched on, suggest a question to be included in future interviews, and/or plug your own website or a cause you're passionate about.
I have a photo blog where I post pictures from around Hyde Park and my life in general. I'd love to have folks stop by and have a look!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time Out Chicago versus Chicago Reader: Battle of the Hyde Park Issues

Just a couple weeks after Time Out Chicago (TOC) put out its What's Wrong with Hyde Park issue (see my post about it here), the Chicago Reader has released its own Hyde Park and Kenwood Issue. If you haven't had the chance to read it, you can check it out here.

Those of you who read my post about the TOC issue may recall that, even though I was bothered by the somewhat negative tone of the title and some of the articles, I generally felt positively about the way the magazine argued for the need for more commerce, entertainment, and dining in Hyde Park. Now that I've read the Chicago Reader issue, though, I'm feeling like I gave TOC too much credit....

As the title suggested, the TOC edition focused essentially on what Hyde Park is missing. The Reader's Hyde Park & Kenwood issue, in contrast, reads like a laundry list of all that is great about the neighborhood. It provides an amazingly extensive guide to local dining, entertainment, shops, bars, arts, theater, and architecture (check it out here, under the Street Level heading). What is refreshing about the Reader issue is that the spin on all of its articles is overwhelmingly positive, yet honest and objective. Whereas TOC used the term "wasteland" to describe the neighborhood, the Reader notes,,"[Hyde Park] is a zip down Lakeshore Drive to astounding treasures." The Reader doesn't, though, ignore the challenges and deep-rooted issues that come into play in the neighborhood. Rather, it thoughtfully explores the complex tension and interdependence between the University and the community and how it plays into local political debates such as the contention over the 6st Street Community Garden.

When all is said and done, the Reader paints a picture of Hyde Park as a community that is fiercely independent, uniquely diverse, and thriving in a way that few other communities could. It values Hyde Park on its own merit and history, unlike TOC which seemed to define it by comparing it to north side communities that may have more yuppy hotspots, but lack the history, culture, and socioeconomic, racial, and cultural diversity and richness that Hyde Park possesses. Some more high quality food and dining in the neighborhood would definitely be nice, but the Reader reminded me that these things are relatively insignificant when you look at the big picture of what living in Hyde Park is all about.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things to do this weekend! March 6 & 7

Hi folks! So I confess, I completely flaked on putting together this weekend's "Things to Do." Since I already missed last night and most of today, here's a short list of some cool things going on in Hyde Park this weekend:

Saturday (March 6)
Sunday (March 7)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Favorite Things in Hyde Park: Powell's Books

My recent favorite things posts have focused a lot on restaurants and grocers in Hyde Park. This wasn't intentional per se, but I'm a foody and want to show folks Hyde Park has more than they might expect in that department. I definitely have more to say about food and dining in the neighborhood, but I've been overlooking some other great aspects of Hyde Park and want to give them their moment in the spotlight.

With that being said, I'm planning to focus some of my upcoming Favorite Things posts on one of Hyde Park's major claims to fame-- its diverse array of new, used, and antiquarian book stores. For those who are less familiar with the area, Hyde Park is home to several long-standing and nationally well-known Chicago bookselling institutions including 57th Street Books/Seminary Co-op Bookstore, Powell's Books, and O'Gara & Wilson Book Sellers, not to mention our nice but run-of-the-mill Borders and Barnes and Noble store. All of these shops are within a few blocks of each other--most of the same small stretch of 57th-- and each has a unique niche and vibe. I confess, I'm almost as much of a bookstore junky as I am a foody, so bear with me.

This week's featured spot is Powell's Books (1501 E. 57th-- just west of the train tracks, a couple blocks from the museum). Powell's specializes in used, rare, and "academic and scholarly" books. They even have what looks like a mini museum/gallery of rare special edition books from as early as the 1700s. If you're not into academia or antiquarian book collecting, though, don't worry, they also have a big selection of used fiction, comics, art and design books, not to mention all kinds of neat coffee-table-type books (great for last minute holiday gifts!) .

What makes this bookstore so distinctive and fun is that it's also kind of a hang out for locals and a destination spot for Chicagoans from other parts of the city. Unlike most small, independent book shops, Powell's is open until 11PM every night of the week which means people drop in after diner or even on their way out for drinks. I was there once on a Friday night at 10ish and there was actually a young couple there on what seemed to be a first date and, believe it or not, I'm pretty sure they weren't U of C students, as neither appeared to know the area or the store well (I admit, I was eavesdropping a little...). After the couple wandered around the shop for a while, the date ended with the guy buying his date a heavy, rare law encyclopedia. Extremely nerdy? Maybe...but also representative of the store and the neighborhood's quirky vibe.

There is certainly a time and a place for, Borders, and Barnes & Noble, but there is nothing like meandering through walls and walls of books without looking for anything in particular. There aren't many places like Powell's left in the city, and the few that are left really need our support. So, I urge you to check out Powell's next time you're nearby....and maybe even bring a date.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Things to Do This Weekend in Hyde Park (2/26-2/28)

No plans yet for the weekend? Here's a list of goings-on in Hyde Park and nearby. If you know of a cool event that's not on the list, post it as a comment!

Friday, February 26
  • Julia Huff live at Chant (1509 E. 53rd) 9:30PM -12:30AM, No cover, 18% gratuity on all tabs
  • Live blues at the Checkerboard Lounge (5201 S. Harper) 8PM-2AM, $10 cover, $5 for students+2 drink minimum
Saturday, February 27
Sunday, February 28

Friday, February 19, 2010

Talking to Hyde Park Locals- Alex H.

This week's featured Hyde Park local is Alex Hartzler, a 25 year old law student. Here's his take on the hood:

About how old are you? What's your occupation? Feel free to be as vague or specific as you want...
I'm 25. Student: formerly, presently, and sorta wish always.

How long have you lived in Hyde Park? What brought you to the neighborhood and/or what keeps you here?
Six short months. I moved here in August to go to law school at U of C. I'll be here for the next two and a half years, no question.

How would you describe Hyde Park to someone who isn't familiar with it?
Hyde Park is a neighborhood centered around the University of Chicago but with a culture and feel of its own apart from the university. Lots of ethnic diversity; beautiful, tree-lined streets; and the home of the President of the United States.

You have friends visiting for the weekend-- What do you make sure to show them in the neighborhood?
1) The U of C quad is gorgeous; that's a must-see because it looks exactly like what you picture when you imagine college. 2) The ice rink on the Midway is really cute, too. 3) Seminary Co-Op Bookstore is a place everyone should get lost once.

What is your favorite restaurant and/or business in the area? What about it do you like? What do you recommend there?
Falcon Inn!!!!!! What a bar. Ray always has an ice-cold mug waiting for you. Always a great night soaring at the Falcon [1601 East 53rd Street].

How do you feel about the Harper Court development project and community re-development in general? How do you feel it will impact the neighborhood? What type of development would you like to see, if any?
I live around that intersection. Which part is being redeveloped? The vacant "Obviously Used To Be A Hollywood Video" building is depressing, so if they're gonna put something there, great.

What do you think the neighborhood is missing (if anything)? What do you see as the barriers to Hyde Park having this?
It'd be cool if there was some sort of grungy, underground theatre that would bring in hipsters and artists, like how people trek in from all over the place to see the Neo-Futurists in Andersonville.

Overall, how do you feel about the neighborhood?
Love it. What a genuine place.

Bonus Question: Feel free to talk about any neighborhood-related issues or topics that I haven't touched on, suggest a question to be included in future interviews, and/or plug your own website or a cause you're passionate about.
Many law students complain about public transportation to Hyde Park. Conceding that it would of course be nice for an El line to run through it, like where the Metra is, I really think the complaints are excessive. The #6 is a breeze, and I often take the Garfield bus to the Green or Red lines. But I'm interested in public transportation issues and I'd love to see other people's thoughts on the matter.

Have thoughts about Alex's question about public transportation in Hyde Park, or about any other parts of the Q&A? Leave a comment! I don't bite-- promise.

If you'd like to share your views on Hyde Park and/or want the chance to plug your local business or website, click here to complete my online interview. (Note that while I post virtually all survey responses, there may be a 2-3 week lag before yours shows up on the website.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time Out Chicago wants to know: What's the matter with Hyde Park

Weekly events and culture magazine Time Out Chicago (TOC) generally focuses on providing lists of fun things to see and do in the city, and--in my experience--seems to stay away from local politics. I've been a big fan for a while because they acknowledge that the city extends beyond the loop and Lincoln Park, and often promote Hyde Park spots and events (like Hyde Park Art Center's Cocktails and Clay).

Seemingly inspired by the recent unveiling of the Harper Court redevelopment plans, this week's cover of TOC reads (all in huge, bold caps),"What's the matter with Hyde Park?" When I first saw this headline, I was a little peeved, thinking something along the lines of "Just what Hyde Park needs, some hot-shot local publication telling the world about all of its deficiencies!" Once you get past the strange, negatively-spun headline, there are actually some really great articles about the neighborhood. As I read it, the central focus of TOC's Hyde park issue (which you can check out here) is finding out what Hyde Park locals want and need, attempting to identify the barriers to the neighborhood having these things, and then demonstrating that these so-called barriers are based on misinformation and misunderstandings about Hyde Park. Writer John Slania notes:
[Hyde Park] sits on prime lakeside real estate and boasts gorgeous historic architecture. Hyde Park has all the trappings of a commercial star, so why is it a veritable retail and entertainment wasteland?
Later, he provides statistics demonstrating that Hyde Park-Kenwood is an exceptionally large community (50,000+14,000 students and 12,000 University staff-members), with a relatively high average household income ($62,500, comparable to Lakeview) and low crime rate (it's the 6th safest neighborhood in the entire city). He goes on to talk to locals about things they feel Hyde Park needs (answers include "somewhere to buy cute girl stuff," "a Trader Joe's, a "bigger variety of restaurants").

In an accompanying piece, writer Jake Malooley goes around and talks to owners and developers of local and national chains asking why they won't set up shop in Hyde Park. Again and again, he is told that the the owners have never even considered moving to the neighborhood, don't want to "pioneer" development in new parts of the city, and don't feel that Hyde Park has the spending power to support their businesses. When Malooley attempts to argue against their assertions by providing data, the owners eventually confess that they actually know very little about the neighborhood or, in the case of the Trader Joe's representative, that she doesn't really know where Hyde Park even is.

In another sideline, Bren DiCrescenzo provides a side-by-side comparison of Hyde Park to Evanston, which is further from the city center yet has historically been more successful in attracting commerce. The most surprising/interesting stats are:

Total Crimes Reported in 2008
Evanston: 24.4 per capita, Hyde Park:24.3 per capita

Violent Crimes Incidents in 2008
Evanston: 299, Hyde Park: 236

Median Family Income (2010 Projection)
Evanston: $105,318 Hyde Park: $119,565

Finally, Liz Plosser provides a good list of what is lovable about Hyde Park. Her top picks include the lake path, Promontory Point, the many local museums, and great specialty grocer Z&H.

What I found most enlightening and troubling about the TOC articles is their portrayal of just how little the general public and investors know about Hyde Park. The writers--and it's not clear how intimately they know Hyde Park-- seem to believe that the Harper Court redevelopment project could transform the community and resolve the issues outlined above.
I think that planned development in the community is, in theory, a great thing and has transformative potential. BUT, I worry that this type of progress won't be sustainable if the rest of the city doesn't know or care about Hyde Park. Moderately dense North-side communities like Andersonville and Lincoln Square don't thrive solely on locals, but on folks who drive in from a few miles away to visit. For the development to be successful, Hyde Park needs to essentially become a destination neighborhood, and that might take some work.

The Harper Court redevelopment project represents a sort of chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. The type of large-scale planned commercial development proposed has the potential to bring new vibrancy to the community. On the other hand, new commercial development will not thrive unless there is enough buzz about the neighborhood to make non-locals care. Bottom line, Hyde Park needs some good PR and marketing. The TOC issue is a great start. Right on par with what I try to do in this blog, the writers boost the community and write about what makes it special, while still thinking critically about the broader economic and social issues that come into play. They depict Hyde Park as a virtually-untapped market full of desirable real estate and affluent locals eager to spend their dough on upscale food and retail. They make a pretty convincing argument for why Hyde Park is a great place to open up shop. They tell you what's already great about the neighborhood, and where there is potential for growth. If I were an investor, I'd be sold. I'm just hoping that those with investing power see this piece and maybe give the community a second look.

Friday, February 12, 2010

This Weekend in Hyde Park (2/12-2/14)

It's a busy weekend in Hyde Park, especially if you enjoy art openings and live music! Here's what's going on:

Saturday (2/13)
Sunday (2/14)


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talking to Hyde Park Locals- Richard

This week's featured Hyde Park local is Richard, owner of a computer software development and training company. Here are his thoughts on the neighborhood:

How long have you lived in Hyde Park? What brought you to the neighborhood and/or what keeps you here?
15 years-- I moved here from NYC. My former mother in law lived in Regents Park, and I really liked it on visits.

How would you describe Hyde Park to someone who isn't familiar with it?
A little rumpled, bookish, left of center. Not pretentious or obvious.

You have friends visiting for the weekend-- What do you make sure to show them in the neighborhood?
Museum of Science and Industry, Oriental Institute

What is your favorite restaurant and/or business in the area? What about it do you like? What do you recommend there?
Valois (recommend breakfast and chicken pot pie), The Cove, Woodlawn Tap, Istria Cafe in the Hyde Park Art Center

How do you feel about the Harper Court development project and community re-development in general? How do you feel it will impact the neighborhood? What type of development would you like to see, if any?
Not enthused. Chicago already has a Lincoln Park, [we] don't need another.

What do you think the neighborhood is missing (if anything)? What do you see as the barriers to Hyde Park having this?
Good transit, bars, restaurants... I wish we had a hangout again, like Chances R, with the peanuts on the floor.

Overall, how do you feel about the neighborhood?
Good, but not as great as could be.

Bonus Question: Feel free to talk about any neighborhood-related issues or topics that I haven't touched on, suggest a question to be included in future interviews, and/or plug your own website or a cause you're passionate about.
I am passionate about pedestrian safety and public transit. My website is

Thanks to Richard for taking the time to complete the Q&A. If you're interested in being featured on the blog (and/or would like the opportunity to plug your business/website...), click here to complete my online interview.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Harper Court Redevelopment Presentation-Fast Facts

Hey folks! I just got back from the Harper Court Redevelopment Presentation and wanted to give you all the rundown. I'm going to write more about my reactions, concerns, and hopes for the project in a later post, but here are some quick facts about the plan:
  • Essentially everything between Lake Park and Harper, 53rd and 52nd is to be razed and rebuilt. This will include the current sites of Park 52, Calypso Cafe, The Checkerboard Lounge, and several small businesses, not to mention the already defunct Dixie Kitchen. For now, the old movie theater building will not be re-developed.
  • Vermillion Development, the firm selected for the project, is known for its experience in "large-scale, mixed use university-related projects," including UIC's south campus and developments at University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana and Indiana State University
  • The first phase of building is slated to begin in 2011 and will include: 1) a 12-story office building intended to mirror the Hyde Park Bank building in size and stature, 2) 150,000 sq. feet of retail space (potentially including restaurants, bars, a live music venue, a cinema, and both national chain and small local shops) 3) a large "pedestrian environment" with green space, art, and water 4) a "mix of structured and street parking", 5) a 200 room, 12-15 story boutique hotel
  • A later phase of development will take place "subject to market," i.e. when the real estate market rebounds. This phase will include construction of two high-rise mixed-income housing structures including condos, apartments, and affordable housing
  • Based on the plans presented at the meeting, the new structures will be predominantly glass and hyper-modern in design, with a focus on sustainability and green-living standards

My twitter buddy Trish Morse (@hydeparktrish) has posted most of the meeting materials to her website, which you can check out here. Fellow Hyde Park blogger Hyde Park Urbanist also has a detailed post on the meeting here that I recommend taking a look at.

In a few words, I am both excited and concerned about what this plan means for the Hyde Park. It is on a way larger scale than I was hoping and feels a bit sterile -- looks like the developments in downtown Oak Park and Evanston. At the same time, the prospect of more dining options, bars, and live music is pretty cool-- especially because it will also mean new jobs in the community. I just hope we don't lose Hyde Park institutions like Calypso Cafe in exchange for gaining a Buffalo Wild Wings or somethng of that ilk.... More thoughts to come.

What do you all think so far?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Favorite Things in Hyde Park: Open Produce

It's been a while since I've done a favorite things post, so here goes.... (As you guys may have noticed, I'm a pretty hardcore foodie, so forgive me if my favorites tend to all be food centric...)

Today's featured spot is Open Produce (1635 E. 56th), an itty-bitty, but amazingly well-stocked, grocer selling fresh produce, prepared foods, and kitchen staples in east Hyde Park. While western and central Hyde Park are already well served by Treasure Island and Hyde Park Produce (which I've featured here as well), Open Produce is the only grocer east of the train tracks and is unique in that it is open super late (until about midnight).

If you weren't looking for it, the shop would be easy to miss if not for the carts of fresh colorful fruit that are often parked out front. The storefront is about the size of a walk-in closet, but it is full of copious amounts of both standard and exotic fresh produce (think heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, leeks, poblano peppers, you name it). In addition to milk, eggs, and butter, they carry hard-to-find ethnic and vegan staples and ready-made curries, soups, and European snack foods (I especially love the dutch "stroop waffles"!). On top of that, they stock prepared foods from from local restaurants and even fruits and veggies from customers' home gardens.

The store has an interesting history and philosophy, which was featured recently on Gaper's Block. As the article highlights, the shop was opened by two U of C grads who set out to apply their economics backgrounds to running an ethical, transparent, and socially conscious business, hence the name Open Produce. One of the owners, Steven Lucy explains in the article:
"I get a lot of positive feedback from people in the community. I wish there were more small stores, like in Pilsen, on Devon, or in New York City. That's the kind of neighborhood I want to live in, so I've made my neighborhood like it.The way to make positive social change is through entrepreneurship. A lot of people in college want to help out [and go abroad to do so], and that's great. I want to fix where I live. It's what I know, and I have the right to muck around in it. I'd rather make practical changes in a place where I live instead of make some far reaching effort to fix something else."
In Chicago, we have all gotten used to shopping at big chain grocery stores and stocking up on weeks' worth of food that will likely sit in a drawer in our fridge for a long time before we use it. Grocery shopping is something we often have to plan in advance and allot a big chunk of time for. Open Produce, though, is more the kind of spot where you can stop in quickly after work, grab whatever produce looks fresh, perhaps chat with the staff, and then throw together a fresh healthy meal for a few bucks. In my opinion, this is a more affordable, healthier, and efficient way to shop and eat. Stores like this were the norm 50 years ago and still exist in New York and abroad, but they are few and far between in Chicago. Not a lot of neighborhoods in the city have anything like Open Produce, and I think it's pretty cool that we do.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Who/What is Ms. Hyde Park (New & Improved)

I was just looking through the blog and realized that my About Me /Who & What is Hyde Park link at the top of the page was broken. Upon further investigation, I discovered that my blog post of the same name--my very first post to the site--was missing too! I know it was visible at one point, but I have no idea how long it has been MIA. I set out to just re-post the original but, in the process, couldn't help myself from making some edits and additions. So, for those of you who may have missed it the first time around, here is my (new and improved) introductory post:
Who is Ms. Hyde Park?

I'm a young professional, born and raised in Chicago. I grew up mostly on the north side, but have been a Hyde Parker for about 8 years. I've lived, worked, and gone to school all over the city from Rogers Park to Uptown to Lincoln Square to Humbolt Park to Austin, and have spent time pretty much everywhere else in Chicago. I deeply love this city and many of its neighborhoods, but Hyde Park is my favorite. Why? Well that's largely what this blog will be about but, in a nutshell, I love that Hyde Park is diverse and multicultural, that it is jam-packed with art, culture, and affordable food, that it is very walkable (i.e. you can easily get to great parks, the lake, dining, nightlife, and shopping by foot) and that it somehow manages to feel like a small-town and the big city at the same time.

OK, but why the Ms. Hyde Park blog?

I think a lot of people misunderstand and/or under-appreciate Hyde Park because they just don't know enough about it or haven't had the right person show them around. I'd like for this blog to serve as a sort of guide or reference for people who are visiting Hyde Park either from within Chicago or across the country, as well as a place for locals to discuss community issues and to find and share recommendations about what to eat, see, and do in the neighborhood and nearby. My hope is that this will be a blog about what makes Hyde Park such a wonderful, unique community, and what can make it even better.

I have to confess-- my motives for wanting to help others love Hyde Park are just a little bit selfish. You see, I've noticed that good businesses and restaurants in the area often struggle more than they should because locals are cynical and outsiders simply don't bother coming into the neighborhood to give these spots a chance. This lack of engagement with the community has been a barrier to great existing businesses becoming as successful as they could, and to new businesses coming to the area. I'm in favor of organic, grassroots-driven growth and development in Hyde Park and I think that this happens when people get excited about what the neighborhood has to offer. My basic philosophy is that the more energy, enthusiasm, and interest in Hyde Park we can generate, the more we can help the neighborhood, its businesses, and its locals to thrive.

So, with all of this said, welcome to my blog! Please feel free to comment or email me at to let me know what you think so far, to ask questions about the blog or the community, or just to say hi.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Things to do this Week(end)

Check out my (a bit belated....) weekly list of fun things to do in the neighborhood this week. As always, if you know of any events and activities in, near, or relating to Hyde Park this week that are not on the list, let me know!


  • Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are (2009) Doc Films. (6:45PM, 9PM, 11:15PM, $5 general admission, Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall 1212 East 59th Street)
  • Live blues at the Checkerboard Lounge ($10 cover, $5 for students+2 drink minimum, 8PM-2AM, 5201 S. Harper). [Note--this is not particularly affordable, but it's a Chicago institution & worth checking out at least once]
  • Sarah Marie Young live at Chant (no cover, 18% gratuity on all tabs, 9:30 PM-12:30AM, 1509 E. 53rd)