Chicago - Southwest Side
The Southwest Side of Chicago does not feature in many travel plans. If you ask a hotel concierge in the Near North to make arrangements for a trip here, the reaction — whether incredulous or simply bewildered — should be a sight to behold. However, the Southwest Side does hold some interest as the former home to the infamous Union Stockyards and as the current home to some of the best blues clubs in the nation.
The Southwest Side is large enough where you cannot understand it without understanding its neighborhoods.
The Back of the Yards is a loose term encompassing the community areas of McKinley Park, Brighton Park, and New City, referring to the area's history as the home to the vast hordes of immigrant laborers in the Union Stockyards of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Though the stockyards are long gone, the blue-collar character remains. The actual stockyards themselves were located in the heart of New City between Ashland Ave and Halsted from Pershing Rd (39th St) to 47th St. Today they are marked by the Union Stock Yard Gate and a large industrial park. The area surrounding the industrial park is comprised of predominantly Mexican-American neighborhoods and has some good food on offer. Canaryville (between Halsted and Wentworth from Pershing to 49th) is an Irish-American neighborhood with a notorious reputation for violence over the past century. McKinley Park, on the other hand, is experiencing a rapid gentrification as younger Chicagoans are priced out of "hipper" neighborhoods.
Marquette Park is an ethnically mixed neighborhood divided between mostly African-Americans, primarily concentrated to the East of the Park and Mexican-Americans, primarily concentrated in the area immediately West of the park; along with some Polish and Lithuanian-Americans, centered around one very large and fabulous park. Further West, the area becomes more ethnically inclusive, with median income playing a more prominent role in residency. Aside from the park (and its golf course), the neighborhood is alluring mostly just for its great Mexican food, as well its rare-in-America Lithuanian dining. This neighborhood was once dominated by a big, wealthy, Lithuanian-American community, but its demographic began to shift dramatically following Martin Luther King Jr's anti-segregation marches (which at the time met with violence from residents). Accompanying desegregation in this neighborhood was characteristic "white flight," which put an end to the "Lithuanian Gold Coast" and heralded a more open neighborhood which most recently has become a major destination in the United States for Mexican immigrants.
Further east are three particularly noteworthy African-American neighborhoods. Greater Grand Crossing is rarely visited by tourists, but perhaps it should be, as it contains the best and most authentic blues clubs in Chicago. It also has the Oak Woods Cemetery, which is both beautifully laid out and home to some of the the most famous residents of the South Side's past. Auburn Gresham and Washington Heights have far less of interest to travelers, but both are nice neighborhoods and have some good places to eat if you find yourself in the area.
Englewood also deserves a mention, but mostly as a warning — it is a large, impoverished, and relatively violent neighborhood with just about nothing to offer a traveler. It is generally best to just pass through on one of the main roads (e.g., 55th St) or to avoid the area altogether.
The CTA Orange Line runs from downtown through the district on its way to Midway Airport, providing quick and easy access to some northern areas of the Southwest Side from the Loop, but keep in mind that a bus transfer will likely be necessary to get you where you are going from the L station. Travel time is about 25-30 minutes from the Loop to Midway, but you may wait up to 30 minutes between trains during off peak hours. The 79th St station on the CTA Red Line is your best bet if going to the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood.
Metra's Rock Island commuter rail line serves the southernmost neighborhoods of the district, and may be a good way to get to Auburn-Gresham or Washington Heights. But again, keep in mind that you will likely need to take a bus from the station to your destination, or else you will be in for a long walk. Trains depart from the downtown LaSalle Station. A ride to the Gresham station costs about $2, to any of the Washington Heights stations will cost about $3.
CTA bus route #62, which travels along Archer Ave from McCormick Center in the Near South, is probably the most convenient route into the Southwest Side from downtown Chicago. Other important routes include the city-spanning north south routes along Halsted, Ashland, and Western: #8, #9, and #49. The major east west routes are #47, #55, and #63, which as you might expect run the lengths of 47th, 55th, and 63rd streets.
Generally if you need a cab it is best to call and request one. If you hail one in The Loop, they will have no problem taking you anywhere in this area, although depending on time of day and traffic it can be pricey. Don't, however, expect to be able to hail a cab from within the Southwest Side; be sure to arrange your return transportation in advance. Having a cab take you home is especially wise if you are not familiar with the area and will be out late at, say, a blues club; personal security on the Southwest Side can vary throughout neighborhoods and you might find yourself quite happy to avoid a late walk or a wait at a lonely bus stop.
The Dan Ryan Expressway runs down the eastern edge of the district, and probably the most useful exit is at Marquette Road, whether you are heading east to Oak Woods Cemetery and Greater Grand Crossing, or west to Marquette Park. From the Chicago Skyway, the 73rd Street exit will land you right by the main blues clubs. To get to the Union Stockyard Gate, take the Pershing Road exit from the Dan Ryan. The Stevenson Expressway lacks exits on the main roads leading into the Southwest of Chicago, but the Damen Avenue exit will get you on Archer, from which you can easily get onto Western, Ashland, or Halsted.
Pretty much the only way to get around the Southwest Side by public transport is by bus, but if this is the route you choose, make a point of it to plan your route ahead of time, as distances are fairly long and the bus routes generally only run along the main streets.
A car is a handy travel companion in the Southwest Side indeed. Attractions, activities, and restaurants are generally spread apart over long distances, and free on-street parking is available just about everywhere. Taxis are also a good option, but do not expect to be able to hail one off the street — you will need to call and arrange rides in advance.
- Chicago Blues Museum, 3636 S Iron St, ☎ +1 773 828-8118. closed temporarily. This museum is huge and has an excellent collection of blues paraphernalia and exhibits related to blues in Chicago today and in history. The museum also has exhibits pertaining to Chicago's African-American history in general, especially about the Bronzeville district in the 1920s and 30s. But the collection is on tour, and the museum will therefore be closed at least until the fall.
- La Lotería, (4100 S Ashland Ave). The largest mural in the city (500 ft), painted by Hector Duarte and Mariah de Forest, on the south wall of the Swap-O-Rama building. You can't really see it from the street — you'll need to wander deep into the parking lot for a good look.
- Marquette Park, 6734 S Kedzie Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-6469. 7AM-11PM daily. Marquette Park is huge and is a good place to get away from the urban commotion of the city. Ice skating (on the lagoon) and cross-country skiing are both possibilities during the winter. The park is also home to the Ashburn Prairie, a fine specimen of the native plant species of the area. The park is loved by all, it seems, from golfers to local gangs!
- Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 E 67th Street, ☎ +1 773 288-3800. Were it not for the somber atmosphere, Oak Woods would probably be one of Chicago's favorite parks as it is beautifully laid out and has four good-sized lakes. The cemetery is the final resting place of many of the South Side's most famous residents, including Jesse Owens (the black 1936 Olympic champion in Nazi Germany), nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, civil rights leader Ida B. Wells, Mayor William Hale Thompson (perhaps Chicago's most eccentric leader), and the first black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington Jr. One of the more striking monuments is the memorial to the overwhelming 6,000 Confederate prisoners of war who died at Camp Douglas (on the site of the present day Robert Taylor Projects and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Bronzeville). The mayors' graves are located along the northwest shore of the largest lake (Symphony lake).
- The Union Stock Yard Gate, 4200 S Peoria St. This limestone structure marks the entrance to the now defunct Union Stockyards that dominated this section of Chicago (and the meatpacking industry of the country) in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. The current stone gate replaced an original wooden gate of the same design.
- Sherman Park, 1301 W 52nd St. Although lesser known than Marquette Park, this 60 acre park is historically and aesthetically its equal. Designed by Daniel Burnham & Co (architects) and the Olmsted Brothers (landscape artists) and located on historic Garfield Boulevard, this park not only provides open green space and a beautiful lagoon, but also classically designed architecture, and a glimpse into the past (as well as the future) of the Back of the Yards area.
- Marquette Park Golf Course, 6734 S Kedzie Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-2761. Sunrise-sunset daily. The hidden gem that is Marquette's public golf course is considered one of Chicago's most beautiful. You will feel miles away from the city. Nine holes, 3,187 yards.Weekdays: $8-12, Weekends: $9-13.
- Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, 6800 S Wentworth Ave, ☎ +1 773 602-1135(fax: +1 773 602-1134), . Call for performance times. Muntu is an innovative and highly acclaimed Chicago dance company, which performs energetic interpretations of African and African-American dances and music. This location is their headquarters comprised of offices and a stage, although they regularly travel around Chicago's performance venues.
- Sanchez Brothers Western Clothes, 1942 W 47th St, ☎ +1 773 254-4090, . 10AM-8PM daily. Live out your mariachi fantasies here. The Sanchez Brothers carry all sorts of specialty clothing for Mexican bands, from cowboy hats to iguana skin boots!$20-5,000.
- The Woodshop Art Gallery, 441 E 75th St, ☎ 441 E 75th St(fax: +1 773 994-6667). M-F 9AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-3PM. Offers paintings and contemporary furniture by African-American artists as well as Hatian art, all at quite reasonable prices.
- Cafe Trinidad, 557 E 75th St, ☎ +1 773 846-8081. M-Th 11AM-8PM, F-Sa 11AM-9PM, Su 12:30PM-7PM. This is one of the only places to get Trinidadian cuisine in Chicago, and it knows what it is doing with its long list of curries.$3-8.
- Harold's Chicken Shack. The great South Side fried chicken chain is cheap, usually a little dirty, and always delicious. Crowded at meal times.$2-5.
- 917 W 87th St, ☎ +1 773 224-4621. 11AM-3AM daily.
- 10259 S Halsted St, ☎ +1 773 568-5906. M-Th 10AM-midnight, F-Sa 10AM-1AM, Su 11AM-10PM.
- 2521 W 63rd St, ☎ +1 773 778-9659. Su-Th 11AM-2:30AM, F-Sa 11AM-4AM.
- La Cecina, 1934 W 47th St, ☎ +1 773 927-9444. 9AM-10PM daily. A small, homey Mexican restaurant offering tasty Mexican food for very low prices.$2-5.
- Lagniappe - A Creole Cajun Joynt, 1525 W 79th St, ☎ +1 773 994-6375. Tu-Th 11AM-8PM, F-Sa 11AM-10PM. A small, cheap creole restaurant serving food cooked fresh to order.$4-8.
- Lindy's & Gertie's, 3685 S Archer Ave, ☎ +1 773 927-7807. M-Th 10:30AM-10PM, F 10:30AM-midnight, Sa 11AM-midnight, Su noon-10PM. Who could go wrong with a South Side institution (since 1924) serving chili, ice cream, and beer? The interior is somewhat of a historic landmark itself, since it's barely been renovated since the roaring twenties.$2-7.
- Old Chicago Pizzeria, 742 E 79th St, ☎ +1 773 873-7428. M-F 11AM-midnight, Sa noon-midnight, Su 1PM-midnight. This place serves up great Chicago deep dish pizza, some of the best in the city and definitely the best in the Southwest Side. Seating is fairly limited.$5-10.
- Paletería Flamingo, 2635 W 51st St, ☎ +1 773 434-3917. 11AM-10PM daily. Endless (Mexican) flavors of ice cream and Italian ice to choose from — try horchata or maybe cinnamon-apple pie.
- Taquería Sanchez Brothers, 1922 W 47th St, ☎ +1 773 254-6643. Su-F 8AM-11PM. A neighborhood institution serving Mexican food cooked to order. Locally renowned for their soups!$2-6.
- Taquería Atotonilco #2, 1659 W 47th St, ☎ +1 773 247-5870. M-Th 9AM-1AM, F 9AM-3AM, Sa 8AM-4AM, Su 8AM-1AM. A mostly take-out taquería with a reasonably large seating section that cooks the real deal. It is possible that you might find better tacos in Chicago, but you won't find a better deal than this.$2-4.
Greater Grand Crossing
- Army & Lou's, 422 E 75th St, ☎ +1 773 483-3100, . W-M 9AM-10PM. Former city mayor Harold Washington's favorite soul food restaurant is still a good place to spot prominent black Chicago politicians and anyone else who likes their soul food done right in a tuxedoed-waiter environment. If you enjoy your food here, you're in good company beyond that of the mayor, other devotees have included Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr, Muhammad Ali, Cab Calloway, and the most honorable Richard Daley.$10-15.
- Captain's Hard Time Dining, 436 E 79th St, ☎ +1 773 487-2900(fax: +1 773 487-3297), . S,T-Th 8AM-11PM, F-Sa 8AM-midnight. Fine dining on the cheap, soul food, steaks, and seafood. Offers a Sunday "Gospel buffet" from 11AM-6PM with live Gospel singers performing after 2:30PM for $15.$9-14.
- Izola's Restaurant, 522 E 79th St, ☎ +1 773 846-1484. Th-T all day, all night. Legend has it that former Mayor Harold Washington began his mayoral campaign at this friendly restaurant serving quality down-home-cookin'. Be sure to sit in the nice back room, which is more comfortable and has more seating than the front room (unless, that is, you're in a hurry). You might want to pick up one of their delicious pies on the way out.$8-14.
- Lem's Bar-B-Que House, 311 E 75th St, ☎ +1 773 994-2428. Su-Th 11AM-2AM, F-Sa 11AM-4AM. The best BBQ in Chicago passes in great quantities through bulletproof glass here in Greater Grand Crossing. Pork is the specialty, in the form of authentic Memphis valley rib tips and hotlinks (sausages), and the sauce is legendary. Carryout only; no seating.$5-13.
- Soul Vegetarian East Restaurant, 205 E 75th St, ☎ +1 773 224-0104(fax: +1 773 224-5851), . M-Th 7AM-10PM, F 7AM-11PM, Sa 8AM-11PM, Su 8AM-9PM. This is at once one of the best vegetarian and the best soul food restaurants in town. Occasional events range from spoken word to hip hop djs.$8-14.
- Yassa African Restaurant, 716 E 79th St, ☎ +1 773 488-9630, . Su-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM. Yassa is a very authentic Senegalese Restaurant with a menu full of things you haven't heard of. The restaurant has made quite a name for itself in Chicago (having been featured on "Check Please," but it remains a low-key, friendly hub for Chicago's Senegalese community. Don't miss the Wednesday and Friday dinner special: cow foot?!$9-12.
- Leon's Bar B Que The Original, 1158 W 59th St, ☎ +1 773 778-7828. Su-Th 11AM-2AM, F-Sa 11AM-4AM. This is the most famous south side barbecue joint, and has fed hungry ribs-lovers since Leon Finney opened it up in 1940. The sausages are incredible. Leon's also serves good deep dish pizza. Carryout only; no seating.$3-15.
- Los Delfines Restaurant, 2750 W 63rd St, ☎ +1 773 737-4900. M-Th 12:30PM-midnight, F-Sa noon-2AM. Tasty Mexican food with a full bar, open late.$9-14.
- Restaurante El Patio, 4527 S Ashland Ave, ☎ +1 773 847-2595. 8AM-9:30PM daily. Excellent food and warm, friendly service in this Mexican restaurant. The seafood on offer is especially good.$8-14.
- Seklycia, 2711 W 71st St, ☎ +1 773 476-1680. M-Sa 7AM-9PM, Su 8AM-8PM. One of the last handful of Lithuanian outposts in the city. A small Lithuanian diner catering to older Lithuanian-Americans in the neighborhood that serves fantastic apple pancakes and other traditional Lithuanian dishes at reasonable prices.$7-12.
Live music is the number one reason to visit this district. Any of the blues joints will satisfy anyone's craving for real, raw, Chicago blues; Lee's Unleaded is probably the flagship club. Jazz lovers spending much time in the city should not miss a Tuesday night Von Freeman gig at the New Apartment Lounge.
- 50 Yard Line Bar and Grille, 69 E 75th St, ☎ +1 773 846-0005. 3PM-2AM daily. A cool bar and a South Side purple fedora-wearing steppers' paradise. Emphatically not a sports bar.
- Lee's Unleaded Blues, 7401 S South Chicago Ave, ☎ +1 773 493-3477. T-F 8PM-2AM, Sa-Su 8PM-3AM, M noon-2AM. Lee's is one of the best reasons to visit the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood as it is a fabulous South Side blues club — definitely one of the best in Chicago. Most of the crowd is made up of local regulars and there is not much food on offer. Blue Mondays feature a monster jam session from noon until 2AM. Be careful with the drink orders, as the club does serve a few very expensive brews.No cover, two-drink minimum.
- Linda's Lounge(Linda's Place), 1044 W 51st St, ☎ +1 773 373-2351. A small, cozy neighborhood dive bar offering live blues and soul.
- Natasha's Rome, 2441 W 69th St, ☎ +1 773 842-9816. M-F 5PM-2AM, Sa 5PM-3AM, Su 3PM-2AM. This is the nicest club in the Marquette Park neighborhood, with a laid-back bar on each of its two floors. Willie T performs live blues on Fridays, Sundays feature spoken word night, and the rest of the time there is a DJ spinning R&B and other pop music. Locals usually dominate the crowd, except on Fridays and Sundays.
- New Apartment Lounge, 504 E 75th St, ☎ +1 773 483-7728. M-F 3PM-4AM, Sa 3PM-5AM, Su 3PM-4AM. This jazz club is simply extraordinary. It is small, requires no money, and hosts perhaps the best regular jazz show in Chicago. Not all nights see performances, but every Tuesday night Chicago jazz legend Von Freeman shows up with his quartet and enchants those who make it out to this small club from 10:30PM until a few hours before the sun comes up. His show attracts people from all walks of life from all over the city. If you want to sit at the bar, expect to pay for a few drinks.No cover, no drink minimum.
- Reese's Lounge(Burnside Lounge), 1827 W 87th St, ☎ +1 773 238-1993. 11AM-2AM daily. A classy joint with live DJ W-Su. Sunday nights are all-jazz. Dress nicely, it's a swanky place.Dinners $5-6.
The Southwest Side is emphatically not the place to find classy accommodations. If you would rather spend a bit more and get out of the seedy motels, it is perfectly reasonable to stay downtown or in one of the South Side neighborhoods while visiting the Southwest. Alternatively, you could stay at one of the many mid-range options to the west in the Midway Area.
- Barbara Ann's Motel Two, 7621 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 487-5800. Offers a bed, dresser, TV, and private bathroom.Rooms from $40 for 4 hours, $45 for 10 hours, $60 all night.
- New Halsted Motel, 8220 S Halsted St, ☎ +1 773 651-0333. An old school motel (air conditioning and color TV) with elderly staff.Rooms from $45 for 10 hours, $65 all night.
- Regency Castle Lodge, 1140 W 95th St, ☎ +1 773 238-8500. Queen size beds only, plus a dresser, TV (no cable), and private bathroom.Rooms from $35 for 4 hours, $55 all night.
The following branches of the Chicago Public Library offer free public internet access.
- Back of the Yards Library, 1743 W 47th St, ☎ +1 312 747-8367. M,W 9AM-9PM, T,Th 10AM-6PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM.
- Brighton Park Library, 4314 S Archer Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-0666.
- Carter G Woodson Library, 9525 S Halsted St, ☎ +1 312 747-6900. M-Th 9AM-9PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
- Gage Park Library, 2807 W 55th St, ☎ +1 312 747-0032.
- McKinley Park Branch Library, 1915 W 35th St, ☎ +1 312 747-6082.
- Thurgood Marshall Branch Library, 7506 S Racine Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-5927. M-Th 9AM-8PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM.
The Southwest Side is one of Chicago's more tricky areas with regards to personal security. Nice neighborhoods are often just around the corner from tough streets and interesting destinations are sometimes located on the latter. For example, a poor and fairly rough neighborhood like Greater Grand Crossing can actually be a very rewarding travel destination for a night of soul food and blues/jazz, provided that you take the appropriate precautions of traveling in groups, leaving the Rolex and Lamborghini at home, and arranging a ride directly home from the club. Auburn-Gresham and Washington Heights are generally very safe neighborhoods, although the northern areas right around Englewood are less so. Marquette Park is quite safe as well, although it deteriorates a bit southeast of the actual park. The riverside McKinley Park and Brighton Park neighborhoods look gritty, but are in fact among the safest regions of the city.
- Those interested in the history of Chicago's Lithuanian-Americans simply must visit the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture further west in Chicago's Midway Area.
- If your main interest in the Southwest Side is the labor history of the Union Stockyards, you should also check out the historic Pullman district on the Far Southeast Side.
- If you are staying downtown and just want to get some authentic Mexican food, there are great options closer by in the West Side's Pilsen neighborhood.
- Lastly, if your primary interest is in African-American history, it would be a cryin' shame to pass over a tour of the historic Black Metropolis or the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Bronzeville.
This page was last edited at 04:18, on 20 November 2008 by Marc Heiden. Based on work by Peter Fitzgerald and Jani Patokallio, Wikitravel user(s) Donjuansw and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel.