Best of the South Side 2016 | Bridgeport | McKinley Park

Best of Bridgeport & McKinley Park 2016

Juliet Eldred

 

My name is Tom Gaulke. I’m the pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity in Bridgeport and a co-founder of Bridgeport Alliance. I accepted a call as a pastor to this community in April 2009. First Trinity (my parish) is a historic mainline Protestant church in the middle of a neighborhood that historically has been majority Roman Catholic.

Perhaps because of our Protestant tradition, perhaps because our mission in the neighborhood is uniquely inclusive of and helpful to the poor and the homeless of Bridgeport, our (and my) involvement in the Bridgeport neighborhood has very much been one of protest, advocacy, and organizing for the benefit of those most excluded and hurt by the world as it is. From fighting with neighbors to close the coal-fired power plants, to working to get the neighborhood a 31st Street bus, to giving away free food and clothing, we have been often involved in bettering the community, especially for the sake of those most in need.

So when asked to say a thing about Bridgeport, I write from my slice of the neighborhood. I love the small-town feel of the neighborhood. I like walking down the street and knowing my neighbors by name. I like that there are people in the circles I frequent who work tirelessly to improve the world, to build community, and to create spaces of welcome for everyone, especially those who have often been excluded. I dislike when our neighborhood is unwelcoming, when it excludes.

I dislike that in Bridgeport, just like in my hometown in Wisconsin, it is not uncommon to hear a racist remark from a neighbor, or something classist, or xenophobic. I’m not surprised, but such behavior is in no way representative of my ideal community, and has no place in the one we’re trying to build. I dislike that the community (and the City of Chicago/State of Illinois) lacks mental health services and other resources meant to break the cycles of poverty, addiction, and sickness that so many are stuck in, and that our people suffer for it.

It is nice to have a unique niche in the neighborhood, and to have a great community of people who I care to gather with each week. As we see signs of “growth” and gentrification, my hope is not that the neighborhood grows in economic prosperity alone—not that we simply add new businesses or homeowners, or fancy restaurants half of us can’t afford, displacing our poor and vulnerable—but that we also grow in heart, in love, in spirit; that we learn to take responsibility for all of our neighbors’ well being, and that we embrace one another as a human family, so everyone can afford to eat, to thrive, to live.

Tom Gaulke is the pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, located at 31st St. and S. Lowe Ave, and a community organizer. He successfully agitated for a test run of a 31st Street bus and was one of the founding members of the grassroots group Bridgeport Alliance.

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Best Last One Standing

George’s Restaurant

Juliet Eldred

Juliet Eldred

Stop into any shop along Halsted in Bridgeport, and they’ll tell you to walk down the block to George’s for lunch. It’s a classic spot with laminate booths and a long counter dotted with bar stools; the walls are covered with Sox memorabilia. When I walk through the door, a friendly server greets me. In response to my questions about the restaurant’s history, she offers to introduce me to Elaine. Elaine is George’s daughter; she’s taken over the business after her father’s recent passing and has made it her mission to keep his Greek and Chicagoan classics coming. The menu features everything from gyros and lentil soups to burgers and fries, but it’s not only the food that makes George’s special. The restaurant has been around for nearly forty years, outlasting every other business on the block. Though the restaurant did make one move in its time, it only jumped several doors down, to take on a bigger space and a bigger kitchen. George himself grew up just outside of Sparta, Greece, Elaine tells me. Once in Chicago, he worked his way up in other chef’s kitchens—all with the goal of eventually opening his own business. It’s clear he is the much loved and much missed heart of George’s; the restaurant has been a community staple for decades and continues to be. Though they have a large number of regular customers, they’re always welcoming more and you’re sure to be one after stopping by. (Corinne Butta)

George’s Restaurant, 3445 S. Halsted St. Monday–Friday, 9am–9pm, Saturday, 9am–8pm, Sunday, 10am–5pm. (773) 247-4770.

Best Respite From the Corporate World

MAKE! Chicago

In Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke, a supporting character finds authenticity in a world of condos, Starbucks and soulless consumerism by building a castle from stone in defiance of zoning and municipal authorities. Bridgeport doesn’t have a castle like Beverly, but it does have MAKE! Chicago, where you can mess around with oxy acetylene torches, orbital sanders, angle grinders, and hand shears. It’s a self-described “respite” from the office world in an industrial park not far from the Bridgeport Art Center and the Zhou B Art Center. Anyone who’s interested can make something with their hands using the techniques of woodworking, metalworking, upholstery, and sculpture. MAKE! Chicago is open by appointment only, but it does offer classes in box making, furniture refinishing, upholstery, joinery, and rustic pallet furniture building. If you want to try your hand at metalworking or like to experiment and just plain make, you can try it out on Third Friday Open Shop Nights.

“Anybody can be a Maker!” MAKE! Chicago says on its website. “Makers are people who like to make stuff, fix stuff, work with their hands, experiment, and solve puzzles. Mechanics, woodworkers, engineers, chefs, bicycle enthusiasts, artists, anybody in any field will likely come across some road block that requires making something to solve the problem. Be you artist, DIY enthusiast, handyperson, homeowner, tinkerer, designer, dabbler, bodger, inventor, (etc. etc.), professional or hobbyist, beginner, intermediate, or advanced, all kinds of Makers are welcome at MAKE! Chicago.” (Joseph S. Pete)

MAKE! Chicago, 1048 W. 37th St. By appointment only. Prices vary. (312) 925-2627. make-chicago.com

Best Recipe For Love

Augustine’s Spiritual Goods

Juliet Eldred

Juliet Eldred

The entrance to Augustine’s is nondescript—no neon signs proclaiming tarot readings, or visions of the future, simply a wooden door marked above by dark blue text on white: “Augustine’s. Spiritual Goods. Eternal Gifts.” The store, now in its twenty-fifth year, is a treasure trove for the mystical, hawking a myriad of incenses, oils, crystals, candles, herbs, amulets, tarot cards, and more, all designed to spiritualize. The owner Reverend Carolyn Hennes (a nondenominational calling, she explains) also tells me that while the shop does get curious passersby who enter for the novelty, there exists a loyal following of customers whom they treat much like family. During my visit, one such customer was having a tarot consultation—a service that’s part of the shop’s suite of “spiritual empowerment” classes which include topics such as fairy magic, miracles, and chakra—while another was being rung up, receiving the advice: “Envision the life you want to lead.” Here, they’re generous with the spiritual advice, dispensing it from beyond a glass counter where they also customize herb-root blends designed to help customers’ specific situations. Most ask for love or money, I’m told, but there are the occasional customers looking to hex someone, to which their first response is: “Usually we try and talk them out of it.” (Isabelle Lim)

Augustine’s Spiritual Goods, 3327 S. Halsted St. Monday–Thursday, 11am–7pm, Friday–Saturday, 11am–6pm, Sunday, 12pm–4pm. (773) 843–1933.

Best Punkin’ Donuts

Daley Library

No librarian would dare shush you during “Punk Rock and Donuts” at the Richard J. Daley branch of the Chicago Public Library. Branch manager Jeremy Kitchen, a former punk singer himself, started hosting free punk shows in the unlikeliest of venues back in 2013. The library branch partners with Jackalope Coffee, the bass player from the band Anatomy of Habits, and sound guy Kenny Rasmussen to stage two or three shows a year.

“The inspiration came from a project I did using the principles of human-centered design, which is a humanist practice where you incorporate the needs and wants of the library patrons with original programming that will appeal to many, but perhaps not all,” Kitchen said. “It is an experimental process in which you appeal to what actual residents of the neighborhood want to see in their libraries.” Chicago bands like Silver Abuse, Callaghan, and ONO have played the afternoon shows, which are preceded by coffee and, of course, the eponymous donuts.

“Kenny and I partnered up because the state of all-ages shows in Chicago can be pretty sad—idiots throwing beer on each other and fighting in basements. We think that type of behavior belongs in the frat house and not at all-ages punk shows,” Kitchen said. “Like all library programs, it is for all walks of life, and we have had toddlers to seniors show up.” (Joseph S. Pete)

Richard J. Daley Branch, Chicago Public Library, 3400 S. Halsted Street. Monday and Wednesday, 10am–6pm, Tuesday and Thursday, 12pm–8pm, Friday and Saturday, 9am–5pm, closed Sunday. Free. (312) 747-8990.

Best Heart

31st & Western

Standing at the corner of 31st and Western, with the Arturo Velasquez Institute to one side and a nondescript brick building—the home of the mysteriously named Lpz Inc.—to the other, there’s no signage to tell you that you’re just feet from the geographic center of Chicago. For the City of Big Shoulders, it’s fitting: the intersection is located in an industrial part of McKinley Park just feet from the canal (in which the true center is sunk). It makes sense, somehow, that the heart of the city hearkens back to its roots in shipping and industry. But in order to truly appreciate the city center, you have to do some digging into the polarizing politics of its signage. As Chicago annexes land, its center point moves; after the addition of O’Hare Airport in 1956, the heart of the city jumped from West 37th and S. Honore to its current location in the canal, closest to 31st and Western. Controversially, a sign recently granted by the 12th Ward Alderman’s office stands at the first location, falsely designating it as the center of “The Greatest City in America.” While the bright green plaque makes a great photo op, it’s worth a ceremonial trip to the true center before it shifts again, where you can look over the canal and see the skyscrapers of the Loop in the distance. (Corinne Butta)

Geographic Center of Chicago, 31st Street and Western Avenue.

Thoughts on “Best of Bridgeport & McKinley Park 2016”

  1. I see Pastor Tom Gaulke wrote more about himself and what he dislikes about bridgeport then the great things about the community. Seeing him for years in the community I would compare him to someone like Father Phelger who loves to talk about himself especially if there is a camera or media involved and also talk about his fight against injustice instead of focusing on all the great things we have to offer here instead of talking about themselves.

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