Thursday, September 8, 2005

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Take that, Lincoln Park!!

Residents of Hyde Park are keenly aware that although our neighborhood possesses many fine qualities -- ample bookstores, nice housing, diversity of residents -- one quality it does not possess is a surfeit of great restaurants.* For that, you have to go up to the downtown, the West Loop, or the North side.

In today's Chicago Tribune, restaurant critic Phil Vettel says this may be changing:

Where is Chicago's next hot restaurant zone? We've already seen the Miracle on Randolph Street, West Division's dining surge, the South Loop's gradual buildup. What's next?

Would you believe ... Hyde Park?

Don't scoff. Or, go ahead and scoff. No one saw Randolph Street coming either.

But Hyde Park, a largely well-to-do neighborhood (bounded by 44th Street, 60th Street, Cottage Grove Avenue and the lake) that for years has been underserved by the restaurant community, is poised to become, within a year or three, a legitimate dining destination.

"I love that area," says restaurateur Jerry Kleiner. "There are 50,000 people here [44,700, according to the neighborhood's Web site], you've got the university and the hospital, and the city has been fixing up Lake Shore Drive. I thought this would be a good opportunity."

And so in spring 2006, Kleiner is opening a 160-seat, 4,000-square-foot restaurant in the heart of Hyde Park.

What has the dining community giddy with anticipation is the fact that Kleiner is regarded as something of a culinary pied piper. Where he goes, other restaurateurs quickly follow.

More to the point, Kleiner has a track record of launching successful restaurants in neighborhoods others regard as "iffy."

Read the whole article, if you care about such things. I've heard this kind of talk about Hyde Park many times since I've been here, but Kleiner's track record makes me more optimistic than usual. Look out, Lincoln Park -- in, say 20 years, we will have closed the restaurant gap!

Of course, this section of Vettel's piece brings me back to reality. It quotes Mary Mastricola, the owner of La Petite Folie, the one high-end restaurant in the area:

"The one shocker was not being able to find kitchen employees," she says. "You can get students to work in the dining room, but we ran ads looking for kitchen workers and we had kids responding who wanted $2 an hour extra because we're south. They'd rather work in higher-visibility places."

Left unspoken in the piece is why Mastricola doesn't just hire neighborhood residents beyond the student population.

And don't get me started on the supermarket situation around here.....

*Yes, devotees of Dixie Kitchen, or Medici, or Pizza Capri, there are some lovely places to eat around here. But a neighborhood of this size needs more than just a handful of good eateries.

posted by Dan on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM


Let me, for one, sing the praises of Hyde Park's many low-end dining options. Meravillas, Ribs 'n' Bibs, Harold's, Hyde Park Gyros, Morries, The Pub (especially on Monday night), Wok 'n Roll, Noodles, and Nathan's. All greasey, all at theyir most delicious when enjoyed deep in the Regenstein stacks after long-awaited delivery...

By the way, has Ribs 'n' Bibs reopenned yet after the horrific fire?

And what about the Checkerboard lounge? I was promised Spring of '05! Now I've graduated and it's too late. (Frown)

posted by: Aaron on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

Hyde Park eating is awful. During my graduate work at the U of C, I literally packed every meal. (I lived in Lincoln Park and spent too much money at Whole Foods.) The few good-tasting restaurants in the area are a bit too artery-clogging for my preferences!

posted by: Kate on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

I grew up in Hyde Park back before it was a well-to-do neighborhood. Back then, people thought it was the next neighborhood to go slum as a result of whites running for the 'burbs. White flight - those cowardly d*cks who are true soul of modern day 'conservatism'.. Back then you could get a mansion with an elevator for 40K.

Anyway, the restaurants were stomped by the same social forces that stomped the blues clubs and bars. Hyde Park just died as far as social life in the 50's because the University leveled 55th and turned it into a grey cement radiator of soulless 'modernist' housing. Before that Hyde Park was lively, to say the least.

I've often wondered how such anti-social and profoundly socially disconnected ('conservative') theorists could have come out of the University of Chicago. I think part of the reason is that the blinders those dudes put on to live there infected their social and economic reasoning.

posted by: camille roy on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

For the life of me I do not understand how people can live in Hyde Park. The restaurant scene is disgraceful. So is the grocery situation, as Dan points out. And where are the little cafes and coffee shops that any normal (college) neighborhood has?

La petite folie, by the way, is not that good, overprized, and hyped by UC people - probably because they're embarrassed about their campus.

As for Camille Roy's final paragraph point: he or she should reflect on that a bit more. Perhaps it has been precisely the Hyde Park experience, in a time when things were much worse, that made them wonder how this could have happened. I'll give you a hint: they concluded that the misery had not been the result of a *lack* of social engineering or a *lack* of government 'help' and university 'care'.

posted by: KJ on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

What, are you saying that Morry's Deli is not fine cuisine?

- transplanted chicagoan now living in the south.

posted by: Steve on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

VALOIS! Best chicken pot-pie ever...

Anyway, if I recall correctly, the biggest stumbling block to Hyde Park's development has been zoning restrictions. I think Jacob Levy actually posted on that a while back.

posted by: Independent George on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

No Dan...No no no no. Don't compare to Licoln Park. Part of Hyde Park's mystique, and part of the U of C expereince (at least for undergrads and hopeless romantics) is suffering on "wrong" side of town, without adequate consumer choices and a dearth of drinking establishments. I just saw Red Eye highlight Hyde Park last week and now I picture Trixies coming down to realize that, Oh my god, like my Jetta actually works south of the loop.

It's romanticism you fool....well at least that's the romantic, born-to-suffer, historic-facade-hugging, lunatic side of me speaking.

On my other side, I'm sure most restaurants (and other businesses too) would love an influx of customers brought about by recent growth and a new status as a restaurant destination.

I don't quite understand the grocery thing, but maybe I'm just too low class to understand. I've always found that between the produce mart and the co-op, the options are tolerable at least. No it's not whole foods or treasure island, but they have some decent stuff. In fact the HP Produce Mart is as good as most in the city.

As for the Checkboard question, as i live near the propsed site, I can say that I received in the mail a notice of their application for a "place of amusement" license. Checkerboard is a little closer now.

posted by: md on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

So let me see if I understand this correctly. Hyde Park is part of Chicago. Chicago has probably the most powerful and centralized large-city government in the US, with everything important budgeted by the City Council and reporting to the Mayor's office. It also has one of the largest city goverments, with many services normally provided privately done by city workers instead. In addition, it's probably just about the most intrusive large-city governments, with small zoning and licensing issues essentially always requiring mayoral or aldermanic intervention.

Additionally, Hyde Park has the University of Chicago, which has historically shown no aversion to acting as feudal lord over Hyde Park matters. This is not without compensation. Due to University Security, Hyde Park has a higher density of armed peace officers than just about anywhere, outside of certain military bases.

And the presence of free-market thought at the UofC is because Hyde Park is lacking the blessings that governance can provide.

posted by: dave on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

As for the zoning/development comment above. You could make the argument that zoning has prevented more development in Hyde Park, but that's a problem city wide and nation wide. And if you look at the zoning code and map...there is actually quite a bit of density built into the area. Moreso than in more "hip" or "well-served" areas. Also, you cannot rule out the force of the Unisversity itself. Finally, restaurants generally require a "B" or "C" zoning designation, and I have to ask where exactly would these zones be located in Hyde Park Proper? (woodlawn and Kenwood have greater room for these changes)

On a side note, I am a little disappointed that 63rd st was given over to purely residential use. But that's the market at work I guess. Developers had a B zoning, but really didn't see the need to increase retail commercial space there, hence, it's become a weird suburban stretch in some places. So it goes.

Oh and one other thing we could use...a Target store. Sure it's in the south loop now, but we need one between 63 and 79th or so. Anyone who's got a lead on a few acres of land 'round there, email me and I'll make it happen.

posted by: md on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

Well there could have been a Wal-Mart a little further south had not the local power brokers felt their rings weren't sufficiently kissed.

The area between Hyde Park and South Loop is undergoing and will continue to undergo significant infill development and repopulation, tied in with the growth around the ball park. This will cause a change in the neighborhood, both economically and demographically. Look to 47th street to become a big commercial center. (although I agree with md that 63rd is/was a natural for that). All this development will have the effect of better tying HydePark into downtown. I also think this area has the chance of becoming a truly integrated area, though this may upset the current political arrangements.

I'm not as enthusiastic on the upscale restaurant situation, though.

PS - Camille, it seems that to you every racist social ill is due to evil conservatives, but I'd be willing to bet that many of the people who left Hyde Park (and resettled on the North Shore) were self-identifying liberals.

posted by: ElamBend on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

There's excellent Thai food in Hyde park - I forget if it's Siam or Thai 55 that's the best - one of them has spicy baby clams to die for and a really tasty hoi tod.

posted by: rilkefan on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

First of all, Hyde Park exists between the Lake on the East, Cottage Grove on the West, 51st St on the North and 61st on the South. All the rest is part of your racist imagination. Real Estate agents are the bane of the world and if interest rates were not so low I still do not think people would be moving South regardless of the lake front.

The restaurant scene is doubtless a reflection of the lack of taste imbedded in all the great brains of the U of C whom have always made sure to drain the color out of the neighborhood. Now that college students, being a continuance of a class rightly called the "nomenklature"('k' is intentional), have an income higher than the middle middle class or at least a credit rating that high, want decent food and Cosmo's(with college students you never lack for sex, good sex yes, sex no) are bitching restaurants are a concern. Do they not know anything about economics or is it simply true that credit rating is only good for Starbucks?

You want food and entertainment you have to have a district that can provide "foodies" and starving artists to work it. College students are to busy to do it and the nouveau residents are not in mass enough to support an entertainment neighborhood.

posted by: Robert M on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

I'm new on the Board of Directors for the Co-op Grocery Store in Hyde Park. There's a tremendous amount of work to do to make it once again a store the community can be proud of-- and if it weren't for the politics of the situation, I'd use much stronger language to convey how much I agree with Dan Drezner and everyone I know here.

posted by: James Withrow on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]


I personally recognize the same Hyde Park borders that you do. But I don't understand how a different sense of HP geography " part of your racist imagination..."

posted by: md on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

Could Withrow or someone else in the know provide insight into why the Co-op is so mediocre? Does it have to do with the fact that it is not-for-profit?

posted by: Jake Felson on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

I second Jake Felson's remark.

Further: is the mediocre co-op actually preventing a good store from coming in (perhaps because zoning laws do not allow another supermarket to be built where one already exists)?

posted by: KJ on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

Despite the upscale incomes in Hyde Park, restaurants have avoided it because of parking, crime, and endless battles about liquor licenses.
Jimmy's had to get priests from the local church to testify at the renewal of it's liquor license! It wouldn't hurt to have a decent movie theater to bring people south. I stopped going to the Hyde Park theater over 20 years ago-movies are not supposed to be interactive.

The co-op isn't terrible, it just isn't very good, so a lot of Hyde Parkers stop at Dominicks or WHole Foods, or whatever.

posted by: Andrew on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

To answer Jake, I don't want to go into a lot of details about what's gone wrong because I'm new to the board and just getting all the info I need has been difficult. This is a political situation which requires some tact. My first priority has been trying to help the board become more effective at oversight.

Co-op status, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the gravity of its performance problems, although it has affected the type of problems, perhaps. The Seminary Co-op Bookstore in HP, for instance, is the best for academic titles that I've ever seen anywhere. The Wheatsville Co-op in Austin TX is great at what it does-- and that's in the shadow of what might be the best grocery store in the world (the original Central Market). While the Co-op has, in practice, not been a profitable venture for some time, it's actually untrue that it's a not-for-profit operation in a legal sense. It's important to note that the boards of corporations are also often ineffective at oversight.

To answer KJ, I guess you can make the argument that the Co-op is taking up space that another grocery store could occupy. I would counter, though, that a well-run Co-op would be better than the alternatives. For all its problems, the Co-op's selection of dry goods is more attuned to the neighborhood than a mainstream grocery store is likely to be. While a Whole Foods level of cleanliness and service might seem attractive, the product mix and prices aren't going to be right for everyone.

I don't understand KJ's point about the zoning laws, unless s/he's suggesting a Houston-style absence of regulation in this area.

I'll be pushing for the subcommittees of the Board to be more open to member involvement. Anyone interested can e-mail me.

posted by: James Withrow on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]


I believe you are thinking of Deed Restrictions and not zoning laws. Deed Restrictions are an encumberance on the land or specific parcel itself and have nothing to with Zoning per se. The main difference is that zoning laws are enacted and applied by public bodies, whereas Deed Restriction are placed on the land by the owner and applies only to his or her land .

An example which is becoming somewhat nortorious around chicago is the Jewel case (or Dominicks, I forget) wherein the land/building cannot be reused for another Grocery store if Jewel decides to close. But this is the result of the landowner making concessions to a tenant or potential buyer as opposed to the City saying, you can only have one grocery store per X amount of area.

A somewhat similar example would be a typical Subway (the sandwich shop) lease wherein the lease stipulates that as long as Subway is a tenant in the building, there shall not be another sandwich shop, or another "healthy' eating option as tenant.

It could very well be that the Co-op induced the owner to record such a deed restriction on the property or place a non-compete clause in the lease but I wouldn't know that off hand. Mr Withrow may be able to tell us one way or the other.

posted by: md on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

tThe reason redefining what Hyde Parks boundaries are is racist is that it expands Hyde Park into neighborhoods that were once predominately African-American and makes them safe by redefining what the neighborhoods actually were. It is very similiar to the policy of the Union of South Africa under apartheid. Lots of little cities which were old rural Black African cities had its inhabitants sent to Bantustans. This allowed the Apartheid government to establish "White" only areas for the purpose of social control. The Nazi's called it Lebensraum. U of C has just always been more subtle they use class. real estate agents concur.

posted by: Robert M on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

I graduated from the college in 1995. While I was there, I'd say that the restaurant scene was not too bad. There were terrific Thai places on 55th Street, especially Siam and Snail. La Briche Bakery (now closed, I believe) had wonderful French pastries, strong coffee, and plenty of newspapers to read on a Sunday morning. But yes, the grocery store situation is inexcusable. When poorer neighborhoods are demanding that Jewel and Dominick's open a store in their neighborhoods, Hyde Park politics actively keeps them out.

posted by: KXB on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

Re: MD's comment about deed restrictions-- Most property leasing agreements contain an array of restrictions. The Co-op recently closed its 47th St location and the entity we lease from is grocery wholesaler who is unlikely to lease to a retailer who would compete with retailers. That's their decision and it's understandable. Besides which, no grocer has stepped forward, as far as I know, to express serious interest in that space and for good reason.

The KXB comment would be more useful if KXB actually provided some examples of the accusation that HP politics is keeping another grocery store out of HP or any other neighborhood.

posted by: James Withrow on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

From the Hyde Park Herald, 12/29/04

“In Just 12 months, Hyde Park gained three coffee houses, a relocate fast food restaurant, an art gallery and a blues club. But the encouraging news is overshadowed by the annoucement that one of the area's larges t grocery stores will close by the end of January.
Co-op Markets announced plans in October to close its five-year-old store at 1300 E. 47th St. due to an overwhelming $10 million financial drain. The chain has been mired in debt and losses since opening the store in 1999 and has been a drag on Co-op's other two Hyde Park stores on 53rd and 55th Streets. In the two months before the annoucement was made, the store had lost nearly $300,000. "It's sad. These are economically hostile times," said Co-op Board President Claudia Fegan. “
So the economic environment is promising for six businesses to set up shop in Hyde Park, but a well-established supermarket with a fairly captive consumer population of students and working class shoppers and no competition cannot make money?

More Co-op news can be found at:

One interesting bit, dated April 4, 2005
“The board also approved a resolution to no longer publish an account of th monthly baord meetings in the Evergreen until approved the following month. The board also voted to eliminate publishing customer complaints in the Evergreen.”

posted by: KXB on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

KXB, 12pm, Sept12: "When poorer neighborhoods are demanding that Jewel and Dominick's open a store in their neighborhoods, Hyde Park politics actively keeps them out."

I don't see where the comment at Sept 12, 10:17, explains the earlier accusation. How is politics keeping Jewel and Dominick's out of our neighborhood?

And the "interesting bit", I'd like to mention, happened before I came onto the board. I'm working to revisit those decisions carefully.

posted by: James Withrow on 09.08.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

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