Best of the South Side 2010

In the past twenty years, the South Loop has gone from historical to happening. Poor Irish, German, and African-American immigrants first built up the neighborhood
in the mid-19th century, but after the neighborhood avoided the brunt of the Great Fire it became a popular district with the Chicago elite. However, their massive mansions gave way to vice and crime by the start of the 20th century. When the South Loop’s seediness became common knowledge on a national level, the city made an effort to move criminal elements elsewhere. The South Loop then became a hub of industry, with specialized districts like Printer’s Row and Auto Row proliferating. Reinvented once more, it is not hard to argue that the South Loop is currently at its zenith for visitors. Its population has exploded in the past few years, as massive high-rise condos seem to spring up every few weeks. The rise in popularity of the South Loop has led to many businesses opening second locations in the area, and big stores like Whole Foods and Best Buy have set up shop just west of the river. Luckily, the neighborhood has maintained some local spots as well, and will hopefully continue to do so as the South Loop settles into its latest identity.

best place to get everything
Maxwell Street Market

The Maxwell Street Market is currently in its second rendition, and has quite the name to live up to–Old Maxwell Street introduced the world to the Polish sausage. The market has traditionally been home to the new waves of immigrants coming through the city; Jewish, Polish, and Greek stands have largely given way to a burgeoning Mexican population. Vendors’ stalls are filled with all sorts of items, from produce to auto parts to paintings to building materials. If it exists, you can likely find it here. Regardless of one’s desire to shop, the market is worth the trip if only for the amazing Mexican food. Cooks serve up carnitas, churros, and chorizo nonstop. You’d be hard pressed to find a better way to spend Sunday morning. And don’t be fooled by the name–the market now occupies a portion of Des Plaines Avenue between Roosevelt and Harrison. The market is open every Sunday, all year, inclement weather be damned. S. Des Plaines Ave. between W. Harrison St. and W. Roosevelt Rd. Sundays, 7am-3pm (David Sisco Casey)

best muddy waters murals
Velvet Lounge

No knock on the Green Mill, but you don’t have to go to the North Side to hear great jazz. Case in point: South Loop’s Velvet Lounge, a serious jazz club with a serious pedigree. Fred Anderson opened the place in 1982, after his North Side club, the Birdhouse, had to close. Since then, the Velvet Lounge has become famous both as a venue where you can hear great Chicago talent five nights a week and as a place that has a decidedly dressed-down, homey feel to it (patrons were treated to cake and ice cream every year on the owner’s birthday). Sadly, Mr. Anderson passed away this June, but the club still maintains its heritage. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the premier avant-garde jazz band of which Mr. Anderson was an alumnus, performs the first two weekends of every month, and there is a weekly jam session on Sunday nights. 67 E. Cermak Rd. Wednesday-Thursday, doors open at 8:30pm; Friday-Sunday, doors open at 9:30pm; first two Sundays of each month, AACM showcase, 7-9pm. (312)791-9050 (Ruben Montiel)

best all-hours greasy food provider
White Palace Grill

For whatever zoning or loitering law reason, Hyde Park lacks a 24-hour diner
(and no, Dunkin’ Donuts does not count). So if you’re in a comfort food state of mind, be it 3pm on a Saturday or Tuesday at 3am, the White Palace Grill
is an excellent option. The grill has been around since the 1930s, and has
held its ground against the surrounding high-rises and electronics
stores that now dwarf it; there’s an old-school Americana charm to the place that has led to its cult status. The food is greasy and delicious–try the chilaquiles, American or Mexican style. Just don’t expect your instructor at the nearby CorePower Yoga to respect you afterwards. 1159 S. Canal Street. 24 hours. (312)939-7167 (David Sisco Casey)

best blockbuster experience
ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection

When the feature at Hyde Park’s Doc Films is a little too obscure, stay clear of the AMCRiver East and head to this brand-new South Loop theater for the best first-run
movie venue in the city. The ShowPlace ICON takes a luxury approach to the
movie experience, allowing viewers to reserve whatever seats they want in the
theater and offering frozen yogurt along with usual movie fare. For 21+ guests,
the ICON has a fantastic lounge on the upper floor with a mod vibe, full bar, and
food ranging from tenderloin sliders to pear and Gorgonzola pizzas. The bacon
popcorn will leave your tastebuds especially confused and excited. The ICON
also offers two screens with VIP Reserved Setting, where waiters will deliver
drinks and food to your extra-wide seats. 150 W. Roosevelt Road. (312)564-
2104 (David Sisco Casey)

best place to drink classy
The Shrine

Most of the South Side’s nightlife is told in the past tense, but just off the same strip of Michigan that once housed Chess Records, the Shrine nightclub is again making the future look classy. Taking its name from Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti’s Nigerian nightclub, and its inspiration from black music the world over, the young venue is giving some South Side depth to Chicago nightlife. Inside the decor is safari-luxury, and a long procession of records lining the wall of the club’s entrance pays homage to past greats, from Rakim to Miles Davis. Week nights range from new hip-hop to Wednesday’s UPR!SE, which offers an eclectic mix of soul, funk, raregroove, and afrobeat. For such a small venue, the place has drawn some big acts, including Common and the Roots, Ludacris, and Lupe Fiasco, and even bigger guests, Jay-Z and LeBron James among them. The clientele is largely young African-American professionals, but the crowd on any given night is strikingly diverse. And despite its exploding popularity, the club has (so far) stayed accessible, keeping drink prices comparatively low (think $5 a beer), offering free shows, hosting spoken word events, and even showing Brazil’s World Cup-run on a giant screen accompanied by Caipirinhas. 2109 S. Wabash Ave. Tuesdays-Fridays, 9pm-2am; Saturdays, 9pm-3am. Cover: free-$20. Bottle service: way, way more. (312) 753-5700 (Harry Backlund and David Sisco Casey)