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.

1 comment:

  1. As a 15-year Hyde Parker now living in Andersonville I understand completely! If only we had the University . . .if only Hyde Park had the restaurants and shops. It's the perfect dilemma. Thank goodness for Lake Shore Drive.