Susan O’Connor Davis is the founder of the Kenwood Improvement Association. Portions of this article were originally published in O’Connor Davis’ book Chicago’s Historic Hyde Park.
In 1983, Hyde Park resident Saul Bellow offered up his perspective on the city we call home: “Chicago builds itself up, knocks itself down again, scrapes away the rubble and starts over. European cities destroyed in war were painstakingly restored. Chicago does not restore; it makes something wildly different. To count on stability here is madness. A Parisian can always see the Paris that was, as it has been for centuries…. But a Chicagoan as he wanders about the city feels like a man who has lost many teeth.”
Urban renewal in the 1950s and 60s did knock out a few teeth, but architecturally, at least, a full eighty percent of the historic structures in Hyde Park and Kenwood survived that process and remain to grace our streets. They represent a history that was sometimes turbulent, but the Hyde Park community has welcomed many different people into its fold. Here lived politicians who fought against slavery and for the advancement of civil rights. Inventors and scientists, suffragettes and servants, carpenters and cattlemen have all called Hyde Park and Kenwood home.
Today it is a tolerant community, resilient and hopeful. It has seen the effects of depression and war. It has endured civil strife. It has housed rich and poor. From south of the 31st Street beach where the race riots of 1919 began, to the corner where Lincoln lingered for a quiet evening to escape the turmoil of the Civil War; from the vacant lots of 47th Street where commerce once flourished, to shuttered churches; from the restored mansions of Chicago’s wealthy industrialists to wide boulevards filled with family barbecues on hot summer days—there is a complex layering to life here, richly regarded.
To walk our streets is a special experience. For the architecture and the history has the capacity to teach us humility, and to increase an awareness and appreciation of our collective surroundings.
Best Redemption Smoothie
Tucked away off 47th and Greenwood in Kenwood arts center Little Black Pearl, a vibrant mural washes across the wall. Among the reds, blues, and purples sits a figure memorialized in gold: George Washington Carver, the namesake of Carver 47.
The café might share its farm-boutique aesthetic with upscale juice and smoothie bars in Lincoln Park or Lakeview, but that’s where the similarity stops. The menu is extensive for the café’s size—there’s breakfast, which features buttermilk biscuits alongside larger, more hearty options like the “Farm Stack,” composed of a waffle topped with egg, cheddar, sausage, and maple syrup. There are sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads, all featuring local ingredients, but it’s the smoothies and juices that make the café shine. There’s the “Front Porch,” with strawberries, banana, vanilla, mint, cranberry, and yogurt, and the “Orchard,” which features orange, carrot, ginger, mango, strawberry, pineapple, and coconut milk, and then the “Redemption,” which lives up to its name with banana, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, acai berry powder, and almond milk.
But Carver 47 isn’t just an (absolutely delicious) café. According to the owners, its name is a deliberate attempt to live in the tradition of George Washington Carver, a Black scientist, botanist, and early environmentalist. The café attempts to promote Carver’s philosophy on sustainability and agriculture by creating synergy between plant life and the space, according to assistant manager Justin Redding. And plants occupy an important role at Carver 47, with a garden patio and seedlings lining the western wall. The sense of synergy is tangible in the café, not just in the menu but in the environment. “We’re trying to be a space where people can come, communicate, work, or whatever,” said Redding. “Everything is wooden and rustic, you feel like you can be one with most of the materials.”
According to crew member Kiko Spears, the environment of the café is hardly an accident. “The inside really brings forth this natural, authentic experience. [We] want you to feel comfortable and at home,” said Spears. “The incense, the plants, the art is very specific.”
“Let’s say you’ve been away from home. When you come home, you know that it’s home by the way that it feels. You feel stable, you feel secure, you feel sane, and the food is intentional. It’s built to heal. Fresh, things are natural and take a while to make because they’re fresh. It’s relaxing, spontaneous, and also intense.”
Carver 47, which has only been around for a year, has placed integration with the community at its forefront. The café has two gallery spaces inside and also plans to host open mics, according to the website. And while the goals of Carver 47 are hardly simple, it succeeds—the tables, menu, and kindness of the staff all work to create a sense of community and comfort. (Clyde Schwab)
Carver 47, 1060 E. 47th St. Monday–Friday, 7:30am–6pm; Saturday–Sunday, 10am–4pm. (773) 690-5517. blackpearl.org/carver-47
Best Offshore Biodiverse Shipwreck
In my first year of college, my friends and I would jump in the lake during the start and end of classes every year. On a hot summer day, during sunsets, on a dare during the middle of winter—there is a sense of distinction in being able to swim in water that edged a timeless, magnificent skyline.
Just as timelessly, this fifth-largest lake in the world, one that twelve million people live along, has always been layered by sand and mud. That is, except for our very own spot, about 300 feet off of 49th Street Beach: Morgan Shoal, a thirty-two-acre dolomite limestone shelf, between three and ten feet deep depending where you stand, created hundreds of millions of years ago by glacial carvings.
In 1914, the Silver Spray ran aground on this limestone sheet and sank. The passenger steamer, which is still viewable from 49th Street Beach, was on its way to pick up a group of University of Chicago students for a tour of some steel mills in Indiana.
What does this mean? Morgan Shoal is home to a unique ecology of fish, invertebrates, and plants. Mussels filter the water, algae sits on rocks, and plants sprout from the ship.
Not much fieldwork has been done on the shoal, but during the winter of 2016, researchers from the Shedd Aquarium identified fifteen species of fish. Invasive quagga mussels are abundant, as are longnose suckers, a threatened fish species in Illinois.
In 2015, Hyde Parker Greg Lane, a daily open water swimmer, told the Hyde Park Herald that he has explored the shoal 1,000 times over the last seven years. To this day, every single time I swim out there, it is breathtaking,” he said. “You feel like you’re flying over the Grand Canyon. There are ridges and ravines and canyons and cliffs. The rock is just ever-changing…you can see the marks of the glaciers that moved over the bedrock fifteen, fourteen thousand years ago and created the lake itself.”
Chicagoans should, and do, jump in the lake all up and down the lakefront, but they would do well to remember to visit this unlikeliest of snorkeling destinations along the edge of a magnificent skyline. (Yao Xen Tan)
Morgan Shoal. 41.8093786, -87.5823515. Swim out from 49th Street Beach.
Best Day Spa
This find started with a personal quest for the best manicure. Unfortunately, I endured a never-ending list of mediocre manicures in nail salons citywide. Having been a licensed cosmetologist for many years, I am acutely aware of the mark of a fine manicure. The predominantly Asian-staffed salons embedded into predominantly Black neighborhoods mainly focus on artificial nail services and neglect the classic manicure service. Nevertheless, these shops keep a steady stream of business. It’s just not my cup of tea. I prefer a warm sudsy soak, nails filed in one direction to prevent tears, a gentle cleaning beneath the free-edge, cuticle maintenance, and a scrub—all done with sanitized or single-use implements—before a hand massage and nail color. And never, ever ask me to leave the chair to go wash my hands in some far away sink. (Sigh!)
Now that I’ve got that out, please know I have rediscovered a Hyde Park mainstay that has withstood the test of time, where you will enjoy not only a proper manicure, but also the absolute best in the full-service day spa experience. Bettye O Day Spa, originally located at the corner of 52nd and Harper, celebrates forty years of stellar service this year, now located at 1424 East 53rd Street in suite 304.
Part of what makes the Bettye O experience so outstanding is Bettye Odom: her education, experience, and expertise are key to the variety of services she and her staff offer. Odom’s innovative skin care has been informed by her studies in France, at Fisk University, and in the nursing program at Meharry Medical College, as well as her service as a First Lieutenant in the U.S Army Nurse Corps.
The Bettye O Day Spa menu offers dozens of facial, body, and nail treatments to address most every skin care concern. Customized treatments, add-ons, and spa packages are also available. New clients receive a detailed skin analysis to determine which treatments and products are recommended. The spa uses a mix of prestige specialty products and products from their own line, Skins of Colour.
The décor is that of a traditional luxury spa, with warm soothing colors, plush floor length flowing draperies, and glowing candles. And the smell…ahh… you know that fresh, clean, relaxing spa smell—it is the beautiful smell you can only get when you are not inhaling poisonous acrylic nail powder. Then there is the calming quiet that may just put you gently to sleep. There are no screaming babies. There is no blaring music nor ringing cell phones, just tranquil spa sounds. I love this place. If you’ve never had the Bettye O experience, you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t had the Bettye O experience in long time, you’ll remember what you have been missing. Call or book online soon. Their schedule fills up fast. (Nicole Bond)
Bettye O Day Spa, 1424 E. 53rd St., suite 304, Tuesday–Friday, 10:30am–6:15pm; Saturday, 10:30am–3:30pm. (773) 752-3600. bettyeodayspa.com
Best MVP Sandwich Spot
Café 53—which may very well be the only café left in Hyde Park with a chalkboard menu—brings sandwiches, salads, ice cream, and more to 53rd Street. The decor has its charm (eggshell-yellow walls and pink marbled tables, which faintly resemble slabs of meat), but it’s the vegan, vegetarian, and halal options—especially the garlic chicken sandwich, vegan or otherwise—that keep regulars coming back. The offerings are affordable (iced coffee clocks in just over $2, spanakopita triangles can be had for a meager $1) and fresh. But the real coup is the back garden: pass through that scuffmarked, too-narrow hallway, and you’ll find yourself in the shade of a breezy back garden, complete with wobbly metal picnic tables—the perfect place to enjoy a fall sandwich. (Christopher Good)
Café 53, 1369 E. 53rd St. Sunday–Thursday, 8am–9pm; Friday and Saturday, 8am–10pm. (773) 493-1000. cafe-53.com