- • Best Ford-Era Nostalgia
- • Best Urban Ecosystem
- • Best All-Around Dining
- • Best Exception
- • Best History-Infused Dog Park
Best Ford-Era Nostalgia
More than a decade has passed since Motor Row was designated as a Chicago Landmark in 2000 and added to the National Register of Historic Places shortly after, in 2002. Since then, the area that passes through the South Loop—specifically, from State Street to Indiana Avenue along 23rd Street, and along Michigan Avenue near Cermak Road––has experienced an influx in preservation and revitalization efforts headed by the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance.
According to the city’s Chicago Landmarks website, there are more than fifty buildings in the Motor Row district, some of which date back to the early twentieth century, when the area was filled with stores specializing in the sale and repair of around 116 different makes of cars. The architecture itself narrates the evolution of the automobile showroom of an era. Take a stroll around what’s left of the old district and you’ll find bits and pieces of what it once was—structures built by a range of influential architects such as Holabird & Roche, Philip Maher, and Albert Kahn, along with the building that the Chicago Defender once called home and the old location of Chess Records, a famous stop in the 1950s and 1960s for blues and rock and roll artists such as Willie Dixon and The Rolling Stones (see the latter’s song “2120 South Michigan Avenue”).
Undoubtedly, the opening of the Cermak-McCormick Place stop on the Green Line last spring has helped support economic development by offering a more convenient access point into the South Loop. Recently opened craft breweries like Vice District Brewing and Motor Row Brewing will soon be complemented by twenty-five new apartment units along State Street from Windy City RE along with ground-level business developments (one of which is rumored to be a jazz club). As long as the history stays untouched, the creation of a new entertainment district in this previously dormant area, now complete with a gateway art installation on Michigan and Cermak, seems promising. But be warned, if you’re trying to take it all in at once: wear your best walking shoes. (Camila Cuesta Arcentales)
Motor Row Historic District, 23rd St. between State St. and Indiana Ave., Michigan Ave. between Cermak Rd. and 25th St., and at various points north of Cermak Rd.
Best Urban Ecosystemm
Ever looked at a map of Chicago and noticed a weird piece of land just, you know, sort of chilling south of Museum Campus? Ever ridden up the Lakefront Trail and stared out at the big hump of land on your right as you’re passing McCormick Place? Sure you have. But have you ever actually gone there? Of course you haven’t, because not much was there––until now. Until last year, Northerly Island was just a big piece of land with a couple of trails, a secluded little beach area, and an abandoned airplane runway. That runway, which belonged to the Merrill C. Meigs Field Airport, took up much of the peninsula (it is not actually an island) until 2003, when Mayor Richard Daley ordered the runway bulldozed in the middle of the night.
These days, you can go on a little bike ride on a trail that opened last summer, although you’ll find portions of the trail closed on the peninsula’s eastern side. An inconvenience? Perhaps, but you’ll get over it once you see the unique ecosystem that’s bloomed on what was formerly a concrete strip. Thanks are owed to Studio Gang, the architecture firm of prominent Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. Years ago, the firm drew a plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and JJR Smith Group, a developer, to transform this man-made peninsula into a biodiverse ecosystem. The plan allows us city-dwellers a chance to experience nature without having to go too far to find it. The island now features a blend of the various ecosystems that existed in and around Chicago before the city existed, from mud flats to grassy prairies.
According to Studio Gang, the gradual environmental enhancements they have introduced to the area since fall of 2012 will eventually include a lagoon with a man-made reef that will serve as a fish-spawning habitat. You can’t go snorkeling just yet, but for now you can enjoy birdwatching, camping, picnics, or amateur photoshoots on the southern end. And once a bug crawls up your leg you can walk right back out to the Museum Campus for a bug-free view of the skyline. (Camila Cuesta Arcentales)
Northerly Island Park, 1521 S. Linn White Dr. Daily, dawn–dusk. (312) 745-2910. chicagoparkdistrict.com
Best All-Around Dining
Driving down Michigan Avenue, you might miss this restaurant conveniently located on the corner of 14th Street. Its façade is in uniform with those of the buildings around it: lots of shiny glass and steel. The experience only begins once you step inside. Intricate floral designs lining the dark walls, dim bulbs illuminating the space, and little gold stars sprinkling the low-rise ceilings in the back (and even the bathrooms) all make you feel like you’re somewhere special, while low-sitting chairs and a few decorative pillows make you feel like you’re at home. And indeed, as the restaurant’s website states, you are in for a “unique culinary experience”: Kurah is perfect for any occasion, offering a wide range of organic, Mediterranean-inspired dining options that will satisfy all foodies, especially those who are vegan, vegetarian, and/or gluten-free. The restaurant also has a top-notch specialty drink menu, of which no choice is the wrong choice. Plus, if you sit in the back, you can peek through a window and see the brick oven where chefs make the fresh pita bread that comes with your order. (Camila Cuesta Arcentales)
Kurah Restaurant, 1355 S. Michigan Ave. Monday–Thursday, 11:30am–10pm; Friday–Saturday 11:30am–11pm; Sunday 11:30am–9pm. (312) 624-8611. kurahchicago.com
Buddy Guy’s Legends
We openly admit that Buddy Guy’s Legends, the blues club stewarded by Chicago blues demigod Buddy Guy, is north of Roosevelt, more firmly in the standard Loop than it is in the South Loop. But an exception can be made, every now and then, for a club that represents a musical tradition that began in South Side clubs and record studios—Chess Records, the Triangle Inn, the Du Drop Lounge—and the strongest relic of a globally influential genre that always belonged, first and foremost, to the black neighborhoods of the South and West Sides. Not to mention, this club happens to have the most consistently fantastic music of any in the city or maybe the country, Kingston Mines included, while also having one of the most friendly atmospheres in a city known for friendliness. You’re just as likely to see the guy you met at the bar walk onstage and start drumming when his set time is up as you are to see Buddy Guy hanging out in the corner of the club on certain lucky weekends, nodding with approval. (Jake Bittle)
Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave. Monday–Tuesday, 5pm–2am; Wednesday–Friday, 11am–2am; Saturday, noon–3am; Sunday, noon–2am. (773) 427-1190. buddyguy.com
Best History-Infused Dog Park
Fred Anderson Park
Located on Wabash Ave. between 16th and 18th Streets is every dog and dog owner’s dream—a public playground for both! Thanks to the South Loop Dog Park Action Cooperative (a narrowly-focused but very committed group), the Fred Anderson Park opened in the winter of 2014, creating a space where humans and dogs of all sizes alike could have some outdoor fun. The park is split into two main areas: one for small dogs and one for bigger dogs (humans are lucky, and can access both). If you go while the weather is warm, you get to check out the cool water fountains and tunnels while being surrounded by green trees and flower beds. But don’t fret, the park is just as fun during the colder days of the winter, thanks to the artificial turf and stage area where local artists hold performances year-round. While we can’t say for sure what the dogs think of the music, the stage is probably an homage to this park’s namesake, Fred Anderson, an internationally acclaimed jazz musician who lived in the neighborhood and owned the Velvet Lounge. According to the Chicago Park District website, Anderson’s motto was “patience, sincerity, and consistency,” all of which are good qualities to show when interacting with dogs. (Camila Cuesta Arcentales)
Fred Anderson Dog Park,, 1611 S. Wabash Ave. Monday–Sunday, 6am–11pm. (312) 328-0821. chicagoparkdistrict.com