K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center. Photo by Jason Schumer.

Best of Washington Park 2021

The Washington Park community is well-known for its historic development during the late nineteenth century on Chicago’s South Side, and its vibrant music scene during the mid-twentieth century. Seven miles south of the Loop, it takes its name from the recreational area situated along the eastern border of the community, stretching from 51st to 60th Streets along Cottage Grove Ave. Hosting one of the largest and most historic parks in the city, it is an important public amusement space for the entire South Side. 

The Washington Park community takes advantage of its convenient location, its transportation, its great greystones, its vibrant, creative churches, its historically significant structures, and its most important asset: its people. 

Our residents work to strengthen their families and their community. The Washington Park Chamber of Commerce works to attract and maintain economic opportunity to improve the quality of life for all. And the Washington Park Neighborhood Watch Group has organized to be responsive to the needs of local families. Our churches and organizations reach out to serve the identified needs  of the families and children around them and to strengthen the community as a whole.

We have new restaurants and eateries that have opened up along 55th St., and they promise a unique vibrancy to the historic boulevard.  You will not be hungry or thirsty in Washington Park, with The Park Supper Club, The Retreat Coffee House, a new Harold’s Chicken, along with the return of neighborhood treasure Ms. Biscuit. (Yvette Legrand)

Neighborhood captain Jacqueline L. Foreman is a first-time homeowner that took on an immediate sense of community pride since moving to Washington Park right before the pandemic in December of 2019. From volunteering at a local church food pantry to playing Double Dutch with community members, Jacqueline looks forward to being a continued helping hand in one of the best up-and-coming communities on the South Side.

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Best Place for Solace and Creativity

K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center

When I was in high school, K.L.E.O. (Keep Loving Each Other) was known for its  poetry slams and meetings of like-minded, community oriented people. Immersed in the creativity of my peers, you saw early acts like Dometi Pongo (who now works for MTV), K Love The Poet, and much more. It was a place of safety and solace and birthed a lot of creativity. That’s what makes this place the BEST.

Founded by Torrey L. Barrett  in 2008 to help eradicate domestic violence after Barrett’s younger sister, Kleo, was killed by her boyfriend, the organization offers after-school and mentoring programs for youth, a mobile food pantry, and job training and placement services for adults. (Kia Smith)

K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center, 119 E Garfield Blvd. (773) 363-6941. Mon, Wed–Fri 10am–6pm; Tue 10am–12pm; Sat–Sun closed. thekleocenter.org

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Best Tennis Club

XS Tennis and Education Foundation

Growing up, the tennis court was my haven. I spent summers rigorously training for tournaments, hitting the court early to assure my top-six seed on our high school tennis team. The sport can be pricey, but the pros always outweigh the cons. Now, as an adult, finding community in a city of three million people can be hard. 

Then I found XS Tennis.

XS Tennis and Education Foundation (XSTEF) is the only club in Chicago focused solely on tennis. Located in Washington Park, the establishment is the first tennis facility of its kind on the South Side. With twelve consecutive indoor courts, fifteen outdoor courts, and four clay courts, XSTEF not only promotes a welcoming environment for tennis enthusiasts, it also seeks to educate youth about on-court success with three academic classrooms.

Truly an unbeatable experience for anyone who loves tennis.

Split into four divisions, tennis programs are available to everyone ages four and up. Aiming to provide opportunities at college scholarships for those willing to put in the work, XSTEF has sent forty-seven students to college on tennis scholarships equaling a combined value of $9 million. Unlike other tennis organizations around Chicago, XSTEF boasts affordable prices, starting at $25/month for kids, $45/month for adults, and $85/month for a family package. If you’re looking for affordable tennis time, there’s no better option than XSTEF.   

Moving to a large city, making a community can be hard. I miss the friends I made in tennis, the happiness I feel with the court under my foot as the sun shines on my face. With bills, rent, and groceries being as expensive as they are, I never expected to be able to afford the luxury of tennis again. Luckily, XS Tennis understands the necessary balance that exercise can bring to one’s life and, more importantly, the kind of opportunities tennis can provide in the future. Building a community through hard work, passion, and perseverance, the people at XSTEF promise memories and opportunities providing people access to the best sport there is: tennis. (Meggie Gates)

XS Tennis and Education Foundation, 5336 S State St. Monday–Friday 8am–9pm; Sat–Sun 8am–8pm. (773) 548-7529.

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Best Space to Share Cultural Wealth

Washington Park Arts Incubator

Garfield Boulevard. Photo by Eric Allix Rogers.

As the video on the website of the Washington Park Arts Incubator says, the South Side is not without tremendous cultural wealth—but we’re often left without a space to share it with one another. The Arts Incubator seeks to offer such a space.

Developed by artist Theaster Gates, for the University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life initiative, the incubator’s focus is on artist residency, arts education, community engagement, and program exhibitions. It’s a great way to engage with the community around them and use art as a tool to heal and uplift the ones that are present. 

The Arts and Public Life 2021 artists-in-residence, who have access to the Incubator’s resources and space to develop works relevant to the South Side that examine race and ethnicity, are Zakkiyyah Najeebah Dumas-O’Neal, A.J. McClenon, and Lola Ogbara. (Kia Smith)

Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd. (773) 702-9724. Tue, Wed, & Fri 10am–6pm; Thu 10am–7pm; Closed Sat–Mon.

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Best Regenerative Epicenter

Sweet Water Foundation 

Courtesy of Sweet Water Foundation.

Nestled between Washington Park and Englewood, the Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) is a rapidly growing community center organized around principles of social justice, creativity, and regeneration. Practicing a process of “Regenerative Neighborhood Development,” the foundation works with youth, their families, and other local residents to transform the ecology of so-called “blighted” Chicago neighborhoods into productive and sustainable community assets. Current projects combine urban agriculture, art, and educational initiatives to transform classrooms, vacant lots, and abandoned buildings into re-imagined spaces of arts, culture, and connection.    

Working together over the past five years, the SWF team and local community members have redesigned four contiguous city blocks into its flagship location, The Commonwealth. Acting as an urban agriculture epicenter, The Commonwealth invites local residents, artists, and others to engage with its on-site farm, greenhouse, makerspace, and additional spaces in co-creating a community centered around values of hope and inclusion. SWF also recently launched its Sweet Water Academy at this location, offering an urban ecology apprenticeship, K–12 field site programs, and volunteer days for those interested in getting involved. 

SWF is currently participating in the multi-venue exhibition “Toward Common Cause: Art Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40”, organized by the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art. As a part of the exhibition, SWF is hosting two collaborative, site-specific installations. 

The first is Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s “Hydrant”, 41°47’22.662″ N – 87°37’38.364″ W, from the series, Well, which provides water to the neighborhood while encouraging viewers to consider the politics of water access. Located nearby, Mel Chin’s “Safehouse” Temple Door, a functioning bank-vault door, is installed at SWF’s Civic Arts Church – a community design center and gallery space for events, workshops, and field lessons. Tours are available every Wednesday from 1–4pm, and reservations are required. (Lauren Beard)

Sweet Water Foundation, 5749 South Perry Avenue, Mon–Fri, 10am–4pm. (312) 508-3982. sweetwaterfoundation.com. 

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Best Fancy Night Out

The Park Supper Club

The Park Supper Club. Photo by Jason Schumer.

Comfort food elegantly presented: that’s the credo at the Park Supper Club, whether a meal, or cocktails and bar bites. Both my order of lamb chops and my dinner guest’s order of the same dish were served tender—mine in a perfectly faint reddish-pink hue of medium rare and hers, well done—a true testament to the attention to detail from executive chef Serge Hien. Four crosshatched lamb chops on the bone, $30, rested on a neat mound of mushroom risotto, and were garnished with roasted and quartered carrots, with a generous flourish of balsamic vinegar. An herb puff pastry floating atop refined the lobster bisque, $14, dashed with white truffle oil. For a casual meal option, I’ve been recommended the chicken sandwich, $16, by Chef Hien, who rose to the role of Executive Chef soon after Park Supper Club’s opening in May. The Park Supper Club’s cocktails like the Hennessy Sidecar, $14, hearken to the Jazz Era, the Harlem Renaissance, New York City’s Cotton Club, and its Chicago namesake—all fitting and clear inspirations for the restaurant. 

Sitting on the open-air patio allows patrons to breathe easier during dinner service, CDC and city government mandates notwithstanding. En plein air, some patrons were masked for part of their meals; others on the patio went completely without. All waitstaff and front of house employees wore masks at all times. 

Sounds of cars and foot traffic on Garfield Boulevard often punctuated our meal as ambulances and neighbors alike passed by. Nevertheless, said MaryAnn Marsh, back of house manager and co-owner of the Park Supper Club, “As consumers in the Black community, establishments have to be deserving of our business, but if we don’t support them, they will forever stay in white communities. If we want to be entertained, dine well, and be treated with respect, we need to bring it home ourselves.” (Sarahlynn Pablo)

The Park Supper Club, 65 E. Garfield Blvd, Thurs-Sat, 4pm-12am. Ample, free parking in the lot across on South Michigan Avenue. (773) 420-3661. theparksupperclub.com

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