Chicago’s charm in 3 neigh­bour­hoods

The Phnom Penh Post - - TRAVEL - Lu­cas Peter­son

NO TRAVEL as­sign­ment is ever straight­for­ward, but re­port­ing on the place you grew up presents spe­cific chal­lenges. Walk­ing along the bun­ga­low- and tree-lined streets in the Bev­erly neigh­bour­hood of south­west Chicago, where I lived un­til sec­ond grade, a fog of mem­ory fol­lowed me as I passed busi­nesses my fam­ily used to fre­quent and the houses of old neigh­bours. The house where I lived as a child was for­eign, and seemed tiny, like a doll­house.

The other side of this mild nos­tal­gic angst is the joy of dis­cov­ery: The priv­i­lege of be­ing able to ex­plore old stomp­ing grounds with fresh eyes. That’s ex­actly how I spent the bet­ter part of a week in Chicago, a city de­fined by its 77 dis­tinctly de­mar­cated com­mu­nity ar­eas, which in turn houses dozens of ad­di­tional neigh­bour­hoods, each with its own par­tic­u­lar nu­ance and lo­cal spirit.

I chose three – Bev­erly, as well as Lin­coln Square and Roscoe Village – as the lenses through which I would re­dis­cover the city that played such a large part of my child­hood.

– Lin­coln Square

I started in the north­ern­most des­ti­na­tion of my Chicago ad­ven­ture, the epi­cen­tre of which is where West­ern meets Lin­coln and Lawrence av­enues. A fo­cus on lo­cal own­er­ship “re­ally makes Lin­coln Square feel like its own small town”, said El­iz­a­beth Bracken, a scenic de­signer and neigh­bour­hood res­i­dent.

Cafe Sel­marie, which opened in 1983 as a small bak­ery and cof­feeshop, has grown along with the neigh­bour­hood, which has come into its own as a des­ti­na­tion for artists and young fam­i­lies. It’s a cute, all-day café but the ideal time to pay a visit is burger nights onWed­nes­days. I downed a thor­oughly en­joy­able burger dressed with Brie, bacon and caramelised onion, along­side a nutty, deep-amber Do­maine DuPage French-style coun­try ale.

Nearby is Gene’s Sausage Shop, a big, bright market and deli that’s hid­ing a se­cret: a won­der­ful rooftop where you can en­joy dif­fer­ent beers, wines and snacks. It was a se­cret to me, any­way. I ar­rived there one week­end to meet up with some friends and it was packed with hun­gry rev­el­ers en­joy­ing a sunny, breezy af­ter­noon. “Num­ber 46!” bel­lowed the young man be­hind the counter and I picked up my or­der of crispy potato pan­cakes, São Paulo Sand­wich and pasta salad. I’d rec­om­mend ev­ery­thing but the sand­wich, which was a sad cou­ple of pieces of fried mor­tadella and pro­volone cheese. The food is in­ci­den­tal – it’s more about the good vibes and ca­ma­raderie.

Other high­lights of that stretch in­clude a cute toy store, Time­less Toys, with a weekly kids’ story time, and a cosy book store called The Book Cel­lar. Be­yond plenty of books and mul­ti­ple events and read­ings ev­ery week, the in­de­pen­dent seller has bev­er­ages, in­clud­ing beer and wine, to ac­com­pany your brows­ing. I got an iced cof­fee for $2.20.

– Roscoe Village

I was en­er­gised enough to walk a mile and a half south to Roscoe Village. The “village” in the name says a lot; on the train over­pass at the Ravenswood in­ter­sec­tion are painted the words “The Village Within the City”. Its main drag is less than a mile and can be tra­versed in about 10 min­utes – past small busi­nesses, cute wood-framed and brick houses and plenty of fam­i­lies and pets strolling the main com­mer­cial drag.

Those small busi­nesses in­clude some great vin­tage and thrift shop­ping. Shangri-La Vin­tage gives a sense, un­like many other stores I’ve vis­ited, of ac­tu­ally be­ing care­fully cu­rated by the owner. “We’re dress­ing up like the Stranger Things kids for Comic-Con!” one shop­per ex­plained as she was paw­ing through some ’70s- and ’80sera shirts. I found a great Chicago Bulls hat from the glory days of the late ’90s for $13.

For those on a slightly tighter bud­get, and with a lot more pa­tience, there’s Village Dis­count Out­let just down the street. While sec­tions of the store looked like an earth­quake had hit it, there are trea­sures and deals to be found through­out the con­sid­er­able sprawl. I needed a pair of ath­letic shorts, and picked up one for a few bucks.

There’s qual­ity sus­te­nance to be found, too, when you need a break from shop­ping and gar­den-hop­ping. Turquoise Restau­rant was marred by slow and in­dif­fer­ent ser­vice when I vis­ited with my fam­ily but of­fered an in­cred­i­ble deal on brunch.

– Bev­erly

That wasn’t the only rev­e­la­tion of the trip. When I went down to 95th Street to ex­plore my old Bev­erly neigh­bour­hood, the dis­cov­er­ies kept com­ing. The Pur­ple Cow, a bovine-themed ice cream par­lor I re­mem­ber as a favourite birth­day party des­ti­na­tion for neigh­bour­hood kids, was long gone. But Top Notch Beef­burg­ers, opened in 1942, was still alive and kick­ing.

The best dis­cov­ery was a wealth of ar­chi­tec­tural gems and beau­ti­ful homes I was too young to ap­pre­ci­ate (or even no­tice) as a child.

The real find was a copy of a hand-scrawled ar­chi­tec­tural tour, avail­able in print­outs on over­sized pieces of pa­per. I spent the bet­ter part of an af­ter­noon ex­plor­ing not just the Frank Lloyd Wright land­marks but also those of Wal­ter Bur­ley Grif­fin, a one-time Wright em­ployee who de­signed the Aus­tralian city of Can­berra. Grif­fin’s Prairie School con­tri­bu­tions are vis­i­ble through­out the area.

Most eye-opening of all was the Van­der­poel Art As­so­ci­a­tion, an as­ton­ish­ing as­sort­ment of Amer­i­can im­pres­sion­ist art crammed into a mod­est-sized room in the field house at Ridge Park. Full of day-campers and run­ning kids, the rec build­ing seemed an un­likely place to hold a price­less art col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing works by Gran­tWood, Ernest Hen­nings and John H Van­der­poel him­self. But, after stray­ing into the gym­na­sium a cou­ple of times, I fi­nally found it: a plain room packed to the gills with strik­ing art pieces.


The Original Rain­bow Cone in the Bev­erly neigh­bour­hood of Chicago, on Septem­ber 19.

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