Boarded-up storefronts not withstanding, 63rd Street is a pretty happening place. A terminus of the Green Line, “L” cars rumble above Cottage Grove. Underneath, Daley’s serves up steaming omelets, as it has since the restaurant opened in the 1930s. Across the street, shoppers rush in and out of a grocery store. Along the sidewalk, the displays of multiple clothing boutiques and beauty supply stores sell their wares to teenagers passing by. Just south of the “L” tracks, there are Jamaican restaurants and the world’s second Harold’s Chicken Shack. But the food, shoes, and booze end after only three blocks, and the activity comes to a dead stop.
While nightclubs formerly stretched all along 63rd, their signs blinking into the Chicago night, today empty lots are a frequent sight. Along the northern edge of 61st Street, new glassy constructions loom, casting shadows across the neighborhood. Further progress into Woodlawn stalled by an agreement with the community, the University of Chicago is cramming its southernmost expanse with new buildings.
Yet, the social divide is not as clear the physical, despite unofficial University warnings to avoid straying south of 61st. Set alight by their frustration with Hyde Park’s historically isolated position on the South Side, many student and community groups have expanded the reach of their activities into Woodlawn. Every day, scores of students work with neighborhood elementary school kids on their math homework. Meanwhile, residents of both areas have worked to establish community gardens between 61st and 63rd Streets. Furthermore, many businesses and organizations like Robust Coffee and the Woodlawn Collaborative, who offer free programming in the performing arts, bookmaking, serve patrons from both communities. Undergraduates frequent Blackstone Bicycle Works to learn how to fix popped tires from Woodlawn teenagers. While tension exists, collaboration is growing.
Best Raw Vegan Deli
Picture the best pad Thai you’ve ever had–the sweet peanut sauce, crunchy bean sprouts, shredded carrot, and the vitamin K-rich curly-leaf kale. If that last ingredient threw you off a bit, you’re not alone. B’Gabs Goodies is a vegan deli known for such healthy twists. Run by Gabrielle Darvassy, a woman who is as kind and motherly to her customers as she is to her elementary school-age son (and the store’s cutest employee) Marley. Before fixing your creamy and naturally sweetened smoothie, she’ll ask you for your food allergies and taste preferences. You’ll be having flashbacks to the smoothie’s vivid, fruity notes for weeks. The bill of fare is deceptively imaginative and complex–their plainest item, the veggie sandwich, uses a flax seed “bun” wafer to hold together a garden of greens and avocado. The restaurant’s interior is cozy but sparse. A few mismatched tables appear in the front, while dozens upon dozens of herbs, spices, and teas fill shelves in the back. With Darvassy’s friends and family members often preparing dishes and handling the register, a trip to B’Gabs makes you feel like part of the family. A home-cooked meal without the cooking, you’ll leave the shop feeling happier and healthier than when you entered. 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-3pm. (773)251-3071. bgabsgoodies.com (Kelsey Gee)
Best Meeting Grounds
Located a short walk from the University of Chicago’s South Campus Residence Hall, Robust Coffee Lounge was originally projected to be a student hang-out and study spot. While the industrial-chic decor, breakfast options, unlimited free Wi-Fi, and comfy seating make it a perfect place to settle down with a laptop, Robust has also attracted a significant following from more permanent Woodlawn residents. The clientele are generally quiet, their faces captivated by laptops or distracted by the fluffy, fruit-filled Belgian waffles on their plates. But by noon, the volume is turned up as folks stop in on their lunch break for corned beef sandwiches. The storefront is embellished with advertisements of specials and a wall displays the many accolades Robust has won. Continuing the legacy of the former Backstory CafÃ©, Robust acts as a meeting place for both undergraduates entirely new to the city and residents whose Woodlawn roots go three generations back. 6300 S. Woodlawn Ave. Monday-Friday, 6am-8pm; Saturday-Sunday, 7am-7pm. (773)891-4240. robustcoffeelounge.com (Maria Nelson)
Oak Woods Cemetery
Every life is fitting of a monument, though few are lucky enough to see theirs erected. Roland Burris, the former Illinois attorney general, is a notable exception. Though still living, his (self-financed) Oak Woods Cemetery memorial is already emblazoned with his feats and the epitaph reads, “TRAIL BLAZER.” It’s hard to blame him for wanting to be interred amid such greatness–the site contains thousand of monuments, some dignified, others garish, scattered across its 180 acres of man-made hills and ponds. Among those entombed are Jesse Owens, Enrico Fermi, Harold Washington, and Ida B. Wells. Surrounded by a row of elm trees, the remains of over 5,000 Confederate soldiers and prisoners of war lay beneath a 46-foot-tall Confederate memorial. Victims of starvation, the soldiers died imprisoned in Camp Douglas along modern-day Cottage Grove Avenue. Nearby, city officials and crooks like “Big Bill” Thompson and James “Big Jim” Colosimo are venerated by ornate limestone obelisks and mausoleums–matched only by the white bronze statues and angelic figures marking big businessmen like Hyde Park founder Paul Cornell. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers regular $15 tours of the gravesite, but if you have a free afternoon, a self-guided stroll will let you explore in peace. 1035 E. 67th St. Daily, 8am-4:30pm. (773)288-3800. (Kelsey Gee)