“The older I get, the more I understand that where I’m from and who I am is one of the great anomalies in major metropolitan life,” says Raymond Keeler. More than fifteen years ago, the Bridgeport native and most of his friends left home to go to college. All but one came back to the neighborhood, taking over family businesses or starting restaurants, galleries and salons. As the man behind the bar at the Zhou Brothers’ cafÃ©, Keeler has a unique vantage point over a community that’s changing rapidly.
One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Keeler’s Bridgeport is a vision of old school Chicago. “I say I’m from Bridgeport, and if people are from the city they know that you have a big extended family and you still hang out with your friends and you know what good food is…stuff like that.”
But the neighborhood that houses the oldest bar in the city, the White Sox stronghold Schaller’s Pump, also boasts the newly remodeled Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar, which offers experimental cocktails and the occasional DJ set. A burgeoning arts scene and new eateries have drawn a generation of young outsiders to Bridgeport, an influx that, combined with local support, has been enough to sustain more than seven galleries and countless studios. “No one ever thought there would be an art gallery in Bridgeport, ever,” says Keeler. Today, the Zhou B Arts Center is nearing a decade of existence, joined by the Bridgeport Arts Center and the smaller galleries that dot Halsted Street. On and off of the main drag, that portion of Halsted between 37th St. and 31st St., stand a bike shop, a cassette lover’s haven, and an artisan coffeehouse.
“In five years the neighborhood is just going to continue to change,” Keeler predicts, “more art, more businesses, more storefronts, more diversity.” Don’t wait for the Bridgeport of the future–the neighborhood is already too good to be ignored. Take it from Keeler: “It’s the best of the best of the South Side.”
Best Fourth MealÂ
Taqueria San Jose
If you’re in search of cheap Mexican fare well after sunset, look no further than Bridgeport’s Taqueria San Jose. The restaurant is open until 2am on weeknights and 4am on weekends, with a wait staff that’s happy to see you anytime you might be craving their specialties. Though the telenovelas playing on two TVs are engrossing whether or not you can understand rapid fire Spanish, it’s the flavor of the food you’ll remember most. Highlights of the menu include the expertly seasoned steak or chicken tacos garnished with cilantro: $1.60 a piece or $7 for three tacos and the full rice & bean spectacular. For a heftier meal, the house burrito is a mosaic of rice, beans, grilled vegetables and meat, snugly wrapped in a warm tortilla. The horchata is the perfect sugary drink to compliment the savory meal. Still, if that’s not enough for your sweet tooth, the candy counter on the way out offers up tangy goodies that won’t disappoint. The chili-encrusted Rockaleta lollipop (a mammoth spicy jawbreaker on a stick) is quite an experience. 3253 S. Halsted St. Monday-Thursday, 8:30am-2am; Friday-Saturday, 8:30am-4am; Sunday, 8:30am-1am. (312)225-7386 (Elizabeth Bynum)
Best Case of Brotherly Love
Zhou B Art Center
The Zhou B Art Center embodies Bridgeport’s dual commitments to history and modernity, community-building and individual creative pursuit. This neighborhood cultural center houses art exhibitions, performance venues, working studios and a cafÃ©/art lounge. The space is striking, marked by sprawling windows and exposed piping and brick. The high ceilinged gallery space can be transformed for exhibits and special events, while original freight elevators pay tribute to Bridgeport’s industrial past. Since their youth in Shanghai, brothers Shan Zuo and Da Huang Zhou have worked collaboratively in a range of media, from painting and sculpture to live performance. Their work seeks to strengthen the interchange between geographically and culturally disparate art forms, and deals in particular with breaching frontiers between the East and the West. The Zhou brothers have lived in Bridgeport for over twenty years, and founded the Center in 2004. Open to the public Monday through Friday, the exhibition space showcases the work of contemporary artists from Chicago and abroad, linked by their exploration with cross-cultural discourse and what the Zhou brothers call “an extravagant fusion of culture and creativity.” Visit on the 3rd Friday of every month for gallery openings and open studios with artists-in-residence. 1029 W. 35th St. Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday, 12pm-5pm. (773)523-0200. www.zbcenter.org (Ione Barrows)
Best Neighborhood Drinks
Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar
It’s hard not to be charmed by Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar. On a weeknight, the sound of voices mingled with a soulful remix wafts from the back room. Just inside the entrance lies a small store, where wooden shelves host a wide selection of craft beer and hard liquor. A double row of ventriloquist dummies peers down from the top shelf, equally effective as both kitsch dÃ©cor and theft prevention. Maria’s supplements its beer offerings with an impressive roster of complex cocktails mixed under the glow of beer-bottle chandeliers. Original concoctions include the suave 11th Ward Old Fashioned, made stiff and tempered by Angostora bitters, and the tart seasonal 31st Street Spritzer. Formerly the neighborhood bar Kaplan’s, Maria’s is proud of its hood and the menu’s drinks exude that pride. On the outdoor patio, cigarette smoke wafts around garnished glasses (“Maria’s Manhattan,” $10) and tall cans of PBR alike (“Random Shitty Beer, $2). Nightly specials reach past the predictable happy hour discounts to include Monday’s Korean Polish BBQ and a chance to preview in-the-works cocktails every Wednesday. 960 W 31st St. Store: Sunday-Friday 11am-2am; Saturday 11am-3am. Bar: Monday- Thursday 3pm-2am; Friday 2pm-2am; Saturday 12pm-3am; Sunday 2pm-2am. (773)890-0588. community-bar.com (Hannah Nyhart)
Best Real Life Pinterest
Coyle and Herr Warehouse
Wandering through Coyle and Herr’s warehouse-style consignment store feels like walking through a posh apartment complex with all of the internal walls magically dissolved. The 1,200 square foot showroom is full of high-end consignment furniture and home accessories arranged to conjure visions of inhabited rooms, complete with wine bottles and travel guides. The store operates through seven to ten day sales, during which it stays open for buyers from 10am to 6pm, rife with estate sale purchases, auction cast-offs, and other pieces that the curators process during off-periods. Yards of stately armchairs, vintage desks, and weathered dressers offer fodder for dreams of a someday studio. A diverse collection of porcelain heads (tobacco jars) and an old fashioned telescope make the store worth a stroll. Their next sale runs from October 19th to the 28th. 1200 West 35th St. 10am-6pm. (773)575-9880. coyleandherr.com (Hannah Nyhart)