The Stuff of Legends: Livin’ large at infamous undergraduate social haunts

I can’t promise that either of these housing options will be available for you this fall–that’s your problem. But these two residences have a reputation for friendly, socially active students. Familiar to those whose friends inhabit them or have been to a to party there, but generally unknown territory to first-years, here are two options that relish their status as desirable off-campus housing at the University of Chicago. Both come recommended for those who seek a lively, entertaining, and legendary environment.

The Shtetl
Location: 5438 S. Harper Avenue #2
Hyde Park, or Upper West Side? That may be a stretch, but this luxurious, recently renovated two-story mini-mansion, with six beds, four bathrooms, and hardwood floors, comes awfully close. It’s officially called “The Redworm” after its compost system, though the new name hasn’t caught on yet. This spot is super swanky because it was once the bachelor pad of the building owner after he combined two apartments into one. It was under the auspices of the brothers of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi for a while, until they moved to their current house on 56th and Drexel. But they left behind the beloved, semi-ironic title, “The Shtetl,” which continues to stubbornly stick to it today. Now home to the crunchier students of the UofC, the Shtetl’s aim is to foster an authentic co-op housing system. Roommates agree to share chores, attend weekly meetings, and follow a short list of fairly loose rules (no hard alcohol at parties, buy only organic food, and follow an extensive recycling system, to name a few). Not just anybody can live in this gorgeous pad: once you score an empty room for sublet or permanent rent, you’ll be interviewed to see whether you flow with this lifestyle. Rent runs between $300-500 (cheaper for the 7th bedroom, a sunroom convert); dishwasher, jacuzzi, and free laundry facilities are included. That’s right: Jacuzzi.

The Pepperland
Location: 1509-1517 E 57th Street
As an occasional visitor, I’m still a dog chasing my own tail in the Pepperland: I can never tell which way I came in, what’s up or down, or how to get out. Just east of Powell’s Bookstore–the friendly neighbors with whom 1W shares a kitchen wall–every apartment of this four-sided building is connected to a dingy, yet festive courtyard. Residents often cut through their neighbors’ apartments, so hold on to your belongings. Thursday is beer-dye night in the courtyard, on the ping-pong table, next to the rotting couch. The Pepperland’s signature Rubik’s cube and dollar parties (guaranteed to end in mad nudity) evoke fond memories of the days before its residents got royally busted after one party early last year. No more funny business–cops threatened to evict everyone and shut down the complex. Back up and running now, though with a little less steam, the same vibrant spirit lingers in its notorious landings. The building has been around since the late 1800s, but only in the 1970s did it acquire its bohemian reputation, thanks to a “mix of young people who wanted to live in a communal style,” says 1W resident Ben Nigra. In keeping with this persona, its namesake is from the Beatles’ movie “Yellow Submarine,” affiliated with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Also fittingly, the legendary liberal writer and UofC professor Saul Bellow once lived there. Over the course of its history the Pepperland often “absorbs certain groups of people,” Nigra said. In the early 1990s it held a large gay contingent, then the Crew Club moved in, and finally in the late nineties it became home to around half of the Ultimate Frisbee team. At present, over three-quarters of the Pepperland’s residents are associated with the Frisbee community. Nine of the twelve apartments have formed a sort of association, with a “party captain” who organizes meetings and funds (of the three remaining apartments, a mysterious old professor occupies one, and students unaffiliated with Pepperland festivities live in the other two). When you move in you’re expected to pay a $75 deposit that will be returned upon your departure–a stock purchase that would probably not be recommended to aspiring GSB Wall Street kids. But prepare to talk Kant over a game of Kings behind a tripped-out mural. A small apartment with three full bedrooms, one converted-pantry bedroom, and one bathroom, with laundry in the basement, runs about $1400 a month: cheap. Oh, and here’s an insider’s tip: if you’re looking to track down the One Dub Dirty Love Jazz Club, look no further than apartment 1W.