South Loop

The South Loop is not an easy neighborhood to encapsulate. “It’s not very cohesive yet,” admits Ryan of Sloopin, a blog dedicated to the going-ons in the swathe of land that bleeds into the touristy gleam of Grant Park to its north, the buzz of McCormick Place on its east, and the storied history of Motor Row on its southern reaches.

2012 should have been a time of celebration for the community. The city expected the sprawling McCormick Place complex to host the world’s luminaries for a double-header of G8 and NATO conferences in May. March saw basketball’s latest phenomenon Anthony Davis—the 19-year-old who grew up in the South Loop—lead his University of Kentucky team to national March Madness glory and then win an Olympic gold medal with Team USA. Mayor Emanuel announced a new Cermak CTA stop on the Green Line, driving hopes that an area currently filled with empty lots could experience a regeneration. In the afterglow of these flashes of excitement, new eateries, community spaces, and businesses opened in the neighborhood at an unprecedented rate.

However, this justified optimism is not readily apparent on the streets of the South Loop. Just two blocks away from the lauded new restaurant Acadia, a new office building lies empty, its rain-streaked and dirty glass windows promising retail space for lease. Lunch hour each weekday sees only the rare office worker making the trip down from the Loop, and the foot traffic is often sparse along the South Loop’s main streets. The financial bonanza from the two conferences also failed to materialize, with the G8 summit relocating to Camp David and the NATO summit likely only to be remembered in the neighborhood for crippling street protests.

It’s a neighborhood on the up—incrementally so, but it will take more than external intervention and active storefronts to reintroduce vitality to the neighborhood’s quietest areas. The emotional investment in the fate of their neighborhood is palpable among business owners like the husband and wife team running Overflow Coffee, organizations like Greater South Loop, and the lively comment threads on Sloopin. With residents like these, it won’t be too long till the South Loop recaptures its former glories.

Best Hyper Local News Source
In this time of often bewildering change in the South Loop, it can often be difficult to keep tabs on whether that new restaurant has managed to outlast its teething problems, where exactly that new gastropub joint is located, or what’s going on with the moving trucks at that street corner. Sloopin fills that gap with its coverage of businesses coming and going and is an invaluable resource for both residents and visitors to the area. It’s more akin to a modern town hall than a bulletin board, though, which is especially useful given the great diversity found within the South Loop’s limits. On its message boards and comment threads, heated debates range from the consequences of a new ‘L’ stop to whether a new pizza joint deserves its hype. (Patrick Leow)

Best Start to a Morning After the Night Before
With its orange tinted walls and bright naked lamps, Waffles is not for the bleary eyes of partygoers looking to fill their stomachs in the early hours of Sunday morning. What it lacks in eye-appeasing color is however made up by some of the best breakfasts on the South Side. Waffles serves up two kinds of Belgian waffles—Brussels and Liege, the latter being sweeter and promising to melt on your tongue in an explosion of sugary bliss—paired with the standouts that are decadent crispy pork shoulder and Albondigas, where puréed tomatoes are slathered over a mixture of lamb and meatballs. Those with a sweet tooth should opt for the sinful but rewarding Mexican chocolate, and vegetarians aren’t forgotten with options ranging from green tea to banana, both of which will provide a light yet satisfying start to your day. 1400 S. Michigan Ave. Monday – Friday, 8am-2pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-3pm. 312-854-8572. (Patrick Leow)

Best Trip Back in Time
Clarke House Museum
In 1836, lured from Utica, New York by the prospect of great riches in the frontier town of Chicago, a merchant named Henry B. Clarke decided to set down his monumental family south of the Chicago River. Still standing today, the Clarke House is considered Chicago’s oldest structure. Inside, one is introduced to slightly stuffy trappings of family life: brightly colored tea sets, ornate armoires, and intricately carved rocking chairs. Yet, it is the outside that really steals the show, with its impeccably maintained Doric columns and imposing steps leading to the entrance. By the end of the 1800s, it would come to be overshadowed by the huge mansions of Prairie Avenue as the area enjoyed an unprecedented era of wealth, housing Pullmans and Armours, Potters and Fields. While those mansions are long gone, Clarke House stands proud beside sleek modern towers. 1827 S. Indiana Ave. Tours on Wednesday-Sunday, 12pm and 2pm. (312) 326-1480. (Patrick Leow)

Best Socially Minded Cup of Coffee
Overflow Coffee Bar
Overflow Coffee Bar occupies the bottom floor of a building that also houses the Loop Christian Ministries and the Daystar School. Inside, with the quiet thrum of diligently working Columbia College students hovering over a softly piped Belle and Sebastian album, Overflow comes across as a thoroughly undistinguished coffee shop. In the midst of this peaceful idyll, though, lies a driving social purpose. Between  its weekly open mics for writers and artists in the neighborhood, movie screenings, and t-shirt sales, the little shop advances the twin goals of tackling global inequity and building an attachment to the community among South Loop residents. Of course, they take their coffee as seriously as their activism. With ingredients including coconut milk, hazelnut, mocha and the crucial cayenne pepper, The Overflow is a cup of coffee that tastes like no other. 1550 S. State St. Monday-Friday, 7am-9pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-6pm. (312) 772-2356. (Patrick Leow)

September 27, 2012 By Chicago Weekly Staff

Best of the South Side 2012

Ethan Tate