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Neighborhood Guide: Hyde Park

Hyde Park, POTUS' old stomping grounds, is home to the prestigious University of Chicago, a landmark both in Chicago and for the nation. While here, stop by the Hyde Park Arts Center, the oldest alternative exhibition space in Chicago, or the free admission Smart Museum and Oriental Institute Museum. Of course, the fantastic (but decidedly not free) Museum of Science & Industry is a winning bet if you don't mind battling school groups to see the chicks hatching or to descend the coal mine shaft. Take a run or walk on the 57th St. beach, which is generally uncrowded, quiet and offers some stunning views of the city looking north.  Skip Lake Shore Drive traffic and hop aboard a Metra Electric train on the South Chicago line, which will whisk from downtown to Hyde Park in about 15 minutes. There's lots to see and do in this diverse part of town, but you can't miss stopping at these venues.

History Of Hyde Park

Hyde Park hosts one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most admired prairie-style designs, the Frederick C. Robie House, a U.S. National Historic Landmark. It's also the place where Mary Todd Lincoln sought refuge after her husband's assassination and birthplace of atomic fission. To learn more of the long and fascinating history of the area, on the first Thursday of the month, from May to October, you can stroll with a friendly, wise volunteer to glean the history and culture of the neighborhood. 

Eat And Drink:

Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap
1172 E 55th St
(773) 643-5516
www.facebook.com/woodlawntaphydepark

Perennially winning a spot on "Best Dive Bar" lists, Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap is a cash only operation that still looks and feels like the Chicago taverns of old. Mixologist? Puh-lease, this is a shot and a beer joint, and locals love it this way. See and hear live blues on the South side most Sundays, followed by live jazz. But the Woodlawn Tap, as it's known, (the original owner was Jimmy Wilson, who lovingly helmed the bar from 1948 to 1999) is still a place where patrons love to hash out political positions plus disagreements about music and sports. After all, the likes of Saul Bellow, Margaret Mead and Dylan Thomas whetted their whistles here. Bar food is better-than-decent and cheap: burgers, fries, grilled cheese and the like. 

Ja' Grill
1510 E Harper Court
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 752 (JERK)
www.jagrill.com

The south side of Chicago will never be mistaken for balmy, "no problem, mon" Jamaica, but the scents, sounds and tastes at Hyde Park's Ja' Grill work some Caribbean magic on your soul. Expect hefty portions of authentically spiced jerk chicken, curry goat, ox tail stew and catfish, as well as fine renditions of Jamaican turnover (patties), cabbage and carrots, and nice options for vegetarians. Forget the craft beer and have a Red Stripe or anything mixed with Jamaican rum. The bar area is often pulsing with reggae dub, ska, hip-hop and dance hall rhythms of the island country.

Hot Spot: The Promontory
5311 S Lake Park Ave
Chicago, IL 60615
(312) 801-2100
promontorychicago.com

Don't worry about obstructed views at The Promontory, a music venue with three sections from which to choose: cabaret tables, general admission seats and a standing lounge. Before the show, visit the restaurant that offers very trendy and somewhat pricey options like ramp risotto, Korean short ribs, roasted cauliflower and s'more soufflé (it also serves lunch and brunch). The set-up is similar to Thalia Hall and Dusek's in Pilsen with an eatery on the first floor, music upstairs, and with good reason -- the venue is courtesy of the same group of people. The talent bookers offer a really diverse mix of music from  hip-hop and jazz to indie rock and world beats. 

Arts And Festivals: 57th Street Art Fair
57th Street and Kimbark Ave. 
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 234-3247
www.57thstreetartfair.org 

This town has more art fairs than one can shake a paint brush at, but the 57th Street Art Fair, the oldest juried art fair in the Midwest, is a grand dame attracting at least 100,000 browsers and buyers to the work of more than 250 artists. There are pop-up artist talks, artist demos, live music, food and drink vendors and crafty activities for kidlets. It's a great way to get to know the community. 

Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.


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