Best of the South Side: Bridgeport

The most significant modern-day landmark in Bridgeport is U.S. Cellular Field–known as “The Cell” in certain parlances–the home of Major League stalwart and 2005 World Champions Chicago White Sox. The memories from that whirlwind season still linger here, but the neighborhood which has grown in the shadow of steel and concrete is one in flux. Bridgeport’s character, as well as its physical area, fall under the stadium’s literal and figurative shadow. This is the historical home of Irish and Lithuanian blue-collar roughnecks who drink alternately silent and raucous toasts to the White Sox along the whiskey frontier lining Halsted Street. Here remains the husk of Chicago’s industrial past and the birthplace of the Daley Dynasty. Bridgeport is also simultaneously one of the fastest “browning” neighborhoods in the city and an increasingly expensive place to live. Not to mention the unique arts community–struggling to combine highbrow sensibilities with activist politics and populist sentiment–that has produced local noise and international stars. And from every street corner, the stadium in the distance looms unmoved.

Best Time Travel
Bridgeport Family Restaurant
The Bridgeport Family Restaurant is easy to get to on public transit, and on the main drag in Bridgeport (which is incredibly White Sox heavy–check out the retro sports bars around here if you want to). But when you step into this diner-style establishment, it might as well be a few decades before you were born. The hours aren’t great, so you have to go for breakfast or lunch. But you’ll get plenty of bread and extensive menu options, along with the chance to feel like a character (though hopefully not the star–that would be a little too weird) in a David Lynch film. Order anything you’d like, and make sure to appreciate the engraved glass lighting fixtures and comfy booths. 3500 S. Halsted St. (773)247-2826. (Rose Schapiro)

Best for Chilling Out
Bridgeport Coffee House
This is a true community-oriented coffeehouse in one of the most interesting areas of the South Side, even if it is a little off the beaten path. The Bridgeport Coffee House has bake sales for community groups, and sponsors benefits for the local PTA. It has yummy pastries, hot sandwiches, and a full drink menu. In typical coffeehouse fashion, its walls are decorated by local artists, but the work tends to be tasteful and fun. The owners roast and blend their own coffee beans, which you can buy wholesale. But more importantly, they claim to know all of the regulars’ names. The storefront is beautiful, and the neighborhood is homey, very comforting and chill. The coffee shop itself feels very relaxed (though if you want to stress yourself out by contacting the outside world, they also offer internet access). 3101 S. Morgan St. Monday-Friday, 6am-9pm; Saturday, 7am-9pm; Sunday, 8am-7pm. (773)247-9950. www.bridgeportcoffeecompany.com (Rose Schapiro)

Best Place for Produce
Egg Store
Though Hyde Park Produce may not leave much to be desired, check out the Egg Store in Bridgeport for more cheap fruits and vegetables. It’s located in the same mini-mall-type complex as a Unique Thrift, a McDonald’s (Express!) and various other bits of local culture. Egg Store will give you tons of produce for a very low price, though its fluorescent interior can be a bit disconcerting. All the better to see the flaws on your tomatoes, my dear. Make sure to bring a big bag that you can stuff your bounty into, or you may find that you’ll have a problem on your trip back to Hyde Park. 3008 S. Halsted St. Monday-Sunday, 8am-8pm. (773)284-8704. (Rose Schapiro)

Best Art Gallery That You Might Miss
32nd & Urban Gallery
32nd & Urban is committed to being a South Side gallery, and to bringing more obscure art to a beautiful (actually incredibly well-done and unique) gallery space. The owners attempt to represent the greater Chicago area, and focus on the urban landscape of the South Side. Though 32nd & Urban is a little bit of a hike from Pilsen’s attempt at the Second Fridays scene, it’s definitely worth a visit. They open a new show every month, and aside from compelling solo work, they curate interesting group shows with fun themes. Bike over there if you’re in Pilsen or don’t mind a good ride; you won’t be disappointed. Since October is Chicago Artists’ Month, keep on the lookout for the special events that will be going down as well. 3201 S. Halsted St. Thursday-Friday, 9am-5pm. (312)846-6569. (Rose Schapiro)

Best Place to be Overwhelmed
Zhou B Art Center
It’s 87,000 square feet of completely overwhelming (no, seriously) space devoted to art. It houses more than a dozen galleries and studios, which make it great to just walk through. Check out everything from fine arts to photography to graphic graffiti, and marvel at the possibilities of the absolutely gigantic space. The Zhou brothers, who run the space, are very South Side-centric (they’re really into Bridgeport, even though their international fame takes them to places like Germany, Switzerland, and China), and the art center is meant to be as well. The art center has a decent café, and also hosts a handful of events that tend to be a good amount of fun, despite the lines that accrue to get up and down the super thin staircases. It’s also a great music venue, and hopefully in the future the space will be used to its fullest capacity and Chicago’s art scene will rock like never before. 1029 W. 35th St. Sunday-Thursday, 4-10pm. Friday-Saturday, 4-11pm. (773)523-0200. www.zhoubcafe.com (Rose Schapiro)

Best Vintage Diner
Ramova Grill
“The only diner left on the South Side where you can take your coffee mug outside while you smoke,” says the owner’s son of the Ramova–a small breakfast and burger spot in central Bridgeport. Famed for their chili, this diner’s been around since 1929 and comes replete with red vinyl stools at the counter and high-backed booths. Besides the chili, the BLTs have been written up in the Sun-Times and orange juice comes fresh-squeezed at your beck and call. Populated primarily by regulars, you can enjoy the local old men gossip while you fill up on coffee and eggs. Lumpen ringleaders can also be spotted on the scene. Breakfast served all day. 3510 S. Halsted St. Monday-Sunday, 5am-8pm. (773)847-9058. (Emily Bernhard)

Best Place to Join the Clergy
Monastery of the Holy Cross
Benedictine monks host bed-and-breakfasters in this quiet nook of bustling Brideport. “Monks have been welcoming travelers for centuries and you will be given the same warm welcome,” says their website. Piping hot muffins and sourdough pancakes smothered in hot maple syrup grace their breakfast menu. Go with a friend and each pay seventy dollars a night; go with three friends and it’s forty-five dollars apiece. Though not a standard item budgeted into a student’s expenses, it might make for a relaxing weekend away. If you are broke, the friendly gang of monks chant the divine office seven times a day with sanctuary-acoustics, and services are offered throughout the week. 3111 S. Aberdeen St. (773)927-7424. (Emily Bernhard)