Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Notes from Undergrads: Where Fun Comes to Die

Introducing the first of an occasional series at Hyde Park Progress exploring things from an undergraduate perspective.

posted by Jason Finkes

Anyone associated with the University knows this fated phrase. It slips from our tongues, ironically self-describing our love of the ascetic lifestyle, slaving away for the sake of truth and beauty in our gothic monastery. But more and more, I begin to wonder which came first: the deprivation of doing things or the lack of things to do in Hyde Park.

Now before I get jumped all over in the comments section, I do appreciate all the wonderful things Hyde Park does have to offer: the decaying and rodent-infested Point, the generally overpriced Museum of Science and Industry, the gamut of high culture (the Court Theatre, the Oriental, Institute, the SMART museum) and the nice oddities, few and far between (Hyde Park Art Center, Doc Films sometimes, the new Hookah lounge). As far as I can tell, aside from the great wealth of entertainment for stereotypical academic and/or cultivated individuals, Hyde Park is a dead zone.

Now I love a good classical concert, or a great art exhibit, or the amazing opportunity to educate myself and see real artifacts stolen from real ancient civilizations. But sometimes, to get away from rigorous academic bootcamp, you don't want stereotypical academic pasttimes. And when you don't want to do those things, you're hopping on a bus and traveling god-knows-how-long on CTA or Metra to a neighborhood that actually DOES have some night life.

Now some may say that we don't have night life because the neighborhood can't support it or that all neighborhoods can't be the center of night life. Furthermore, they may argue that Hyde Park is uniquely situated so as NOT to have night life, due to unsafe streets at night.

But then again, there isn't a whole lot to do on the southside in the first place. Something really would be better than nothing. And as far as I can tell, responsible and well-conceived development comes before low crime. I'm not arguing for gentrification, I'm arguing for some real development that could develop into a functional neighborhood that could support some night life, in a community chock full of young people who desperately need to be entertained and begin to interact with the community they've been isolated from.

What really irks me is that one of the best additions to the neighborhood, a blues/music club/venue in the form of the Checkboard Lounge that was brought here with much urging from the University is a 21+ venue. Now this wouldn't be upsetting if any of neighborhoods other night life activities weren't impossible to get people to go to for fear of their respiratory health (hookah lounge) or bars (does any know how many there are or does everyone else lose count when they try to total them?). We didn't need another 21+ venue.

What we needed were places for a larger portion of the University and the Hyde Park community to mix. The Checkerboard could have been such a place. But by bringing in a 21+, you create a place that Undergrads will never attend, because they simply can't until their 3rd or even 4th year, by which point they won't go because it wasn't an option early in their career. They're stuck in a rut, thinking Hyde Park is dead.

This lack of a night life and prevalence of 21+ venues like bars and the Checkerboard certainly makes it more understandable when one hears that some younger students lament the passing of the Co-Op (not as a bastion of the community and a defunct organization that used to be SOMETHING that activists desperately try and preserve and remind us of) but as a place to go to get booze and not get carded, so they too can do something or anything on those cold, lonely, boring Hyde Park winter nights.


Jessi said...

Any chance anyone could explain to me the lack of night-time FOOD in HP? It seems like there should be at least something open past 10pm. College kids are hungry, you make a profit. Is something/someone blocking this?

LPB said...

Jason -- thanks for bringing a student perspective into this. Just curious, what places do you like to frequent in other neighborhoods in the city?

Elizabeth Fama said...

The forgotten development voice: a college student! This is a nice addition to HPP's repertoire.

After Peter Rossi's St. Stephen's church post, a certain freshman I know at the U of C said, "Someone should buy that and turn it into a gallery/performance/open mic space -- a place with a little cafe, where student groups and other community members can sing or recite poetry or hang their art -- or just hang out."

It seems to me that not enough people are listening to the supposed "transient" population.

catuca48 said...

I like hearing the student perspective too. What other restaurants and/or activities would students like to see? What are some of the popular northside destinations that appeal to an under 21 crowd?

chicago pop said...

The key to Hyde Park improving its nightlife is to make it interesting to OUTSIDERS. Neighborhoods with nightlife (or buzzing retail districts) are where you visit from someplace else. Right now, with its particular demographic mix, and particular cultural characteristics, HP doesn't support this kind of thing on its own.

In the neighborhoods I've lived in that were hopping past midnight, this was always the case -- night life is driven by people COMING TO YOU FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE. Unless you want to be a rather functional neighborhood that gets unsafe after midnight, you need those extra bodies.

For this to happen, there have to be major attractions -- like great restaurants, not just stuff that keeps poor grad students happy (ah...ahhh...ahh(55th St. Thai)..chooooo!) clubs, bars, etc. Then locals can benefit from the hubub generated by outsiders.

What's a major neighborhood attraction people are willing to travel for that is open past 10PM?

chicago pop said...

Of course, Jerry Kleiner's Park 52 is exactly the kind of thing that will help Hyde Park get its late night mojo back. And the U of C helped it happen, so there may be hope.

OK, I'm done with the Peter Rossi-style rapid-fire, serial commentary.

Peter Rossi said...


there are nominally a lot of places to "hangout" 57th. Medici, Cafe Florian, Noodles, Salonica ...

what is missing? Live music? Bad food?

I don't know of too many places in Chicago that feature live music (other than concerts) without a bar and carding.

John said...

Deja Entendu. Undergrads say this constantly, but few of them even know what "cool things" they want to do. I also don't buy the "lack of things to do on the South Side." Lumpen throws parties in Bridgeport that don't card (plus Lumpen leader Ed Marszewski's mom runs a liquor store that also doesn't card), and the Zhou B is right next door, and they've got a cafe right next to some of the most exciting (and expensive) modern art being made. And all of this stuff is free! Experimental Station is also usually throwing art parties on 60th and Blackstone. My paper (Chicago Weekly) reports on this stuff all the time.

UofC kids are always saying, "There is nothing hip on this side of Roosevelt Road." UofC kids just aren't hip, so they wouldn't know either way.

Jason Finkes said...


Food is good. I love food. And I agree whole heartedly with Jessi that it is surprising that there isn't any late night food/coffee/tea. But when you are looking for something to do, buying food that I could just as easily make at home doesn't float my boat. This goes double when you consider that the Medici, despite its amazing ability to market itself as a college hangout, is far from an affordable 'hang out' and certainly isn't on its own a virtue a happening place. Students use it only as a last resort: "Man, there's no place to go...I guess we could maybe hit up the Med...". There's a reason that when you pass by the Snail, Noodles or the Med that you *will* see someone you know because there is nothing to do in the neighborhood but eat between the hours of 5 and 10. And while I love eating, sleeping, and studying, there's a tad more to life than those three. I'm very much in agreement with the language that has friend loosely translate to "person you eat with". But you hit the nail on the head with your casual placement of the word "nominally" if you read it as "existing in name only."

In short, any additional forms of entertainment would be fabulous. Hell, if I had any sort of cash, I would immediately invest in the idea located in Fama's post, especially if it could be open late night, support student bands, and just generally bring some night life to us.

Hell, even fixing the Point and making it somewhat safer to go to at night would go a long way to helping us hapless nerdy boys woo the hapless nerdy girls.

John said...

Also, Reggies Live (22nd and State) is always putting on all-ages shows, including great acts like AIDS Wolf and Shonen Knife.

Jason Finkes said...

As for things in other neighborhoods that I enjoy, I recently started heading to a comedy club, have frequented the Neo-Futurarium, check out thrift stores, go shopping, go to movies, go to see live bands at plenty of shows that aren't 21+, etc. And those are just things that already exist. A creative entrepreneur could come up with quite a few original ways to entertain people who are starving for entertainment.

Jason Finkes said...


I initially was all ready to disagree with you, but after closer consideration, I've got to say that you are right: the way to get night life really functional is outsiders. But until some night life is generated within Hyde Park itself, with some buzz seeping out about the innovative new venue specifically tailored to our unique experience as humans living in post-post-modernity, it's never going to happen. I don't think great clubs, bars, and restau's are enough...they're have got to be a few venues that simply SCREAM innovation. Which, for some reason, is why I would immediately get behind a St. Stephen's overhaul.

Jason Finkes said...


Oui, mais...

I'm glad to hear that the south side isn't all dead, but I lament to say that I'm genuinely concerned about Hyde Park, especially considering its general isolation from the rest of the city. While you can inform us clueless undergrads via your newspaper or comments on this blog of all the pleasantly free ways to get illegally sloshed or watching the production of expensive modern art, you neglect to catch my key point that these are in OTHER neighborhoods. I'm mainly concerned about the development of Hyde Park, considering this is the Hyde Park Progress blog.

Besides, as far as "cool" and "hip" are concerned, I'm fairly certain they're like pornography: you know it when you see it. And frankly, if you want to criticize UofC students for bemoaning all the time that there is nothing to do, perhaps you should be more concerned with developing your readership? That you hear it all the time and that "undergrads say this constantly" betrays a real problem with Hyde Park.

All that being said, I hope to discuss in a future post the transportation issue.

Peter Rossi said...

Jason certainly has put it well in his last few comments.

Hyde Park is dead or at least dangerously close.

it doesn't really matter whether you are a U of C student or not.

Chicago is a fabulous city but we are caught in a backwater.

Why do I live in HP? I'd love the lake, my neighbors and i'd prefer to walk to work and commute to shopping since shopping is something you do only once per week.

But I have a car and my idea of a wild time in HP is a good swim (for a really good time go fly-fishing in NW Michigan).

Now that there is no smoking I might actually go to the Green Mill.

As for St Stephens. This is ahuge place with about 1/4-1/3 the interior volume as Rockafellar Chapel. (note the dome is 74 ft high). There is no really way to divide up this space.

There is no way to have a "little cafe." If you want "open mike nite," you should get Bill Murray to sing "take me out to the ball game."

It just won't work as a little hip cafe with music.

tear it down!

Peter Rossi said...

more on St Stephens,

of course, can you imagine our friends at the U doing a good job of promoting a St Stephens make over for students?

they would get ex-Eastern German architects for the renovation. Labor relations by Pinkertons. They might propose a juice bar by Pepsi and music by the Bee Gees. "food service" by Aramark.
Leal would be hired as the developer.

20 community meetings would be held at the Hyde Park NIMBY Club prior to any thought.

The U would buy St Stephens for 5 million from the Greek nut and sell it two years later for back taxes.

Can you imagine the reaction of the neighbors to a late-nite student cafe in their midst? They might dig up Clarence Darrow to represent them in a lawsuit against the U.

EdJ said...

When I was your age…

Sorry. Started channeling my dad there.

Having nothing to do at college is a universal lament. Of course when I was an undergrad in the mid 80s, all of my friends and I said the same things. Of course, we were also in Urbana so that was more understandable than what you get here living in the third largest city in America. Bars started carding more when I was a sophomore, so we had find other things to do. And let’s face it, going to Rantoul was not an option.

We’re discussing the vision of how to serve differing groups in the neighborhood. Hyde Park has a lot less crime than it did a decade and a half ago, and it’s very family friendly, particularly for people with small kids. And we have a large and growing undergraduate population that needs to be served. As a university student, you have two areas to go to: 57th Street, 55th Street, and 53rd Street.

People have already talked about 57th Street. There are restaurants and other places over there, but I’m guessing that a hotel at the Doctors Hospital site would probably bring more activity just because people get tired of hotel food. They also want to be entertained as well.

55th has limited choices, although Seven Ten is a great place to go where you don’t get carded and it does have the bowling lanes and pool table, necessities for any college student.

53rd Street is about the distance from campus that I would have had to walk I Urbana to get to anything worth doing. Thee is great promise here for future entertainment opportunities for undergrads. The problem that we’re running into is that there are a lot of families who live between campus and 53rd, so they want to keep things quiet and keep the kids off of our lawns. At the visioning workshop in December, there seemed to be a sense that there should be more density on the street, but I don’t get a good sense of what should go where. I’d guess that entertainment would likely go east nearer Lake Park (at Harper Court and the parking lot areas), but with some other opportunities closer to Woodlawn as well.

I doubt these problems will be fixed before you graduate. Keep pushing on the issue from the student end and we’ll work on our end and we’ll hopefully end up with a more interesting neighborhood. Until then, I’ll see if I can rustle up the Risk game somewhere in the basement.

Jason Finkes said...

Come now, Peter. The Bee Gee's are good times!

In all seriousness, however, I would never back a University buy of St. Stevie's, for most of the reasons you've just listed. A private investor on the other hand, who would go about doing it *right*? Different story.

The innovation is there, and the exterior certainly fits with the aesthetics of HP. Of course, you would want to gut it, carve it out, fill it with sound proofing, etc. They want preservation? Preserve the facade by all means and make the interior into something functional or as you so unceremoniously say, tear it down. But damned if it wouldn't make a stellar, easily accessable by public transit night-club/music venue/something or other that could go a long way to revitalizing Hyde Park. Never going to happen, but for the next few months, the least I can do is dream.

John said...

Jason -

First, though you are particularly talking about Hyde Park, you do write, "But then again, there isn't a whole lot to do on the southside in the first place," offering a (teleological?) connection between the barrenness of the South Side in general and Hyde Park in particular, when the former is just not the case. You have to look harder for the life on this side of town (except in cases like the Zhous and others), but it's there. Further, I'm not advocating for free ways for undergraduates to get "illegally sloshed" (you say this as if it's exceptional for undergraduates to be doing this anyway), but acknowledging two truths: 1) undergraduates, like legal 21-year-olds, prefer alcohol whenever it's available at events, and often prefer it to events, and 2) there are ways for undergraduates to get into (ostensibly) 21+ venues.

I disagree that "you know [hip] when you see it" (there is a certain normative standard you are applying when you say Hyde Park is not "hip" vis-a-vis other neighborhoods; I doubt you would agree with anyone who said Hyde Park is hip just because they see it that way). Moreover, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility for undergrads to NOT know it when they see it. Also, I don't think that undergrads constantly complaining about Hyde Park means that Hyde Park and its offerings are completely to blame. If you're bored, then it's not impossible that you may be boring, too ("you" here is rhetorical, and not aimed at any individual). The UofC has a reputation for producing bookworms and bench scientists instead of scenesters for a reason, and we can't conveniently forget the impact of the University's institutional culture in Hyde Park.

As for developing my readership: I do what I can.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am also an undergraduate at the University of Chicago living in Hyde Park.

rdb said...

This is a great post -- kudos to HPP for adding Jason's voice.

Jason's post has forced me to revisit my memories of undergrad life at an over-rated prestigious private university in Northern California. The location of that University was in many ways more isolated than Hyde Park: trapped in strip mall hell, with 30 miles of clone suburbs between us and San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, etc.

The sad fact is, I think, that with the 21 drinking age, undergrad life often feels like 4+ years of extra adolescence, no matter what you do. But there are 2 key things I remember, and Jason's post reinforce:

1) Lots of options open late. College students naturally stay up late (and why not?). A few late-night food/beverage/athletics/performance/art options in HP would go a LOOONGG way to making things better. How late is Ratner open? Why not have 1 night a week a late night? What about midnight iceskating on the Midway Rink? The arts center, when/if its built, should have as its focus providing late night options for undergrads.

2) Transportation options. My best (non-alcoholic) undergrad times were exploring all the Bay Area had to offer. There is no doubt Chicago has a lot, but around getting there really isn't that easy. When I lived in Wicker Park and commuted to U of C, the few times I took public transit it was a 1.5 hour ordeal, each way. The U can't fix the inadequate rapid transit situation, but it sure could try and supplement it. Why isn't there an express bus to Wicker Park, for example, as well as to Lincoln Park/Lake View?

As an observer of the U of C, I think it has done A LOT to improve student life in the last 4 years. No doubt it has a LONG way still to go.

chicago pop said...

In a few of my earlier comments I don't think I kept Jason's point as focused in my mind as I should have: the under 21 issue. My comments were directed more towards the overall dynamics of nightlife in the neighborhood; but based on some conversations I've had with my co-bloggers, and some of the comments to this post, I think that a sort of "bohemian" art space somewhere in the neighborhood -- specifically for students (as opposed to Experimental Station or HPAC) would be a nice addition to the neighborhood and a good way to move some student culture off campus. Whether it could ever be the rapidly falling-apart St.Stephens I'm not sure. (How many millions does the University have for these things?) But wherever/whatever it is, if it comes with another cafe, that's even bettter!

Elizabeth Fama said...

My pit bull friend, Peter, has decided St. Stevie's is so ugly and deteriorated it must die.

The fact is, it must either be demolished or be refurbished, and there's no reason not to hope for the latter if it can be reincarnated into something that brings progress. And creating an amazing hangout place where college students can ply their creative wares (so far this doesn't exist on campus) while socializing with their friends at a late-night cafe would be incredible, unheard-of progress.

I see no reason NOT to root for the U of C to take over that church and turn it into an atmospheric hang-out for students groups like bands, vocalists, stand-up comics, and artists, with a cafe attached.

I heard two "garage bands" playing on the quads this summer. There must be dozens more, with no venue. There are lots of singing groups. Just look at the U of C's Recognized Student Organizations database to see how many clubs there are. Here's just the fine arts list (48 organizations). Four of my friends -- just community members, not college students -- have a female barbershop quartet, and they can only try out their new numbers at Montgomery Place. And apparently, the fine arts classes are displaying their winter projects in the Bartlett dining hall right now. That's sort of pitiful.

St. Stevie's would be the perfect place to go when, as Jason says, you don't feel like hitting the Medici for the thousandth time.

God, I even like the venue name, "St. Stevies." I'm feeling pit-bullish about this idea myself.

SR said...

People like to blame the U of C for all kinds of things, but this is one problem that really is largely their fault.

1. There are very few places open after 10 pm in the neighborhood because the U of C doesn’t want there to be, and they own a lot of the retail property in the neighborhood. It’s all about keeping black teenagers from surrounding areas with even less retail development than Hyde Park out of the hood at night, basically. It’s an urban renewal thing, and while I think the U of C is beginning to wake up to the idea of trying to become a “destination” neighborhood, they still want to make sure it’s the “right” kind of people being attracted here (hence the high-fashion retail and upscale dining they’re planning for the movie theater building, which old-timers may recall was decried by the “community” for attracting too many black teenagers after 10 pm, though of course they didn’t put it exactly that way). This may turn out to be a nice development for older/wealthier residents, but it doesn’t do much for students.

2. The U of C’s policy of enforcing the legal drinking age in the dorms has done a lot to destroy student social life since I was an undergrad, except for those willing to tolerate frat parties (which apart from all the date rape tend to feature really bad music). Official dorm parties thrown by your RA and individual room parties held by students usually had beer at least, until about the late 80s I think. Then once you moved out of the dorm, your friends would have house parties with fancy cocktails and stuff in addition to the keg. And that was pretty much what you did around here on the weekends back when. (Do house parties hosted by older undergrads not happen anymore? Has the no-alcohol policy in the dorms put students out of the habit of throwing parties? And is all of this less fun anyway now that there’s AIDS to worry about? I don’t know.)

J/tati said...

I too would like to see some middlebrow cultural amenities in the neighborhood: middling indy galleries, a (mainstream) cinema, a proper "hang-out" cafe or three. The thing is, my few HP-native friends point out that there *are* local third places, but they're divided by race and class... churches, hair salons/barbershops, even Valois and the Co-op serve(d) this function (albeit poorly) for some older folks.

I know it's a dated view, but when I was in college, the third places (the places where we'd hang out for hours with every expectation of meeting both regulars and new neighbors) were a mix of public and private... open-air urban parks, fountains with steps for reading and people-watching, record shops, used clothing stores, comic book shops, bike shops, bookstores, cafe-galleries... we need more of these places, too.

I've said it here before, but I am stunned by how quickly my little shop fell into this pattern. There are a couple dozen folks who stop in at least once a week just to chat -- not really with me, but with whomever else happens to be around. There are even a handful of daily regulars. But the more interesting thing is how simply having a casual, inviting space facilitates completely unrelated interactions. For example, yesterday a local artist stopped in to introduce me to a colleague, one of the SMART museum curators. I happened to be chatting at the time with yet another local artist -- and we all exchanged introductions. Artist A and artist B of course knew one another, but hadn't seen one another in quite some time, despite living within blocks of one another. And in the end, artist B gained a terribly useful introduction to one of his circle's super-connectors...

Of course, now that I write this down, I realize it's really more less about local entertainment than community interconnectedness, but oh well.

Famac said...

I went to Knox College - there was nothing to do there. I finished at Champaign Urbana - there was nothing to do there but frat bars and frat parties.

This is the time in your life when you develop interests academically and personally. You now have the luxury to explore these things before children and jobs interfere.

Sure, there isn't a lot to do in Hyde Park - but there's nothing you can't get to in Chicago with a 15 minute train ride on the Metra. The rest of it is up to you.

My brother has a great expression: "I don't need to be entertained." Develop some interests that are independent of location -- you'll use them the rest of your life.

Elizabeth Fama said...


Ah, but if your interests are creating art or creating music, it does help to have an actual physical, public space to test them out. It provides important feedback and some of the the personal/professional connectedness that J/Tati is describing.

That is, unless you're the hermit type, who plans on having her creations shown posthumously.

I'm not great at public transportation (given that I'm a hermit), but my impression is that Metra doesn't run much at night, and you're forced to take buses. That's fine on occasion, but any parent of an 18 year-old would tell you they'd prefer that there were also an art/music/hangout space on campus for those late night expeditions.

Jason Finkes said...

So many things to respond to.


I admit that I glibbly mentioned the South Side synecdochely; refering to the South Side when I clearly meant Hyde Park made it relatively easy to misconstrue what I was trying to say about the neighborhood in which we live. I also couched my comments carefully by claiming that I don't necessarily disagree that UChicago students are boring (in the non-academic sense). I merely was questioning the validity of the assumption that in general appears to be made about us being boring which is why there is no night life, where I think it may be quite possible that we are boring because there is no easily accessible night life (you only have to have waited for the 55 at Garfield Red Line at 2 AM for an hour once in the middle of winter to agree). I also challenge you to find one individual who would non-ironically describe Hyde Park as a "happenin'" or "hip" locale.

Yes, house parties do still occur, as do room parties (I know both from experience and could offer you far more information about that scene via personal email). But as a student really big into that scene, I can tell you that it was no substitute for something to do in the neighborhood. Even if that something to do was "pre-gamed" with a shot, having something around the neighborhood that doesn't involve waiting for the 55 at Garfield for the better part of an hour or taking a long hike to and from the 6 would go a long way to improving life here.

As regards the Metra, it's a tiny bit inconvenient to happen to have 2 dollar bills and/or change just waiting around for rides. Don't get me wrong, I love the Metra and take it out to visit my best friend's brother way out to the west with a great deal of frequency. But this delves into another post on transportation that I'm currently formulating.

Additionally, self-entertainment isn't a bad thing, and I'm quite comfortable with my academic and personal interests and the mannersin which I spend my time. Reading, listening to music, composing music, woodworking, writing blog posts, working on a book I'd love to publish eventually are all great components of my life. Additionally, I certainly hope that my academic and personal interests don't disappear once I have full time employ, a wife, 2 kids and a corgi named Watson. I certainly "don't need to be entertained." But that doesn't mean that an entertainment facility shouldn't exist for going on dates, hanging out, and/or developing a greater connectedness between University students and the community they live in.

RDB and j/tati -
I agree whole-heartedly with everything you said.

Jason Finkes said...


Can't believe I totally skipped over your post, as I thought you had some great points. Your analysis of the areas for development I think is spot on. I still want to cling to St. Stevie's as a really neat idea, and think that it is perfectly situated to actually be somewhat of an attraction, but 57th is a bit of a problem, and 55th doesn't have much going for it either (except Seven Ten, as you rightfully pointed out, and the Hookah Louneg which is a relatively new development in addition to being relatively niche). The progress and the development is certainly there and there's a long way to go, and there is certainly no reason that family-friendly, and UofC-undergrad-friendly have to be mutually exclusive. I offer as example the St. Louis City Museum ( http://citymuseum.org/home.asp ) which is the most amazing place I've been in my life and attracts the younger crowd as well as the older crowd when it approaches late nights. Dual purpose that improves the neighborhood for all involved.

Richard Gill said...

Here, in no particular order are a few comments regarding some of the recent posts about public transportation.

Metra evening service to/from Hyde Park is essentially hourly until just before 1AM, Mon-Sat. Sunday/holiday trains run twice every two hours, but not at constant intervals.

A Metra 10-ride ticket, which is discounted 15%, can be shared by a group on the same train, or used on different days. The tickets are good for a year. Metra sells a $5 weekend pass which is good all day both Sat and Sun. on all Metra trains in the region, not just on Metra Electric. You can take the Electric downtown, walk across the Loop to the Ogilvie Transportation Center, and take another Metra train to the racetrack at Arlington Park, for instance. You can use the ticket one day and pass it to a friend for use the next day. The price of the weekend pass may be going up in the spring, and the usage rules may be tightened.

Metra ticket machines make change - you shouldn't need to use singles. Just be ready for your change to be in coins. Also, there is a real live human ticket agent at the 57th Street entrance most weekdays from about 6AM to 2PM (a benefit of having the U of C in the neighborhood).

To save time traveling to/from places like Wicker Park, you might consider several people in a taxi, to defray the cost, or a transit/taxi combination.

For some good, cheap eats, you can ride the CTA Red Line to the Argyle station on the North Side. There must be 20 Asian restaurants withing two blocks of the station. Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, you name it. Then you can backtrack on the train to Lakeview.

Currently, there are no transfers between Metra and CTA. Someday, maybe.

The South Shore Line trains that stop at the Metra 57th Street station serve the Indiana Dunes. It's about a 1-hour ride from Hyde Park to the Dune Park station. No, Metra tickets are not good on the South Shore, nor vice-versa, and the Metra agent at 57th does not sell South Shore tickets; if you board the South Shore at 57th, pay on the train. And, no, South Shore trains do not allow people to ride between 57th and downtown Chicago. (Sometimes, when service is really messed up, they will let you ride downtown.)

Unlike the CTA, Metra allows food and beverages to be consumed on its trains. Just don't make a mess. And for my sake, avoid sliders, burritos and other things that reek up the entire coach.

Bon Voyage and All Aboard!

Elizabeth Fama said...

Yowza. I just looked at that link. It's pretty safe to say the City Museum is "hip."

Peter Rossi said...

richard makes an interesting point, but I think he misses the fact that the cool place in Chitown are places where the Metra does not go.

If you want to go to bucktown, uptown, LP, west loop, river north, etc. you cant' there using Metra. You would need to take a two train el trip. even if you want to go to Chinatown you need to take the el

this is a real problem.

Compare this to Columbia- you just hop on the subway and you in midtown ...

John said...

Hey Jason,

RE: "I also challenge you to find one individual who would non-ironically describe Hyde Park as a 'happenin'' or 'hip locale.'"

I probably couldn't answer that challenge. But then again, I've never been able to convince a UofC undergrad that wasn't a close personal friend to go to art shows/parties in Bridgeport with me. Is that because the art in Bridgeport is bad? No, it's actually some of the most exciting being produced in the city, though there are few UofC students I'd trust to know the difference. the reason no one (that I've met who isn't already a friend; you may have a super-scenester friend base) would go is because no one really wants to find the cutting edge, just the trusted middle-class experience available in Lincoln Park. Which is why I wouldn't really trust those students' evaluations of Hyde Park: their breadth of taste and experience is too tiny.

I feel like promising institutions in Hyde Park (like HPAC and Experimental) suffer from the same student instincts. (This does not at all pretend to account for the experience of older HPP-ers, who have probably done all they can with what's available.) Students may say HP sucks, but I also doubt most of them have seriously tried that hard to find its good side.

Anyway, I will soon solve the problem by opening a music venue guarded by a cedar robot that pats you down, and every music act that performs will be required to wear animal suits and dry-hump at awkward intervals. Then I will have to sell alcohol to make ends meet, and I will promptly close because I won't be able to let in land-bound undergrads. Also, I doubt no matter how good the venue is, no one would come anyway, no matter how admired it is in principle.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm not going to make like Mao and entrust students with revolution. The native HP-ers will likely have to do most of the heavy lifting.

PS I've spent more than a few winter nights waiting at the Garfield stop. I guess I should feel thankful that it was never not worth it.

Richard Gill said...

Peter -

I was merely running through some transportation options, not pushing Metra on anyone. True, Wicker Park, Lakeview, Bucktown are in CTA-land and require--as they say in the transit biz--a "two seat" ride. Transit isn't taxi service; that's why it's cheap. On the other hand, both Metra and CTA's #6 bus offer "one seat" rides to downtown Chicago and to within walking distance of River North and Streeterville, including Navy Pier, a place where it's possible (although maybe not probable) to hang out for hours and not part with any money.

As for Columbia and its accessibility to midtown Manhattan, no other city in this country is going to have a New York style supersaturation subway system. New York's transit system is truly unique.

Why is taking the el a "real problem"?

P.S. - For future reference, no knowing person at the CTA, nor any Chicago transit junkie says el. It's the 'L' . Even when it's underground.

EdJ said...

Being a student means accepting a little inconvenience on transportation sometimes, but there needs to be more to do for students and Hyde Parkers in this neighborhood. Several commenters have noted some good points. Hyde Park needs to see itself in context of a larger south side from the South Loop to South Shore. We do our grocery shopping at Roosevelt Road. There's a lot to do in Bridgeport (and more coming from there as well. People in Lincoln Park or Bucktown or Edgewater don't just stay in Lincoln Park or Bucktown or Edgewater for everything. There's a larger context that built up over a number of years. Remember, Wrigleyville was a pretty crappy neihborhood not all that many years ago.

I'm learning a lot of what I can do inside and outside Hyde Park on the south side - if my wife and I can find a babysitter.

Alec Brandon said...

We'll know we've made it as a college town when we get a Gap up in here.

I say that only half jokingly.

ayn said...

Richard -

As a female undergrad (though I'm sure this goes equally for guys) the problem I've found with taking the El out to other parts of the city to do things is the trip back home--specifically waiting for the 55 bus back into Hyde Park from the Red Line. Many of the things I'd love to go do on the North Side occur in the latter portion of the evening, and by the time they're over the prospect of returning to the South Side via the Red Line is a daunting one. It's not a particularly comfortable place to be, especially considering that the 55 is often a long time in coming (it's true that the university has added a bus route to expedite students' returning to campus, but it doesn't ease my mind much). The few times I've gone to late-night venues in other parts of the city, I've always taken cabs home. I'm glad I have that option, but I can't afford cabs every weekend.

In short, it's not getting out of Hyde Park that's the issue: it's getting back in. So, some late-night venues in HP would be appreciated so that the toss isn't always among staying at home or coming home super-late.

I most strongly agree with commentators that feel the first step in making the Hyde Park scene more appealing would be for more places to stay open later.

Otto said...

It’s all about keeping black teenagers from surrounding areas with even less retail development than Hyde Park out of the hood at night, basically.

I'd say that this is spot-on, aside from the "teenagers" and "night" parts.

Then again, I've long thought that a White Castle at what is now the Hollywood Video would be a gold mine (which I certainly would patronize).

The "outsiders" business I find a bit more curious.

chicago pop said...

Referee comment:

We've had some good discussion about night life in Hyde Park and outside of it. Clearly, there are two legitimate points of view that came up here, one that seeks to get out and explore the City beyond campus, and one that would like the local neighborhood to have more attractions.

There's no contradiction between these two preferences. Given the focus of this blog, I'm most interested in local improvements: more interesting things to do, open later. (It's been said before on this blog, in case entrepreneurs or University folks are listening: OPEN LATER.)

Apart from this, I think we can lay this topic to rest with the acknowledgment that the U of C undergrad population is a diverse body with different tastes, inclinations, and attitudes, ranges of experience. No one set of social activities will suit them all, or should be expected to.

Sort of like Hyde Park. No one body has the monopoly on the voice of "the community," nor should they.

SR said...

Yanno, it should probably be possible to convert one of the half-dozen or so coffee shops on campus into some kind of ongoing performance space. Where they would have some AV equipment set up already and you could just sign up for a time slot or your group could sponsor somebody, maybe have open mic at regular times too so people would get used to checking the space to see if anything’s going on on any given night. You wouldn’t have to worry about the refreshments end, because hey it’s already a coffee shop. (I’d nominate that nice little student-run one on the 2nd floor of Reynolds Club, since it’s about the right size and already has the comfy furniture, but there are a number of possible choices here).

I mention it because I’m remembering how hard it was to put on events when I was a student. I was in a group that tried to put on one coffee house (either with professional or student performers) and one lecture a quarter, and this was more than enough to keep us much busier than you would ever imagine. There’s reserving the room, reserving the AV stuff, setting it up, taking it down, trucking refreshments (usually pretty basic because you’re carrying everything) over to Ida Noyes where all the easy-to-reserve spaces are, and first and foremost dealing with the capricious tin-pot dictators on the SG finance committee to get funding. If there were a space that already had the accoutrements in place and you just had to get on the schedule, there might be a lot more arts events on campus, because it would just be so much easier to do. And if there were an audience for that kind of thing congregating regularly somewhere, it might be more inspiring for students to think of performances they’d like to sponsor or do themselves.

Elizabeth Fama said...


Yay! You bring up all the important reasons for having a dedicated performance space. Because I'm a member, I had the luxury of renting the Quadrangle Club bar for my trio to put on a performance (celebrating what would have been Connie Boswell's 100th birthday), but there was still a lot of tinkering with the AV equipment before the show, and there was really no convenient (that is, non-awkward) way to have the non-member guests pay for their drinks and food, so I ended up footing the bill. Plus, the only way anyone knew about it was through a personal invitation by us. So it was really a private party, and not a "gig." What we really wanted was to introduce other musicians to the Boswell sound, to spread the musical word about how great it is.

My singing trio is building up our repertoire, and every couple of months we have a few new songs we'd like to test out on an audience. It would be awesome to just get on the schedule of a place that's already set up with equipment, refreshments, and a waiting, interested audience.

Richard Gill said...

Ayn -

The nighttime safety issue (be it real or perceived) is a valid concern on the Red Line and the 55 bus. No argument there. Then there's the fact that stuff happens to pedestrians here in the neighborhood late at night, too. That's why several people in a door-to-door taxicab might seem like a better alternative to some...although there have been concerns about some cab drivers and the condition of their cabs.

I was just questioning the notion of the 'L' as a "problem" per se.

John said...

Hey C-Pop,

RE: referee comment.

This is not to contradict anything you had to say, but focusing just on Hyde Park should not come at the expense of what we can learn from other neighborhoods, especially South Side ones. I hate to beat a dead horse, but Bridgeport holds a lot of lessons for HP that I think are worth learning from. B-port has a few advantages that we don't, like super-low rents for big, big spaces and proximity to Pilsen, where artists are spilling over from. But not that long ago, Bridgeport was the isolated home of a blue-collar population and the heart of the Chicago machine. How did it make the transition to a booming arts-town (without losing much of its native character)? Just throwing it out there.

chicago pop said...

Bridgeport holds a lot of lessons for HP that I think are worth learning from.

Interesting. Might be worth a post or two in the future, since a number of readers (including myself) get over there fairly regularly for various reasons.

Maybe even a little reportage on the exotic "Zhou B".

ayn said...

SR -

It might please you to know that, at least since this past Fall quarter, there has been a regular open mic night every three weeks at the second-floor coffee shop in the Reynold's club, and it was pretty well-attended the two times I performed.

I might add that that coffee shop is the only on campus (and in the neighborhood) that is open until any hour that could be considered "late."

SR said...


That's great! I'm glad to hear students are going to it, too. Maybe that use of the space can grow over time ...

I've always liked that little place, it's probably one of the best food deals on campus for one thing, with the pretty cheap container meals from Ceders etc.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Was the open mic for readings or also for music? Did you have to sign up ahead of time? Are the open mic dates posted in the coffee shop? Are you really in Oaxaca?

Richard Gill said...

Re the recent comments about possible lessons learned from Bridgeport: No doubt there are some. Both Bridgeport and Hyde Park have been quiet neighborhoods with long-time populations and both have seen recent influxes of new residents. But the neighborhoods have significant differences.

Hyde Park has an outspoken and influential segment of older residents who actively seek to maintain the status quo and stifle development. I don't think this is true of Bridgeport.

With the White Sox at US Cellular Field (nee Comiskey Park) Bridgeport has been accustomed to traffic and "outsiders" in great numbers. While restaurants, bars and retail around "The Cell" do not approach the volume around Wrigley Field, many Sox fans do spend money in the neighborhood before and after games.

The political climate in Bridgeport is, uh, more friendly to development than the climate in Hyde Park. Developers have been allowed to meet demand in Bridgeport, even along the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River, aka "Bubbly Creek", possibly the foulest body of water in Illinois. (There has been a problem regarding the quality of construction in at least one new Bridgeport residential development.)

Bridgeport is catching the southward development wave from adjacent Chinatown. The wave began in the South Loop. Hyde Park is not in the path of that wave.

Bridgeport has historically been populated by working class people, and the neighborhood has not been occupied by Hyde Park style "intelligentsia" that have too much time on their hands and can sit around figuring out how many ways there are to be obstructionists.

Finally, Bridgeport may have been the first nearby neighborhood to benefit from Hyde Park's lack of a key essential: great ribs at a sitdown restaurant. Hyde Parkers pilgrimaged to the Glass Dome Hickory Pit at 28th & Halsted. 'Twas a sad day a few years ago, when it closed.

chicago pop said...

Following Richard Gill, another, perhaps more superficial difference between the two neighborhoods: there are clearly folks who travel to B-Port for the "hip" scene, restaurants, sports, etc.

Who in B-Port returns the favor? For what? The Oriental Institute?

The same question could be asked of any neighborhood. Hence the problem, age-old on this blog, first raised with reference to groceries, of leakage. More people go elsewhere to do/buy stuff than come in. This doesn't kill a neighborhood by any means, but doesn't make it as interesting or exciting as it could be.

For that to change in HP, the neighborhood needs to become a hub, a destination.

That means people will have to get used to more folks on sidewalks, a little more hubub, and sharing their neighborhood with other people. I just had dinner last night with several people who were quite happy that few people came to visit Hyde Park who didn't already live there; they like their neighborhood to themselves.

Richard Gill said...

There will have to be enough RESIDENTS (both permanent and transient) in this neighborhood to support at least the seeds of meaningful retail growth. That's why it's important that Solstice, McMobil, 53rd & Cornell, St. Stephens, and the hotel be developed, for starters. Yes, this means saying The "D" Word out loud. We need more DENSITY - more people per square mile, people with disposable income - to put the dollars where potential retailers can see them.

It's hard to believe that a local retail scene is going to spring to life on the hope that the outside world will find Hyde Park. People residing HERE are required in order to beget businesses. Then, the visitor snowball may begin. It's essential to push for the significant residential and mixed-use developments, and not get trapped by the NIMBYs and Establishment into fine-tuning them forever.

As for the 53rd Street area, I suggest concentrating on the street itself. As for Harper Court, let the Establishment get themselves mired in quicksand, forever talking and dithering about it. The world can sweep past Harper Court; it will catch up in due time.

chicago pop said...

It's hard to believe that a local retail scene is going to spring to life on the hope that the outside world will find Hyde Park.

Regarding the gloss above, if you dig around enough in this blog you'll know that I for one don't preach this vain hope. And regarding resident versus transient populations, I may have encouraged some confusion.

Because this particular discussion is about night-life and not retail per se, the particular type of density that I meant to invoke becomes important -- the kind of nightlife that is admired in other neighborhoods and is discussed in this post is primarily the product of a visiting population, and not a resident population.

Jerry Kleiner, for example, is specifically pitching his restaurant to the entire under-served South Side market. He's siting it in Hyde Park, but expecting it to pull diners from Chatham, South Shore, etc.

As for retail -- and if you want to follow a very interesting conversation on the subject of boutique retail including local retailers from way back in the early days of HPP, go here-- the kind of specialty retail that a lot of folks want -- over and above staples -- I think is as dependent on a visiting or transient population as is a vibrant night life.

There are plenty of suburbs that have all the bread and butter shopping they want or need with nice big box stores selling everything you need for the suburban life. What they don't necessarily have, at least within a limited area, are the hand-made card shop, the bar with 300 imported Belgian beers, the custom bike frame maker, the yarn shop, shoe shop, second hand music, or local fashion designers all of whom depend on wide markets and bring folks from across town.

The two things go hand in hand, of course, or should; density to support daily amenities and then some; and then quirky things that draw outsiders to support the kinds of consumer pleasures that make cities distinctive.

But I'm glad you're not afraid of the D-word. That's why I like you.

chicago pop said...

As for Harper Court, let the Establishment get themselves mired in quicksand, forever talking and dithering about it. The world can sweep past Harper Court; it will catch up in due time.

This is a very good point; change is already happening in that area even while the HP-K CC "tackles" Harper Court; witness Park 52. (Whether this "tackling" has anything to do with urban design for the 21st century, or preserving an inefficient city parking lot attached to a marginal retail cluster, remains to be seen).

Kleiner's restaurant is going to completely change the vibe of that little parcel when it opens next month. It will look shabbier than ever.

Richard Gill said...

For this discussion, I regard retail as any establishment that caters to the ultimate consumer. That includes boutiques; bars; bodegas; bagels; beauticians; barbers; bistros; beans, bread, and butter; and bicycles. I believe we need the residential density in any case. I don't see Hyde Park attracting extensive nightlife without it.

Re Harper Court: For all I care, anybody who's interested can get in on the "tackle". And I wish them luck. To date, the "process" seems to be going the way of the Point controversy.

EdJ said...

I think we can link the 53rd St development issue with the night life issue pretty clearly. It is a good location for the development of night life and retail, particularly at the parking lot site at Lake Park. It has great accessibility to Lake Shore Drive so that it can draw some people from nearby neighborhoods and would be convenient for students. Development a la the 53rd and Ellis parking garage would be best for drawing people to greater development to the west (we hope). Harper Court would have to adjust as a result. That corner is the key, not Harper Court. But, like the Point, it wouldn't be ready for the currrent crop of UC students. Sorry guys. But at least we're all learning about good places to go in other neighborhoods.

chicago pop said...

I believe we need the residential density in any case. I don't see Hyde Park attracting extensive nightlife without it.

Of course we need residential density. I'm much less interested in nightlife, but I still insist that it's a different animal. We're going to have to agree to disagree on that.

There are plenty of examples that show nightlife popping up in low-density, non-residential areas, as well as nightlife showing up in high-density, residential areas without retail. The Hyde Park Art Center is a case of the latter.

People come from around the city, around the State, and from out of State, to do stuff there. Traffic has increased substantially in the immediate area as a direct result.

Across the street are a dozen high rise towers, but there is virtually no retail for blocks.

The Upper West Side of Manhattan is one of the most dense areas in the US. There is absolutely nothing to do there. Being too residential, in a way, can almost discourage nightlife, at least of a certain kind.

We need density, that's the alpha and omega of this blog. A certain amount of nightlife can be developed from the student population. But for the more adult kind, like Kleiner's restaurant, you need regional pull, and that can happen independently of residential density, if you have the right kind of attractions.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Speaking of Harper Court (I hope this isn't off-topic) I was amused to see Calypso featured on last night's edition of Check, Please. The three customers all raved about it, which surprised me (3 out of 3?), but the real shocker was the lawyer who said he loved the raised, boardwalk feel of the building it was in. The producer cut to all sorts of uncharacteristically pretty nighttime (clearly summertime) shots of the place, all lit up, as if it were indeed "happenin'."

EdJ said...

Have you ever seen anyone dis a restaurant an Check Please? It's like that Simpson's episode where Homer became a food critic for the Weekly Shopper and his universally positive reviews led to everyone in Springfield getting fat.

Richard Gill said...

"Notes from Undergrads" has been quite a post. Have any other HPP posts elicited more than 50 comments?

chicago pop said...

A lot of people like the food and ambiance at both Calypso and Dixie Kitchen. (Note: the latter is a CHAIN! EVIL!) And I have friends who have been charmed by the catwalk thingy too.

But that doesn't go far enough to justify the continued existence of the rest of Harper Court, which is wasted space otherwise. The neighborhood could have these 2 restos and a lot more if the whole thing were redone from the ground up.

chicago pop said...

"Notes from Undergrads" has been quite a post. Have any other HPP posts elicited more than 50 comments?

I believe one other post has gone longer -- the infamous How to Chase Small Business From Hyde Park, which went to 61 comments.

With this one, we couldn't have gone this long without you, Richard.

And thanks should also go to our undergrad contributor, Jason Finkes, and the others who commented. Something we plan to do again, for sure.

ayn said...

Elizabeth -

The open mics I've attended have been mostly music, but also some poetry and even a stand up comedian (apparently they've gotten juggling acts before, too). It's hosted by the campus group FOTA (Festival of the Arts), and people do need to sign up by email beforehand. I don't know if the dates are posted, but they are on facebook and go out through listhosts.

And yes, I am really in Oaxaca. It's gorgeous and sunny every day.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Thanks for the information, Ayn!