32nd & Prairie Ave. Photo by Jason Schumer

Best of Bronzeville 2021

Best of Bronzeville 2021. Photo by Gerri Fernandez

 

If you stand on the east side of 43rd and Martin Luther King Drive facing north, you’ll see a large portrait of a smiling Gwendolyn Brooks holding a copy of A Street In Bronzeville. You can walk west on 43rd and catch the bus headed south to 51st St., or you can walk slightly further down and catch the Green Line at 43rd and take that to 51st St. The bus offers a view of the greystones lining King Drive, but the train gives you plenty of opportunities to marvel at life on Prairie Avenue framed by the iconic wooden back staircases that distinguish Chicago. 

Standing not too far from the 51st Street Green Line stop, you can look up at a mural of Lorraine Hansberry, who is looking out at life on 51st St., one of the neighborhood’s liveliest corridors. I started my relationship with Bronzeville at that intersection, in the community garden across from Boxville. I bought my red Schwinn from the Bike Box when it was the only thing on the lot. Sam got the bike tuned, then sent me over to Blackstone Bike Works to get a bike lock.

That ride from 51st and Prairie to 61st and Blackstone was my first real taste of the South Side. I still remember my face relaxing into a smile as I rode alongside the tennis courts on the west side of Washington Park. Since then I began working at the Invisible Institute, which shares a building with Blackstone Bike Works. Bronzeville is always providing clues, inviting visitors and residents alike into a call and response. (Anwulika Anigbo) 

Neighborhood captain Anwulika Anigbo is the development director at the Invisible Institute and a Weekly board member.

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Best Wellness One-Stop

Haji Healing Salon

There is no place in the city like Haji Healing Salon. My personal journey with Haji started with me making the trek from Rogers Park to Chatham to visit their previous location, eventually recruiting friends to journey with me. Haji rooted “wellness” in something tangible, making it attainable in the present, rather than another aspirational lifestyle aesthetic. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Haji expanded online services and created a strong community of support for people across the country in the process. This summer Haji opened its Bronzeville location on Cottage Grove, offering a variety of ways to release and connect online and in person.

Haji offers a class on Zoom every day of the week. Vinyasa Yoga with founder Aya-Nikole Cook is offered for all levels of expertise on Sundays, as well as Restorative Movement and Reiki-Infused Rest with Maria “SistaShamon” Lanier. The classes are a great place to jump into a practice in the familiarity of your own home. You could also head into Haji for community services and classes like communal or private acupuncture and reiki sessions, bodywork, and private yoga sessions. Their full list of programming can be found on their site. (Anwulika Anigbo)

Haji Healing Salon, 4448 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Tuesday-Sunday: 12pm-6pm. (312) 375-7445.

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Best Wait for a Good Meal

Ain’t She Sweet Cafe

Photo by Gerri Fernandez

Every time I visit, there is always a line at Ain’t She Sweet Cafe, but the wait is never bad. You can call ahead to order, but there is more to the wait; you never know who you might meet or what they might tell you about the neighborhood. I also enjoy the walls. In a world that is converging into the same six aesthetics, the walls are a rare comfort. 

I recently had the jerk chicken wrap with a berry smoothie and red velvet cake (for research) and I recommend all of it. I’ll be working my way through the wraps before heading to bowls. Next up is the buffalo chicken wrap. Ain’t She Sweet is one of those places where the entire menu is worth a look. They offer salads, bowls, paninis, sandwiches, smoothies, ice cream and desserts. It is easier to find vegetarian and vegan options across the menu with some customization. 

The lack of seating due to the pandemic only creates an occasion for a lunch at the park. Once you get your food you can walk or take a quick drive over to Hadiya Pendleton Park off 43rd for its water feature and tiny hill for enjoying the view of downtown. You could also visit Mandrake Park, our Best of the South Side pick for Best Place to Catch a Good Vibe. (Anwulika Anigbo)

Ain’t She Sweet Cafe, 526 E. 43rd St #2920. Monday-Friday: 10am-6pm, Saturday: 11am-6pm. (773) 373-3530.

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Best Place to Catch a Good Vibe

Mandrake Park

You can do a little bit of everything at Mandrake Park. Coming off of DuSable Lake Shore Drive, you might think the park is limited to the track, which is usually full of people doing a wide range of activities. However, if you look farther you might find young people practicing football, workout groups, friends making their taking laps around the track as they chat, and a few people just enjoying the view. If you keep walking south you’ll find basketball courts, kids playgrounds, tennis courts, baseball fields, seating, and more than likely, more people. 

It isn’t a large park by any measure, despite the number of amenities it boosts. It’s bordered by roads, visible from every area of the park. Still, there is a modest mound that surrounds the track. If you sit at its base, resting on the slope, and tilt your head slightly upward you can just obscure the view of the street. You won’t be able to tune out the sounds of the street but somehow it seems to matter less at Mandrake Park, it’s part of what makes the park. 

I recently drove by on my way downtown and saw a group of about five women doing a line dance on the paved walkway at the eastern tip of the park. I hadn’t seen it before, it looked a little more rigorous than your standard line dance. They were all black women over forty. he instructor was taking time to gesture to the people joining in virtually via a phone carefully placed where an in-person participant might otherwise be. I thought of my partner’s mother, now retired, and the line dance that broke out at a barbeque I attended at Rainbow Beach a few weeks prior. Mandrake has a lot of familiarity. 

Head east a few paces and you’ll be crossing the 38th St. bridge to the lakefront. This is a great location to let the day unwind at its own pace. (Anwulika Anigbo)

Mandrake Park, 3858 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Daily: 6am-11pm. (312) 747-9938.

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