Best of the South Side 2008: Bridgeport

Historically, Bridgeport has been known both as a working-class Irish neighborhood and a home to well-connected politicians, including both Mayors Daley. However, there is another side to Bridgeport: a diverse, artistic neighborhood that welcomes outsiders without losing its strong community feel. A study, conducted by the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University, ranked Bridgeport the fourth most diverse neighborhood in the city. In addition to the Polish and Lithuanian communities that have quietly coexisted with the South Side Irish for decades upon decades, Bridgeport is now home to Chinese, African-Americans, and hipsters. Mayor Daley has moved out, and the neighborhood has moved on.

Best Co-Prosperity Sphere
Lumpen’s Co-Prosperity Sphere
There was a time when Bridgeport was not home to the crazy political art collective known as Lumpen (you know, like lumpenproletariat–get it!), but that was in the past, man, and now we’re in the future…kind of. After all, Bridgeport has been christened “The Community of the Future” by the Lumpen guys and gals, so it must be true. And let me just say, if the future looks anything like the Co-Prosperity Sphere, then count me in. It’s way better than that other, Asian thing (which was also very much in the past)–this Sphere involves crazy art shows with spacey lounges and cardboard box rocketship rides and people in costumes and free PBR. The Lumpen folks live upstairs, and downstairs they host a myriad of cultural festivities, like art shows and concerts and film screenings and general fun-having. If that’s the future, man, count me in. I love culture and space and beer and the future. And beer. Co-prosperity beer. 3219-21 S. Morgan St. 773-837-0145. www.lumpen.com/CPS (Gavin Fox)

Freshest Art Gallery
32nd&Urban
Now approaching its second birthday, this small storefront gallery at 32nd and Halsted retains a noticeably youthful feel. Although the space isn’t large–it used to be a barbershop–it managed to accommodate works by 59 artists for the recent show “Framed,” where curator Peter Kepha gave out wooden frames of different sizes with instructions to create “great, affordable art.” The result was a group of works ranging in price from $25 to $400. Right now the gallery has works by five female artists up, and next month Joey Potts will exhibit “Quest for the Cyclops Pyramid,” a series of whimsical-yet-badass paintings opening on October 18. The gallery’s creators are Bridgeport natives and maintain strong community connections amid the burgeoning local arts scene. This fall the gallery hosts a “Screen Printing 101” course for all levels of experience. 3201 S. Halsted St. Friday, 6-9pm, Sat, noon-5pm. (312) 846-6569 (Sam Feldman)

Best Hot Dog Stand
Maxwell Street Depot/Morrie O’Malley’s (tie)
Bridgeport is a hotbed of high-quality hot dog stands (one of the best things the White Sox have ever produced, 2005 World Series title aside), and I couldn’t bring myself to choose between Maxwell Street Depot and Morrie O’Malley’s as the best because they both serve different purposes. Depot is bare-bones, but it does its job very well. A time-honored favorite of University of Chicago and IIT students, the 24-hour stand serves up hot dogs, burgers, polishes with masses of grilled onions, and their signature pork chop sandwiches to legions of drunk students and graveyard-shift workers at all hours of the night. Tip: Ask for the pork chop sandwich without the bone. If you’re looking for a slightly-less-greasy dog with more options at a reasonable hour, check out Morrie O’Malley’s. O’Malley’s specializes in char-grilled meat (but you have to ask for it) and ridiculous amounts of toppings–his signature dog comes with mustard, relish, chopped onion, sport peppers, a kosher dill pickle spear, a cucumber spear, tomato slice, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun. Just don’t walk in there with a Cubs jersey if you value your life. Maxwell Street Depot: 411 W. 31st St. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (312)326-3514. Morrie O’Malley’s: 3501 S. Union Ave. Monday-Friday 10:30am-8pm. (773)247-2700 (Katie Buitrago)

Best Place to Spontaneously Inject Your Body with Ink
Bridgeport Tattoo Co.
For many years, Bridgeport stood as a bastion of working class, blue collar life–and then Lumpen moved in and made it into an artsy hangout for the college-aged crowd. Okay okay, maybe that’s a little too simplistic a rundown, but the end result is the same. Case in point: the Bridgeport Tattoo Co. After all, can you imagine any of the older, Irish inhabitants that originally made up so much of the neighborhood’s traditional population indulging in such reckless, spontaneous behavior? I mean, have you seen the ink stretch on the saggy skin of the post-sixty crowd? It’s not a pretty sight–but I digress. For those more interested in living in the here and now, the Bridgeport Tattoo Co. can help ink all the snakes, lions, skulls and, of course, big-breasted women you want on your biceps, triceps, quadriceps, and whatever-other-ceps you’re interested in marking. Just look to the walls for inspiration–they’re covered in images of ‘em. Oh and ladies, while you’re there, make sure to hit up Jeannete for all your nail and eyelash extension needs. 3527 S. Halsted St. noon-10pm every day. (773)523-8311. www.myspace.com/bridgeporttattooco (Sean Redmond)

Best Place to Let Your Inner Nerd Run Free
Monster Island Toys
I’ll admit it: I’m a pretty big nerd. I love video games, and I used to collect action figures like they were going out of style. But judging by the stock of Monster Island Toys, you’d think that action figures were the hottest shit since the pink Power Ranger. The place has got shelves of everyone you could ever imagine shrunken down and molded into plastic–and while that may be a slight exaggeration, it still carries both KISS action figures AND multiple versions of Cher dolls. Also, shelves and shelves of different colored Godzillas and Ghidorahs. For movie and/or remorseless slaughter buffs, there’s Scarface and Kill Bill figurines! And old school GI Joe! The rabbit with big, pointy teeth! MADBALLS! But even non-nerds may find reason to rejoice–at least if you’re either a Bruce Lee or Boris Karloff fan. The former can enjoy the great selection of Bruce Lee tees, and the store carries stock of both Lee and Karloff DVDs. In fact, the selection of B-grade horror films is pretty mind-munchingly amazing. The Invisible Man? Check. Bride of Frankenstein? Check. Japanese versions of Godzilla vs. Mothra? Check. You may have reluctantly entered adulthood, but that doesn’t mean you have to let your inner child die–and hey, now you get the best of both worlds, because children aren’t allowed to enter the store without their parents! Suckers! 3407 S. Halsted St. Monday-Saturday 11am-6pm. (773)247-5733. www.monsterislandtoys.com (Sean Redmond)

Best Place to Hear the Delta Blues
Bridgeport Coffee House
Bridgeport, for all its quirky, diverse charms, is pretty rough around the edges. The neighborhood’s rundown facades belie interesting nooks and crannies, from old-school diners to vinyl shops, new age grottos and other peculiar institutions. But smack dab in the middle of it all lies the Bridgeport Coffee House, which fits in perhaps solely due to the fact that, with all its cream-colored upscale upholstery, it’s so different from its surroundings that it matches the neighborhood’s whole mismatched, hodge-podge feel. Not that that’s a bad thing. The coffee shop’s moderately-priced sandwiches and simplistic-yet-delicious milkshakes make it a sight for sore eyes (and taste buds) in the midst of Bridgeport’s vast hot dog and cheap-eats desert. And on Wednesdays at 6pm, you can catch Jimbo-Delta, aka “Jim Parks,” playing his unique blend of contemporary delta blues for the crowd. Oh, and the café also offers free wi-fi–just don’t be rude and use it while you’re getting your dose of Southern blues. 3101 S. Morgan St. Monday-Friday 6am-9pm; Saturday 7am-9pm; Sunday 8am-7pm. (773)247-9950. www.bridgeportcoffeecompany.com (Sean Redmond)

Best Way to Get Some God into Your Life
The Orphanage
It’s Sunday: the Lord’s day, the day of rest. But at 7pm in Bridgeport, in the First Lutheran Church of the Trinity’s former school building, up the 100-year-old staircase and into the old gymnasium/auditorium, one finds a different type of spiritual experience: the Orphanage. It is an institution that “pulls all the art orphans together,” explains one of the founders, Mark Wardo. It is a place to perform, a place for art, and a place to eat. (can you name me three finer pleasures in life?) Every Sunday for $10 flat from 7pm to 1am one can enjoy anywhere from four to six musical acts, a vegetarian meal and great coffee and tea, in an atmosphere that is both welcoming and fantastically funky. Upon entering, one is transported to a jungle of stick-trees balancing atop motley tables, their branches frosted with colorful gauze and Christmas lights and dripping with colors of braided string. Stained-glass windows and rotating artwork cover the wall and the stage is topped with a disco ball. The music performances range from folk to rock, indie to jazz, generally hovering on the more serene end of the spectrum. There are occasionally Saturday shows reserved mainly for the “screamo more hardcore bands”–God forbid we should be subject to such racket on His holy day. But the mix is eclectic and the setting an experience in itself. Bands and artists submit via MySpace or word of mouth; the Orphanage is always encouraging submissions from musicians and artists. 643 W. 31st St. Sundays, 7pm-1am. (773)807-5157. www.theorphanagechicago.org (Morgan Moroney)