"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012: The Year in Review

For Big Shoulders Atlas, 2012 began on the South Side and it ended back on the South Side.  With lots of transition occurring, including a move back to the City after spending the first half of the year in the suburbs, getting to neighborhoods wasn’t as easy as back in 2011.  Still, we had some incredible experiences in neighborhoods both familiar and foreign.

All in all, 2012 reinforced why we love this city and why we do the blog.  Some of the best meals we’ve ever had were consumed in this past year’s neighborhoods.  There were several cultural surprises, and some “new favorites” that will have us going back to re-live our incredible first experiences.

So here’s looking back to what Chicago offered us in 2012, before we look forward to exciting things in 2013…

Monday, December 3, 2012


The Breakdown
Classic South Side bungalows.
An overview: OK, so we have some potentially startling news that will come to the surprise of even the most die-hard baseball fans.  No, the White Sox DO NOT (and never have) played in Bridgeport.  Sorry friends, but geographically speaking they play in neighboring Armour Square (also home to Chicago’s Chinatown).  So without the Sox, there’s nothing else to see in Bridgeport, right?  Actually, quite the contrary.  Bridgeport has emerged as one of Chicago’s next truly hot neighborhoods.  It has a tremendous Asian influence spilling over from neighboring Chinatown.  It has one of the best (if not THE best) art scenes in the entire city.  Trendy bars, restaurants, and shops are not only sprouting up, they’re flourishing.

Bridgeport is a neighborhood AND a community area.  Besides the Sox (which still act as a major influence despite calling Armour Square home), Bridgeport is probably most recognized as the home of the Daley family.  The original Mayor Daley, Richard J., called Bridgeport home while occupying Chi-town’s most prestigious office.  Naturally his future-Mayor son, Richard M., grew up in the neighborhood, as did another no-less-notable Daley son, Bill.

But setting aside past history, Bridgeport today is on the cusp of truly exceptional things.  While several storefronts remain empty, and while the rumble of the L doesn’t deliver people to the heart of the neighborhood, several anchors have established themselves to help make Bridgeport a destination for anyone looking for a truly classic and unique Chicago experience.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

East Village

Classic West Side residential architecture in the East Village.
The Breakdown
An overview: Making up a small slice in the southern half of West Town, the East Village is just one example of why so many people flock to West Town for its culture, housing, and nightlife.  The East Village is often combined with its neighbor to the immediate west, the Ukrainian Village.  We could have easily combined the two into one entry.  However, there’s plenty to do in the East Village alone that’s worth an entry.  Furthermore, we’ll dedicate some time and space in the future to let Ukrainian Village have its moment.

Also, not everyone realizes what the East Village is, and that it’s a separate entity from the Ukrainian Village.  What it does have in common with the Ukrainian Village are their best traits.  Dive bars live side-by-side with popular hotspots.  Trendy dining shares streets with low maintenance taquerias.  Meanwhile, hipsters, blue-collar workers, and yuppies all comingle in the East Village’s numerous great spots.  Still, it has a different vibe from the Ukrainian Village and a more relaxed aura than its popular neighbor to the north, Wicker Park.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in Chicago/America 2012

A little over a year ago, we did an entry on the Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in Chicago based on data from Neighborhood Scout.  This is a follow-up to that entry, reflecting an article from DailyFinance based on 2012 data from Neighborhood Scout.  Once again, the data reflects your odds of becoming a victim of violent crime on those particular streets within the past year.

As in the previous entry, Chicago doesn't fare very well.  Although it no longer has the "worst" neighborhood in America for violent crime, it has the second-worst, along with three others in the Top 25.  No other city has more than two on this list.  That's not to say the data isn't interesting, but it's also not earth-shattering.  For starters, the two "neighborhoods" that appeared on the previous list do not appear on this one.  Also, the four "neighborhoods" that appear on this list are clustered closely together.

This leads to the debate as to what exactly is a neighborhood, based on this study.  They are not four of the officially designated community areas of the city (all four on this list are MUCH smaller than community areas), and they are not really informally designated neighborhoods.  It clearly appears that it is just a tiny slice of the city, usually quadrilateral, selected by its particularly high presence of crime. So, to see which neighborhoods made the list...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Little Italy

The Breakdown
Benvenuti to Chicago's Little Italy!
An overview: Little Italy has transformed itself from one of Chicago’s true ethnic areas into one of the city’s most sought-after neighborhoods for trendy dining and student living.  In recent years, Little Italy has been lumped by many into the bigger University Village neighborhood that extends to east to include the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and south down to the Pilsen border around 16th Street.  We debated whether to make this a University Village entry and include parts of Little Italy, but decided to just focus on Little Italy, especially an exciting stretch of Taylor Street that runs from Ashland to Halsted.  So we’ll save University Village as a whole for another entry.

Little Italy has sported some of Chicago’s best-know Italian eateries for over a century.  It’s home to the original Rosebud, Francesca’s, and Al’s Beef.  However, it’s also home to some of the city’s trendiest new restaurants such as Davanti Enoteca and Three Aces.  Although the neighborhood doesn’t boast Italian flags and bakeries at every turn the way Greektown does for the white cross, blue stripes, and baklava, it’s still one of the country’s most well-known and authentic slices of Italia done American-style.

The past dozen or so years have seen a tremendous surge of interest in Little Italy.  New multi-story mixed-use developments have taken over antiquated buildings along Taylor Street.  The formerly quiet streets, save in patches, now bustle with activity in the evening.  Also, with some vacant properties sitting in the area, the neighborhood still has room to grow.  So whether you want to take in classic Italian food, something a little more progressive, or just a night of relaxing and cocktails, Chicago’s Little Italy should NOT be overlooked.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

South Loop/Near South Side

The Breakdown
Sparkling new residences line a South Loop street.
An overview: It wasn’t that long ago that the South Loop was much like the West Loop, a haven for industry and not much else.  Today, and very much like present-day West Loop, it is something very different.  Dozens upon dozens of new condo buildings and converted lofts line Michigan, Wabash, State, and Lake Michigan south of Roosevelt Road.  New shops, bars, and eateries occupy the first floor of historic low-rises and new high-rises.  Urban professionals, retirees, and young families are out-and-about at seemingly all hours of the day, taking advantage of the amenities of the neighborhood, or that of the Loop immediately to the north.

The South Loop (or “Near South Side” community area as recognized by the City of Chicago) is also home to one of Chicago’s true cultural gems, the Museum Campus.  You know the usual suspects: the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and the Adler Planetarium.  However, it’s also home to Soldier Field and Northerly Island (formerly Meigs Field Airport).  Although it’s always been a neighborhood, the South Loop as it looks today is one of Chicago’s newest and up-and-coming areas, if not already there.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chicago Summer Festivals 2012

Looking for something to do this summer?  How about going to one or more of the endless number of festivals held throughout Chicago's neighborhoods?  From burgers to beer, live music to dance, North side to South side to West side, we have over 70 of the City's unique summertime events encapsulated below.  They're sorted by neighborhood and then in order by date.  Also, a description of each event is given by one of Chicago's top media publications: Time Out Chicago, Metromix Chicago, RedEye Chicago, and Explore Chicago (the City's official tourism website).  So whether in your neighborhood, or the opposite end of town, here are 70+ opportunities to get out and hang with your fellow Chicagoans.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


The Breakdown
Welcome to Little Athens!
An overview: Greektown, a neighborhood within a larger neighborhood (West Loop), within an even larger neighborhood (Near West Side).  Although not large in terms of geography, Greektown does loom large as a classic, authentic ethnic neighborhood sitting just outside downtown.  Running down Halsted are no fewer than a dozen Grecian restaurants (where you’re just as likely to hear Greek as English), a couple taverns, a few small shops and grocers, and the strip’s new anchor, the recently opened National Hellenic Museum.

Sitting a few blocks south of the Randolph Street foodie’s wet dream, and less than a mile northeast of recently reinvigorated and gentrified Little Italy, Greektown sometimes gets lost in the culinary mix.  But it’s definitely a worthwhile investment of time for a light al fresco lunch with a chilled glass of white wine, or a late dinner in a neighborhood that’s rocking up to 4 A.M.

Temple of Van Buren at Halstedopoulos.
The boundaries: Tiny little Greektown rests entirely within a two by five block area.  Madison Street lies to the north, Green Street to the west, I-290 (Eisenhower Expressway) to the south, and I-90/94 (Kennedy Expressway) to the east.  Running right down the middle is Halsted Street, which is host to the vast majority of the neighborhood’s dining and nightlife.

Population make-up: Greektown is far too small to have its own Census tract.  As of 2010, it shares one going all the way west to Ashland.  The make-up of this particular tract is 64% white, 16% black, 10% Asian, and 7% Hispanic.  There are numerous lofts around the neighborhood that have been converted from warehouses in the past 10 to 15 years, ensuring an always lively, vibrant community.

A brief history: Greeks began to come over to Chicago in the 1840s, and by the early 1900s had established a neighborhood of their own just south of present-day Greektown.  This area, known as The Delta, was the largest concentration of Greeks in the United States for much of the twentieth century, with nearly 30,000 calling the area home.  The development of the interstate highway system in the 1950s (I-290 specifically in this instance), as well as the development of the University of Illinois at Chicago, led to an exodus of most of the area’s Greek population.
Halsted & Jackson.  The heart of Greektown.

Despite this, the Grecian influence never left.  Today, the Halsted strip between Madison and the Eisenhower thrives as a classic ethnic neighborhood, alive at all hours of the day, especially on weekend evenings.  Though not large in terms of geography, Chicago’s Greektown stands as one of the best (if not the best) authentic Greektowns in the entire country.

Getting there: By L, it’s as easy as taking the Blue Line to UIC-Halsted.  Make sure you take the ramp up to Halsted and take a left.  It’ll take you right into the southern entryway to Greektown.  

You can also get there on the bus.  Going north-south, just take the Halsted bus (8).  Going east-west, there’s the Madison bus (20) too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hyde Park Re-Visited

The Breakdown

The Hyde Park skyline just outside the entrance to Promontory Point
An overview: We've been here before, and it was time to come back.  Limited by time and wet weather, we felt that Hyde Park definitely deserved more time.  It's truly a great Chicago neighborhood.  Although best know for the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry, Hyde Park is a cultural powerhouse.  In order to attract more residents and consumers, the University of Chicago is planning to redevelop much of the land it owns throughout the neighborhood, with plans for stores, residences, and hotels.

Hyde Park is proof that a diverse neighborhood can and does work, with no racial demographic making up the majority.  Although it is surrounded by some of the city's poorer and more crime-ridden neighborhoods, Hyde Park remains safe and alive.  Although high-end dining and nightlife exists here, Hyde Park isn't to be confused with Lake View or Lincoln Park.  Hyde Park is much more relaxed, and the pace much slower.  What it lacks in energy, it makes up in serenity.  The streets are lined with trees, the views of the Lake are stunning, and much of the architecture rivals that of any other city area in terms of beauty and history.  Hyde Park may not make for your destination every Saturday night, but it should be a frequent destination for any Chicagoan who wants to experience the oft-forgotten splendor of the south side.

The boundaries: Hyde Park Boulevard/51st Street to the north, 60th Street to the south, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and Lake Michigan to the east.  Nice little quadrilateral there.

The historic Hyde Park Bank
Population make-up: Hyde Park lost over 4,200 residents from 2000 to 2010, dropping from 29,920 to  25,681.  As of the 2010 Census, whites made up 46.7% of the neighborhood's population, followed by blacks at 30.1%, Asians at 12.3%, and Hispanics at 6.3%.  However, since 2000, only the Hispanic population has actually grown within the community area.

A brief history: The development of Hyde Park began in the 1850s when New York lawyer Paul Cornell purchased 300 acres of land in what today makes up the northern half of the community area.  Rail connection to the Loop would help the area grow over the next three decades, and it was annexed into the City of Chicago in 1889.  Two revolutionary events would follow shortly thereafter.  In 1892, retail magnate Marshall Field would donate ten acres in Hyde Park to the University of Chicago, founded by the legendary oil man John D. Rockefeller and William Rainey Harper.  The university remains to this day one of the premier institutions for higher learning on the planet, and a major economic driver for the neighborhood.

The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 remains to this date one of the most impressive of all world's fairs and was held mostly within Hyde Park's present day boundaries.  Only one building still remains, utilized for the past 85 years as the Museum of Science and Industry.  The exposition would bring millions from around the world to Hyde Park, including the now-infamous Dr. H. H. Holmes.

Despite remaining an upscale Chicago neighborhood through the 1920s, the Great Depression combined with Post-World War II urban flight contributed to an increase in impoverished conditions in Hyde Park.  However, the late 1950s and 1960s saw Hyde Park pull off one the nation's more successful (and in some ways controversial) urban renewal efforts.

Awe-inspiring Gothic architecture at the University of Chicago
Today, Hyde Park is a relatively affluent and diverse neighborhood, split nearly 50-50 between black and white residents, but with an increase in Hispanic and Asian residents as well.  The community area is an absolute treasure trove of culture, maybe more so than any Chicago neighborhood outside of downtown.  The University of Chicago, which owns much of the property in Hyde Park even beyond the campus borders, is looking to turn the area into an even greater mecca of shopping, dining, and entertainment.  Although bordered by some of the city's more crime-plagued areas, Hyde Park remains a safe neighborhood, bolstered by University of Chicago having one of the world's largest private police forces. Hyde Park is an iconic Chicago neighborhood and its impact within the city seems to be on verge of only growing stronger within the next few decades.

Getting there: Unfortunately, the "L" is not a direct option.  It is possible to take the Green Line to its southeastern terminus as Cottage Grove/63rd and then walk/bus three blocks north up Cottage Grove Avenue, but this is ill-advised by some due to some problems around the station at night in the Woodlawn neighborhood.  A better rail option is the Metra Electric Line to/from Millenium Station at Millenium Park.  There are three Hyde Park stops at: 51st/53rd Street, 55th-56th-57th Street, and 59th Street/University of Chicago.

By bus, your best way to get down there is the Hyde Park Express (2) and the U of Chicago Hospitals Express (192), which run from downtown to Hyde Park in the mornings, and come back in the late afternoon/early evening.  Other north/south options include: Cottage Grove (4), Woodlawn (172), Lake Park (28), and Hyde Park Blvd (6 & x28).  East/west you're looking at: E Hyde Park (5), and 55th Street (55).  Bus routes 170 and 171 also traverse the neighborhood.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chicago Neighborhood Awards 2011

So a quick note.  We appreciate everybody who's been reading our blog, and keeping up with it despite a two-month absence.  Laura's in the midst of being buried in her thesis.  However, she insisted that I press on and when she can catch up, she will.  So here's an entry that we started back in early January, and even though we're already well into 2012, we still wanted to recap our favorite things from last year's neighborhood trips.  We'll have another entry in a week or two.  So until then, we hope you enjoy our favorites from 2011...

This past year was our first running this blog, and we had an absolute blast doing it.  In just over 12 months, we were able to experience nearly 20 neighborhoods, many of which we’d never set foot in before, let alone spending any amount of time in them.  Over this time we learned a lot about Chicago, its history, its people, its culture.  Few cities in the world can brag of having the amenities that the Windy City boasts.  So here are our first annual awards for our favorite Chicago neighborhood experiences from the past year.