Welcome to “The Grid,” our in-depth look at Chicago’s neighborhoods. Today’s stop: Hyde Park.

Hyde Park is 7 miles from downtown Chicago on the city’s South Side along Lake Michigan. It is without a doubt one of the cultural hubs of our city with the University of Chicago’s gothic columns at one end to the west, the Museum of Science of Industry’s grand building to the east and many other people and places of note in between.  Some even call it the “culture coast.”  Hyde Park is also one of Chicago’s more racially diverse neighborhoods.

Our story includes:

  • The University of Chicago
  • The Great Outdoors
  • Hyde Park’s History
  • Culture Coast
  • Community Activism
  • Block parties & festivals
  • Where to Dine

…and much more!

This new Sun-Times video series is for visitors and locals alike with hopes that all will be inspired to explore our beautiful city – and maybe even move here.

We’re proud to welcome Baird & Warner as presenting sponsor of “The Grid.” Leading our video adventure is Sun-Times program host, Ji Suk Yi.

Ji visits Hyde Park

Ji Suk Yi explores Hyde Park for "The Grid"

Ji Suk Yi is the host of “The Grid,” produced by the audience team at the Chicago Sun-Times and sponsored by Baird & Warner. | Brian Rich/For the Sun-Times

Hyde Park is a neighborhood that’s as rich in landscape and architecture, as in the diversity of her people that call it home. The diversity goes beyond just race and ethnicity; there are different vibes and styles on display and mixed in a way you rarely see in one neighborhood.

Walking down 53rd Street feels like being on a grown-up version of Sesame Street. People know each other by name and are neighborly. There are lemonade stands, street chess games and students of all ages, old and young, baby strollers and dogs. At the end of your day in Hyde Park, your heart is full when you realize you’ve run into about every kind of folk in a city that is known for being one of the most segregated in the country.

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Hyde Park’s diversity isn’t by happenstance but a concerted effort by its citizens over the years. During the “Great Migration” of African Americans to the neighborhood and the subsequent “White Flight,” there were interracial groups formed to deal with the consequences of the changing population. These racially diverse community forums and organizations played a major role in stabilizing the community.

The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference in 1949 started as an interracial group, as did the Southeast Chicago Commission in 1952. (By the way, I am not including the historic Kenwood neighborhood in my coverage of Hyde Park.) Working together during the period of federally-funded urban renewal from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, these organizations assured that local banks would have available home mortgages in the area when other lenders often refused because of the changing racial landscape that made the loans look too risky.

Kathy Huff of the Hyde Park Historical Society also cites two Supreme Court decisions as key reasons Hyde Park remained diverse historically and during this period. These cases lifted restrictive covenants that barred African Americans from buying property. “This paved the way for African American veterans from WWII to return to Hyde Park and buy property. Many more settled in Hyde Park in larger numbers during the late 1950s through 1970,” said Huff.

Hull Gate, stone entrance that leads into the heart of the University of Chicago campus located in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Hull Gate, stone entrance that leads into the heart of the University of Chicago campus located in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The University of Chicago

The University of Chicago holds a colossal geographic footprint, as well as a significant land ownership and influence on the neighborhood. Having a world-renowned educational and research institution is truly a point of pride not only for Hyde Park but for Chicago. And at last count, they have eighty Nobel laureates… a number that’s sure to grow!

The university’s resources, wealth and influence in development, planning and outreach has tremendously benefited Hyde Park, but its citizens keep a watchful eye on university decisions and the community won’t hold back from inserting differing points of view or pushing back. The people who live in Hyde Park are well-informed and passionate about their community, and they are vigilant on their watch.

This synergy between the university and Hyde Park residents is described aptly by resident and Hyde Park Art Center Deputy Director Hilesh Patel.

Patel equates this “tension” as one at the core of what makes Hyde Park so wonderful. “We have the University of Chicago, which is a core presence in the community, they occupy such a large footprint and at the same time we have core community groups… We have this mix, in some cases economically diverse, completely racially diverse, all butting up against each other and not always in a cohesive way,” said Patel. “It provokes them to have dialogue… [The university] will make a decision, the community will respond, it creates the back and forth of what a civic dialogue should be… which has fueled the growth of this neighborhood for the past sixty years.”

The Midway Plaisance, known locally as the Midway, is a Chicago public park on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. It is one mile long by 220 yards wide and extends along 59th and 60th streets. Today, the Midway runs through the southern portion of the University of Chicago campus, with university and related buildings fronting it on both sides. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The Midway Plaisance, known locally as the Midway, is a Chicago public park on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. It is one mile long by 220 yards wide and extends along 59th and 60th streets. Today, the Midway runs through the southern portion of the University of Chicago campus, with university and related buildings fronting it on both sides. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The great outdoors of Hyde Park

Hyde Park’s geographic landscape includes gorgeous stretches of green space bordered by Washington Park to the west and Jackson Park to the east. Both parks are connected by the Midway Plaisance – an expansive stretch of green space dotted with soccer goal posts and an ice rink for winter. Harold Washington play lot is great for the family. And there are smaller parks like Nichols, Elm, Bixler and Florence Stout.

Hyde Park’s proximity to one of the most beautiful beaches in Chicago, 57th Street Beach and Promontory Point is another reason why living in the neighborhood gives you easy access to highly prized outdoor beach space.

People enjoying the 57th street beach in 2010 | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Archives

People enjoying the 57th street beach in 2010 | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Archives

It’s lovely to see all the remnants of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, what an incredible feat of history to keep in mind as you’re walking though Hyde Park. An entire day can be spent looking at the monuments and soaking in the beauty of the neighborhood.

The amount of energy and ingenuity that went behind constructing a temporary “White City” by the preeminent architects of the time – Daniel Burnham was chief of construction and Frederick Law Olmstead was the chief of landscape – is awe-inspiring.

The only remaining building of the “White City,” the Museum of Science and Industry, by size alone is breathtaking, and I can’t imagine the real-life scale of the entire project. Imagine if someone were to say they wanted to do this now? I’m sure it would be met with as much skepticism as Noah building the ark!

According to Ray Johnson, Historian and President of the non-profit “Friends of The White City” Hyde Park was annexed in 1889 in large part to woo the selection committee determining which American city would host the World’s Fair.

“The newly annexed residents of the neighborhood of Hyde Park were not really thrilled originally with the Midway Plaisance which hosted the fair’s “Streets of Nations” [which] showcased civilizations from across the globe along with their native music and food which included a mix of alcoholic drinks,” said Johnson.

Drinking was new to many of the residents as the former “Village of Hyde Park” was dry. Johnson adds, “It also didn’t help that the drinking, dancing, music, and lights were a 24-hour affair. Complaints from the neighbors caused Daniel Burnham to shut down the Midway at 2 a.m.” (And here, I thought college students really knew how to party!)

The Museum of Science and Industry | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The Museum of Science and Industry | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

My favorite green space is the Japanese garden within Jackson Park; it truly transports you out of the bustling city with its tranquility. I didn’t realize the extensive history and origins of the garden – inspired by more than 120 years of our country’s and Japan’s relationship. The Phoenix Pavillon was created for the World’s Fair, a 15-acre wooded island central to the World’s Fair.

After the “White City” was dismantled, the Phoenix Pavilion remained. For awhile from 1935 to 1941, the garden was operated as a Japanese tea garden by an interracial couple Shoji Osato and his wife, Frances Fitzpatrick. But the start of World War II ended this arrangement and Osato was sent to a Japanese internment camp. (I’d like to see their story in a movie.)

Later lost to vandalism, fire and disrepair during World War II, the Pavilion was later rebuilt just as a phoenix rising from the ashes. A surrounding garden in honor of Chicago’s sister city of Osaka was added in the 1930s and in 2013, with the planting of 120 cherry trees around the Columbian basin, the garden is now altogether deemed “The Garden of the Phoenix.”

Osaka Garden, Japanese garden on Jackson Park's Wooded Island featuring a waterfall and foot bridges. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Osaka Garden, Japanese garden on Jackson Park’s Wooded Island featuring a waterfall and foot bridges. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The history of Hyde Park

Hyde Park began when a young lawyer, Paul Cornell, bought 300 acres of land in 1853 between 51st and 55th Streets. In 1889, it was annexed as part of the city of Chicago. This was in part (as mentioned before) to be selected to showcase the World’s Fair but it also ensured Hyde Park would be considered for an investment for a learning institution that would rival those Ivy League east coast schools.

In 1890, the American Baptist Education Society decided to bail out a small college already started in Hyde Park, but who had the funds for such an endeavor? Enter oil magnate John D. Rockefeller who with the Society’s William Rainey Harper as President decided he liked a challenge but would invest only if the university wanted to be as good, if not better, than those Ivy League schools.  By the way, the land for the new University of Chicago was donated by Marshall Field, founder of the department store bearing his name and of The Field Museum.

It seemed to all work out (ahem) and it’s said that Rockefeller thought it was the best investment he ever made – to the tune of almost $35 million (equivalent to valuation now) between 1892 and 1910. (How interesting that Cornell who founded Hyde Park’s University of Chicago was the cousin of Ezra Cornell who founded Cornell University.)

Hyde Park fast facts

The University’s architecture is worthy of exploration and while many focus on the iconic Main Quadrangles – the heart of the campus and where most of the undergraduate classes are held – I’d recommend attending a service or event at Rockefeller Chapel.

ROCKEFELLER MEMORIAL CHAPEL ON THE CAMPUS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO in OCTOBER, 1965 | Sun-Times Archives

Aerial view of Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago in October, 1965 | Sun-Times archives

Rockefeller Chapel is more than just the spiritual heart of the University of Chicago, but often holds arts programming for the city. Its spectacular medieval cathedral is matched by listening to the carillon (the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon is the largest instrument ever built) and massive organ which is all the spiritual enlightenment I need. 

 

My Five Favorite Things in Hyde Park by Franny Billingsley

Franny Billingsley

Franny Billingsley is a life-long Hyde Park resident

  1. The Seminary Coop Bookstores. An astonishing store that, between its two branches, carries almost 100,000 books and is as much a cultural institution as it is a retailer. (Full disclosure: I’m children’s manager at the 57th Street branch.)
  2. Jackson Bark: A fully-enclosed dog park, which—with enormous good humor—invites dogs to run up, through, and around agility obstacles (made, sometimes hilariously, from up-cycled materials); lounge at the Pup Pub (cold water always on tap); and when it’s hot, splash about in kiddie pools.
  3. Doc Films: Wonderful variety, and cheap (all tickets $5)! As of this writing, they’re screening “Chimes at Midnight” (Orson Welles), “Black Panther,” and “Poetry” (Lee Chang-dong). Of themselves, they say, “Doc Films is the nation’s oldest continuously operating film society. We screen all kinds of films, from canonical classics to indie gems to Hollywood blockbusters, every day of the year in our fully equipped and state-of-the-art theater.”
  4. The Point: A park on a rocky promontory creates a great space for bikers, swimmers, runners, dog walkers, and anyone who craves a green sanctuary in the city.
  5. Botany Pond: A lush and lovely pond, tucked away on the University of Chicago campus. It’s home to a family of ducks and a wide variety of water plants and is surrounded by the graceful gray-stone traceries of the University’s gothic buildings.

Exploring the culture coast

The university isn’t the only beacon of learning and enlightenment. An entire day can be spent dedicated to exploring Museum Campus South. This campus showcases seven museums just eight miles south of Chicago’s downtown: DuSable Museum of African American History, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Oriental Institute Museum, the Renaissance Society, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the Smart Museum of Art and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

The DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago was founded by Dr. Margaret Burroughs in 1961 and moved from its home in Bronzeville, to its current location in 1973. In March 2016, the DuSable was granted world-class standing as a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

Since September 2015, Perri Irmer has been the President and CEO of the DuSable Museum. She’s an elegant and striking woman with an intimidating, accomplished resume but she has an easy laid back personality and a fantastic sense of humor. She’s also proud to talk about how she’s been a Hyde Park “lifer”- having been born, raised and never really leaving the neighborhood.
Irmer loves deeming herself the “unofficial  ambassador of Hyde Park” and talking about her beloved “village inside of the city” that was one of the earliest “fully integrated communities in the nation.”

The DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. | Brian Rich/For the Sun-Times

“We have such love for our community. It’s so unique. It’s so rich on a cultural level. It’s just so special. It’s like no place else,” said a beaming Irmer. “It’s a very intellectual neighborhood. It’s very diverse – both racially and economically diverse, which makes it so great to have the DuSable Museum having been born in Bronzeville, and now here in Hyde Park, right on the border of Hyde Park and Washington Park .”
“We are the oldest, independent black museum in the nation. We are the best most authentic tellers of the black American story,” said Irmer. “And we serve a purpose that is… more important now than ever before. So educating all people on African American history, art, culture and using those as a method and means to tell our story… reclaims our narrative.”
“Hyde Park has a long history of activism that’s still evident to this day. It’s always interesting to strike that balance…” said Irmer. “We guard our neighborhood and represent it well. We have issues like any place else. There are always challenges in terms of gentrification, in terms of access and education, but I think, overall, on the whole, it’s a peaceful, exciting community.”
Irmer points to the multi-generational commitment by the community for keeping Hyde Park a vibrant, culturally artistic, and richly politically active neighborhood. She points out the dialogue between the community members keeps the neighborhood evolving and growing without losing its identity.
Part of the Harold Washington exhibit at the DuSable Museum. | Sun-Times Archives

Part of the Harold Washington exhibit at the DuSable Museum. | Sun-Times archives

“It (conversations on growth) can get heated… but it’s respectful. It always leads to that healthy discussion and eventually, you get to a place, hopefully, where everyone is a little bit happy; maybe not completely happy. At the end of the day, it’s about community and recognizing the whole community and having access by the whole community to the things that make this neighborhood so special.”
The DuSable Museum is also looking to the future. Before the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s opening in Washington, D.C., the DuSable held the most comprehensive collection of African American paintings, sculpture, print works and historical memorabilia in the nation.
Irmer believes the younger generation will be essential in the next chapter of DuSable’s future. The museum hopes to embrace the newer generation more than ever with youth and family-focused programming.
“That’s part of the theory (of growth) of Hyde Park too, as sustainability can’t just mean environmental sustainability, but it’s organizational sustainability and institutional sustainability,” said Irmer.  “Youth are able to come and gather here. We are building bridges, and it’s also a counter point to a lot of the negativity about black people and youth but also about the South Side.”
The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art is an art museum located on the campus of the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art is an art museum located on the campus of the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The “Culture Coast” also includes Court Theater, Hyde Park Art Center, Little Black Pearl, Hyde Park Historical Society, Blackstone Library, the Civic Knowledge project and Hyde Park Jazz Society. 

A favorite spot for visitors and locals alike is the Hyde Park Art Center. It’s a hub for teens, resident artists, Bridgeport coffee patrons and art lovers.

For 80 years, the organization has been dedicated to contemporary visual art, started by a group of core-minded people: artists, donors, politicians all coming together with the hope of creating a space where art can happen.

It’s free to visit and hang out, and they are working on initiatives to move away from the pay-model for art classes as well.

Chicago artist Judy Ledgerwood readies an installation of her work at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2006. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Chicago artist Judy Ledgerwood readies an installation of her work at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2006. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Patel ruminates on what the center hopes to achieve and how it continues to develop and change in the community. “Dialogue and the challenging of ideas is core to how a community grows and sustains itself… How do we have these dialogues? How do we facilitate them and how do we provide a space where people can come challenge themselves and still feel like it’s a safe space.”

When asked what he loves about living in Hyde Park, Patel had a frank answer. “I love that everyone is up in everyone’s business. I don’t care what other Hyde Parkers say, it’s true. They’re curious, like, what’s going on… and they fight for what they believe in, and I mean all aspects of the community from Stony Island to Hyde Park Boulevard. It’s really great, and I respect that,” said Patel.

Ji Suk Yi with Hilesh Patel of the Hyde Park Art Center. | Brian Rich\ For the Sun-Times

Ji Suk Yi with Hilesh Patel of the Hyde Park Art Center. | Brian Rich/ For the Sun-Times

Community activism in Hyde Park

Civic Knowledge Project incorporates students of all ages in civic friendship and social justice programs and is a University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement program. The website states its mission to include: “The Civic Knowledge Project provides an extraordinary array of ways for students of all ages to learn more about Chicago and the issues it confronts, and to get involved in actively working to make it a better place, advancing the forms of civic friendship that matter most.”

Community activism and engagement is rooted deep for Hyde Park citizens. This sort of passion and do-it-yourself attitude makes it possible to address many of its citizens and areas that are under served.

Another grassroots organization is Experimental Station, that prides itself in identifying local needs and creating innovative solutions to them. One of them included the 61st Street Farmers’ Market. Since 2006, the Experimental Station has been a non-profit, building independent cultural infrastructure on the South Side, with educational programming, small business enterprise and entrepreneurial support, and community initiatives to identify local needs and create innovative solutions.

A monument marking the location of the first kiss between President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, located on the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue. The kiss took place in 1989 when the president treated the first lady to ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in the mall, which is now a Subway restaurant. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

A monument marking the location of the first kiss between President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, located on the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue. The kiss took place in 1989 when the president treated the first lady to ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in the mall, which is now a Subway restaurant. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

 

My Five Favorite Things in Hyde Park by Susan O’Connor Davis

Susan O’Connor Davis

Susan O’Connor Davis is a the author of Chicago’s Historic Hyde Park, a book about the architectural history of the neighborhood.

  1. The architecture. Residences range from the smallest Carpenter Gothic house to the Gilded Era mansions of Kenwood to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. Far less familiar than the latter two is the Henry Work house, tucked behind a new hotel and dating from 1859. The vertically sided one-room structure presented a romanticized view of the family home.
  2. The history. Walk any block and there is a story to be heard. The owner of the small house above gained fame writing Civil War songs, and his father was an abolitionist. In Kenwood one finds Thomas Wilson of sporting goods fame, the founder of Yellow Taxi with his garage turned house, or Julius Rosenwald of Sears — just a few that have left their mark here. Remnants of the past abound if one looks carefully: the stone steps where one could climb more easily into a waiting carriage, or a post where your horse would be tied.
  3. The people. Robert Hunter of Brown’s Barber Shop, Gus at Valois, Bruce Sagan of the Herald, and Sam Guard, a true treasure of the neighborhood’s history and historian Neil Harris. Art collector Ruth Horwich would have made the top of the list, but is no longer with us.
  4. Gargoyles. And actual bookstores. Gothic chapels in which to be married (1992). Cal Guo-Qiang’s Color Mushroom Cloud for the 75th anniversary of the first self-sustained nuclear reaction. (I mean where else?) The University of Chicago claims them all.
  5. The view from Point. Looking toward the city, serene beauty, while you contemplate 1-4.

Coffee shops in Hyde Park

With all these learned and opinionated residents, plus all of the students, coffee shops abound! Bridgeport Coffee House is right in the Hyde Park Art Center. Bonjour Cafe and Bakery has incredible pastries. Ancien Cycles and Cafe is part bike shop and coffee shop. Sip & Savor has five locations in the South Side and its Hyde Park location is near Harold Washington play lot. There’s Cafe 53 and as its moniker suggests, perfectly located on the main business strip of 53rd Street.

And did you know that the University of Chicago oversees five student-run coffee shops located across the Hyde Park canvas where students work doing everything from hiring to serving patrons! These five coffee shop locations include: Cobb Coffee Shop, Harper Cafe, Ex Libris Cafe, Hallowed Grounds and Harris Cafe.

My personal favorite is Plein Air Cafe. It’s a popular independent coffee shop that’s conveniently next to Seminary Co-op Bookstore and next to the Robie House.

Hyde Park neighborhood, Chicago. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Hyde Park neighborhood, Chicago. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Read all about it

Seminary Co-op was founded in 1961 and is comprised of two independent customer-owned co-operative bookstores. This aforementioned location and 57th Street Books. Between the two, they house over 100,000 books. This small co-op grew from a mere 17 members to start and now boasts over 53,000 today. If you want an inspiring read, just go on their website and read Director Jeff Deutsch’s rousing “Call to Action” letter. It will inspire you!

Another crowd pleaser is Powell’s Book Store. Since 1970, its been the largest independent dealer in high quality used books. You can also use them as a source for out of print and antique books.

Also one more bookstore bears mention, Frontline books is a neighborhood hidden gem and favorite. The website states their mission as: “Chicago’s premier Rastafari and Pan-African book publisher and book distributor… One of only three black-owned bookshops in the entire city. We feature our own collection of publications as well as countless titles on all subjects including natural health, spirituality, history, metaphysics, black empowerment, hair care, and children’s books.”

 

My Five Favorite Things in Hyde Park by Yakini Ajanaku-Coffy

Yakini Ajanaku-Coffy

Yakini Ajanaku-Coffy runs a pre-school in Hyde Park named LaGrande Famille.

  1. It’s uniqueness. Certain pockets of Hyde Park- like 63rd Street- have their own rhythm.
  2. The cultural diversity. It’s a great model for how we can all express ourselves ethnically and individually and still thrive.
  3. From the Obama “University of Chicago” crowd to the brother selling shea butter on the beach, we’ve got all the different tiers of the African American experience and I like that.
  4. The lakefront. It’s a joy to live in a neighborhood where the most beautiful natural resource – Lake Michigan- is accessible to everyone.
  5. All our visitors to Chicago say it’s the cleanest city they’ve ever seen. I appreciate that especially in my neighborhood where we all do our due diligence to keep everything nice and clean.

Block parties and festivals

The Hyde Park Jazz Fest was the life-long vision and passion of founder James W. Wagner (who passed in 2009), an event that eventually would draw 20,000 people a year. This year the festival will take place on September 29 and 30.

Retired school teacher and jazz ambassador, who recalled seeing John Coltrane on 63rd, Judith Stein, is known as the “Jazz Lady.” Festival co-founder and promoter (she passes out fliers often by hand) you’ll find her whereever there is jazz.

“Jim Wagner was determined to bring a club here. [He helped to bring and establish] the Checkerboard Lounge so that we could have a club, and the deal was that we could do jazz one night a week and it was going to be blues the other nights,” said Stein.

Stein cites the large student and African American population in Hyde Park for jazz working so synonymously with the neighborhood.

Dee Alexander performing at the 2017 Hyde Park Jazz Festival. | Courtesy HPJF and Marc Monaghan

Dee Alexander performing at the 2017 Hyde Park Jazz Festival. | Courtesy HPJF and Marc Monaghan

“Students are always interested in what’s hip, new, different. AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) got started around here on the South Side,” said Stein, adding, “We can’t skip the largest fact, that it’s original black music and the South Side had a black population, the fans and the knowledge base. Plus, DuSable High School had Captain Walter Dyett [and] he was training jazz musicians. Some of the big jazz musicians came through DuSable.”

While Stein admits that jazz seems “sort of an outlier today,” don’t dare ask her if she’s helping “to keep jazz alive.”

“No, no, no, we are not keeping jazz alive, we are keeping jazz LIVE!” she says with a gleam in her eye and feisty tone for emphasis! “Because jazz is not dying. Jazz is absolutely alive, people stream it, it’s background music for some, foreground music for others. It’s very big in Europe. There are festivals all over this country that are well attended so the problem is keeping the live music and sustaining musicians so that they can have employment. It’s the hardest thing in the world to get musicians employed and paid a decent salary.”

Judith Stein of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and Ji Suk Yi. | Brian Rich for the Sun-Times

Judith Stein of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and Ji Suk Yi. | Brian Rich /For the Sun-Times

Stein’s thrilled with how successful the Hyde Park Jazz Festival has become as she never imagined it would be such a hit. Its success has paved the way for other “jazzy additions” to the neighborhood:

There’s Sunday night jazz at Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap. Chant Restaurant brings in jazz and blues musicians on Fridays and Saturdays. There is “Jazz in the Courtyard” at the 55th Street Hyde Park Shopping Center on the first Friday of the months June through September from 12 to 2 in the afternoon.

At the end of our conversation, Stein also invited me to come to Room 43 where jazz is played regularly at the event space. If you see her on the street, she’ll hand you fliers and be sure to invite you too! She seems unstoppable and is charmingly relentless.

Dancing at the 2017 Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

Dancing at the 2017 Hyde Park Jazz Festival. | Courtesy HPJF and Marc Monaghan

Jake Austen is the Music Director at The Promontory, and like Stein, laments the loss of many live music venues in the neighborhood.
“Before urban renewal there were clubs and bars all over Hyde Park, all over the South Side. And (now) there’s a lot less. I mean they really changed the landscape here,” said Austen. “To be able to bring that back for the older people, but also for younger people, you know, to hear house music, to hear R&B, to hear jazz and poetry. We do the Moth (a recording of true stories, told live and without notes for radio and podcast) here.”
Hyde Park has been the focus of an influx of finer dining options (for a community that was under catered and under served) in recent years, after mostly being known for fast-casual restaurants and chains. The Promontory is one of the finer dining destinations – but is a multi-functional venture with a significant music venue and stage on the top floor.
Mural on 53st street in Hyde Park neighborhood, Chicago. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Mural on 53st street in Hyde Park neighborhood, Chicago. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

“To not have to leave the neighborhood to have experiences like this people really appreciate,” said Austen. “To have food of this quality and to be able to go out and dance, you know, most nights of the week and hear live music; every generation that’s here seems really ready for this.”

A popular event that also focuses on music to build bridges in the neighborhood is the “Silver Room Block Party” to be held on 53rd Street on July 21. Community activist and entrepreneur Eric Williams is the owner of storefront “The Silver Room” which does sell jewelry and art – but is also very much a gallery, event and gathering space.

“I intentionally infused music, art and culture into everything we do at the The Silver Room and the Block Party. To me, it’s a bridge to greater economic development, community transformation, entrepreneurial growth, along with fashion and art and all the good times we have,” said Williams. “I grew up here, built my business here. I recognize the importance of moving to a unique beat helps not only myself, but helps me make more space for others coming after me.”

Silver Room boutique specializes in creative jewelry and accessories, also it hosts arts shows and music parties.| Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The Silver Room boutique specializes in creative jewelry and accessories and also hosts arts shows and music parties.| Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The block party generates a lot of revenue for the neighborhood and vendors, showcases visual artists, DJs and musicians. Williams is in tune with the beat of the neighborhood and has been a valuable force of nature in showcasing artists and connecting them to those that live in the neighborhood.

Craft brews and good people? Be sure you don’t miss this popular Hyde Park street festival. This past June saw the return of the Hyde Park Brew Fest. The event is free and features DJs and live music. You do have to buy tickets to sample the delicious offerings from more than 30 different breweries. In 2018, the festival saw a total of 50,000 revelers for the two-day festival.

The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce also is very active in promoting events to help support their local business members. The 2018 Summer 53rd Street Dinner Crawl is one event that is after my own heart, and I plan on attending. For the purchase of a very reasonably priced ticket, diners are guided through an epicurean journey through Hyde Park by sampling food from twenty different restaurants. I think it’s a great way to investigate restaurants without total commitment. The ones you visit and like, you can return and dine for a full meal! Check out the Hyde Park Chamber’s website for more details. It’s a great website to check in periodically for other incredible events.

The 57th Street Art Fair is a two-day art fair that’s held outdoors featuring more than 200 artists. The fair features everything from glass, jewelry, leather, photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, digital arts, wood, ceramics to fiber. It’s a great way to meet artists and talk directly to the source of the creative treasure you’re drawn to. It’s held every year, in the first full weekend of June.

57th Street Art Fair | Courtesy 57th Street Art Fair

Where to eat, drink and hang out

My favorite place to dine in Hyde Park is the Promontory. Korean inspired kale short ribs, lobster mac-n-cheese and mushroom stroganoff; is your mouth watering? If you want healthy, you can have any number of items grilled on the open hearth. Promontory is great if you want a snack, a drink or have a full-on meal. Plus there’s a patio and music or cool productions happening in the upstairs theater that I mentioned previously.

A10 is also a favorite with Italian and French fare. All the pastas are delicious and houses one of my favorite perches to sit and have a drink. The windows wrap completely around the corner of the building, and it’s an excellent spot for people watching at the lively intersection of 53rd and Harper.

Cocktails at A10 in Hyde Park.

Cocktails at A10 in Hyde Park. | Ji Suk Yi /Sun-Times

Oldie but goodie Valois is known as a favorite of President Barack Obama. In fact, you can order exactly what he does for breakfast when he’s in town as his favorite meal is displayed proudly on a sign. The cafeteria-style eatery has been around since 1921 and a favorite for politicians and locals alike. I’m a fan of the broiled white fish, and you can’t ever go wrong with breakfast.

Speaking of oldies, Morry’s has been around since 1960. It’s a very casual counter service joint. You can buy a newspaper, lottery tickets and a delicious corned beef sandwich. It’s been passed through several owners at this point but the original owner was Morry Orman. If the last name rings a familiar bell, it’s because he’s financial guru Suze Orman’s father, who would help out in the deli when she was in high school.

If spicy is what your taste buds are craving, then the following Hyde Park establishments have you covered: Rajun Cajun is on 53rd and is a favorite in the community and is more than meets the eye or the name suggests. The “Raj” in “Rajun” is the Indian “raj” word for king. The restaurant serves both Indian and Louisiana cajun cuisine and many entrees are a fusion of both. Trust me it works! Ja’Grill is in Harper Court after moving from its original Lincoln Park neighborhood location. The chef is a Jamaican native and the oxtail is incredible.

South Side mini-chain Uncle Joe’s Jerk Chicken has a location in Hyde Park. I’m really fond of the cooked cabbage, besides the jerk chicken and fish. It’s definitely a no frills location but everything is already wrapped to go!

Food from Uncle Joe's Jerk Chicken in Hyde Park.

Food from Uncle Joe’s Jerk Chicken in Hyde Park.| Ji Suk Yi /Sun-Times

Want pizza? Well, you can head to favorites Pizza Capri and Leona’s in Hyde Park. Yes, they are local chains but don’t chains start somewhere? These two were just local favorites at first right? They do the trick for all the students and locals that need their ‘za fix. (Please don’t write me, but I’m not including the President Obama’s favorite place Italian Fiesta Pizzeria because it’s technically in Kenwood, and I’m focusing on Hyde Park.)

My personal recommendation for pizza (Neapolitan-style) would be Nella Pizze e Pasta. This restaurant comes from the same husband and wife team, Frank and Nella Grassano, that were behind Pizzeria de Nella, formerly in Lincoln Park. I’ve been following this legit female pizzaiolo around for years – which is no small accomplishment to be certified as such! Her pizza is outstanding and customer service is top notch.

If you’re looking for Italian food with a touch of tapas from Spain, with added baked good from Argentina, look no further than Piccolo Mondo. A local favorite for more than 33 years, it will satisfy all the palettes in your dining entourage.

Medici on 57th is a favorite of students and serves a wide variety of foods and has you covered for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Salonica is a local Greek favorite with an incredible brunch.

Cedars of Lebanon’s has all the Lebanese flavors you need for an affordable price.

There are enough Thai restaurants to please everyone’s moods. Chant is a local favorite due to the hip atmosphere. Snail Thai has been around since 1993. There are three Thai restaurants very near one another on 55th Street between Lake Park Avenue and South Hyde Park Boulevard. Next door to Snail Thai, there is Siam Thai. And a bit farther west is Thai 55.

I have friends that are obsessed with Mikkey’s Grill. Not only do the owners do a lot of good and invest in the community, but the food is good and served late-night. They are fond of the chicken wings and swear by them.

People eat inside Mikkey's Retro Grill, retro-style eatery featuring classic American fare such as cheeseburgers, shakes, wings and fries. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

People eat inside Mikkey’s Retro Grill, retro-style eatery featuring classic American fare such as cheeseburgers, shakes, wings and fries. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

La Petite Folie serves French food. The Nile serves Mediterranean Middle Eastern food. The Sit Down Cafe is a local favorite that serves very Americanized sushi.

Looking for a little healthier fare or worried about the “freshman 20” that you’ve maybe put on? Lite House Whole Food Grill founder, Rico Nance, truly believes that a spiritual and holistic calling led him to the mission for healthy food and to the Hyde Park location.

B’gabs Goodies specializes in truly healthy foods and is run by Gabrielle Darvassy. She specializes in raw, soy-free meals and can sell you on pre-packaged spices, herbs, juices, and teas.

Looking for local produce? Head to the 61st Street Farmers Market. Also, there’s Hyde Park Produce and the Open Produce. Valley of Jordan Food is a great market for halal foods.

If you’re looking for a place to drink, head to university favorite Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap. Plus, there are local dives The Cove and Falcon Inn. Looking to engage in a little activity while you drink? Head over to Seven Ten Lanes where you can drink, bowl, eat and play pool (billiards).

Woodlawn Tap in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Woodlawn Tap in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

If you want to escape by watching a movie you can catch a movie at Harper Theater! Or go see a performance at Court Theater.

If shopping is your thing head over to find luxurious resale goods and clothing at Silver Umbrella. This is a consignment store that has been curated with an incredible editorial eye of stylish, on trend and vintage fashions that will save you a lot of money.

One of my favorite boutiques is Modern Cooperative. They have a mix of old and new home goods, jewelry and furniture. It’s a great place to buy gifts.

First Aid Comics has all of your comic book needs. They have a second location in Little Italy. The store’s website states: “First Aid Comics is your one stop shop for comic books, graphic novels, and gaming. We stock a wide range of products from Marvel, DC, and a variety of independent publishers (from Image to Kitchen Sink), as well as the latest CCGs, board games, and RPGs.” (I have no idea what some of that means, but if you love the comic or gaming world, I’m guessing you will!)

If you’re a cigar aficionado, head over to Hyde Park Cigars and Lounge. Not only will it meet all of your needs with a wide selection of cigars but the store also has bi-weekly events.

Hyde Park has a “First Thursday” event that includes over fifty businesses from the months of May to November that will participate by featuring shopping discounts and specials. They even have a “First Thursday” app that will help you keep organized and not miss one good deal!

Looking for more to do? Of course, there are all the aforementioned museums you can visit in order to enlighten your mind in Museum Campus South.  Plus, there is all of the incredible architecture to view in Hyde Park. Take a tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

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In conclusion, I’ll say that the Hyde Park neighborhood blows me away. I love spending time here and getting lost in the culture, museums and architecture. For me, the neighborhood offers such a wealth of art and knowledge that the eating, drinking and shopping take a back seat.

Each Chicago neighborhood is different and sings a different song. I hope you go and revisit Hyde Park and hear a portion of the melody you haven’t paid attention to before. I know that I will.

 

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