My Kind of Place: South Side, Chicago, United States

Why South Side? The South Side isn’t the glossy, high-rise face of Chicago, but it contains an awful lot of the city’s heart and history. Mostly made up of predominantly African-American neighbourhoods, South Side is where the Chicago jazz and blues scenes grew before spreading to the rest of the world. It wears its imperfections […]

Why South Side?

The South Side isn’t the glossy, high-rise face of Chicago, but it contains an awful lot of the city’s heart and history. Mostly made up of predominantly African-American neighbourhoods, South Side is where the Chicago jazz and blues scenes grew before spreading to the rest of the world. It wears its imperfections on its sleeve, but it’s by no means uniform. Bridgeport has got a bit of a hip quotient, Bronzeville is the true African-American heartland, which has the bulk of the heritage sites, while bookish Hyde Park is heavily influenced by the University of Chicago. A diversion south from the skyscrapers is largely about character and stories, but there are some excellent museums, too. Culturally, this is Chicago at its most intriguing.

A comfortable bed

The South Side has a dearth of accommodation options, and in all honesty, it’s best to stay in the city centre and then get the train in for the day. If you do want to stay there, the generic Hyatt Place Chicago-South/University Medical Center should do the trick. King rooms cost from US$135 (Dh496) per night. Don’t expect radical lashings of character, though.

Much more interesting is the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel in the centre. A former private sporting club, the period detail in the lobby is lavish, and the rooms are full of glorious touches such as pommel-horse benches and table legs wrapped in tennis-racket tape. Queen rooms cost from $226 (Dh830) per night.

The new Virgin Hotel is also very appealing, with female-friendly room design and a deliberately cultivated sociable atmosphere. Rooms cost from $163 (Dh599) per night.

Find your feet

Hyde Park is the best area in which to spend a day. Take the train down to 55th street, walk past the amateur cricketers and baseball players in Washington Park, then get a crash course in the city’s black heritage at the DuSable Museum of African-American History.

From there, stroll through the handsome university buildings, peaking at Frank Lloyd Wright‘s masterpiece Robie House. If Prairie School architecture is your thing, this is the mother lode.

Keep heading towards Lake Michigan to the Museum of Science and Industry. It’s all push-button fun that surreptitiously sneaks in some education, while the German U-boat on the first level is undeniably impressive.

Meet the locals

Of Chicago’s two Major League Baseball teams, the White Sox are the earthier, working-class, South Sider heroes. They play at the purpose-built US Cellular Field on the cusp of Bridgeport and Bronzeville.

Book a table

A10 in Hyde Park has a good people-watching terrace, and is a big brunching favourite. The menu leans on French and Italian cuisine, but not exclusively. Expect dishes such as crispy quail, pickled beets, braised greens and buttermilk for $28 (Dh103).

Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles in Bronzeville is more in keeping with the South Side heritage. It’s all soul food – collard greens, fried chicken and gravy, catfish and super-­sized waffles.

Shopper’s paradise

Hyde Park does a nice line in book shops, with 57th Street Books being the most endearing. It looks small at first, but then you find the sequence of passageways that send it five rooms deep. It’s basement-ferreting heaven.

Hyde Park Records on East 53rd Street, meanwhile, is a proper old-fashioned record store. There’s a certain shabbiness to it, and it unashamedly has its head in the past. But it’s an absolute treasure trove for old jazz and soul vinyl.

What to avoid

If you’re coming purely to see Barack Obama’s house – when he’s not in Washington, he lives in Kenwood, just north of Hyde Park – expect disappointment. Large trees block the view, and menacing security guards don’t take kindly to people with cameras trying to stalk out a better vantage point.

Don’t miss

Considerably farther south than Hyde Park (take the Metra line to 103rd Street from the city centre), the Pullman District is the country’s newest national monument.

Formerly the home of the Pullman company – which operated luxury train carriages across the States – it plays host to the National A Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum. This charts a fascinating and often forgotten piece of the Civil Rights Movement jigsaw.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the United States’ first black union, and its struggle for better pay and conditions set the fight for wider rights in motion.

Getting there

Etihad and Emirates fly direct from Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively, to Chicago from Dh4,000 return, including taxes.

travel@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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