Thursday, July 12, 2012
Del Prado Looking Good: The Sip Cafe, Southside Shrimp come to HP Boulevard
-posted by chicago pop
It is my prediction - and also a fond desire - that 5 years hence the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard will be one of the most pleasant, exciting, and desirable in the neighborhood. The University of Chicago has already figured out that 53rd Street is the axis of Hyde Park's urbanity, and the buzzing activity all along that street from Lake Park to the old Harper Theater is a refreshing sign of the institution's commitment to the vitality of the neighborhood's commercial corridor.
The intersection of 53rd and HPB is the gateway to that corridor, and in terms of urban design one of the only real gateways to the neighborhood - the others being a longish viaduct (47th Street), a bucolic but unremarkable jog in the road (51st Street) a blockade (57th Street), and, uh, the Midway.
Contrast these to 53rd between Lake Shore Drive and HPB: one of the city's oldest and grandest parks is to the north, one of its grandest old hotels, the Del Prado, is to the south, and one of the neighborhood's most stately thoroughfares, Hyde Park Boulevard, sweeps parallel to the lakefront.
Fixing up the Del Prado is one of the most important things MAC has done in Hyde Park, and the progress made this summer - after what seemed like years of not much visible happening - is exciting. The building itself looks great, as masonry details are restored and a contemporary, modern foyer is installed on the HPB entrance.
The best surprise of the Hyde Park commercial scene this summer is the leasing of a cafe, "The Sip," for the corner space of the Del Prado, in what used to be a convenience store. This cafe will have the best table views in Hyde Park, without question. This is a real score for MAC. Thursday mornings in the summer of 2013, when shoppers at the farmer's market in Harold Washington Park are able to stop by for coffee, will make the corner a great destination.
I only hope that the cafe will avoid what seems to be a long-term trend for neighborhood cafes and eateries off of 57th Street - what I call the "Third World Effect" - which is to slowly go to seed and eventually close out. There's the obvious example of Third World Cafe and its predecessors. Something similar came close to happening at Istria on 57th; Istria on Cornell is visibly going to pot (what's up with the tattered bar chairs and disappeared bike rack?), although the new coffee source is an improvement; and who knows what will happen to Z&H on 47th after a recent management shake-up?
Around the corner is a little local eatery, Southside Shrimp, with a few other locations in the city that have given it name recognition and what seems to be a positive reputation. It's basically fried seafood, but they emphasize freshness of ingredients to distinguish themselves from the legions of popcorn shrimp dives. They've clearly put some money into making the place look nice, and have gone to the trouble of getting a permit for sidewalk seating, which already makes the street more interesting.
We're still waiting for word of a restaurant in the ballroom of the Del Prado's second floor - I'd like to book my window table as soon as possible.