- Best Museum in a Basement
- Best Breath of Fresh Air
- Best Low-Power FM Station
- Best Three-Pound Burrito
- Best Donut the Size of Your Head
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Bridgeport? From its immigrant beginnings producing the nation’s sausages, or its dichotomy of old-school born-here, die-here types rubbing shoulders with the constant tide of artisans and students floating around, it’s the most Chicago neighborhood. Bridgeport has sordid histories; it has promising futures.
My business partner, Owen Lloyd, and I opened Blue City Cycles here in 2009, shortly after the economic crash. We figured that if we could make it in a recession, we’d be fine. [Multi-location bike shop] Kozy’s also got their start in the area, which indicated to us that the neighborhood could support a small shop. Eight years later, we’re still here, so I guess that means that we made it.
Bridgeport is secretly quite diverse; people of many ethnicities, classes, and ages mix here, which is one of my favorite facets of the area. I know a lot of our customers come from the surrounding neighborhoods too—South Loop, Bronzeville, Back of the Yards, Canaryville, Englewood—which does make it feel like the “community of the future” some days.
Every year brings positive changes to the neighborhood: new businesses open, streets get makeovers, old buildings get facelifts and new tenants. The pace of change sometimes feels slow compared with other neighborhoods, but I think that means our growth is more deliberate, more sustainable. We are a Starbucks-free zone, too, which feels like a badge of honor.
It’s really nice to be a cog in a community like this one. We keep Bridgeport on its wheels, rubber side down, so people can get to work, or school, or the lakefront. The relationships we’ve built with our regulars are also a nice perk of our years in business: watching the annoying teenagers grow up and go to school and turn into adults; selling the baby seat for dad’s bike, then seeing the kid get their own bike a few years later; helping an occasional commuter start riding all year long; knowing a customer’s taste and style, and maybe having the hot pink tires on hand just in case they need an upgrade.
I’m happy that Bridgeport likes us and supports us, and we’re happy to be part of the community.
Clare Knipper is the co-owner of Blue City Cycles, a full-service bike shop located at 3201 S. Halsted St.
Chicago Maritime Museum
Chicago started as a maritime city. Once America’s busiest seaport, it has hosted warships and passenger ships that sailed across the great expanse of Lake Michigan to southwest Michigan and is linked to both the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Mississippi River. As Midwestern as it is, Chicago connects to both the north Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The city’s rich nautical history, going back to its incipient days as a canoe-clogged trading post, has been preserved in the basement of the brick-clad Bridgeport Art Center on the Bubbly Creek branch of the Chicago River.
The Chicago Maritime Museum preserves a bygone history where the city’s once-plentiful docks and wharves were filled with schooners, steamships, and barges hauling lumber, grain, and other cargo. Visitors embark on a captivating voyage that includes vintage dive suits, impeccably detailed ship replicas, and black-and-white photographs of bygone vessels like the SS Christopher Columbus and the SS Harvester. One can learn about the Chicago River’s metal drawbridges, the Port of Chicago that still putters along today, and the tragic wreck of the SS Eastland passenger ship that killed 844 when it capsized en route to a company picnic in Michigan City. There’s a wealth of information about historic lighthouses, and about the military training that took place at Navy Pier before it became an uber-commercialized tourist mecca that natives love to mock.
Displays are slick, contemporary, and packed with facts. The museum juts out onto Bubbly Creek with great waterfront views that one can savor while soaking in all the lovingly recounted history. During a visit earlier this year, copies of a book about the century-old Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac in Michigan were free for the taking. Waterways shaped Chicago, as they did in most cities. The Chicago Maritime Museum tells you exactly how, when, and why such expansive bodies of water still matter today. (Joseph S. Pete)
Chicago Maritime Museum, 1200 W. 35th St. Ste. OE-5010. Tuesday–Saturday, 10am–4pm. $10 adults; $5 students; free for children and seniors. (773) 376-2982. chicagomaritimemuseum.org
Eden Place Nature Center
Two decades ago, Eden Place Nature Center was an empty lot. Today, it overflows with life, from weathered buckthorns to gentle creeks. For schoolchildren and adults alike, it’s the wild writ small: a riparian patch in one corner, prairie grasses in the next, all bordered by train tracks to the west and a chain-link fence to the east.
Benote Evans, a community activist and urban farmer, has worked at the site for eight years, “weeding, mulching, taking out trees, putting in trees.” When I visited the park on a sunny afternoon, he walked me through a tallgrass thicket and told me how a single horticulture class had steered him from “the wrong path” toward a passion for bringing nature to poor and disenfranchised communities.
Evans now has a TreeKeepers badge and an urban farming certificate, but what stands out is his vision for better living through agriculture. “If you can eat something you grow, it should help you feel a little bit different about yourself,” as he put it.
He continued: “Every vacant lot that’s not being used should have food on it. In these poor and disenfranchised communities, instead of racing them to the penitentiary, they should be racing them to the farm.”
Evans doesn’t just hope that visiting schoolchildren will carry an appreciation of nature with them when they leave––he hopes that they’ll bring these same lessons home to their parents. In this, Eden Place isn’t a retreat from the realities of city life. It’s a vision of what a better Chicago might look like––complete with rainbow-painted plywood, a solar-paneled school bus, and miniature horses. (Christopher Good)
Eden Place Nature Center, 4415 S. Stewart Ave. Monday–Friday, 9am–3pm and by appointment. Farmer’s Market, 4911 S. Shields. Saturday, 9am–2pm. (773) 624-8686. edenplacenaturecenter.org
WLPN-LP has been on the airwaves since last October, but it’s been a project many years in the making. Between applying for a license in 2013, building a space for the station within the Co-Prosperity Sphere, and reaching out to DJs, collectors, and other groups throughout the city to populate its airtime, getting things off the ground at Lumpen and keeping them running 24/7 is a “herculean task.” Ed Marszewski, the director of Lumpen, joked, “If we had known how hard it was to set up a radio station, we might’ve thought twice before doing it.” But Lumpen’s staff aren’t the only ones glad they stuck it out—members of the Chicago community, from local activists and academics to youth programs (and the South Side Weekly!), contributors are now able to go on air to talk about the news, or their favorite subjects, or issues of importance to them and people in their communities. Station manager Jamie Trecker, who has twenty-five years of experience in broadcast media, praised the station’s diversity and uniqueness in the Chicago radio landscape. “I must listen to Lumpen eighteen hours a day, and every day I hear something that surprises me or that I’ve never heard before,” he said. Tune in at 105.5 FM, online, or through the Lumpen iOS app and see for yourself. (Adam Przybyl)
Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan St. Broadcasting every day. Visits by appointment only. (773) 823-9700. lumpenradio.com
Martinez Supermarket & Grill
Some neighborhood gems are so well-hidden you only learn of them through word of mouth. Martinez Supermarket and Grill is one of these places. Tucked behind the aisles of a small grocery store, this neighborhood-famous restaurant is a go-to spot for locals hungry for Mexican food. The grill is known for its massive three-pound burritos. Don’t try to finish these in one sitting—refrigeration and microwaving are unavoidable if the burritos are attacked alone. Consider sharing instead. Burrito eaters can choose from a wide selection of meats, including chorizo; the grill also sells their raw chorizo, which is made from a family recipe dating back two generations, by the pound. The al pastor taco and steak torta are the favorites of Monica Martinez, daughter of the couple who own the building and grocery store. The family of four moved to Bridgeport from the North Side about thirty years ago; their rear-of-store restaurant started as a weekend venture, then became full-time under the supervision of Monica’s brother Rudy. The whole family lives in the flat above the supermarket, and they treat customers like family too. “Half of the people [who come here] we know by name,” said Monica. “This is like our home…We’re never upstairs, we’re always here. We eat dinner here.” (David Struett)
Martinez Supermarket and Grill, 3301 S Morgan St. Monday–Friday, 10:30am–8pm; Saturday, 9am–7pm; Sunday, 9am–5pm. (773) 254-4048
Huck Finn Restaurant
The first thing you’ll see when you step inside Huck Finn Restaurant are the donuts, lined up behind the counter, and covered in everything from chocolate frosting to colorful sprinkles. Then you may notice that among the regular-sized donuts are a few giants, donuts bigger than hands, ready to be devoured by a couple friends or a particularly ravenous eater. If you’re lucky, you may even see donuts the size of car tires; a picture on the counter shows a wedding “cake” made of several tire-sized donuts and a few smaller ones. The restaurant has an easy atmosphere—classic diner setup with booths and a counter, only with a cozier, upscale vibe—and the menu has a wide range of options, from omelets and waffles to the “Tom Sawyer Feast,” two fish fillets on golden toast with tartar sauce. If you decide to order the huge donut (the hand-sized one—good luck if you order the tire donut), you may find that it has less of a donut consistency than expected and is more like a round cake with frosting. But for those of us looking for a big dessert with a hot, strong cup of coffee, it may be just what’s needed. (Adam Przybyl)
Huck Finn Restaurant, 3414 S. Archer Ave. Open 24/7. Parking available. (773) 247-5515. huckfinnrestaurant.com
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