Hyde Park & Kenwood

Maggie Sivit

“The neighborhood’s not what it used to be.” Expressed as a sigh, this refrain is all too familiar in Hyde Park and Kenwood. For some, the real neighborhood was long ago disfigured by the neoclassical and neo-gothic constructions that line the Midway–imprints of the University of Chicago’s founding and the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Halfway through the next century, another chorus claims history’s proper course was thwarted by the destructive force of urban renewal. During this period, the vital cultural artery of 55th Street was drained of its blood, leaving townhouses where clubs once stood. And while these moments don’t lack significance, they are merely convenient benchmarks extracted from a lengthy history. A neighborhood existed long before the 1890s, and exclusion didn’t simply begin or end. Neighborhoods are eternally being made and remade; they are inherently never what they used to be.

Today, no great changes appear on the horizon. Hyde Park and Kenwood are mostly residential and tree-lined, amber and beautiful in the autumn. The lake still reflects each sunrise, sending plumes of fog rolling west in the springtime. Most of the plans for major new additions to the neighborhood are concentrated along Hyde Park’s 53rd Street. Two new developments will be adding glass and steel to an area known for brick, while new businesses procured by the University will appear in older storefronts. Surely more changes will come, but for now this area is a place for schoolchildren and undergraduates, working parents and professors, and of course, the President and those peculiar parakeets.

Best of the Best Bookstores
O’Gara & Wilson
Hyde Park is a book-lover’s paradise. The labyrinthine basement location of the Seminary Co-op carries the world’s largest collection of academic titles. Powell’s on 57th Street is awash with a changing stock of cheap reads, new and used. 57th Street Books, meanwhile, offers new books without the sterile glare and burnt coffee of Barnes & Noble. However, it is the antiquarian and used bookseller O’Gara & Wilson that makes Hyde Park appear celestial in the eyes of a bibliophile. The city’s oldest used bookstore, and according to Saul Bellow the nation’s best, is known for collecting books with a history. Recently the store acquired the libraries of Kenwood Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf and Hyde Park Alderman Leon Depres. Arranged with great care, each shelf in the store provides an opportunity to rejoice in what owner Dough Wilson called the “tactile adventure” of handling a volume in a recent interview with the Chicago Weekly. Yet, it is small charms like a taxidermy goose and stuffed moose head that add a whimsical atmosphere to this classic Hyde Park establishment. 1448 E. 57th St. Monday-Friday, 11am-7pm; Saturday, 11am-8pm; Sunday, 12pm-6pm. (773)363-0993. ogaraandwilson.com (Tyler Leeds)

Best Breakfast Sandwiches
Good ideas catch on. The first Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe opened along Kenwood’s 47th Street in 2008, and the company’s second installment arrived in Hyde Park last year.  Their sandwiches are known for their fine ingredients and a dose of imagination, but Z&H also has a respectable breakfast lineup. It might be tempting to begin your day alone on their counter with some prosciutto and triple crème cheese on a croissant (the “Tenzing Norgay”), but don’t forget to grab a coffee confection. Their new machines look flashy, but they’re clearly not just for show. An odd assortment of gourmet cheeses, meats, and grocery items rounds out Z&H’s offerings. Take advantage of the fleeting warm weather and escape the rush inside by sitting on the tranquil back porch, accessible through the back alley. Two locations: 1126 E. 47th St. and 1323 E. 57th St. Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-6pm. (773)538.7372. zhmarketcafe.com (Tyler Leeds)

Best Comic Shop
First Aid Comics
James Nurss, owner of First Aid Comics, knows how to run a practice. Waiting behind the desk, Nurss greets customers by name, pointing them toward to a new arrival or a rare acquisition. If you have any questions, Nurss emerges from behind the counter to help, revealing his full-length white doctor’s coat, the outfit of a specialist. With shelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling, and stock running from flimsy paper comics to thick, large-folio graphic novels, it would take nothing short of a specialist to curate this collection. Mixed throughout the store are more indulgent items–a Thor replica hammer for sale, a collection of mint-condition action figures, and a series of superhero adorned glassware. But, Nurss also offers group sessions. In the back of the store is a game room, a place for card tournaments and community get-togethers. Waiting for tournaments to begin, regulars often thumb through the $1 comic boxes, hoping for a good find. 1617 E. 55th St. Monday-Tuesday, 11am-7pm; Wednesday, 11am-8pm; Thursday-Saturday, 11am-7pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. (773)752-6642. firstaidcomics.com (Tyler Leeds)

Best Thing in Cobb Hall
The Renaissance Society
Tucked above and away on the fourth floor of the UofC’s Cobb Hall, the Renaissance Society’s vaulted exhibition room attempts to push ahead of the curve. As the Society approaches its centennial, it can look back on exhibits that have featured works by Picasso and Matisse, long before those artists had their paintings reproduced in coloring books. Today, the Society’s mission is to offer the South Side a chance to see contemporary art before it is enbalmed in the textbooks of the next generation. Not every exhibit spawns a star–the venue is too intimate to have such sway–but the Society has a record of taste and the nerve to take risks. Art exhibits, if anything, ought to be tasteful and risky. Cobb Hall 418, 5811 S. Ellis Ave. Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday-Sunday, noon-5pm. (773)702-8670. Free. renaissancesociety.org (Tyler Leeds)

Best Record Store
Hyde Park Records
Corporate media outlets  may criminalize such behavior, but loitering completes Hyde Park Records. Regulars wander in, chatting up employees or casually sifting through crates. If you linger among the CDs, the regulars will mostly ignore you. Atop the displays, recent critical darlings will appear, wrapped in plastic alongside dirtier jewels. Overall, the backstock leans toward established ’90s indie rock. You know a discerning eye is at work when you see music recorded two decades ago adorned with a bright yellow “NEW” sticker. This isn’t a trick, of course, but rather a signal for collectors. While purchasing such a CD may garner the modest approval of an employee, to get in with the regular crowd you have to get dusty. Hidden in the vinyl crates are old jazz and blues LPs, tempting enthusiasts from across the city to come dig. If your own excavation leads to an unfamiliar record sleeve, hand it off to one of the regulars in exchange for a history lesson. 1377 E. 53rd St. Daily, 11am-8pm. (773)288.6588 (Tyler Leeds)

Best Film Screenings
Doc Films
Doc Films, the nation’s oldest continually running film society, can trace its beginnings back to a couple of Soviet film nuts in 1932. Every quarter of the UofC’s academic year, Doc assigns a theme to each weeknight, ranging from the academic (“The Post-Classical Western”) to the whimsical (“Gore! Monsters! North Carolina?”). On the weekends, the society indulges in recent box-office hits. Admission is only five bucks, even if the night features a director appearance or rare print. The upcoming season promises to hit home. Kartemquin Films, founded by three UofC alums, will be celebrating its 45th anniversary with showings. The group earned international recognition for its Homeric documentary “Hoop Dreams,” which traced the high school basketball careers of two South Side ninth graders lavished with promises of stardom. Adding a bit of levity to the season, Friday’s series will feature the works of Woody Allen. Meanwhile, a series showing films from dGenerate will offer a glimpse into the independent film culture of contemporary China. Max Palevsky Cinema. 1212 E. 59th St. Times vary. $5 for one film, $30 for quarterly membership. (773)702.8574. docfilms.uchicago.edu(Tyler Leeds)