Go south for real Chicago

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TRAVEL - AMY TARA KOCH

Chicago’s Mag­nif­i­cent Mile has blue-chip shop­ping, stun­ning high-rises, five-star ho­tels, swanky steak­houses and prox­im­ity to Navy Pier, the pop­u­lar amuse­ment park at­trac­tion that lo­cals avoid at all costs. Though ex­pe­ri­ences such as the ar­chi­tec­ture tour on the Chicago River and tea at the Drake Ho­tel are lovely, the traf­fic and end­less crowds fight­ing to get into the stores (think Zara, Top­shop and pre­dictable lux­ury lines such as Louis Vuit­ton) and sur­round­ing cafes can sour the ex­pe­ri­ence. If shop­ping is your fo­cus, the more than 3 mil­lion square feet of glitzy re­tail space will feel like par­adise. If not, you might want to cen­ter your visit on a more neigh­borly and his­tory-filled part of Chicago. Visit the­mag­nif­i­cent­mile.com. Eight miles south, Hyde Park feels more like a mul­ti­cul­tural vil­lage than a big-city neigh­bor­hood. This is the South Side, one of the city’s most racially di­verse pock­ets and home to the Univer­sity of Chicago. Here, you’ll find wide, leafy boule­vards speck­led with mo­mand-pop shops, time­worn din­ers (one, Valois, is said to be for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s morn­ing go-to; he still owns a house in the neigh­bor­hood), book­stores and Jack­son Park, site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Ex­po­si­tion and the fu­ture Obama Pres­i­den­tial Cen­ter.

Ex­plore the quad­rant be­tween 53rd Street and the Mid­way Plai­sance, which brims with sight­see­ing gems. (Two-wheeled trans­port is avail­able at Divvy Bikes.) Old­school charm oozes from 57th Street Books, with its war­ren of sub­ject-spe­cific rooms and cozy read­ing nooks. Lost-in-time man­sions line South Wood­lawn Av­enue be­tween 53rd Street and 57th Street, in­clud­ing Ro­bie House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style mas­ter­piece. Up the street is the gothic re­vival Rock­e­feller Me­mo­rial Chapel, which has open-tothe-pub­lic events. To re­fuel, duck into Plein Air, a Euro-veer­ing cafe next to Ro­bie House for lunch or an espresso among Univer­sity of Chicago literati.

An­other neigh­bor­hood draw? Swaths of lake­front for run­ning, bik­ing and tak­ing in the dra­matic Chicago sky­line. Over in Jack­son Park, you can visit two ar­ti­facts of the World’s Fair: the Beaux-Arts build­ing hous­ing the Mu­seum of Sci­ence and In­dus­try, orig­i­nally the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Ja­pan-in­spired Gar­den of Phoenix, de­signed by Fred­er­ick Law Olm­sted. For din­ner, new ar­rival Virtue of­fers an homage to the Amer­i­can South with feels-like-home food served on flow­ery chintz plates be­neath a ceil­ing tricked out with wooden tobacco bas­kets. Later, hit the Promon­tory for mu­sic. Nightly acts range from DJs and jazz to Afro-Fu­sion.

Al­ready a bolt-hole for lo­cals, the just-opened So­phy Ho­tel is a neigh­bor­hood game-changer. The thought­ful nods to South Side her­itage and cul­ture — de­sign el­e­ments honor lo­cal lu­mi­nar­ies such as singer Ma­halia Jack­son, nov­el­ist Saul Bel­low and sci­en­tist En­rico Fermi — re­in­force the you’re-in­Hyde Park vibe. And the spa­cious rooms are a frac­tion of the cost of those lin­ing the ritzy, packed Mag­nif­i­cent Mile.

Lo­ca­tion: Hyde Park’s of­fi­cial bound­aries are 51st Street and Hyde Park Boule­vard on the north, the Mid­way Plai­sance (be­tween 59th and 60th streets) on the south, Wash­ing­ton Park on the west, and Lake Michi­gan on the east. choosechicago.com/neigh­bor­hoods/south/hyde-park.

Bloomberg/DANIEL ACKER

Chicago’s leafy, racially di­verse Hyde Park neigh­bor­hood is a wel­come di­ver­sion from the bus­tle of the Mag­nif­i­cent Mile.

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