How do we build the future from the remnants of the past? For the past century, Hyde Park has been a proving ground for this question. The Columbian Exposition brought many of the wonders of the late-nineteenth century world to the Midway Plaisance. At that time, the future looked very much like ancient Rome, an imperial city bloated with cultural acquisitions. Just a few years later, the University of Chicago brought its own transformative forces to the neighborhood, attempting to reimagine Hyde Park as a Neo-Gothic fortress for scholarly pursuits. Come the roaring twenties, neighboring Kenwood played host to Indian Village, a cluster of Art Deco–style apartments which took their names from Native American tribes like the Algonquin and the Powhatan. The penchant for nostalgic futures could only last so long: in the mid century, the UofC redrew the neighborhood in the image of modernism and urban renewal, seeking a clean and effective future, free of jazz clubs and other unpredictable corners and full of sturdy, rectangular homes.
The future of today, according to real estate development on 53rd Street, is bright and gleaming glass, and the University is once again the benefactor. Harper Court, Hyde Park’s newest shopping center, takes its name from the University of Chicago’s first president. Some say the street’s development holds just as much hope for change in the neighborhood as Hyde Park’s famous president-in-residence held for the country in 2008. It announces blooming wealth of town and gown, offering an upscale and all-encompassing commercial experience. People are already snapping up employment information from outside its storefronts, lining up around the block for a blockbuster sale on sneakers, and enjoying coffee in a hulking glass Starbucks, just where full color window ads promised they would. This, apparently, is the future. And if it doesn’t pan out, somebody can probably build another.
BEST NATURE RETREAT: Osaka Japanese Garden
When you first make your way down to Osaka Garden, the din of the buses on the street and the splattering of goose poop on the grass may make you question whether this little garden is really worth the walk. If you’ve never ventured behind the Museum of Science and Industry, though, you’ve never seen one of the best natural refuges Chicago has to offer. Wooded Island is great for a stroll or jog through the trees, but follow the calligraphy signs to the tiny botanical garden on its northern tip for a true sense of seclusion. A red pebble path guides you across a miniature “Moon Bridge” and around a Japanese pavilion. Herons stand sentinel over a stone waterfall, where koi fish snatch at bubbles and dragonflies flutter between lily pads. The Jackson Park Advisory Council describes the garden’s theme as “peace—between humans and nature, within people, with the spiritual realm, and between peoples.” So if the empty lawns of the Midway Plaisance aren’t your idea of an escape from urbanity, make the trek to this miniature safe haven for a real breath of fresh air. Osaka Japanese Garden, Jackson Park, east of E. 60th St. and S. Stony Island Ave. friendsofthejapanesegarden.org (Claire Wilson)
BEST CHOLE IN THE WALL: The Falcon Inn and Cholie’s Pizza
The Falcon Inn is Hyde Park’s most unfortunately overlooked dive. While the bar itself is so dim that it might be better described as just plain dark, its $7 pitchers, Monday night karaoke, and the service from some of the friendliest bartenders around more than make up for the lack of proper lighting. Online reviewers will advise you to stay away from the dive so they can keep it to themselves. The Falcon’s secret weapon is “The Chole Hole,” a physical window in the north wall which leads directly into neighboring Cholie’s Pizza. Can’t decide between a gyro sandwich and a pizza? Cholie’s has the answer: gyro meat pizza. What about ribs, chicken, or spaghetti? Cholie’s has a ribs and chicken combo, spaghetti side included. The Cholie’s special is a solidly delicious deviation from Chicago’s obsession with deep-dish, offering both stuffed and regular (called “thin,” but not actually that thin) crust varieties. Cholie’s next-door location does delivery too, for those under twenty-one and looking to avoid the reminder. Falcon Inn, 1601 E. 53rd St. Monday-Friday, 10am-2am; Saturday, 11am-3am; Sunday, noon-2am. 21+. (Claire Wilson)
BEST BRUNCH: Valois
Valois serves up camaraderie for breakfast, but not the cozy or comfortable kind. Don’t expect a waitress to call you “hun,” and don’t plan on any raucous conversation with your friends; scholars and local types alike are here for a simple, substantial and inexpensive breakfast. Don’t sit there and contemplate your meal: choose from a menu of “President Obama’s Favorites.” Exchange a few words with one of the gruff men cooking behind the counter, and after a three-minute process of ordering and receiving food at the front counter, feel free to eat at one of a small sea of tables, without too much chatter. CNN fills out the noise and the pleasantly painted Hyde Park wall-mural covers the walls and your peripheral vision. You can also simplify the process and do what I do: just order an all-veg white omelette, packed with mushroom, tomato, spinach, and onion, with a load of hash browns and a side of toast, all for $5.75. Leave quickly and satisfied. Come back soon. Valois Restaurant, 1518 E. 53rd St. Monday-Sunday, 5:30am-10 pm. (773)667-0647. valoisrestaurant.com (Jon Brozdowski)
SECOND BEST BRUNCH: Mellow Yellow
For some, the best part of a Hyde Park night is the next morning, when friends gather for an indulgent Debrief Brunch. Your Debrief location ought to be low-key, high-calorie, and in a cozy space where you can dish details of the night before without offending any post-church moms seated nearby. That’s where Mellow Yellow—neighbor to Hyde Park’s default breakfast destination, Valois—distinguishes itself. Mellow Yellow’s tables comfortably fit large groups, and the friendly staff is eager to help when you can’t decide between sweet and savory. Appropriately, the crown jewel of Mellow Yellow’s menu is chicken and waffles, which you can pair with the restaurant’s drink specials (tip: on weekdays, mimosas are cheaper than plain orange juice). If booze before noon isn’t your style, spring for the Intelligentsia coffee or espresso. Bottom line: if you’d like a leisurely sit-down experience, rather than a “cafeteria-style” meal, Mellow Yellow provides the essentials for a weekly treat and retreat with friends. Mellow Yellow, 1508 E. 53rd St. Monday-Thursday, 8am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 8am-11pm; Sunday, 8am-10pm. (773)667-2000. mellowyellowrestaurant.com (Sam Karas)
BEST REASON TO INVEST IN A RECORD PLAYER: Hyde Park Records
It may seem that the digital age has established a firm monopoly over the ears of even the purest music lovers, but a step inside Hyde Park Records will inspire customers to rise up and fight for the smell of musty record sleeves and the sweet sound of the needle hitting vinyl. Beyond the stash of $1 CDs and DVDs is a vast selection of records, new and old, that could satisfy the seeker of even the most esoteric funk and Chicago soul recordings from the seventies or eighties. Of late, Hyde Park Records is going beyond the business of selling records and hosting more events, including a string of DJ sets through its all-vinyl in-store series. Close that GrooveShark tab, and go get the good stuff. Hyde Park Records, 1377 E. 53rd Street. Daily, 11am-8pm. (773)288-6588. hydeparkrecords.com (Bess Cohen)
BEST PLACE TO BECOME A HOOLIGAN: LDR Skate
Boarders rejoice! The mecca of South Side skating beckons. Skate toward it, shamble through its open front door. LDR Skate, which just opened this past year, is the only skate shop on the South Side. It is the spitting image of your weird cousin’s basement, a well-designed mix of home and grunge. It’s a small storefront lined with racks of apparel and skateboard decks. There’s a rail setup in the corner, and there’s Chance the Rapper’s signature on the wall, in pink chalk. The Leaders1354 brand of streetwear was founded on 53rd, and they’ve returned to their proving ground with wild success in their resume, ready to nurture skateboarders young and old. Everything is chill: they will tune you up and dress you right. Don’t worry. Rest yourself in our one skate refuge, and witness what is sure to be a revolution. LDR can see the future of South Side skateboarding, and it ain’t no mirage. LDR Skate, 1013 E. 53rd St. Monday-Saturday, noon-7pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. (773)675-8303. ldrskate.com (Chris Deakin)
BEST LATE NIGHT VEGETABLE: Open Produce
The colorful and copious displays of veg and fruit are the first thing you see when you enter Open Produce, the coziest grocery store in Hyde Park. But the unassuming brown coffee bags resting beside the shelves of produce bear the store’s true meaning. On their plain burlap exterior, beneath the Fair Trade and Organic labels, the coffee proclaims a mission: “Justice in Every Step”. Open Produce preaches Justice in everything, with its free-range eggs, its locally grown, humanely raised meats, and its plethora of organic fruits and veggies. The store espouses Justice for all, even for the lowliest rutabaga. There is no greater way to deal Justice than to enable the snacking habits of those night owls that crave fresh greens at two in the morning. I know I would have kicked my late-night bell pepper cravings months ago if it wasn’t for this damn delightful place. Open Produce, 1635 E. 55th St. Daily, 8am-2am. (773)496-4327. openproduce.org (Alex Gura)