To those who grew up here, Beverly means idyllic streets for learning to ride bikes, summer outings to Rainbow Cone and Sunday mornings at their local churches. To those from the surrounding areas, Beverly is the hub of the Southwest Side. They celebrate their 21st birthdays in the bars on Western Avenue, go out for a special dinner at Pizzeria Deepo or Franconello, or take in a show at the Beverly Arts Center. It has much to offer outsiders, yet is also known to have a tenuous relationship with the communities that border it.
To those who live elsewhere in Chicago, Beverly is an apparition carrying none of the cool cachet of Logan Square, Wicker Park, or Lakeview. It’s the place with the South Side Irish Parade and where all the cops and firefighters live. Is it even part of Chicago? Doesn’t it have hills?
In truth, Beverly is all of these things. It’s a place where the reality of vacant storefronts and often-empty sidewalks is at odds with the rosy image in people’s minds of a picturesque “village in the city.” But it’s also a place that has layers of history that extend deep beneath the impressions on the surface.
It is these contradictions that suggest Beverly is at a crossroads. As other Chicago communities benefit from development catering to people of a variety of demographics who live a variety of lifestyles, we of Beverly live in a place that still very much works the same way it did in the 1950s.
The Beverly in people’s minds, the “village in the city,” can actually serve as a model for the neighborhood’s future. A true village is a complex environment where people live in close proximity to businesses and daily errands can be accomplished on foot. It’s a place where everyone from toddlers to seniors can linger or stroll in safe, pleasant public spaces.
But being a village in the city requires an embrace of the urban characteristics Beverly is built around––public transportation options, well-gridded streets, and diverse populations are all assets that should work to make Beverly an attractive urban neighborhood as opposed to another sleepy bedroom suburb.
Beverly is more than just nostalgia and vague impressions and with the right vision, it can be a place both loved by longtime residents and flocked to by newcomers seeking that elusive and timeless quality: livability.
Jeff Dana is a former journalist and ardent urbanist living in Beverly and writing at mainstreetbeverly.wordpress.com.
The fact that Wild Blossom Meadery is the only meadery in Chicago (and the first winery in the city limits, to boot) doesn’t diminish its title. In fact, the meads produced by owner Greg Fischer and sold at beverage stores and a handful of restaurants around the city have already proven their worth in gold: the Gold Medal at the annual Mazer Cup Mead Competition in Colorado, of course. Fischer’s Chocolate Honey Buzz won that particular honor in 2013, and his Blueberry Mead took second. But in the tasting room at the back of a wine and beer making equipment store on Western Avenue in Beverly, award speeches and laurels seem leagues away. Half weird uncle’s basement and half wine-aficionado’s lair, Wild Blossom is top-of-the-class brilliance undercut with a dose of Midwestern humility. Five dollars will get you a tasting and a nifty mead glass emblazoned with the meadery’s logo. From dry and semi-dry meads to sweeter, more dessert-worthy libations, Wild Blossom turns out mead in a variety of different flavor profiles, fermenting the sweet honey wine with cranberries, blueberries, pomegranates, west coast hops, and even chocolate. Their Sweet Desire, fermented and aged for a year in a Kentucky bourbon barrel, and Pirates Blood, a mead bottled with hot chilies, are for the adventurous only. Wild Blossom is set to move into a 9,000 square foot building at 91st and Hermitage, with ample room for tastings and classes.
Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery, 10033 S Western Avenue. Monday-Friday, 9am-7pm; Saturday, 9am–6pm; Sunday, 10am–4pm. (773) 233-7579. wildblossommeadery.com (Robert Sorrell)
The Blossom Boys
“There’s so much to do. And running a business.” Partners Steve English and Ryan Steinbach opened The Blossom Boys in 2008. Since then, they’ve done far more than run a flower shop––they’ve brought awareness of issues like domestic abuse, sexual trafficking, and LGBQT rights to Beverly. They also keep sixteen chickens in their backyard.
I worked on the North Side where we had a studio. So, if you had a daughter who was getting married in the North Shore or downtown, you came to us. It was a very stressful situation with brides like that sometimes. And then we both decided we didn’t like what we were doing and Ryan happened to see an ad for this store.
So we came down here. For me the South Side was past Roosevelt Road. Which is true, I think, for a lot of North Siders. I will tell you that
our friends on the North Side, especially our gay friends, said, “Are you out of your minds? They will kill you on the South Side.”
I’ll never forget–we came down here on a Sunday just to drive around, and there was nothing open. I said to Ryan, “We are in a time warp.” But it was so bizarre, because there’d be all these churches, all these little businesses, and then these mansions, these beautiful mansions. And I saw a lot of preschools and schools. This tells you right away that people are into their families, and they’re in church or pretending they’re in church. I thought, “This is probably a group of people that’s somewhat isolated.” To me, it was like raw material. I got the sense that there’s a really great group of people doing this, and an artist doing this, or a healing person doing this, and I just got the feeling that they weren’t connected.
I would say from day one, once we took over the store, people have been great. You know, it’s interesting having a flower shop; maybe it’s like a hairdresser, because women will just come in and tell you things. And I think a lot of people just come in here because they want to talk, which can be good or bad for business. But, people started talking about bullying.
We asked kids to write stories about bullying and send them to us. I was horrified. I think there’s a lot of secrets in Beverly. You don’t talk about certain things. We had a great kid who worked for us for a while who was in high school, who was openly gay, and he would say to us, “You don’t get it. People have no idea how many athletes, how many kids in Catholic school, are gay, and they could never talk about it.” This was 2013, 2014, and we should be talking about it.
We got the Arts Center to host a woman who’s one of the leaders and pioneers in bullying prevention. We invited every single school, every single church. We put her on Facebook; we put her everywhere. We had thirty-five people show up and everyone said, “Isn’t that great?” and I said, “No, it’s pathetic.” But at least we brought her down here so maybe people would start talking about it.
I feel like sometimes the attitude in Beverly is “come to us.” No, you have to go out and get people, you have to go out and get literature, you have to go out and bring artists in. If you think you’ve got a gold mine, you’ve got to show people you’ve got a gold mine. We do these things because it’s important to do, and it all comes back.
The Blossom Boys, 9911 S. Walden Parkway. Tuesday–Friday, 10am–6pm; Saturday, 10am–4pm. (773) 779-4400. theblossomboys.com (Steve English, as told to Hannah Shea)
Best Bookstore Not in Hyde Park
The high stacks and full shelves at The Bookie’s speak for themselves––people are still reading.
The classics here are as well worn as the ones at the Seminary, and there’s a sign on the front door asking that customers drop off only one bag of used books per day (the stacks of overstock behind the counter plead the same.) The hefty discount in exchange for trade-ins isn’t slowing the piling, but special deals for teachers keep books moving out of the store and into classrooms. I stopped in on a summer afternoon to roam the shelves, moving from discounted new releases to the huge fiction section to the curated display of Chicago authors and titles. It started to rain and I happily took cover on a stool in the back with a novel, one ear to the page and one to the regular banter between book-seekers and booksellers––a sound just as natural as the rain.
The Bookie’s Paperbacks & More, 2419 W. 103rd Street. Open daily, 10am–7pm. (773) 239-1110. bookiespaperbacks.com (Hannah Shea)
Best Themed Restaurant
Jimmy Jamm’s Sweet Potato Bakery & Cafe
What Willy Wonka’s factory is to chocolate, Jimmy Jamm’s is to sweet potatoes. You thought sweet potato casserole was peak sweet potato form? How about cookies, cobbler, or a wedding cake? Jimmy Jamm’s boasts an unrivaled menu of over fifty sweet potato creations that stretch the imagination. At the center of it all are the sweet potato pies. Jimmy’s father developed the pie recipe working as a chef for railroads and hotels in Chicago. He kept the recipe a secret, waiting until his old age to pass the recipe onto his daughter. The rest is history. Jimmy Jamm’s takes orders and caters all varieties of events. But stop by if you can and, under the painted gaze of a revolutionarily clad President Obama with bicorn at tilt and glinting saber drawn, raise a fork of sweet potato pie to your mouth and enjoy a slice of paradise.
Jimmy Jamm’s Sweet Potato Bakery & Café, 1844 W. 95th Street. Monday–Saturday, 10am–7pm. (773) 779-9105. jimmyjammpies.com (Jared Simon)
Best Historic Home Walk
If you get off the Metra at any of its five Beverly Hills stops, you only have to walk a short block west to see the eponymous hill. The hill is actually a ridge left behind by a glacier that made a nice perch for the mansions of wealthy Chicagoans fleeing to more rural areas after the Fire. Sprawled along the ridge at the top of deep lawns are landmark homes designed by architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Dart, Howard Van Doren Shaw, George Maher, and Walter Burley Griffin. The styles of architecture range from Carpenter Gothic to Prairie School to Renaissance Revival. The area, called the Ridge Historic District, is also on the National Register of Historic places and boasts five Chicago landmarks. You’ll run into large parks and playgrounds along its Beverly/Morgan Park stretch from 95th to 123rd, as well as friendly dog walkers, joggers, strollers, and bikers. Be sure to say hi back––that’s part of the history. (Hannah Shea)
Best Small Town Café
Sitting by the front windows, I can see all the way past the counter and pastry case into the small kitchen where two cooks make my loaded sweet potato hash. People eat comfortably alone, inside or out at the umbrella-ed tables, grandparents and grandchildren meet for a late Saturday breakfast, and customers call out to waiters by name for their checks. It seems like nothing changes here; one hopes it doesn’t. The atmosphere here is more relaxed, charming, and authentic than Beverly Bakery, another favorite over on Western. The small bunch of daisies at each table, the red-painted woodwork and framed stained glass hanging in the windows feel like they were placed, painted, and hung by Ellie herself, rather than added to achieve a certain small-town look. The house-made breads are just as crusty and far more generous; the coffee is roasted locally at Hardboiled Coffee Co. and the refills are frequent. All of this ease and familiarity makes sense when head chef and owner Cathy Stacey walks through the space under a halo nest of gray hair, giving regulars a hard time for not saying hello sooner, then going outside to check the flowers and plants. Chef Stacey named Ellie’s for her mother, her first culinary teacher before years of training in France and Italy.
Ellie’s Café, 10701 S. Hale Ave. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 6am–4pm; Thursday, 6am–9pm; Sunday, 8am–4pm. (773) 941-4401. elliescafe.com (Hannah Shea)