Best of the South Side 2009: Bronzeville

Bronzeville takes great pride in its history as the “Black Metropolis.” A destination for Southern blacks moving north during the Great Migration, it became the cultural nucleus of Chicago’s African-American community, nurturing such greats as Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sam Cooke, and Louis Armstrong, as well as the groundbreaking black newspaper the Chicago Defender. The neighborhood’s fortunes have fluctuated since its heyday, however–Chicago’s segregated housing practices eventually turned many blocks into overcrowded slums, which, in the ’50s and ’60s, the Chicago Housing Authority replaced with high-rise public housing projects such as the infamous Robert Taylor Homes. Over the last decade, the CHA has torn these down, replacing them with mixed-income developments in its latest controversial move. The demolition trend shows little sign of letting up, as Bronzeville’s proximity to the condo-rich South Loop, along with its cultural cachet, make it prime real estate for developers.

best comedy venue
Jokes and Notes
Since opening her comedy destination in January 2006, owner Mary Lindsey has brought both nationally and locally-known performers to her hip venue just blocks away from the Harold Washington Cultural Center. Mo’Nique, Adele Givens, and Michael Colyar have visited the stage. Local comedian Lil’ Rel hosts a weekly open mic, “Wild Card Night,” on Wednesdays, and local radio host Tony Sculfield of WGCI hosts a variety show on Thursday nights. 4641 S. King Dr. (777)373-3390. jokesandnotes.com (Yennie Lee)

best louisiana bistro
Blu 47
Blu 47’s bistro menu brings new flavors to the South Side, integrating Cajun and Creole flavors to French and American cuisine. The dinner menu boasts a fancy offering of steak roulade au poivre, grilled lobster tail, and tiger prawns, with Southern influences in their side dishes of rice and beans and “BLU” coleslaw. Other dinner items include the familiar choices of stuffed chicken, fish, and pasta. Blu 47’s décor and dinnertime entertainment add a nice element to the restaurant, providing a hip atmosphere for Thursday night jazz performances. 4655 S. King Dr. Tuesday, 5pm-10:30pm; Wednesday-Saturday, 3pm-10pm; Sunday, 10am-3pm. (773)536-6000 (Yennie Lee)

best art gallery with a mission
Gallery Guichard
Housed in the Supreme Life Insurance building, founded in 1919 as the first black insurance company in the northern United States, Gallery Guichard brings together a collection of visual art featuring representations and experiences of the African diaspora. Andre Guichard, the gallery’s owner, puts a keen emphasis on promoting the art of the African diaspora as a general theme and genre, and moreover as a message to its surrounding neighborhood. As another effort to revitalize the former proud community, Gallery Guichard provides a venue for art collecting, community building, and perhaps some historical firsts, just as Supreme Life Insurance did in the early 20th century. 3521 S. King Dr. By appointment only. (773)373-8000 (Yennie Lee)

best breakfast-dinner alliance
Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles
Originally a knockoff of Los Angeles-based Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles keeps the fried and syrup-ed in the neighborhood. Originally a popular meal found in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, chicken and waffles first made its debut out west in the 1970s, when enterprising business Herb Hudson sought the opportunity to become a restaurateur. Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles, inspired by Hudson’s original attempt to bring a location to Chicago, remains in the area with its famous menu, including half-fried chicken, chicken livers, giblets, and wings, biscuits and gravy, and fried catfish. Dinner at the restaurants offers a different mood and atmosphere with little change in menu, but proves that breakfast is really meant to be enjoyed at any time of the day. 3947 S. King Dr. Sunday-Thursday, 9am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-11pm. (773)536-3300 (Yennie Lee)

best events calendar
Harold Washington Cultural Center
Located in the heart of Bronzeville, the Harold Washington Cultural Center boasts an impressive calendar of events year-round, contributing to the recent efforts to reenergize the area with new cultural and economic developments. Established with the purpose of providing the South Side with a large venue for both entertainment and education, the HWCC includes a range of concerts, educational workshops, professional seminars, and regular programming such as movie screenings of black independent films. The HWCC also hosts events with notable celebrities, bringing actors, singers, and writers to share their experiences and successes with residents of the South Side. Talib Kweli’s “Edutainment” and Tavis Smiley’s “Building Capacity in the Community” workshops are just a couple examples of what the HWCC has to offer. 4710 S. King Dr. (773)373-1900. hwccchicago.org (Yennie Lee)