We’re wrapping up our list of good things you can find in every Chicago neighborhood. Review part 1, part 2 and part 3.
Zemsky’s has been dressing the Southwest Side’s working class since 1958, making it one of the few companies to survive the neighborhood’s transition from Polish to Latin. A yellow sign for Milwaukee Shoes hangs above the sidewalk. Inside are lockers of Carhartt jackets, Dickies pants and Uno charter school uniforms. Zapato Esoclar Para Ninos starting at $16.99. Even before being at Zemsky’s, it was the department store on Archer Avenue, according to the sidewalk plaque in front of the door.
59. McKinley Park: Huck Finn’s Restaurant3414 S. Archer Ave.
Huck Finn, a 24-hour restaurant advertised with a sign featuring the character of Mark Twain, is best known for its donuts. It’s also one of the few restaurants that still serves liver and onions, so bring your grandparents here.
There’s a lot going on in this little joint. It’s a slashie, a combination liquor store/bar with a craft beer menu. It is also attached to two restaurants that deliver food to the bar. Pizza Fried Chicken ice cream is self-explanatory. Kimski’s is the only Polish/Korean fusion restaurant in town – and possibly the world. Kimski’s Polish sausage is served with kimchi sauerkraut, his marinated red onion poutine and shishitos.
61: New City: Union Stockyards Gate, West Exchange Avenue and South Peoria Street.
Millions of cows, pigs and sheep were driven to their deaths through this stone archway before the stockyards closed in 1971. Even today, the smell of bacon wafts past the door, from a meat processing plant nearby. The door was designed by Burnham & Root. Daniel Burnham’s father-in-law owned a farm in the then-rural Washington Heights, so Burnham placed a bas-relief of the old man’s favorite ox atop it. Behind the door is a memorial to the fallen Chicago firefighters: 21 killed put out a fire at the Morris Meatpacking Co. in 1910.
62: West Elsdon
It is a residential area. You don’t want to visit them, and they probably don’t want you either. Also, why does Chicago have a West Elsdon, but not an East Elsdon?
This neoclassical building is striking on the outside, with its diamond-shaped concrete accents, and even more so on the inside, which contains two historic murals. The first, by a Depression-era muralist Tom Lea, depicts Midwestern settlers driving a covered wagon, with Marquette and Joliet in the background. (Completed in 1931, not a WPA mural, but in the same style.) Another features a traditionally dressed Eastern European familyof the type who once lived in Gage Park, engaged in the folk traditions of the old country of fiddling and weaving.
64: Glade: Marianna’s Place, 5625 W. 63rd St.
Cans of Stroh’s and PBR for $1.50. That should be enough to lure anyone to this neighborhood tavern below Midway Airport’s flight path. Warning: some customers have really bad teeth.
65: West Lawn: Midwest Eye Clinic, 6254 S. Pulaski Road.
Not because you have to drive all the way to West Lawn to get your eyes checked, but because this optometry office sits under the statue of a giant Native American, raising his right arm – a Southwest Side landmark . The statue is a traditional Indian cigar shop, erected to promote a tobacconist who once did business in this area. Now he wears a pair of glasses and a sign on his chest: EYE CAN SEE YOU NOW.
When Martin Luther King marched through Marquette Park in 1966, he was hit in the head by a rock thrown by a white resident who didn’t want black people in the neighborhood. Eventually, integration came from the southwest side, and whoever threw that stone probably moved to Oak Lawn in fear and loathing. This memorial was erected on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the King’s March. It is a set of three brick pillars, representing King, the walkers and the word “Home” in the languages of the many nationalities that have settled around Marquette Park.
67: West Englewood: Brand Englewood1546 W. 63rd St.
Corie Luckett is Englewood all the way. He graduated from Englewood High School, lives in Englewood, and owns and operates Englewood Branded, a clothing store selling t-shirts featuring a cartoon bear named E-Dub, a neighborhood mascot. “There aren’t too many people-owned businesses in the neighborhood,” Luckett says. “The city needs to support businesses here and provide capital. Anything can grow if you water it.
68: Englewood: Cafe Kusanya825 W. 69th St.
A corner cafe and sandwich shop that exhibits work by South Side artists and hosts yoga classes and open-mic nights. The name means “gather” in Swahili. If it doesn’t seem like it belongs in Englewood, neither does its owner: Phil Sipka moved from the small town of Alma, Michigan.
69: Grand Grand Crossing: City of the Vegetable Soul203 E. 75th St.
Soul Veg City has been serving vegan food on the South Side since 1981, the first all-plant-based restaurant in a city famous for its meat culture. His Italian V and Chicago Style Frank are vegan versions of local staples. The restaurant’s founder, Prince Asiel Ben Israel, who died last month, was a member of the African Hebrew Israelite community, leading a settlement in Israel in the 1960s.
Ask any Chicagoan: a thin crust, not a deep dish, is the real Chicago pizza. Plus, no restaurant serves better thin crust than Vito and Nick’s. On a trip home from Springfield, I stopped in Joliet to place a takeout order. It added an hour to my trip home, but I was able to ladle out gooey cheese and spicy sauce on the crispiest crust I’ve ever tasted. Vito and Nick’s also have a bar where locals sit and look a bit lost without cigarettes in hand.
In 2000, I had an experience that was perhaps unique in the history of journalism: Barack Obama held a press conference, and I was the only journalist who showed up. Obama was running for Congress against Bobby Rush and had the backing of militant St. Sabina priest Father Michael Pfleger. They wanted to talk about… the ban on bidi cigarettes. Obama lost that election, but moved on to bigger things and bigger press conferences.
72: Beverly: Wrong’s Tap, 10014 S. Western Ave.
It’s been written that the classic Chicago “Superfans” accent is dying out. It can still be heard in this stripped-down sports bar, especially during Bears games. “Hey, what are da squares for this neighborhood?” a customer called during a game the Bears were winning by a field goal. “Zero and chree!” came the answer. The fact that the Bears were playing the Jags only added to the effect.
When Barack Obama was a community organizer, he had to choose a house church because he worked with so many religious organizations. However, he wanted to choose one outside the boundaries of the developing communities project, to avoid accusations of favoritism. He chose Trinity, a congregation of middle-class South Side activists. His pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, officiated at Obama’s wedding to Michelle Robinson – but got Obama in trouble during the 2008 presidential campaign because he compared US foreign and domestic policy to terrorism.
74: Mount Greenwood: Blackthorn pub3300 W. 111th St.
Mount Greenwood, a cop-and-fire district where 10% of residents receive a paycheck from the city, is being dragged because it’s an outpost of conservatism in a liberal town. It is true that Donald Trump won some of the Mount Greenwood precincts 2-1. It does mean, however, that Mount Greenwood is one of the few neighborhoods where residents have political differences to grapple with. When I visited the Blackthorn Pub, half of the old men who had come to the bar to solve the world’s problems were Trump voters, and the other half were Biden voters. They defended their choices by sharing a round of beers, without hard feelings.
75: Morgan Park: I-57 Rib House1524 W. 115th St.
According a recent article in the Grandstand, Chicago-style barbecue “is increasingly hard to find in the city for which it is named”, replaced by new restaurants that “look to central Texas for inspiration”. The pig painted on the corrugated pavement of I-57 should tell you that Chicago style is still served on I-57: small tip, large tip, tip and wing, tip and tie, full slices of rib, with sides of hush puppies, coleslaw and okra.
O’Hare isn’t just an airport, it’s a community area, annexed in 1956 to provide a strip of land connecting the city to what Mayor Richard J. Daley once called “America’s Crossword Puzzle.” . Most of the land acquired in this annexation consisted of Cook County Forest Preserves. In one of these reserves is an 18-hole golf course.
When Heart O’ Chicago opened in 1957, neon was the most eye-catching method of attracting travelers. Edgewater has changed since then, but the sign for Heart O’ Chicago—a red heart atop a blue arrow—has not changed. Owner Scott DeGraf, son of the founder, is so scrupulous about preserving the sign that he flies to Las Vegas, the capital of neon, for replacement parts. The sign is too high and hangs over the sidewalk, so the city would never let it replace it. As one of the city’s last neon landmarks, the sign appears on fridge magnets and vintage Chicagoana art exhibit photos – free publicity for a small motel away from the freeways.