Bronzeville

Temple Shipley

Once, Chicago’s ‘black metropolis’ rivaled Harlem in its significance to African-American culture. Richard Wright, Louis Armstrong, and Nat “King” Cole all lived here. Clubs such as the Sunset Cafe used to produce some of the hippest jazz musicians in the country. Later, two of the city’s largest public housing projects–the Robert Taylor Homes and the Ida B. Wells Homes–towered over the neighborhood, producing some of the South Side’s most prominent celebrities such as Mr. T and R Kelly before they were torn down at the onset of the new millennium.

Yet the symbol who continues to bear significance for locals is Bud Billiken, a fictional boy whom Robert Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender, created. Billiken was the focus of the Defender’s youth section for many years, inspiring columns and comic strips. The Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic is an annual event created to honor the persona, and it has grown to be the oldest and largest African-American parade in this country (by some counts, it’s also the second-largest parade). The parade, which happens the second Saturday of each August, celebrated its 83rd birthday this year. According to The Defender, “the focus of the parade continues to be betterment of youth.”

Best Use of Chicken, and Also of Waffles
Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles
As the moniker suggests, this place specializes in chicken and waffles, together–but wait! It’s not so simple. Go for Carol’s Treat, a ¼ dark chicken topped with gravy and onions alongside two waffles? Or the fried chicken and cheese omlette with one waffle that constitutes the Rosemary? No, lets just order that waffle alongside fried chicken gizzards (affectionately named Beverly’s Pick). Regardless, the restaurant provides a full filling of both chicken and waffles. Beyond that obvious combo, Chicken and Waffles proffers a wide range of classic soul food fare, such as collard greens and yams, many iterations of sweet tea, and a peach cobbler to top things off. Then again, the desert menu also offers waffles (sans chicken). 3947 S. King Dr. Sunday-Thursday, 9am-9pm; Friday and Saturday, 9am-11pm. (773) 536-3300  (Isaac Dalke)

Best Cafe with a Patio
Bronzeville Coffee and Tea House
Light floods the open front room of the Bronzeville Coffee and Tea House, which has perfectly-sized tables at which one can study, read, or lounge. Get a Caramel Royale, the house specialty, grab a cowhide-upholstered chair, and get to work. The place has been frantically busy since it reopened this past December after a months-long hiatus. Local art lines the walls–in one piece, a black-and-white Kanye West oozes paint. For those seeking a distraction from their work, there’s live comedy on the cozy back patio every other Wednesday, live jazz every Sunday afternoon, and brunch on Sunday mornings. A weekly spoken word event is also in the works. 528 E. 43rd St. Monday-Friday, 7am-6pm; Saturday, 8am-6pm; Sunday, 10am-4pm. (773) 536-0494 (Emma Broder)

Best Community Art Spot
Carriage House
Out behind the South Side Community Arts Center, the old carriage house is several yards west of where the center’s flower garden will be located starting next summer. Covered in ivy, the building houses a vintage tool collection as well as a welding studio. All this belongs to Eric Nix, a sculptor and full-time employee at the SSCAC. Back in the main gallery of this WPA-built community space, Nix noted the tiny holes spangling the wooden walls like constellations–the remnants of every painting or photograph ever hung at SSCAC, from Gordon Parks to Margaret Burroughs. Upstairs there’s a computer lab, several smaller galleries, and the office space for the Center. When Bronzeville was as prominent a cultural hub as Harlem, the SSCAC was at its nucleus, funding artists and providing free classes. Legend has it that Gwendolyn Brooks wrote poetry in the first-floor window seat. 3831 S. Michigan Ave. Wednesday-Friday, 12-5pm; Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 1pm-5pm. (773)373-1026  (Emma Broder)

Best Writing Den
George Cleveland Hall Branch, Chicago Public Library
Head south for history–the venerable Hall Library stands on the southern edge of Bronzeville at 48th and Michigan. The Chicago Public Library outpost was founded in 1932, amidst the full spirit of segregationist fervor, as the city’s first library for African Americans. From the start, the library hosted conversations with black intellectuals such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston.  From its earliest days until 1953, the branch was led by Vivian Harsh, Chicago’s first black librarian. Harsh was dedicated to growing the library’s collection of African American literature, and traveled across the south to collect materials for her “Special Negro Collection” (now at the Woodson Regional Library in Longwood Manor). Today, the library offers a thoughtful sanctuary away from the commercial buzz of 47th street. Its entrance lies between two wings, which extend outward as if to lead the aspiring student into a warm embrace. 4801 S. Michigan Ave. Monday and Wednesday, 10am-6pm; Tuesday and Thursday, 12pm-8pm. Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm. (312) 747-2541 (Chris Kubik)