|Sparkling new residences line a South Loop street.|
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.
The boundaries: The South Loop and the Near South Side are essentially synonymous. The Near South Side is one of Chicago’s 77 officially recognized community areas, while the South Loop is an informally designated neighborhood. Either way, for the sake of this entry (and according to maps from the City of Chicago and Explore Chicago), the two names will be used interchangeably for the same geographic boundary.
As for the boundaries, they are: Roosevelt Road to the north, 26th Street to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east. The western border is a little more complicated, but it’s essentially the Chicago River north of 18th Street, and the L tracks once you’re south of 18th.
|Chicago's fastest-growing neighborhood|
A brief history: The history of the South Loop has been, for better or worse, a startlingly tumultuous one. With the removal of Native Americans from the area, pushing them further westward, immigrants from western Europe settled the area to work in the lumber yards and manufacturing within the general area. By the 1870s, the neighborhood was home to some of the city’s most elaborate mansions (and eventually the H.H. Richardson-designed Glessner House in the 1880s), as well as the city’s first all-Black neighborhood. A fire destroyed a portion of the area in 1874, and along with the extension of elevated rail to the area in the 1880s, this led much of the neighborhood’s wealth to re-locate.
The turn of the century brought both good and bad, notably the rise of an infamous vice district, home to numerous seedy taverns and bordellos. Despite the eventual closure of this district, the neighborhood’s upkeep and reputation continued to decline. Remaining residences were becoming boarding houses, with more area being taken up by industry or open space into the 1940s. On the positive side, the Near South Side became home to the present-day Museum Campus. This parcel of land along the Lake just south of Roosevelt Road is home to some of the city’s most famous cultural institutions: The Shedd Aquarium, the Field Musuem, the Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field (home of Da Bears!).
|Bertrand Goldberg, architect of Marina City,|
designed the distinctive Hilliard Homes
Getting there: By L, your best bet is the Roosevelt Red/Green/Orange Line station, which will drop you off at the very northern end of the neighborhood. However, you can also get off at the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line, which will give you entryway to the southwest corner of the South Loop. Metra is also an option to get you to the east side of the neighborhood, with stops at 18th Street (Metra Electric) and McCormick Place (Metra Electric and South Shore Line).
There are several bus options as well. Going north-south: Clark (24); State (29); Michigan (1, 3, 4); and Indiana (129). Going east-west: Roosevelt (12, 18, 62) and Cermak (21). Also, you can take the Archer bus (62) if you’re coming in from the southwest.
Waffles (1400 S. Michigan Avenue)
|Waffles. Famous for...ribs...|
Michael’s Take: Favorite meal of the day: breakfast. Doughnuts, cereal, eggs, cinnamon rolls, they’re all awesome. Most underrated breakfast food: the waffle. Now, I’ve had a multitude of Brussels waffles in my life, but here was my chance to try something new. I went with eggs benedict but served on top of the Liege waffles. The eggs were PERFECT. Two little white pouches of flavor, drained of their goodness onto tender pork shoulder. Also, the hollandaise sauce, which can make or break an eggs benedict, was buttery, and neither runny nor too thick. Oh, and those waffles. AWESOME. Liege waffles are smaller than Brussels. But what they lack in size they more than make up for in taste. They’re texturally chewier and slightly crisp on the outside. This is due to caramelization that gives it a sweeter taste as well. Overall, an awesome brunch.
|Hot chocolate flight|
Anything Else We Missed: Waffles was the recipient of the “Best New Breakfast Award 2012” by Time Out Chicago in their annual “Eat Out Awards”. And you don’t hafta get waffles here too (and you don’t hafta get a steak at Gibson’s, yadda yadda…). Huevos rancheros, steak and eggs, and chipped beef hash are all part of their repertoire; full lunch menu too with salads and sandwiches. In toto, this new South Loop eatery is clearly doing its part to help Chicago maintain its reputation of “GREAT Brunch Town”.
Opart Thai Restaurant (1906 S. State Street)
Michael’s Take: Just for a warm-up, we got some pot stickers. I’ll leave the description to Laura, but rest assured, they were awesome. What I got for myself was the poh tak. It’s a very tasty, spicy, citrusy soup with a variety of Poseidon’s favorites: shrimp, squid, and crab stick (ok, so 2 out of 3 ain’t bad). The broth is ludicrously tasty, balanced with lime and lemongrass, and has a ton of kick. Shrimp and squid were cooked just right, neither too chewy. The crab was, well, processed. Still, I can forgive that. I knew what I was getting into, and if you can’t get real crab, the fake kind is the next best (remaining?) option. Only real disappointment, the apportionment of seafood is limited. The result is that you may run out of protein before you’re halfway done with your broth. Still, for flavor, and bang for your buck, I was still happy with my supper. Service was polite and not overbearing.
|Delicious pot stickers|
Anything Else We Missed: Definitely affordable. Entreés go anywhere from $8-$15, but the majority lean toward the latter. Also, if you don’t want to make the trek to the south side (wimp), they have another location in Lincoln Square just outside the Western Brown Line station.
Weather Mark Tavern (1503 S. Michigan Avenue)
|Walk by and you might miss it|
Michael’s Take: There’s nothing wrong with theme bars. In fact, it’s nice to see a place that goes for a particular aura. And I’m sure in one of Chicago’s notorious winters, this makes a very welcome escape to the Caribbean. Even if you don’t care much for tropical drinks, there’s still a fair beer list featuring good local and regional breweries. The South Loop isn’t quite a nightlife juggernaut yet, but it’s slowly building a reputation. While Weather Mark might not be confused for a Map Room or Hopleaf (or as a buddy of mine would claim, Durkin’s), it has its charm and is worth a visit for a tasty bev.
|The nautically-themed interior of Weather Mark Tavern|
Anything Else We Missed: Didn’t try the food, but there’s a ton of variety on the menu. Big selection and lots of nice little spins on classic fare (salmon comes with cous cous, blackened tuna comes with a lime sour cream, etc.) and it’s nice to see some nice seafood options in-line with the sea-faring theme. Also, they offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays starting at 10:30am.
Adler Planetarium (1300 S. Lake Shore Drive)
|Copernicus welcomes you to the Adler Planetarium|
Michael’s Take: I remember going once as a kid, when I was in love with astronomy, and was just blown away. Now as I’m older, and equally mature, it is smaller than I remember (funny how that happens as we get bigger). Still, it is no less impressive. From the planets, to the celestial sphere, to the Big Bang, to the quarks that make-up our universe, it’s all covered in stunning detail at the Adler. As any great museum should be, there is plenty to capture the attention span of adults and youths alike. Interactive exhibits are entertaining for all, such as the one where you can recreate leaping on the Moon; I know this from personal experience, just ask Laura. Although only on loan, Gemini XII is on display and is an absolute wow. This is the actual spacecraft taken into orbit and manned by “Buzz” Aldrin (2nd man to set foot on the Moon) and Jim Lovell (famously portrayed by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13) in November 1966. Also awesome, the t-shirt in the gift shop that says “Mmmmm…π”. Hahaha, no wonder nerds rule the world!
|Gemini XII capsule. |
And you thought Excalibur got cramped!
Anything Else We Missed: Basic entry will cover/entertain you for at least a couple hours. Cost is $12, but only $10 if you’re a Chicago resident (yeah, that 5-bedroom McMansion in Barrington now isn’t looking so sweet, is it?). If you want to see the theater shows though, that’ll cost you extra. As you can imagine, there are numerous special events and discount days, several of which permit free general entry. Oh, and we had a Caprese Panini there too. Believe it or not, REALLY good.
South Loop: The Final Tally
|Coliseum Park. Probably the best thing to come from |
Mayor Vespasian's administration.
Many potential retail and restaurant spaces still sit vacant. This will change as the economy picks up. There is too much opportunity, and the density of the area will be further enticing to chains and independents alike. But what’s NOT there, isn’t what’s important. It’s all about what IS there. A youthful vibrancy mixing with an older population brings a diverse crowd to the streets at all hours of the day. What’s going on in the South Loop is as exciting as anything in the City’s other neighborhoods. It will be absolutely fascinating to see how it evolves over the next ten years, and if the population will continue to move further south towards IIT’s campus. Until then, there is plenty of reason to visit and enjoy the South Loop as it stands today.
|South Loop/Near South Side and all the sweet places we went|
|Poh Tak. So spicy!|
|Below Lake Shore Drive, an entryway to the Museum Campus|
|Incredible view of the skyline from the Adler Planetarium|
|The Near South Side community area (green) abuts the Loop (blue) along Roosevelt Road|