Best of the South Side 2016 | Beverly | Morgan Park

Best of Beverly & Morgan Park 2016

Luke White

 

Depending on where you stand—literally or metaphorically—the neighborhoods of Beverly and Morgan Park can seem either of another time or slowly embracing change.

Sometimes this dichotomy is as basic as what residents eat and drink. Longtime businesses like Rainbow Cone (ninety years), Top Notch Beefburger (sixty-two years), Fox’s Restaurant and Pizza (fifty-two years), and County Fair (over fifty years) anchor the neighborhood and serve as fodder for annual “Best of Chicago” lists. Now, this same handcrafted sensibility is coming to the area’s beer and booze offerings. Award-winning Horse Thief Hollow stepped up the beer-and-a-shot bar game on Western Avenue a couple of years ago with a microbrewery and slow-roasted BBQ. By next year, Open Outcry Brewing Co. (replacing O’Brien’s Pub), as well as an expanded Wild Blossom Meadery, Illinois’s first meadery and taproom combo, will both call the neighborhood home.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods’ culture is a mix of old and new. The thirty-seven-year history of the South Side Irish Parade is still what Beverly is best known for, but the three-year-old Beverly Art Walk in October is rapidly becoming tradition. A new TIF-funded sports center in Morgan Park hosts hockey, gymnastics, and a fitness studio while just up the street the almost fifty-year-old Beverly Arts Center has spent fourteen years in its current space, offering community-driven theater, movies, and a vibrant arts curriculum.

The architecture here is rich in history with at least fifty notable buildings, including four Frank Lloyd Wrights and a block of Prairie-style homes by Walter Burley Griffin. A replica of an Irish castle has stood at 103rd Street and Longwood Drive since the late nineteenth century.

Beverly and Morgan Park’s most progressive aspects date back to the 1970s as they bucked Chicago’s segregationist leanings. Beverly is fifty-nine percent white and thirty-four percent black while Morgan Park is thirty percent white and sixty-five percent black. (Nearby Mt. Greenwood is ninety-eight percent white.) Such integration came with both hard work and a handful of lawsuits filed in the 1980s, aimed at blockbusting realtors. Making that racial mix work well for everyone comes in fits and starts as residents strive to live among each other, not just with each other. Groups such as the Southwest Chicago Diversity Collaborative and Southsiders for Peace gather regularly to address issues of diversity, gender, and social justice.

In many ways, you’ll find that Beverly and Morgan Park are the templates for a Chicago neighborhood with their more-than-fair share of city employees, cops, and firefighters. It’s a community that rallies and fundraises when one of its own needs help, whether it’s a family displaced by a fire, local police in need of bulletproof vests, or a young child stricken with cancer. Its strongest businesses are small and unique, such as The Quilter’s Trunk, Belle Up, or Beverly Records, providing a stark contrast to the big-box stores in the suburbs next door.

Building on this strength, a newly resurgent Beverly Area Planning Association, the neighborhood’s civic organization, recently launched a shop-dine-and-play-local campaign called “Live 19.” Named for the 19th Ward, which encompasses Beverly, Morgan Park, and Mt. Greenwood, the effort encourages residents to “love where you live,” though it’s rare to find anyone who doesn’t.

There are multi-generational families here, responsible for Beverly and Morgan Park’s proud past, living alongside newer, younger folks ready to settle into good schools and spacious homes with modest-compared-to-North-Side price tags.

Change happens in Beverly and Morgan Park. But the things that stay the same are just as important.

Scott Smith is a writer and media strategist. He has lived in Beverly for the past seven years and, in the interest of full disclosure, has volunteered for many of the organizations mentioned above. He also goes to Rainbow Cone a lot. You can follow him on Twitter at @ourmaninchicago.

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Best Twenty-First Century Salon

The Frunchroom

Named for the way “the front room” sounds through a South Side accent, The Frunchroom is a quarterly event meant to evoke the way your relatives and friends told stories, jokes, and tall tales after dinner over one too many cocktails.

Each event features five readers, most of whom either live or grew up on the South Side. A token North Sider is usually allowed for variety, but all the stories have a South Side connection.

In one evening, you might hear a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, the owner of the local yoga studio, a Hyde Park poet, a lawyer, and a Chicago State University professor perform one after the other. The diversity is deliberate, an effort to tell the stories about the South Side that don’t make the headlines.

After a year of standing-room-only crowds at O’Rourke’s Office in Morgan Park, The Frunchroom moved down the street to a bigger-but-still-packed banquet room at Beverly Woods Restaurant. Co-produced with The Beverly Area Arts Alliance, it’s held onto its cocktail hour vibe. Get there early for the next one on September 27th at 7:30pm. (Scott Smith)

Beverly Woods Restaurant, 11532 S. Western Ave. Next reading Tuesday, September 27, 7:30pm. See thefrunchroom.com for upcoming events. 

Best Local-Global Sweetshop

Sweet Freaks Homemade Chocolate

With a name like Sweet Freaks, some have mistaken this family-owned candy store for a much less family-friendly establishment. With its old-fashioned red-and-white checkered floor, wooden countertops, and glass cases displaying over thirty different kinds of sweets, ranging from Cherry Bites (cherry licorice dipped in dark chocolate) to Jakes (handmade creamy caramel and raw pecans sandwiched between milk chocolate, otherwise known as a “turtle”), to fooshi (candy sushi made of rice krispies and gummy bears), one visit to the store will thoroughly disabuse you of any misconceptions.

While the Sweet Freaks storefront opened over three years ago in its Walden Parkway location, its Beverly-based owners, married couple Pat and Katie Murphy, have been catering and serving their handmade chocolates and other sweets to customers since 2002. Pat trained to be a chef in Chicago in the early 1990s, and has traveled all over the country to work events like the 2016 Burning Man Festival in Nevada as well as Riot Fest at home in Chicago. Katie, who grew up in Beverly and returned after some time away at college and a year working in Europe, worked as an electrician. Pat started experimenting with various recipes for chocolate confections while Katie helped manage the business, and they started selling their sweets at coffee shops and farmer markets. When a friend and fellow Beverly resident told them about the opportunity to buy the Walden Parkway property where Sweet Freaks is currently located, they decided to extend their catering trade into a brick-and-mortar business.

As long-time residents of Beverly, the Murphys are themselves invested in supporting local businesses. The chocolate they use to make their products comes from the Blommer Chocolate Company, a chocolate and cocoa manufacturer founded in Chicago by Henry Blommer, Sr. and his four brothers in 1939. All the art that adorns their walls and countertops, including their logo and the artistic rendition of the Chicago flag hanging on the wall (which replaces the red stars with chocolate-covered strawberries) is made by local artists. Sweet Freaks exhibits painted plates and glassware created by Susan Dorsch, a local Beverly mother; the sewing work of another Beverly mother Nicole Sanders, including recycled bags, dresses, and aprons; and handcrafted wooden signs made by another Beverly resident Tina Milton. The store even has a dime bar, a glass countertop covered with bowls of candy sold at ten cents apiece. In the months of July and August, half the proceeds from the dime bar go to a local food pantry, an initiative that Katie calls Pack the Pantry. The dime bar and the Pack the Pantry initiative were designed to cater toward children, showing them that it is possible to help other people from an early age.

Sweet Freaks functions as a locally-owned business in every sense of the word. They have designed new products to cater to customers’ particular allergies, and have catered sweets for events of interested customers, including weddings, girls’ nights out, and birthday parties. They have set up display tables at high school proms and local preschool fundraisers. They sometimes give free samples of their products to neighboring businesses, such as a nearby nail salon, and showcase business cards from many local businesses.

But while the majority of their customers come from Beverly and Morgan Park, Sweet Freaks ships their chocolate all over the country. Their chocolates have even traveled with customers who wanted to bring their sweets on trips as far as Sweden, Ireland, and China. (Michelle Gan)

Sweet Freaks, 9915 S. Walden Pkwy. Tuesday, Thurs–Fri, 11am–6:30pm; Weds, 11am–8pm; Saturday, 10am–4pm. (773) 610-6320. sweetfreaks.org 

Best Mother/Daughter Shopportunity

Belle Up/Kiddie Kouture

“Village in the City” is an apt nickname for Beverly; the “village” comes complete with a main street, 103rd Street, anchored by cross-sections sprinkled with small shops and cafes. The major intersections, Western Avenue to the west and Longwood Drive to the east, offer the perfect shopping date opportunity for moms and their young children.

Both Belle Up and Kiddie Kouture were founded out of frustration with their respective industries, Belle Up for maternity wear and Kiddie Kouture for children’s clothing.

Belle Up founder Jamenda McCoy realized when she got pregnant that she was dissatisfied with the options for maternity wear; she searched far and wide, but could only find uninteresting or impractical options that didn’t fit her well. She opened Belle Up’s first branch in Beverly in 2009 to fit her vision of a South Side maternity store made “for moms, by moms.” It sells non-maternity women’s clothing and accessories as well.

Kiddie Kouture serves a different age range for a similar reason. Its founder, Amanda Reagan, who shopped at Belle Up when pregnant with her own daughter, thinks children’s clothing is done wrong these days––too risqué and prematurely adult. The boutique sells children’s clothes with a focus on locally-made items.

The fifteen-minute walk between the two is well worth it: shared purpose and cute clothes, whether for thirty-year-olds or for three-year-olds, make the two stores a perfect combination for a mother’s day out. (Sonia Schlesinger)

Belle Up Boutique, 1915 W. 103rd St. Mon–Fri, 10am–7pm; Sat–Sun, 10am–5pm. (773) 233-2442. belleup.com

Kiddie Kouture Boutique, 10324 S. Western Ave. Mon–Fri, 10am–6pm; Sat, 10am–5pm. (773) 701-6809. kiddiekouture.org

Best Irish Castle Turned Activist Church

Beverly Unitarian Church

Luke White

Luke White

Considering Beverly’s status as one of the five largest historic districts in the country, it should hardly surprise anyone to find Chicago’s only castle nestled among Beverly’s English manors and stately estates. That this 129-year-old structure now serves as a Unitarian Universalist church, after past incarnations as an all-girls high school and family home, may be more of a surprise.

As a non-creedal denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Church welcomes people of all religious and spiritual beliefs. Linda Symons Cooper, a lifelong Unitarian who has served on the church’s board multiple times, describes the church as one that brings together people who are interested in charting their own religious journeys. Weekly readings range from Bible stories to the writings of Mahatma Gandhi or the work of contemporary Muslim scholars. Marsha Curtis, a congregation member, trained Unitarian minister, and self-identifying Theravada Buddhist, also leads weekly Buddhist meditation sessions in the church on Sunday nights at 7:30pm.

One of the values that unites this congregation is a commitment to social justice. Their background in social justice includes supporting civil rights in the 1960s, endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment for women in the 1970s, and commenting vocally on the United States’ political involvement in Central America. The limestone walls of this three-story castle welcomed civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who once spoke to the congregation, and served as a place for President Obama to meet with the community in his days as a senator.

In keeping with the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Beverly Unitarian Church has certified the castle as a Green Sanctuary. As a Green Sanctuary, the church maintains a pledge to examine their environmental impact and develop sustainable practices. The church has installed an electric vehicle charging station underneath the castle’s parking lot and, in addition, every three to four months, issues an open invitation to the neighborhood to bring all hazardous waste to the castle, whether it’s recyclable goods or a large television.

Last September, the church posted a Black Lives Matter sign outside their church in solidarity with the victims from the Charleston church shooting. Although controversial community reactions eventually prompted the church to take down the sign, they joined with other Beverly and Morgan Park-area ministers, educators, and parishioners to form the “Thou Shalt Not Murder” coalition. The coalition hosted community gatherings to talk about race and also called for Easter of 2016 to be “a day free from murder of any kind.”

Beyond acting as a hub for social action and religious services, Beverly Unitarian also rents out the castle for smaller, more intimate events such as bridal showers and birthday parties. The castle’s historical status also makes it a popular destination for tours with the Chicago Architectural Foundation. (Michelle Gan)

Beverly Unitarian Church, 10244 S. Longwood Dr. Sunday service, 10:30am; Buddhist meditation, Sunday, 7:30pm; more event info available online. (773) 233-7080. beverlyunitarian.org

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