Lizzie Smith

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Best Mid-Century Modern Bank

State Bank of Clearing

Lizzie Smith

Architect Harry Weese is perhaps best known for his iconic Washington Metro station designs, those masterpieces of brutalist architecturebut the Evanston-born architect also applied his skills to a wide variety of Chicago buildings. Among those works is the State Bank of Clearing, a mid-century modern bank located immediately south of Midway International Airport.

The now-defunct State Bank of Clearing was built in 1959. One innovation in its design was an integrated drive-through structure that enabled tellers to assist clients equally, whether the client was in a car or on foot. The exterior of the bank features a symmetrical structure, with brick at the corners and the top of the building, and concrete and glass elsewhere. The interior has Weese’s characteristic simple but striking lines.

In 2013, Preservation Chicago listed the building as part of its “Chicago 7 Most Endangered Buildings,” citing concerns about its vacancy and deteriorating structures. Since then, the building appears to have received an exterior paint job, but no other substantial changes are apparent. The drive-through structure still stands.

County records show that the last banking tenant, Fifth Third Bank, sold the building to a private individual at the end of 2007. That same individual transferred the property to a trust earlier this year via a quitclaim deed. The future of the building remains uncertain, but we hope this piece of architectural history will not be lost. (Joshua Falk)

State Bank of Clearing, 5235 W. 63rd St.

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Best Eyesore

Garfield Ridge Trust & Savings Bank Building

“Eyesore Bank to Be Bulldozed,” read the headline from the Southwest Chicago Post. But the picture accompanying the June 2018 article couldn’t possibly be the right one—who could mistake this baffling, seventies-era, baby blue-shuttered building for an eyesore? The article begins by again declaring the building an eyesore, apparently one of Garfield Ridge’s “most notorious.” Upon learning of its impending demise, current city Department of Housing policy director (and then-contributor to the Weekly) Daniel Kay Hertz responded, “Baby blue mansard with giant cutouts is truly the galaxy brain of 20th century architecture, RIP.” Indeed.

The plan, according to the Post, was for a series of single-family homes to replace the former Garfield Ridge Trust & Savings Bank, which closed in 2004. “In the past several years, I’ve pitched anyone I can think of—Culver’s, Panda Express, Starbucks, anyone you can imagine,” 13th Ward Alderman Marty Quinn said last year, “and they all [had] problems with the configuration because any particular driveway would not lead back to Archer.” He promised that, on his watch, the site wouldn’t become a car wash, apartments, or office space. To wit, by that point, he had already downzoned the building to only allow single-family homes on the site.

No developer was officially named at the June 2018 meeting, however, and no demolition permits have been issued. A sale listing, recent as of last January, lists reuse as an option for buyers who want to plunk down $1.2 million for a building that, according to Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch president Al Cacciottolo, has extensive damage from twenty feet of water in the basement last year. However, it’s impossible to say, at least as of press time, where the plans stand—neither the listed attorney for the LLC that owns the building nor the realtors on the sale listing responded to requests for comment. Here’s hoping there’s some reuse opportunity for this galaxy brain of twentieth-century architecture. (Sam Stecklow)

The former Garfield Ridge Trust & Savings Bank building, 6353 W. 55th St.

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Best Reboot

A Cup of Joe

After management of this small Garfield Ridge coffee shop changed hands last year, it began bringing things that are taken for granted in other parts of the city and yet are often ignored in this corner out by Midway International Airport—things like open mics, farmers stands, fresh Filipino-inspired baked goods, locally-brewed Metropolis coffee, and made-to-order café sandwiches. Clearly still in startup mode, with new efforts being announced on its Facebook page seemingly weekly, the self-branded “reboot” is worth keeping tabs on. (Sam Stecklow)

A Cup of Joe, 6806 W. Archer Ave. Monday–Saturday, 6am–10pm; Sunday, 8am–6pm. (773) 306-0185.

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Best Pupuseria

Pupuseria Cafe

If you’re looking for pupusas on the South Side of Chicago, Clearing has you covered with Pupuseria Cafe. If you’re not looking for pupusas, you’ve either already found Pupuseria Cafe, or you don’t know what you’re missing. For those unfamiliar with the dish, pupusas are a Salvadoran stuffed flatbread made from cornmeal. They share a family resemblance to gorditas and arepas, but they are their own unique treat that everyone should experience.

Pupuseria Cafe serves up classic pupusa flavors like loroco (an edible flower bud) and chicharrón, newer options like Hawaiian ham with pineapple, and even offers a make-your-own pupusa option. At $2.90 a pupusa, you can try out a few different flavors with your meal. Each pupusa is freshly made by hand, so allow time for your order, but they are well worth the wait. No pupusa would be complete without curtido, a Salvadoran pickled cabbage slaw, and Pupuseria Cafe’s version offers a mild kick from jalapeños.

If you bring along a friend and pupusas aren’t really their style, there’s no need for them to pooh-pooh your decision. The cafe also has an extensive menu of tortas, quesadillas, and—unexpectedly—crepes.

I had trouble writing this because just thinking about their pupusas left me with a craving, and I’m already planning my next visit. Whether you’ve enjoyed pupusas your whole life or want to try your first, Pupuseria Cafe is the place to go. (Joshua Falk)

Pupuseria Cafe, 6533 W. 63rd St. Tuesday–Sunday, 9am–9pm. (773) 498-3676.

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Best $4 Babka

Racine Bakery

Lizzie Smith

Step into Racine Bakery and you will be greeted with an impressive collection of Lithuanian and Polish baked goods: pączki, poppy seed rolls, an endless assortment of cookies, and no less than five types of rye bread.

How to choose among all these options? The truth is, you really can’t go wrong. But in the leftmost display of the bakery, you’ll find my personal favorite: babka. And not just one type of babka. Babka in all shapes and flavors: Round babka. Square babka. Poppyseed babka. Chocolate babka. Cheese babka. All pleasantly sweet without being cloying.

You might complain that I’ve just made the problem of choosing even worse, but at $3.99 per babka, you don’t have to pick! Try a few, find your favorite, and share what’s left with your friends. And the babka isn’t unique; basically everything at Racine Bakery is remarkably affordable, without compromising on quality.

The bakery is accompanied by a deli on the left side of the store, so you can pick up savory goods and Eastern European groceries all in one trip. 

Racine Bakery’s treats can be found in stores throughout the Chicagoland area, and you can also have its breads and cakes shipped anywhere in the country. But for the full experience of a plethora of options, you must stop by its bakery on Archer Avenue. Efficient, delicious, cheap—Racine Bakery should not be missed. (Joshua Falk)

Racine Bakery, 6216 S. Archer Ave. Monday–Friday, 6am–7pm; Saturday, 6am–6pm; Sunday, 7am–2pm. (773) 581-8500.

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