Best of Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, & Chatham 2019

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Best Vintage Neon Sign 

Lem’s Bar-B-Q 

AV Benford

It’s bright, angular, orange, and green with dozens of round, golden-white light bulbs. It’s futuristic in a late-sixties kind of way and has served as a beacon on East 75th Street for decades, illuminating the way to the Lemons brothers’ celebrated smoked ribs, tips, and links bathed in their famous and beloved original secret sauce of magical spices. No matter which direction you travel from, there is a synchronized moment when you see the gleaming sign at the exact same time that you smell the smoky aroma. Joy swells inside your entire being. Then you see the long line, rain or shine, of people waiting, as if Oprah is giving away cars, and you get a little sad knowing you are about to be standing at the very end of it. But you wait, patiently sometimes, impatiently at other times, gazing up at the familiar neon sign, while deciding what saucy-smoky goodness you will order this time. No doubt the Bar-B-Q is fire—everybody knows that—but the sign, OMG, it’s pretty fly too! (Nicole Bond)

Lem’s Bar-B-Q, 311 E. 75th St. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, 1pm–1am; Friday–Saturday, 1pm–3am; closed Tuesday. (773) 994-2428. lemsque.com

 

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Best New Catalyst for the Arts

Nine 3 Studio

Art studio Nine 3 is an oasis in this industrial part of the South Side that has faced decline since the closure of the South Works steel mill. In what was formerly a garage next to a post office, Nine 3 offers space for a variety of art mediums, including painting and sculpture. Founded by artist Roman Villarreal this year, it is a studio that he says belongs to the community and to Chicago. Villarreal, who also runs the Under the Bridge art studio in East Side, told Block Club in June he hopes to catalyze the artistic community in this part of the city, and predicted there’d be a “huge art community” in five years. Swing by and unleash your inner artist in this studio working to promote the arts amongst residents of the Southeast Side. (Maria Maynez)

Nine 3 studio, 9300 S. South Chicago Ave. Open this upcoming Friday, September 20, for a three-day event beginning at noon. facebook.com/villarrealartstudio

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Best Underground Africentric Bookstore

The Underground Bookstore

AV Benford

“Destiny, I guess you could call it,” said Mr. Yoel as he recalled the path that led him to where he was now (it’s “mister” for anyone under the age of forty-five, he said). Yoel had always wanted to run a business and went to school for business administration. But almost three decades ago, he fell on hard times and was sleeping out in the back of the bookstore, whose owner at the time let him stay there, and he would sometimes go out and sell books for him. Then one Wednesday, the owner told him that he’d be out by Friday—and he was.

That meant Yoel had two options: find another place to stay, or try to take over the store. The problem was that the previous owner hadn’t paid rent in a few months, and the landlord said he could stay on the condition he found a way to pay it back. But Yoel had just two boxes of books to work with. “I had to spread them out across the store, you could stretch your arms out from one to the next,” he said. But people came in and asked for books that he would find and bring back that evening or the following morning. “I knew where to get books,” he added.

Over the years, he built out his bookstore business, adding and removing stores. He’s had five total, three at one time, including Frontline Books in Hyde Park and one downtown, though he downsized to just the one here in 2004. Now he’s trying to get enough capital together to buy the building.

Much like the sign on the storefront suggests, Yoel mainly stocks books about and by Black people, with a mix of African and Diaspora authors. The genres range from mystery, esoteric New World Order conspiracy stuff, history, fiction, health, and a sizable children’s section. Here you can find recent books about the Black P. Stone Nation, several volumes of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, and histories of African civilizations. The store has more than books—there’s incense, and Egyptian Ankhs and Eyes of Horus. In the back is a large poster of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

And it’s about more than just selling books for Yoel, clearly. While I was there, a Black girl and her mom came in, and when checking out, Yoel had the girl recite some words about the importance of being a Black child, and the universe waiting to see what she would do. Yoel, in turn, has learned from his customers too. When he started out, he didn’t know much about books. But as more people came to him with suggestions and requests, he started reading too. “Now my dinner table is just… books.” (Adam Przybyl)

The Underground Bookstore, 1727 E. 87th St. Monday–Saturday, 11am–7pm. (773) 768-8869.

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Best Customized Ibuprofen

200 Pharmacy

200 Pharmacy makes medicine for you. Y-o-u, you, and only you. One of only a handful of compounding, customizing pharmacies on the South Side, 200 is an oasis in a world overrun with complicated, inflexible, depersonalized medicine. When you’re sick, the generic experience of picking up a prescription can bring often bring fresh stress of its own: the names of packaged medications are overloaded with consonants, their functions are one-size-fits-all but still never exactly right. At 92nd and Stony Island, there lies an escape from it all: one-of-a-kind, directed compassion in a world increasingly stacked with fluorescent and anonymous corporate pharmaceutical services.

200 Pharmacy’s compounded medicines are the best possible form of modern-day potions: healing power carefully translated into creams, analgesics, and capsules. All day long, lab technicians devise medicinal compounds, repackaging pharmaceutical ingredients into ingestible forms designed for each particular patient. Empathy suffuses the process from start to finish. Patients come through the front doors with a doctor’s prescription and a particular set of needs (“I can’t swallow pills!”;  “This cream isn’t helping where it hurts!”), and then Sherman White and his team put their heads together. They mill hard-to-swallow pills into smooth topical creams, spin active and inactive ingredients together into the ideal blend, always matching the medicine to the individual patient’s situation.

At 200 Pharmacy, the medicine is more specialized than what you’ll encounter elsewhere, but the business of it all embodies a lovely simplicity. White is in the business of helping through healing. From a young age, he dreamed of entrepreneurship, and founded 200 Pharmacy with his older brother Jeffrey Veal in 1980, only two years after graduating from Howard University’s esteemed School of Pharmacy. Veal is now retired, but it’s stayed a family operation all these decades later: White’s wife Vicky holds down the business’s medical supplies arm and their daughter works in the office. Patients, customers, delivery drivers, and friends flow in and out of the store. They ask Sherman’s advice, they chat, they consult staff about their ailments, they peruse the orthopedic shoes on offer. It’s a small world, and one that feels wonderfully complete, full of warmth, sympathy, and, yes, plenty of ibuprofen. (Sarah Fineman)

200 Pharmacy, 9133 S. Stony Island Ave. Monday–Friday, 9am–6pm; Saturday, 9am–3pm. (773) 374-4550. 200pharmacy.com

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Best Park Family

Avalon Park

“I would not be the man that I am today were it not for the people here,” Quante Curry told me as we looked out across the basketball courts in the park. It was the kind of thing you might expect to hear about a church group, or someone’s family or friends. But Curry was talking about the supervisors and regular attendees of Avalon Park, where he’d been going since moving to the area in 2005. “I used to come in there with issues. They helped me through a lot. I didn’t even like going outside until I started coming here,” he added.

I got the sense that Avalon Park was a friendly place when I first walked in to use the bathroom. Curry, along with three other people, was sitting and chatting inside the main entrance. “You look important,” he said. “I’m really not,” I replied, and everyone laughed. When I asked for a tour, Reggie showed me around the fieldhouse, fitness room, game room, and meeting rooms. In a few hours, dozens of kids would come from school to hang out, do homework, and play basketball, floor hockey, and do gymnastics. Reggie explained that the park also hosted square and line dancing, and invited me to the “Night Club at Noon” on November 20, when the space would be turned into a giant nightclub for people to dance in.

That’s when Curry took over to give me the “proper tour,” as he called it. “This was the liveliest, loudest place in the city,” he said as he showed me the basketball courts. For some reason having to do with safety, the Park District removed the rims in the last few years. “We’d be playing here until two or three in the morning. Everyone would come here, the guys would play, the girls would be watching the guys,” he said.

The park is still lively, despite the loss of rims. There’s a running track that was seeing some use while I was there, baseball fields, tennis courts, a pool, a playground, and ample space to walk around. There’s a lengthy, winding path that takes you through peaceful areas shaded by trees and surrounded by green everywhere you look.

The park’s staff play a big role in making the place feel like home. Speaking about Patricia McMillan, the park superintendent, Curry said, “Ms. McMillan is the mother of every person here. She’d tell people to stay in school and keep their heads up.” Then there was Tommy, “who was kind of like the uncle,” he added. “Everybody respected these two.” One time, Curry told me, people from a gang were looking for someone at the park who was inside the building. Tommy took them inside and made them talk things out. “They weren’t happy about it, but that’s Tommy, protecting people,” he said. According to Curry, Reggie and Yasmine, who used to take part in the park programs for kids and now work there, have hosted fundraisers to buy things for the kids, and often end up taking money out of their own paychecks to do so. What else would you need to know that Avalon Park has your back? (Adam Przybyl)

Avalon Park, 1215 E. 83rd St. Park open 6am–9pm, daily. Fieldhouse open Monday–Friday, 8am–9pm; Saturday, 8am–5pm; closed Sundays. (312) 747-6015. chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/avalon-park

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