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Chicago’s sweet South Side – where real Chicago can still be found

Written By | Aug 5, 2019

Clouds over Chicago Skyline – Photo by Alex Powell from Pexels –

CHICAGO: Visitors might not know that Chicago’s origins lie in its three “Sides,” defined by its namesake river — the North Side, anchored by the John Hancock building and Streeterville; the West Side, known for the Garfield Park Conservatory and Bucktown; and the South Side, considered by many as authentic Chicago for its architecture, music and food.

Those looking to explore the South Side first should take in the Museum of Science and Industry.

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Photo: Knarfol at de.wikipedia,

Known for its five-story domed movie theater, learning labs, U-505 German submarine, and more than 35,000 artifacts, the museum is housed in one of the only remaining structures from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

As part of White City, the nickname for the fairgrounds, the structures were designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham in a neo-classical style.

Chicago’s architecture is defined by legends such as Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright, David Adler, and Louis Sullivan. One can take in any of the many Chicago architecture tours, including free ones on foot.

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The city’s three “sides” each provides uniquely Chicago experiences.

The North Side is anchored by the John Hancock and Streeterville, where the tony live. The West Side pushed out of the City along the banks of Lake Michigan, is where Chicago’s immigrants lived when they moved up and out of South Side.

When you reach Lake Michigan, turn right to head into the South Side of Chicago. Blacks, Jews, Poles, Greeks, Italians, and Mexicans have all made indelible marks on the South Side of the City with their food, music, and neighborhoods: Corner taverns, music, hot dogs and Chicago beef served in paper boats over a counter.

When planning your visit, head to the South Side to find authentic Chicago.

Located in the near South Side is the Chicago Museum of Science. It remains as one of the only structures left from the Columbian World Fair of 1893. The White City, as it was called, was built in the neo-classical style. Chicago Architectural legend Daniel Burnham designed it.

Understanding the beauty of Chicago means appreciating its architectural history. That history is full of names like Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright, David Adler, and Louis Sullivan. Frank Lloyd Wright worked under Louis Sullivan in the firm Adler and Sullivan. You can research on your own or take one of the many Chicago architectural tours, including free tours by foot.

New York may be considered the City of skyscrapers, but the first “skyscraper” building is the 11-story Rookery building, on the South Side of Chicago’s Loop. (The Loop gets its name from the elevated train, or “L” that loops around the business district.) The Rookery Building is the work of architects Burnham and Root. It was finished in 1888. In 1905, Frank Lloyd Wright redesigned the two-story sky-lit lobby.

Today this historic building is LEED Gold Certified as part of the Retrofit Chicago, showing that Chicago, not New York City, is at the forefront of sustainability in city buildings.

While you are on the Loop’s South Side, plan for lunch or dinner at The Berghoff Restaurant at 17 West Adams Street (312.427.3170). A Chicago institution, Berghoff’s has been feeding Chicago’s business class and workers since 1898.

The restaurant boasts four kitchens, meaning that nearly everything on the menu, from bread and strudels to class German dishes, are made in house. When you get there, you need to decide whether you wish to eat in the fine dining restaurant (reservations recommended), the historic bar, or the café.

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Chicagoans on a budget head downstairs for the café. The food is just as good as it is upstairs while being value-priced.

Visit the historic Berghoff Bar, the first bar in the City to get its liquor license following prohibition. They brew Adams Street beer, but a favorite has long been the Berghoff Root Beer.

Chicago Home to the Urban Blues revolution

During the Great Migration of the early 20th century, Chicago was a destination for thousands of African-Americans escaping the Jim Crow laws of the South. As they moved into the Maxwell Street area, one of Chicago’s oldest neighborhoods, they brought Mississippi Delta Blues with them. Once in the “city,” the music evolved into what is known as Urban Blues. And the music of Maxwell Street inspired the British Blues Band invasion.

Chicago Blues is unique as it brought in amplified sounds of electric guitar, harmonica, power drummers and electric bass players. The earliest bands played at Chicago’s famous Maxwell Street Market, one of Chicago’s oldest residential area, it is known as the birthplace of Chicago Blues. This former Chicago resident considers it the only place to find an authentic Maxwell Street Polish dog.

Unlike the Mississippi Blues, Urban Blues is not about life on the farm, but life in the City. Chicago’s blues is known for inspiring groups like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and Rory Gallagher. Each of these bands displays the influence of  Chicago blues musicians like Big Bill Broonzy, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf.

With the onslaught of musicians and music came record companies like Ora Nelle Records, Delmark and Chess Records. Alligator Records, formed in 1971 by Bruce Iglauer, remains one of the premier blues labels to this day.

The Rolling Stones homage to Chess Records and their South Side location led to the instrumental, 2120 South Michigan Avenue.

Take a moment to tour blues history at the Chess Studios location, now Willie Dixon’s Blue Heaven Foundation, where tours are held daily.

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Chicago’s blues history can be found at the historic Whitehall Hotel played host to the Stones during their 1981 North American Tour, making this a must-stop for fans of the world’s greatest rock and roll band.

The package includes two tickets to a photography exhibit celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ first recording session at Chicago’s iconic Chess Records studios. The exhibition is at Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation.

Other takeaways include a copy of the “Crossfire Hurricane” DVD. This is renowned filmmaker Brett Morgen’s 2012 documentary that chronicles the history of the band from their London debut in 1962 to 1981, when they achieved status as the world’s greatest rock and roll band.

Bring a bit of your personal Stone’s history and receive a signature cocktail, like the Jumpin’ Jack Splash (Jack Daniels & Ginger Ale) or the Thyme is on My Side (Absolut vodka, Thyme infused simple syrup, lemon juice).

Hilton Hotels has opened a hybrid of their Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites brands. Located in Chicago’s Downtown South Loop, the property opened this late spring. Unique to the Homewood Suites are full kitchens in every room. Additionally, the property has an indoor-outdoor patio terrace with lounge seating. Views of Lake Michigan and Grant Park, where you will find the famous Buckingham Fountain, are available.

These newly refurbished and new hotels are part of the redevelopment of the South Loop district that includes residential, retail and new commercial developments.

Greek Town

The South Side was a gateway neighborhood for most early 20th Century immigrants. When Greeks came through the South Side, they eventually created Greektown, still a favorite place to find authentic Greek Tavernas, restaurants and, oh! the pastry shops along South Halsted Street.

While the Greek Islands is most likely the most popular of the Greek restaurants, try some of the smaller, family-operated restaurants. Athena Grill is the place to enjoy a Chicago summer evening and classic dishes including Souvlaki, Gyros, and lamb. If seafood is the goal, Santorini’s muse is the island of Santorini and boasts the freshest of seafood in the City.

While not a fish from the Mediterranean, call ahead to Santorini’s and ask if they have Canadian walleye pike. Mild but flavorful walleye, along with the Lake Superior whitefish, is the best cold-water fish you can find. Furthermore, walleye is hard to find outside the Northern Midwest. Traditional Greek dishes at Santorini’s include meat Dolmades and vegetarian Moussaka. You can also find Lamb Kapama. This is made the original way: braised with cinnamon and served with macaroni with red sauce and grated cheese.

Chicago Trivia

What direction does the Chicago River flow?

On the surface the river flows East to West, taking water from Lake Michigan and moving it toward, eventually, the Mississippi River. This feat of engineering was designed to stop the flow of sewage into Lake Michigan.

However, the river also flows West to East simultaneously.

In 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign created a simulation of the Chicago River. They proved that at the surface, the river flows east to west, away from Lake Michigan, as expected. However, deep below, near the riverbed, water seasonally travels west to east, toward the lake.

Why do they call Chicago the Windy City?

It would be an easy guess to say the winds off Lake Michigan, which are particularly brisk during the winter. The moniker Windy City refers to the hot air of the orators in Chicago’s Bug House Square. Bughouse Square has long been a place for boisterous free-speech, and it still is.

The first televised U.S. presidential candidates’ debate was broadcast from Chicago’s CBS Studios on September 26, 1960, between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon.

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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.