Hyde Park is one of Chicago's most famous neighborhoods, most certainly so on the South Side, located along the south lakefront. Having played host to the White City, the University of Chicago, President Obama, the setting for Richard Wright's Native Son, and a host of eccentric residents from Saul Bellow to Clarence Darrow to Muhammad Ali, this part of town has more than its fair share of Chicago history.
There is more than enough for a visitor to see here, and devoting a full day to exploring Hyde Park can make for a fine itinerary. Architecture buffs will have their hands occupied by the many Victorian mansions and Prairie School houses; anyone with an intellectual bent should be delighted by Hyde Park's independent bookstores, overawed by the University of Chicago's terrifying intensity, and intrigued by the Oriental Institute; and just about everyone will enjoy a trip to the stimulating Museum of Science and Industry or taking a stroll and a swim along the Point and the beach.
The White City
Aside from Rockefeller's decision to locate the university here, the neighborhood's biggest event was without a doubt The Chicago World's Fair in 1893, celebrating the 400 year anniversary of Columbus' first arrival in the New World. The event was designed largely by Frederick Law Olmstead and Daniel Burnham, and brought visitors (and exhibitions) from all over the world. The magnificently landscaped parks were all Olmstead's creation, which sparked a wave of "municipal beautification," to which Chicago owes the creation of many of its fantastic parks. Olmstead initially planned to dredge a canal along the Midway, topped by arched bridges, but costs and technical difficulties scrapped the plan (the plan was tried again in the 1920s, but was again canceled after the 1929 stock market crash).
Exhibitions were displayed in Washington Park, Jackson Park, and the Midway Plaisance. Attractions ranged from the world's first Ferris Wheel, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the "Street in Cairo," performances by Scott Joplin, Balinese gamelan, and the first East-West international gathering of religious leaders. But the the crowning glory was the White City, a collection of gleaming white neoclassical buildings in Jackson Park, watched over by the enormous golden Statue of the Republic.
The Columbian Exposition raised Chicago's international profile in spectacular fashion, and left it with some very well sculptured buildings and parks. Unfortunately, tragedy waited around the corner for the area. The fair provided the setting for one of the country's first serial killers, who lured victims to his "World Fair Hotel," where they met with grisly murders (Devil in the White City makes for a good read on a visit here). The fair also brought to Chicago a smallpox epidemic, and the city mayor was assassinated two days before the closing ceremony. Perhaps most cruelly, the White City burned down shortly after the fair ended, leaving only two landmarks — the still magnificent Museum of Science and Industry and the golden Statue of the Republic.
Kenwood developed into one of Chicago's most upscale suburbs after the Civil War, and its Kenwood Historic District between Cottage Grove & Blackstone and 47th & 51st is a treasure trove of mansions representing virtually all the fashionable architectural styles of the late 19th century (including an excellent collection of early houses by Frank Lloyd Wright). The mansion owners are of interest too — their ranks currently include Nation of Islam leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Obama family, and the city's oldest Jewish community. Former residents range from the infamous Leopold and Loeb, Muhammad Ali, the fictional Dalton family from Native Son, and the founder of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad.
The central Hyde Park neighborhood is the biggest draw, dominated by the rather awesome presence of the University of Chicago. During the 1950s, desegregation fueled extensive "white flight" from this area, transforming the racial make up of nearly the entire South Side from all white to all black. Here, however, the University of Chicago leveraged its financial power, political clout, and social engineering brainpower to muscle through the city's first "urban renewal" project. This project, unflatteringly referred to by many neighborhood residents as "urban removal," used eminent domain powers to demolish urban housing developments, to remove nightclubs and bars, and to make the neighborhood more suburban in character (and to decimate the commercial strip on 55th St west of the railroad).
The project was paternalist, classist, and evicted many if not the majority of the neighborhood's low-income residents, but the end result of the University-driven "renewal" project is that Hyde Park is to this day one of the nation's most durable mixed-income, mixed-race neighborhoods, and is home to one of the only significant white communities for miles on the South Side. Hyde Park maintains its unique characteristics in its unique isolation from the rest of the city: no convenient L service, giant Washington Park to the west, frigid-in-the-winter Midway Plaisance to the south, and persistent redevelopment projects pushing to the north through Kenwood and to the south through Woodlawn.
Today, Hyde Park is full of amazing bookstores, leafy streets, the siren song of cheap greasy food, great museums, and more Nobel Prizes per square kilometer than any other neighborhood on Earth.
Woodlawn, to the south of the Midway, south of the University, is characterized by urban blight. With high levels of violent crime (especially by the 63rd St Green Line stops), blocks worth of vacant lots, and lacking in commercial activity, Woodlawn is well off the beaten tourist path. But Jackson Park (as well as the areas of Woodlawn close to the park) is perfectly safe, and a beautiful place for a walk. 63rd St still has a few remaining businesses from its salad days, but is not a great place to hang out after dark.
You can get to Hyde Park by taking several CTA buses from downtown Chicago. Routes #6 (Hyde Park Express) and #4 (Cottage Grove) are common choices. The 55/Garfield bus is a very cheap and efficient way to travel between Midway Airport and Hyde Park. It passes by the University of Chicago and terminates at the Museum of Science and Industry. To get from place to place within the area, CTA offers several useful neighborhood routes between the University and other points in the district, the #171 between the University and the Museum of Science and Industry being the most useful.
The Metra Main Electric Line is the most efficient public transport between the Loop and Hyde Park. It is a quick, comfortable 15-20 minute ride and costs just over $2 for a one way trip. Be sure to check the train schedules  ahead of time, however, because it runs infrequently during off-peak times. Key stops are at Kenwood/47th St, Hyde Park 53rd St, 55th-56th-57th St, and Univ. of Chicago/59th St.
Alternatively, the CTA Red Line and Green Line link the Loop with Garfield Avenue in Washington Park. Although more convenient — they run more frequently, and operate 24 hours a day — the two stops are too far from Hyde Park to walk and located in rough neighborthoods. But the very frequent 55/Garfield bus will take you straight from either of them to anywhere along 55th St.
Coming south on Lake Shore Drive, it is most convenient to take the southbound exit at 51st St/Hyde Park Blvd for a drive, or the 57th St exit for the Museum of Science and Industry and the University. Coming from the southeast on the Chicago Skyway, get off early at the Stony Island Ave exit and follow it north. From the Dan Ryan Expressway, you'll definitely want to take the 55th St/Garfield Blvd east exit, which will take you into the heart of Hyde Park through Washington Park.
A car is not a bad way to see the Hyde Park, especially if you plan to cover a lot of territory. Free on-street parking is generally easy to find. The most difficult area to park is without question the area around the University of Chicago, where the street parking during the day is limited and policed with an iron fist by the University Police. Even in this area, however, it is usually possible (if a bit frustrating) to find metered parking, or to just pay at one of the big university or hospital lots. Try looking on the Midway, or on a less safe street to the south of the university. It can also be difficult to find free parking right by the Museum of Science and Industry during tourist season, but there is always room in the museum's pay lots.
Hyde Park is a fairly easy 7-mile ride from the Loop using the Chicago Lakefront Path. You may cross under Lake Shore Dr at either the 51st St pedestrian bridge or the 55th or 57th St underpasses. The 57th St underpass will take you to the Museum of Science and Industry, of which the main body of the University of Chicago campus is 3 blocks west.
Hyde Park is quite accommodating to cyclists; many students and faculty at the University ride around the neighborhood, making bikes fairly visible entity.
The University of Chicago's gothic campus seen from Midway Plaisance Park
Kenwood Historic District
These impressive structures are all privately owned and unfortunately closed to the public. The only exception is the Nation of Islam mosque, but you should be sensitive to the fact it is a place of worship and is not accustomed to tourists.
4944 S Woodlawn, 4944 S Woodlawn Ave. A gargantuan 8,000 square foot Tudor revival mansion once owned by Muhammad Ali.
Drexel Fountain, at Hyde Park Blvd & Drexel Ave. This ornate fountain that stands in the tiny Drexel Square Park is the oldest in Chicago — one of the first monuments erected in the Chicago area. Commissioned by a wealthy stockbroker by the name of Francis Drexel, who managed to get the avenue, square, and fountain all named after himself without ever setting foot in Chicago.
Elijah Muhammad House (The National House), 4855 S Woodlawn Ave. Built by Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, it now serves as a 'National' House for the Nation of Islam. Designed by an Egyptian Architect,Dr. Mostafa Momen of Momen Architects & Consulting Engineers, it shares the same features of the four houses he designed for Elijah Muhammad's family located to the north, directly across the street.
Isidore Heller House, 5132 S Woodlawn. One of Frank Lloyd Wright's earliest distinctive buildings (1897), often credited as the turning point in his early career when he shifted towards the Prairie School.
KAMII (KAM Isaiah Israel), 5039 S Greenwood Ave, ☎ +1 773 924-1234, . It looks like a Byzantine style mosque, but that minaret is actually a smokestack for this synagogue. The building was built in 1924 for the reform Isaiah Israel congregation, which later merged with Chicago's oldest Jewish congregation, Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv (KAM), which in turn moved out of its massive temple on Drexel Avenue. The interior is marvelously elaborate, if you manage to get inside — being as it is across the street from the Obama house, you are unlikely to even set foot on the block.
Masjid Al-Faatir, 1200 E 47th St (Corner of 47th & Woodlawn), ☎ 773.336.7400, . Masjid Al-Faatir is the largest of Chicago's Mosques. Founded by Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali and his manager Jabir Herbert Muhammad (son of Elijah Muhammad) in 1987. It was later renovated with the help of the Late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahayan.
McGill Mansion, 4938 S Drexel Ave. Easily mistaken for a French Castle, this mansion was built in 1893 for the Scottish McGill family, which founded the famous Montreal University of the same name. The mansion was converted into 34 condos in 2000.
Operation Push HQ, 930 E 50th St, ☎ +1 773 373-3366, . The enormous classical revival building at 50th & Drexel is the national headquarters of the Reverend Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH organization. The building's facade might lead you to expect a Lincoln-sized statue of the reverend inside, but this was actually a Jewish synagogue founded in 1932 by the aforementioned KAM.
The Obama House, 5046 Greenwood Ave (right across the street from KAMII). This beautiful house is home to the family of current U.S. President Barack Obama. The vacant lot to the left was the source of minor controversy in Chicago, when it came out that the Obama family had purchased it at sub-market rates from friend and criminal real estate broker Tony Rezko. You'll notice, despite the much touted media characterizations of their house as a "Hyde Park white-porticoed mansion," it's not actually in Hyde Park, and while a nice big house, it's no mansion. Good luck getting on the 5000 block of Greenwood — it's still the family house, and the block is closed off even to pedestrians, and crawling with police and Secret Service. You should be able to get a look up from the 51st St sidewalk, but lingering around taking photographs might draw unwelcome attention from security.
University of Chicago
Main Campus, 5801 S Ellis Ave (Centered around the main quad between Ellis Ave and University Ave, 57th St and the Midway), ☎ +1 773 702-1234, . Tours: March–Nov: M-F 10:30AM,2:30PM; Dec–Feb M-F 10:30AM. One of the world's great universities, the University of Chicago's Gothic campus exudes academic rigor and intellectual intensity, known to students as "the place where fun comes to die." Its imposing gray buildings make it a must-see for architecture fans. Even if you are not a prospective student, you can take advantage of its free campus tours.
Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S Greenwood Ave, ☎ +1 773 702-0200, . Fall–Spring: T W F 10AM-4PM, Th 10AM-8PM, Sa-Su 11AM-5PM; summer: Tu-F 10AM-4PM, Sa-Su 11AM-5PM. The Smart museum is small, but has an excellent collection, thoughtfully exhibited.Free.
The Citadel of Science and Research
If practical, try to approach the University from the south or the Midway when visiting for the first time, so that you are confronted by the imposing stone walls of the main campus — it's an impressive sight.
Regenstein Library, 1100 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 702-8740, . If you are not a student and are not on a tour, you can't enter the gigantic collection of over 4.5 million volumes, but you can marvel at the exterior architecture. The building is one of the world's best examples of the Brutalist movement, which emphasized the structural materials (rough concrete in this case), as well as striking repetitions and irregularities of angular forms.
Massive Regenstein Library
Nuclear Energy Statue, 5700 S Ellis Ave. This Henry Moore statue marks the area where Enrico Fermi and his team of scientists successfully produced the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. Although possibly unintended, visitors often see a resemblance to a human skull or mushroom cloud.
Oriental Institute Museum, 1155 E 58th St, ☎ +1 773 702-9514, . T,Th-Sa 10AM-6PM, W 10AM-8:30PM, Su noon-6PM. The University of Chicago Oriental Institute has one of the best collections of ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern archeology in the world, which is moreover free, small, very well exhibited, and basically started by Indiana Jones. Some highlights include: much of the Assyrian "Fortress of Sargon," a colossal statue of King Tutankhamun, and the Mummy and Coffin of Meresamun. Visitors with a strong interest may want to devote several hours to pore over the dense exhibits, but the small museum can be quickly "skimmed" in 15 minutes.Free, suggested donation $5 adult, $2 child.
The Renaissance Society, 5811 S Ellis Ave, Cobb Hall 418, ☎ +1 773 702-8670, . T-F 10AM-5PM, Sa-Su noon-5PM. A small gallery of avant-garde painting, which will appeal greatly to aficionados, less so to casual visitors. Closed July–Aug.Free.
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S Woodlawn Ave, ☎ +1 773 702-2100, . 8AM-4PM, tours of the carillon: M-F 11:30AM and 5:30PM. Irregular hours for tours during summer.. This giant Gothic church is named for the University founder, John D. Rockefeller, who intended it to be the "central and dominant feature" of the University. It may not be that, but it is impressive, with a huge organ and the second largest carillon in the world.Free.
Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC), 5020 S Cornell Ave, ☎ +1 773 324-5520, . M-Th 9AM-8PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. The oldest alternative art venue in the city is dedicated to the visual arts, usually has several contemporary exhibits running at any given time, and frequent events like artist talks, poetry readings, and music performances.
Jackson Park, 6401 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 773 256-0903. 7AM-11PM daily. Named for President Andrew Jackson and the site of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. The most prominent monument remaining from the event is the fully gilded "Statue of the Republic." Other sites include the Osaka Garden on the Wooded Island, a series of lagoons designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and several well-hidden bird watching trails along the water.
Osaka Garden (Japanese Garden), (On the northeast side of Jackson Park's Wooded Island). Sunrise-sunset, daily. The Osaka Garden grew out of the Pavilion for the Japanese Government at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and was planned by Olmsted as well. During WWII, the gardens suffered from repeated anti-Japanese vandalism and arson, culminating in the site's abandonment to those unsavory types who inhabit abandoned urban parkland. Chicago's sister city, Osaka (which is Japan's second city, after all), donated the money in the 1980s to restore the gardens, prompting a name change from the Japanese Garden to the Osaka Garden. Today, the gardens are one of Chicago's finest secret places and a wonderful escape from harrowing tourist adventures.Free.
Midway Park, 1130 Midway Plaisance North (Located between 59th and 60th St). A large, long grassy park, which mostly just serves to give visitors a good view of the University of Chicago. But the Winter/Summer reading gardens just south of the University's main quad are quite beautiful and a nice place to relax from touring.
Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S Lake Shore Dr & E 57th St (Take CTA buses 2, 6, 10, 28, 55, or the Metra Electric Line), ☎ +1 773 684-1414, . Every day 9:30AM-4PM; some days until 5:30PM, including most of summer; closed Christmas Day. No tour of Chicago's museums is complete without a visit to this one. Spend hours upon hours looking at really cool stuff you never even knew you didn't know about. So much to do, so little time. You can return for free the following day if you take your ticket to "Will Call" on the way out on your first day. Great for kids, with many hands-on exhibits and the famous Coal Mine; adults will enjoy the display of the German U-boat 'U-505'.$11 adult, $5 child.
Robie House, 5757 S Woodlawn Ave, ☎ +1 708 848-1976, . Tours: Th,Sa-M 11AM-2PM, F 11AM-3PM every 30 minutes.. This fabulously impractical house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the world's most famous examples of the Midwestern "Prairie School" of architecture, which aimed to create buildings with prominent horizontal lines evocative of the prairie landscape. The interior is bizarre, intended to remind its inhabitants of a ship, and is surrounded by stained art glass windows. You must take an official tour to see the interior, which lasts about an hour. Tours of the surrounding historic neighborhood are offered as well — it is best to make reservations online beforehand. Be sure to take a gander at the University of Chicago's Business School across the street, which was designed to emulate the style of the Robie House in a more modern fashion.$12 adult, $10 youth, $5 child.
Skyline view from Promontory Point
The University of Chicago hosts some truly world class performing arts. The U of C Presents' classical music performances are particularly excellent. If you are looking to relax, head to the huge area parks for 18 holes of golf, a sunset at Promontory Point, or ice skating on the Midway. Or if you are into film, the University's nightly Doc Films screenings and regular director visits are a treasure.
Court Theatre, 5535 S Ellis Ave, ☎ +1 773 753-4472, . 16 Sep–12 June 2011 performances: usually W-Th 7:30PM, F 8PM, Sa 3PM & 8PM, Su 2:30PM & 7:30PM. Excellent dramatic theater on the University campus.Student $8-20, general $25-50, half-price tickets available one hour before the show.
Doc Films, 1212 E 59th St (Inside Ida Noyes Hall), ☎ Office: +1 773 702-8574 Hotline: +1 773 702-8575, . Check the website's calendar for screenings, nightly during the school year and W-Sa during the summer. Those zoning laws are again to "blame" for the total absence of any movie theaters in this section of Chicago. But their absence clearly benefits the longest-running student film society in the country, which puts on an impressive number of independent documentaries, art-house films, and other socially relevant movies throughout the year, all in a state-of-the-art cinema. Doc Films attracts a very knowledgeable crowd (perhaps because the students and neighborhood residents have no other movie options!) and it is a good place to eavesdrop on some intense, intellectual conversations.$5 general admission, tickets go on sale 30 minutes before screenings and credit cards are not accepted..
Jackson Park Golf Course, 6300 S Hayes Dr, ☎ reservations: +1 312 245-0909, lessons: +1 847 480-4853, management: +1 312 755-3579, . Sunrise-sunset. 18 holes of golf and a driving range, all in the middle of Jackson Park. Golf carts available for $15.M-F $22.75, Sa-Su $25.75.
Jackson Park Beaches, (along the lake south of Promontory Point). Memorial Day-Labor Day 9AM-9:30PM daily. There are better beaches further north and further south, but if you're here and want to get a swim in, Jackson Park's two beaches are fine — 57th St Beach is less than a ten minute walk from the Museum of Science and Industry.
Midway Plaisance Ice Skating, 1130 Midway Plaisance North (E 59th St at Woodlawn Ave), ☎ +1 312 745-2470. Su-Th noon-7PM, F noon-4:30PM & 5PM-7PM, Sa 1PM-9PM. Free.
Promontory Point Park (The Point), 5491 S Lake Shore Dr, ☎ +1 312 747-6620. Promontory Point is a beautiful spot to take in the great skyline view, gaze off into the blue, watch summer fireworks, or take a (technically illegal, but everybody does it) swim in its submerged beach (north side of the point). The Point was constructed under the depression era Works Progress Administration in the style of the Prairie School of park design.
University of Chicago Presents, Mandel Hall, 1131 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 702-8068, . Performances usually on F 8PM or Su 3PM. The University of Chicago Presents hosts numerous classical music performances in Hyde Park, usually featuring big-name national and international performers for relatively low prices.Student $10, general $30-35.
The University has had a big hand in zoning regulations designed to keep chain stores, and really any stores, out of the district. Hyde Park actually lacks a single clothing store. Book lovers and collectors, on the other hand, will be thrilled with the multiple independent and used bookstores along 57th Street and the awe-inspiring Seminary Co-op. Aside from books, Hyde Park is now likely the world's number one destination for Barack Obama merchandise, who is becoming somewhat of a local hero figure. The convenience stores are full of dancing Obama dolls, t-shirts, etc., and other stores and restaurants are all touting "Obama eats here!" "Obama shops here!" Don't let the hype shape your choices though, it's a small neighborhood, and the Obamas have probably tried out all the restaurants by now.
57th St Books, 1301 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 684-1300, . 10AM-8PM daily. A branch of the University's Seminary Co-op that has frequent literary events, including poetry readings, author talks, and writing workshops.
Artisans 21 gallery, 5225 S Harper St, ☎ +1 773 288-7450, . Su-Th 11AM-6PM, F 11AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-6PM. A gallery cooperative selling everything from ceramics to paintings to jewelry.
Hyde Park Records, 1377 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 288-6588, . 11AM-8PM daily. A huge selection of vinyl and a smaller selection of CDs.
O'Gara and Wilson, Ltd, 1448 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 363-0993, . M-F 11AM-7PM, Sa 11AM-8PM, Su noon-6PM. An impressively atmospheric antiquarian bookseller that has been open at this location for 120 years, with a wide selection acquired mostly from Hyde Park estate sales, students, and professors. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable.$1-2,000.
Powell's Books, 1501 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 955-7780, . 9AM-11PM daily. Used books overflowing the shelves, all over the place.
Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5757 S University Ave, ☎ +1 773 752-4381, . M-F 8:30AM-8PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su noon-6PM. The world's largest academic bookstore has a collection covering every topic.
The center of dining in the Hyde Park neighborhood is along 53rd St and Harper Ct, although there are also several popular restaurants along 57th St. There is a significant difference in atmosphere between the two dining centers, with the latter being more collegiate. Almost anyone would agree that you can have a fine meal in Hyde Park in any price category, but the neighborhood is infamous for not having any truly great, standout or "destination" restaurants, as it suffers from a captive audience — it is quite difficult to get to any other dining hot spots in the city without a car (the nearest being Chinatown or soul food and BBQ in Chatham). In recent years, though, the Hyde Park culinary scene is slowly transforming itself with the openings of a handful of trendy, upscale spots on 53rd and in Harper Court, of which Park 52 and the Sitdown Cafe have arguably received the highest accolades from food critics.
The odd "Thai Row" on 55th St deserves a mention. These are definitely not the best Thai restaurants in Chicago, but they serve tasty, greasy food in large portions on the cheap. No one seems to know why these Thai restaurants congregated in this one spot.
Daley's Restaurant, 809 E 63rd St, ☎ +1 773 643-6670, . 5AM-9PM daily. Huh? Daley worship in Woodlawn? No, that couldn't be and it isn't. Built by one John Daley, Chicago's oldest eatery has served as Woodlawn's neighborhood restaurant for about 120 years! As the Irish fled to the suburbs, the menu shifted towards offering nothing but the soulest soul food around (the breakfast is a particular draw — wonderful french toast). Owing to the housing projects just north, the area around this Green Line stop is on the rough side, but Daley's will treat you to a strong dose of delicious food and friendly service with nice atmosphere.$4-12.
Harold's Chicken Shack. 11AM-10PM daily. The great South Side fried chicken chain is cheap, usually a little dirty, and always delicious. Crowded at meal times.$2-5.
#14, 1208 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 725-9260. 10AM-11:30PM daily. The Hyde Park location is easy to visit, with a parking lot and rare dine-in seating, but the quality vacillates.
#2, 6419 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 363-9586 (email@example.com). Su–W 11AM-midnight, Th 11AM–3AM, F-Sa 11AM–4AM. Another hit-or-miss unreliable Harold's location, just under the Green Line stop, in a considerably less welcoming environment than the Hyde Park location!
Istria Cafe, 1520 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 955-2556, . M-F 6:30AM-8PM, Sa 7AM-8PM, Su 7:30AM-8PM. Premium coffee and an assortment of pricey, but well prepared panini, pastries, and gelato served right under the Metra stop.$3-5.
The Nile, 1611 East 55th Street, ☎ +1 773 324-9499, . M-Sa 11AM-9PM, Sun 12-8PM. Though the décor is somewhat dated, the warm pita is plentiful (and best enjoyed with the homemade hummus) and the schwarma wraps are cheap, delicious, and filling. The red lentil soup is another yummy (and budget-friendly) option. Very popular with students.$5-12.
Original Pancake House, 1517 E Hyde Park Blvd, ☎ +1 773 288-2322, . M-F 7AM-3PM, Sa-Su 7AM-5PM. Often called the best pancake house in Chicago, vindicated by the ostentatiously long line on weekends. An exhaustive pancake menu and delightful service. As you would expect, though, it is extremely crowded, and on weekends you will be packed in with strangers like sardines.$5-10.
Rajun Cajun, 1459 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 955-1145. M-Sa 11AM-9:30PM, Su noon-8:30PM. A hole-in-the-wall that, interestingly enough, serves a combination of Indian and soul food. Probably the only place around where you can sip a mango lassi while eating collard greens and fried chicken. While the seating area is a little neglected, the atmosphere benefits from the waiting-in-line dancing to the Hindi club/rock music.$5-10.
Ribs 'N' Bibs, 5300 S Dorchester, ☎ +1 773 493-0400. Su-Th 11AM-midnight, F-Sa 11AM-1AM (sometimes closes early without warning). A true Hyde Park institution serving BBQ sauce over everything, from the $2 Bronco Burger to more expensive rib plates. Food is smoked in a traditional wood-burning stove, which gives the neighborhood its salivatory smell. The BBQ here is actually pretty mediocre (at best), and there is far better cue to be had in Bronzeville and Chatham, but this one is awful convenient. Limited seating.$2-20.
Siam Thai Restaurant, 1639 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 324-9296. 11AM-10PM daily. Choose this one over the others if you are in the mood for pad thai.$5-12.
Snail Thai Cuisine, 1649 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 667-5423, . Tu-Su 11AM-10PM. Weird name, but this is the most popular and brightly lit of the three Thai places on Thai Row.$5-12.
Thai 55th, 1607 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 363-7119, . 11AM-10PM daily. Probably the least popular of the three Thai Row locations, but the best bet for pad see ew and bubble tea.$5-12.
Valois, 1518 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 667-0647, . 5:30AM-10PM daily, breakfast until 4PM. Cash only diner/cafeteria institution for about 80 years that serves as the heart of the Hyde Park community — a favorite with lifelong Hyde Parkers, bleary eyed graduate students, police officers, tweed-jacket sporting professors, and a certain U.S. President. Breakfast served until 4PM.$5-8.
Calypso Cafe, 5211 S Harper Ave, ☎ +1 773 955-0229, . Su-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM. All sorts of Caribbean food in what is widely considered Hyde Park's best restaurant. Has a full bar.$10-15.
Edwardo's Natural Pizza Restaurant, 1321 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 241-7960, . M-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-10PM. Come here specifically for its famous stuffed spinach pizza and you won't regret it — well, you may regret the weight-gaining aftermath, but you won't regret the immediate experience.$8-15.
Giordano's, 5309 S Blackstone Ave, ☎ +1 773 947-0200, . Su-Th 11AM-11PM, F-Sa 11AM-midnight. Not all Giordano's are created equal, but this is the original location and one of the better places in the city to try Chicago stuffed pizza. If some in your party are afraid to face the behemoth, there are plenty of non-pizza options on the menu.$10-23.
Kikuya, 1601 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 667-3727, . M 4PM-9:30PM, Tu-Su 11:30AM-9:30PM noon-10PM, Su 4:30PM-9PM. Fresh, high quality, traditional Japanese food.$10-15.
Medici, 1327 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 667-7394, . M-Th 11AM-11PM, F 11AM-12PM, Sa 9AM-12PM, Su 9AM-11PM. An Italian place very popular with the students, that can lay claim to above average baked goods, fine thin-crust pizza, Italian dishes, and a fun ambiance in their downstairs seating area (a separate door to the west of the street-level bakery). Also serves excellent floats with flavors like almond and grenadine. If you ask the admissions office to recommend a nice place nearby to take your kid, they'll point you in this direction.$8-18.
Pizza Capri, 1501 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 324-7777, . 10AM-10PM daily. Good upscale Italian cuisine and stuffed pizza at a reliable Chicagoland chain. Try the gourmet ingredients like feta cheese and fine sausage on a stuffed pizza for a deliciously fattening night. Great bread.$11-20.
Salonica, 1440 E 57th St, ☎ +1 773 752-3899. 7:30AM-9:30PM daily. Adequate, but overpriced, diner fare with some Greek and Mexican entries, and a constant flow of coffee. The nice atmosphere and comfy booths are the real reason to come and lounge about.$7-14.
Sitdown Cafe, 1312 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 324-3700, . Su-Th 11AM-9:30PM, F-Sa 11AM-10:30PM. Italian cafe/sushi bar serving up eclectic menu of fresh sushi, sandwiches, soups, and salads. Standout dishes include, oddly enough, their thin crust pizzas ($7 plain!), edamame (boiled peas on the pod done right), and a few favorite rolls like Chicago Fire and crunchy crab. Loft-casual decor with outdoor seating and full bar.$8-25.
Cedar's Mediterranean Kitchen, 1206 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 324-6227, . Su-Th 11:30AM-10PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-11PM. Cedar's is the most stylish choice of restaurants in Hyde Park, and the Lebanese cuisine should not disappoint.$13-19.
La Petite Folie, 1504 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 493-1394, . lunch: T-F 11:30AM-2PM, dinner seating: T-Su 5PM-8PM. A very good, unpretentious French restaurant on the south end of the Lake Shore shopping center. The U of C alumnae who own the place apparently tired of scientific research and moved to France for a while to graduate with honors from the prestigious Cordon Bleu Paris school of gastronomy. And Hyde Park rejoices. Prix fixe menu available daily 5PM-6:30PM.$15-25.
Park 52, 5201 S Harper Ave (in the same building as the New Checkerboard Lounge), ☎ +1 773 241-5200, . M-Th 11AM-2:30PM,5PM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-2:30PM,5PM-midnight, Su 11AM-9PM. Jerry Kleiner's new restaurant, distinguishing itself by being the only truly upmarket fine dining in the neighborhood. New American cuisine, fancy offbeat decor, and right next to the Checkerboard Lounge. Reservations recommended.$22-40.
One of the University's many powerful Hyde Park legacies is the general lack of nightclubs and bars, which once covered the now desolate stretch of 55th St west of the Metra tracks. Ask any student, Jimmy's (a.k.a. Woodlawn Tap) is really the place to go for a beer. Live music in the past was just about absent in the neighborhood, but there are a couple good options nowadays. The most obvious is the newly relocated, legendary blues club, the Checkerboard Lounge. But you can also catch some good smooth jazz F-Sa nights (usually) at CHANT or the restaurant Mellow Yellow, 1508 E 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 667-2000. Or you could listen to some of the student jazz combos at Jimmy's, Su afternoon-evening.
BackStory Cafe, 6100 S Blackstone, ☎ +1 773 324-9987 (Backstory@TheExperimentalStation.com), . 8AM-8PM daily. Chicago's most hidden gem is nearly impossible to find, but may be Chicago's finest cafe. Run by Woodlawn's artsy/social-cause-chasing Experimentation Station, this extraordinarily laid-back cafe serves incredible fresh coffee (details like the measurement of coffee beans really pay off) and whole pots (for 2-4 people) of quality loose leaf teas for just $4.50. And they have free WiFi. And they screen free indie films/documentaries on Sunday nights. And open mic on Friday nights. To find the place, which is located in an odd industrial/construction zone, with minimal signage, head south from the Midway on Dorchester to take a left on 61st St. It's just around the corner at the dead end on what barely passes for a street. Lastly, don't worry about the location, the streets around the cafe are perfectly safe.Food: $3-6.
Bar Louie, 5550 S South Shore Dr, ☎ +1 773 363-5300, . 11AM-2AM daily. A chain bar & grill, with unexciting food, and very slow service, but... stiff mojitos, outdoor seating, and location right by the beach makes for a great time in the summer. That the clientele is very diverse is another plus.
CHANT, 1509 East 53rd St, ☎ +1 773 324-1999, . M noon-10PM, Tu-Th 11:30AM-midnight, F-Sa 11:30AM-1AM, Su noon-10PM. CHANT is a restaurant and bar, but skip the food and go straight to the bar. (The food is fine, but the service is not.) The decor is extraordinarily chic for Hyde Park, and there's live entertainment (often jazz) F-Sa starting at 9:30PM.
Cove Lounge (The Cove), 1750 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 684-1013. Su-Th 10AM-2AM, F-Sa 11AM-3AM. A loud, upbeat dive bar that's way more eclectic than whatever bars you've been to in the past. Its got a weird 70's nautical theme, interesting music on the jukebox, and cheap drinks. Unfortunately, it's also a tiny space and can get overcrowded.
Falcon Inn, 1601 E 53rd St. M-F 10:30AM-2AM, Sa 11AM-3AM, Su noon-2AM. The sleeper dive bar in Hyde Park, largely unknown to the student crowd. It's tucked away on a quiet section of 53rd Street, and serves an eclectic crowd of friendly locals, who come to relax, enjoy the very cheap beer, and the pizza through the window to Cholie's next door. (Cholie's pizza is a Chicago travesty, but hey, you're drinking $1.50 beer.)
New Checkerboard Lounge, 5201 S Harper Ct, ☎ +1 773 684-1472, . 11AM-2AM daily, live music usually starts after 9:30PM. The old Checkerboard Lounge in Bronzeville was perhaps the nation's most legendary venue for the blues, owned by none other than Buddy Guy. In a real blow to the Chicago blues, it closed in 2003. In search of a new home, Checkerboard moved to Hyde Park — a move quite controversial, in that had moved into the most well-to-do neighborhood in the area. Indeed, the Checkerboard is no longer the tiny, smoke-filled juke joint that played host to blues legends like Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, as well as some blues worshipers like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Don't worry, though, it might be impossible to fill those giant shoes, but it's still a great blues club, and you'll get a real taste of blues on the South Side.Cover $3-20.
Seven Ten Lanes, 1055 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 347-2695, . M-Tu 11:30AM-midnight W-Th 11:30AM-1AM, F-Sa 11:30AM-2AM, Su 11:30AM-midnight. Beer, bowling, shuffleboard, and an art deco ambiance. Its proximity to the University allows it to be overpriced, but it's the only place around to satisfy bowling urges, or to have a good beer outside. They also happen to have some very good foreign beers on tap.
Woodlawn Tap (Jimmy's), 1172 E 55th St, ☎ +1 773 643-5516. M-F 10:30AM-2AM, Sa 11AM-3AM, Su 11AM-2AM. From the University perspective, this is the one and only real bar in Hyde Park (and accordingly, the only establishment that was saved from the University-driven "urban removal"). A good place to be served beer by PhDs and to listen in on the intense intellectual debates about topics you didn't know existed. Some famous writers used to frequent the bar, including Saul Bellow and Dylan Thomas. Live jazz on Sunday nights and you might catch a University improv comedy group during the week. But above all, the dark cavernous atmosphere, the low-key vibe, and the greasy burgers make this one of the best dives in the city. While it's a university favorite, don't expect a rowdy singles scene here — it's the U of C, folks.Cover $3-20.
Considering the hordes of university-affiliated visitors Hyde Park is oddly devoid of hotels. Most visitors stay downtown; the Loop along Michigan Avenue is the best bet, since the southbound Metra stops are just outside the hotels. There are some nice quiet options, though, if you know where to look.
Abode, 5412 S Blackstone Ave, ☎ +1 312-576-4299 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +1 773 439-6901), . checkin: 3PM; checkout: noon. Short term apartment rentals located near Hyde Park's "downtown" area. 15-20 minute walk to the University. Kitchens fully stocked. $150/night.
Hyde Park Arms Hotel, 5316 S Harper Ave, ☎ +1 773 493-3500. If Kerouac and the Blues Brothers have interested you in checking into a transient hotel, the Hyde Park Arms is the place for you, as it is far cleaner and safer than its peers elsewhere. Hotel rooms leased weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. The 70 rooms include standard hotel furnishings and a fridge, but no stove or microwave; all utilities are paid by the building, unless you want cable. Per week $145-$155.
International House, 1414 E 59th St, ☎ +1 773 753-2270 (email@example.com, fax: +1 773 753-1227), . checkin: 3PM; checkout: noon. A student dormitory, which provides budget short-term accommodations to those "affiliated with either the University of Chicago or another cultural, educational or professional institution" (and their guests). They do their reservations (and information requests) by email. The rooms are mostly dorm rooms, but there are a couple nicer ones with private baths available (at significantly higher rates). Discounted weekly rates ares also available. $60-128.
Ramada Lakeshore Chicago, 4900 S Lakeshore Dr, ☎ +1 773 288-5800 (fax: +1 773 288-5819), . checkin: noon; checkout: 3PM. This is the only major hotel in the area. It is unfortunately far from anything in the area of interest, but its rates are low and it has plenty of free parking and a downtown shuttle. $125-140.
University Quarters B&B, 6137 S Kimbark Ave, ☎ +1 773 855-8349 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +1 773 409-5434), . Comfy and close to the University, albeit awkwardly south of the Midway. Rest assured the owners will take good care of you. $150-165.
The following public libraries offer free public internet access:
Blackstone Branch Library, 4904 S Lake Park Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-0511 (fax: +1 312 747-5821). M,W noon-8PM, Tu,Th 10AM-6PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM. This particular library is not just a free internet joint, it's a beautiful work of art, filled with marble and murals. It was created as a charitable work by Timothy Blackstone, a 19th century railroad baron who also founded the Union Stockyards on the Southwest Side.
Many university students seem to live in fear of their neighborhood, and the University takes pains to explain to visitors that it is not unsafe, and that they have appropriate security measures to keep their students safe. Nonetheless, the fear persists. Know that this is wholly irrational. Hyde Park and Kenwood are some of the safest inner neighborhoods in Chicago, with very low violent crime rates. Moreover, the University famously fields the third largest police force in Illinois, and the second largest private police force in the world (the first being the Pope's), with full police powers. That means there are twice as many police in Hyde Park than any other neighborhood around. Feel safe walking down the street at night, because you are. The only places you should actively worry about crime are in Woodlawn (south of 61st St), where there is a good deal of violent and drug-related crime, which categorically does not spill over across the Midway.
The famous Museum Campus and McCormick Center are just north in Chicago's Near South.
Chicago's Bronzeville, the historic Black Metropolis, is just a stone's throw away from Hyde Park, and well worth a visit for its huge role in African-American history. In particular the DuSable Museum of African-American History (which is just across the street from the University of Chicago Hospital) is very easy to visit when in the University area and should not be missed.
Oak Woods Cemetery, outstanding Memphis-style barbecue, and some of the best blues in the city are located a few miles south on Cottage Grove in Chatham and Greater Grand.
If you are up for a little drive, head south to the historic planned industrial community of Pullman, on the Far Southeast Side, and afterward grab some incredible smoked shrimp at the 95th St bridge.
This is a star article. It is a high-quality article complete with maps, photos, and great information. If you know of something that has changed, please plunge forward and help it grow!