"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

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bridgeport


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.



The boundaries: Although the boundaries of Bridgeport get a little twisted, especially in the northeast corner of the neighborhood, they are essentially as follows: The Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) to the northeast, the Chicago River to the northwest and west, Pershing Road at the south end, and the train tracks between Canal Street and Stewart Avenue to the west.  Might be best to just refer to the map at the end of this entry.
Abandoned since the 1980s, a movement is underway to restore
the historic Ramova Theater to its past glory.
Population make-up: From 2000 to 2010, Bridgeport’s population declined by 5.3% to 31,925 residents.  As of 2010, the racial make-up of the community area is 38.5% white, 32.4% Asian, 27.0% Hispanic, and 0.8% black.  Bridgeport also helps dispel the myth that the South Side is crime-ridden and to be avoided.  It’s actually one of the safest community areas in the city.

A brief history: Beginning as farmland in the early 1800s, Bridgeport rose to prominence in the 1830s with the growth of manufacturing and industry, due to the neighborhood’s prominence along the Chicago River.  The proximity to blue-collar work attracted various European ethnicities, especially the Irish.  Over time, the political involvement of the Irish population worked itself to the Mayor’s office.  Since 1933, five of Chicago’s Mayors (totaling a cumulative 71 years in office) have hailed from Bridgeport, most notably both Daleys.

The Daley house.  Today owned by another family,
here is where Daley Sr. resided and Daley Jr. grew up.
Today, Bridgeport is a remarkably diverse neighborhood, split mostly among Asian and Caucasian populations, but with a distinct Hispanic influence as well.  In fact, a 2008 Chaddick Institute study ranked Bridgeport as the city’s 4th-most diverse neighborhood.  Although the neighborhood has seen a precipitous population decline since the 1930s (an exception being explosive growth between 1990 and 2000), Bridgeport has positioned itself well for the future as a spot for culture, diversity, and a variety of housing options.

Getting there: By L, you can get dropped off in the northern portion of Bridgeport at the Halsted Orange Line station.  You can walk to the northwest part of Bridgeport from the Ashland Orange Line station as well, which is located in the McKinley Park neighborhood.  Also, it’s a relatively short walk/bus ride to the east part of Bridgeport from the Sox/35th Red Line station in Armour Square.

If taking the bus north-south, your best option is Halsted (8), but Wallace-Racine (44) will also get the job done.  If going east-west, you can hop on at 35th Street (35) or Pershing (39).  Surprisingly there is no east-west route along 31st Street, but that may be changing soon.  Lastly, the Archer bus (62), which runs northeast-southwest, will get you to the northwest corner of the neighborhood.  Very useful if getting to/from the Orange Line.


Han 202 (605 W. 31st Street)
"Chinese" and "seafood" are not mutually exclusive.
Han 202 has received much acclaim since opening in 2009.  It is a multi-year recipient of Michelin’s Bib Gourmand recognition, awarded to restaurants offering excellent service and food at a reasonable cost.  Han 202 is a perfect representation of Bridgeport’s forward-thinking direction.  It takes the neighborhood’s Asian influence, creating elevated cuisine in an intimate space, and offers an incredible deal.  One salad, one appetizer, one entrée, and one dessert, all for $25.  Also, the BYOB policy is even further enticing.  Certain elements of the prix fixe menu will cost a little extra, but it entirely possible to have a dinner for two for $50 plus tax and tip.  If there’s better bang-for-your-buck in Chicago, we haven’t seen it.

Michael’s Take: I am huge fan of prix fixe menus.  The menu only has a few offerings in each category (salad, appetizer, entrée, and dessert in this case), so there’s a lot of focus on just a few things.  I opened with a calamari salad.  Admittedly, it was underwhelming.  The calamari was very tender, but the dressing was so light that it was almost unnoticeable, and the greens were fresh but unspectacular.  From here, things vastly improved.  My Shanghai dumplings were soft and moist, with a slightly meaty filling.  As a big fan of dim sum, this was exactly what I was hoping for.


Edible art.
Mmmmmm…Chilean Sea Bass.  That’s a tasty piece of fish right there.  I had to pay a little extra for this one, but it was worth it.  Chilean Sea Bass is a firm, meaty fish, and it’s cooked to perfection at Han 202.  It’s served in a hot broth and topped with Asian vegetables.  Then, for someone who doesn’t normally get dessert, this became the highlight of the meal for me.  An immaculate scoop of simultaneously sweet and savory soy sauce ice cream (way better than you can imagine) is paired with a “Lion Head” ball of durian.  The “Lion Head” is essentially a birds’ nest of light, crispy fried strands of dough encasing the fruit.  Durian is infamous in Asia as a potent-smelling delicacy and within the hard shell is a creamy, almost soupy fruit.  Obviously the notorious odor is absent from the dessert, and the result is a crispy on the outside, smooth and creamy on the inside concoction.

The oft-changing menu.
In addition to the food, our service was prompt, efficient, polite, and ultimately outstanding.  Overall, Han 202 makes a truly memorable meal, and is well-deserved of its growing prestige in Chicago’s culinary scene.

Laura’s Take: First Pro: BYOB. There is something really welcoming and exciting about bringing your own beverage bottle of choice into a small, cozy setting. Second Pro: A solid good meal. Con: A meal not so good that I can remember all of what I had. Actually, I know I had the peking duck as my entrée, and I know that the first courses outshone it. Yet I can’t remember what those appetizers were.  This may be more a function of my already aging brain turning into a sieve for short-term memories, but it may not be. I had high expectations for Han202. I was slightly disappointed given these expectations. However, the atmosphere and experience overall were still lovely.  Last pro: the atmosphere. Urban, intimate, bustling, and modern.

Anything Else We Missed: Definitely make a reservation. The restaurant is very small and you won’t be able to walk in on a weekend unless it’s really late.  Also, there’s a sample menu on-line, but it essentially changes daily.


Soy sauce ice cream to the left, "Lion's Head" durian to the right.  Raspberry in the middle.


Maria dominates her dojo on 31st Street.
It’s a liquor store AND a bar?  Here’s your chance to see if the 2nd floor apartment is available for rent.  The front door takes you into the liquor store, which is VERY small, but is a beer drinker’s paradise.  Lots of microbrew options, especially in pint bottles.  The selection of wine is very limited, and the hard liquor is also limited, but they do sell Jeppson’s Malört.  So you’ve got THAT going for you.  If looking to sit down and enjoy a cocktail, you can just head on into the back for a nice, relaxing, social evening.

Michael’s Take: This is a really great joint.  I’m already looking forward to going back.  Like a microcosm of Bridgeport itself, our lone evening there was a great mix of people: young and old, hip and square, groups and solo acts, and several different ethnic backgrounds.  Maria’s is small for a liquor store, and it’s also small for a bar.  This isn’t a complaint.  Rather, it’s a nice, low-light, intimate venue.  The bartenders are very attentive and helpful in making recommendations.  Great beer selection, especially on tap.  For Chi-town brew hunters, this is must-do.

Everyone's favorite blogger, stopping in for a cold one.
Laura’s Take: I had heard that Maria’s was a cool bar. Which it definitely was. For me, part of the reason was that it had this vibe that took me back to the woods where I grew up. Maybe it was the woodsy and lodge-y feel: I believe there were antlers somewhere on the wall. Reflecting the neighborhood, there was an eclectic mix of people at the bar. And an eclectic mix of liquor behind the bar.  Not your usual lineup of flavored vodkas, instead these bottles looked like they could have been there since 1920. This is another good thing about the place. You can feel equally justified in ordering a real cocktail OR a neat beer you’ve never heard of. I’m not sure what more you want in your neighborhood bar experience.

Anything Else We Missed: DJs (aka “Disc Jockeys”) performing virtually every night of the week/weekend.  The list of guest spinners seems equally diverse both musically and ethnically.  So check the calendar on Maria’s website to see if they have something up your alley.  If not, just go earlier and get yourself a tasty beverage before the music starts.


Nana (3267 S. Halsted Street)
Don't let the logo fool you.
You're not in Logan Square anymore.
If you’re skeptical, please look beyond the “organic” thing.  This isn’t just about fruits and veggies anymore.  Rather, Nana is embracing locally-sourced, quality food.  Although clearly influenced by Mexican cuisine, the menu options cover a much broader spectrum, with hints toward French, Southern, and Creole cooking as well.  Whether for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dunch, or dinner, Nana is another exciting entry to Bridgeport’s ever-evolving culinary scene.

Michael’s Take: Although the restaurant was bumping at noon, we lucked out and only had to wait about five minutes to get a window seat for two.  The restaurant looks really small when you walk in, but there’s an adjacent dining room offering much more space.  The menu is limited which, again, isn’t a complaint.  It’s a concise menu with some really solid-looking breakfast and lunch items.  I went with one of their signature dishes, the Nanadict.  While the concept clearly mirrors oh-so-delicious eggs benedict, their spin on this classic item really excels.  Beneath the beautifully poached eggs is a hearty, spicy, crumbly layer of chorizo sausage.  This pairs perfectly with a light poblano cream sauce, matching some cool with the heat of the sausage.  Finally, replacing the English muffin is a pupusa.  It’s a firm, slightly crispy disc of bread that provides a solid base for the Nanadict, and compliments the soft texture of the poached egg.  The home fries and light salad on the side make the meal more filling than on first appearance.  Going back to Nana, I’d likely get the Nanadict again.  It’s easy to see what makes this a signature item…well, that and “Nana” is in the name of the item.

Na na na na, hey hey hey,
kiss these eggs benedict goodbye!
Laura’s Take: Sometimes you wonder if that extra dough you shell out at organic restaurants will be worth it. This time, it definitely was. I ordered the garden omelette, wanting something a little healthy for brunch. I have really never tasted an omelette this good. Everything just had so much taste! The eggs and all the vegetables: broccoli and snap peas, all meticulously cut to the same size. And the taste wasn’t hopped up on salt and oil, either. It really was the vegetables that tasted awesome.

The home fries that came with the meal were above average too. The volume of food altogether was quite a good deal for the price, a happy surprise. I left feeling full and satisfied in a healthy way.

Anything Else We Missed: I think it’s hard to consider Nana a diner, drive-in, or dive, but that didn’t stop Guy Fieri from stopping in for the Food Network.  It’s a particularly lengthy segment compared to the amount of time the show usually spends on a given eatery and does a great job of highlighting the unbelievable food at Nana.


Bridgeport Art Center (1200 W. 35th Street)
This IS the entrance, right?
Bridgeport has become a haven for the arts.  Whether by car, train, or bus, it’s worth going out of your way to experience what the neighborhood has to show.  Perhaps the most curious, at least in terms of location, is the Bridgeport Art Center.  It shares a massive red brick building with the East Bank Storage company.  Signs and statues lure you to the artwork, but it takes entry through a tiny door behind the building, then an elevator ride up to the 4th floor (or a catch-your-breath-inducing stair climb), to arrive at a small yet impressive gallery.

Michael’s Take: What’s nice about Bridgeport Art Center’s gallery is there are enough interesting pieces to spend at least an hour, or you can quickly admire it in a 5-minute stroll.  One of my FAVORITE concepts that successful cities are embracing is the live-work artist studio.  Artists can live temporarily (usually for a year or two) at very low rent, and are given lofts that function as residences and work studios.  Currently, the Bridgeport Art Center has nearly 50 artists living on four different floors in the imposing building.  The results are a variety of forms of art: painting, sculpting, woodworking, even audio.  Much of the artwork on display is for sale.  Prices are listed on flyers attached to the wooden beams.  The Bridgeport Art Center holds several formal exhibitions every month.  But even if you want to head over on your own, the gallery is free and open to the public most days, including Saturdays.


"Self Portrait" by Bill Boyce
Laura’s Take: Heading to and exploring the Bridgeport art center struck me as a bizarre experience. I’d never seen anything quite like it. The art gallery, it appears, is part of a building and parking lot that house a moving/storage company, and a bunch of artists who live and work in rented artist studios. You take a gigantic, metal lined freight elevator up to the gallery floor, and when the door opens, you find yourself standing in front of the gallery. There is no formality in terms of entry, or guards for the art, or even boundaries between you and the displays. Many pieces were sculpture in a more modern style than you would generally think of, and were thought-provoking, sometimes training and morphing across an entire wall. While we were in the gallery there were no other people around except in a far room a class of children taking painting lessons could be seen. There is a loft space which rents for events and weddings, which we did not see, but overall, the Bridgeport Art Center is a unique community resource.

Anything Else We Missed: Art seekers, don’t stop here.  Bridgeport also features two highly acclaimed galleries that offer a variety of programming throughout the year.  The Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219 S. Morgan Street) also hosts artist residences, studios, and events such as an open mic story telling which is BYOB/P (bring your own booze/pie).  Also, the Zhou B Art Center (1029 W. 35th Street) is a prestigious art center that emphasizes bringing together Eastern and Western art forms into one place.  Zhou B (appropriately named after the Zhou Brothers) features frequent exhibits, open houses every third Friday of the month, and a café/art lounge.


"Trying to Remember Books Loaned to Friends" by Rita Grendze


Bridgeport: The Final Tally
Playing "Spot the Hipster" in the heart of Bridgeport (35th & Halsted).
Bridgeport is a place with a barrel full of potential that has only just been tapped.  Geographically, it’s right in the heart of the City, which serves as a great metaphor for its place in Chicago.  It thrives with its ethnic and economic diversity.  The bungalows and factories of yesteryear cohabitate with new lofts, polished townhomes, and infinitely attractive bars, restaurants, and art galleries.  Although much of Bridgeport still has a physical edge, a rugged look of its industrial and blue collar past, it is this bridge between its illustrious history and its appealing future that makes it such a visually unique area.

In many ways, Bridgeport still resembles the neighborhood your grandparents resided in as you grew up.  In other ways it resembles the next Logan Square.  These identities intermingle street-by-street creating an environment that makes Bridgeport one of a kind.  Once Chicago’s iconic blue-collared, closed-off neighborhood, it has reinvented itself as a place where everyone fits in.  Still oft forgotten by those who prefer to stick to downtown and the North side, Bridgeport is on the cusp for a remarkable breakthrough in the very near future; to potentially become one of the Windy City’s most identifiable and enticing neighborhoods.

Bridgeport is the place to be (before and after the Sox game, quite naturally).
"Blo/Blo" by Bill Boyce at the Bridgeport Art Gallery

Red Beet Salad at Han 202
Shanghai Dumplings at Han 202

Toldja the Sox were a big deal
in Bridgeport!
The past embraces the future
in Bridgeport.










Bridgeport (yellow) is just a stone's throw away from the Loop (blue).



4 comments:

  1. Just want to say I like your blog very much. I live in DC, lived in Chicago in the early 1980's and have developed a recent obsession with urbanist type Chicago neighborhoods.

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  2. Thank you very much! DC has some great neighborhoods itself, but we really appreciate you taking an interest our blog and our Tour de Chicago. Make sure to come back and visit sometime soon and thanks for reading!

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  3. I would say Bridgeport is definitely still a blue collar neighborhood. This blog also failed to mention the fact that Bridgeport has a serious gang infestation with four different gangs that shoot up the streets every summer especially west of Halsted. -Life long Bridgeporter

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  4. Another thing I'd like to add; The restaurants you decided to mention are questionable to say the very least. Nana's and Han 202?? Nanas food I would not feed to my worst enemy. Hans has good Asian food but it is not my first option. However I do eat there frequently due to the fact that I live a half of a block away.Still there are at least 4 better Asian restaurants -Life long Bridgeporter

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