Mural of Pullman steelworkers
The Far Southeast Side of Chicago is a huge section of Chicago with only one large tourist draw: the Pullman Historic District. Most travelers will literally just pass over this district on the Chicago Skyway, but look closely and something may catch your eye.
The Far Southeast side is vast, but has a much lower population density than the rest of the city and consequently less to offer a visitor in terms of amenities and attractions. As it is so big, it is easier to think of the Far Southeast Side in terms of its neighborhoods.
Industrial Chicago on the Calumet River
Greater Chatham (Chatham, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, Burnside) is a residential stronghold of middle and upper class African-American Chicagoans. The Chatham neighborhood is perhaps the most interesting in the area. It is home to many of Chicago's most successful black-owned businesses of recent decades, and has been known as the (residential) "jewel of the Southeast of Chicago." Unless you are visiting family or have historical ties to the area, there isn't much to see in this relatively suburban community, but there is some very good barbecue and Jamaican food to be had.
Greater Pullman (Pullman, Roseland, West Pullman, Riverdale) is the one dish on the menu for 99% of the Far Southeast Side's visitors. It is home to the historic Pullman District, important to American history for its early planned industrial/railroad community and subsequent strikes and socialist radicalism.
Southeast Shore (South Chicago, South Deering, East Side, Hegewisch) is a once prosperous industrial region around the mouth of the Calumet River ("The Port of Chicago") that imploded along with Chicago's steel industry. Today it is one of the least populous areas of Chicago and ranges from industrial to failed-post-industrial in character. The East Side is the most urban section of this vast expanse and has a nice commercial center along 106th St. Hegewisch is a particularly odd neighborhood — it is cut off from the rest of the city by Calumet Lake and huge manufacturing districts. As a result, the neighborhood feels almost like an independent, small, Midwestern industrial town. Though the southeast shore few urban attractions, the Southeast Shore does offer outdoor opportunities around Wolf Lake and Eggers Woods, although if you are adverse to factory-vistas on the horizon, you may choose to overlook these attractions.
South Shore is a middle class, inner-city, African-American community with a thriving arts scene, largely thanks to the ETA Creative Arts Foundation and the South Shore Cultural Center. It is also home to one of the city's best beaches, Rainbow Beach. Incidentally, many of Chicago's most prominent black politicians call this community home. Its main commercial strip runs alongside Metra's Electric Line on 71st St and is literally lined with young locals hanging out when school's not in session.
The Greenstone Church in Pullman
The history of Pullman — the first modernist planned community in the United States — is a tragic one. George Pullman, the founder, was a liberal railroad tycoon with a reputation as a "welfare capitalist." He founded the Pullman company town with the intention of creating a perfect industrial community which would avoid the vice and extreme poverty found in urban industrial communities and therefore also avoid related worker unrest. To accomplish his goal, he built a very attractive landscaped town in the countryside to the south of Chicago. The company provided wages significantly higher than national averages and state-of-the-art utilities. He met widespread acclaim for his town, including an award for the "World's Most Perfect Town", and visitors came to see Pullman (and the World's Fair Columbian Exposition) from places as far away as Europe.
A lesson in paternalism and central planning, Pullman controlled nearly every aspect of his resident workers lives. A famous quote sums up this paternalism problem nicely, "We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shop, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman church, and when we die we shall be buried in the Pullman cemetery and go to the Pullman Hell." The failures of the Pullman company town foreshadowed later 20th century planned communities which had similarly good intentions, but disastrous effects (e.g., the Ida B Wells housing projects of Bronzeville).
Following the severe 1893 economic downturn, Pullman company wages decreased while housing and utility costs remained the same, prompting large scale violence and strikes known collectively as The Pullman Strike. The strike shut down the Chicago rail system, effectively cutting off all transportation in the Western half of the U.S. President Grover Cleveland ended the strike by sending in 2,000 US Army troops, the result of which left 13 strikers dead and many more injured.
The Pullman Strike played a significant role in US labor and civil rights history, as A. Phillip Randolph would later rise to prominence in both areas of activism by organizing the largely African-American "Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters," a union for the employees of the Pullman Company. Having attained some prominence, Randolph went on to become one of the nation's foremost advocates of civil rights for African-Americans. His achievements and the history of African-Americans in US labor are celebrated today in Pullman's A. Phillip Randolph Museum.
Since the 1970s the Pullman neighborhood, especially the historic district, has gentrified and experienced a racial shift as wealthier, white Chicagoans moved into the neighborhood attracted by the rich architecture and history. Sites and homes of historical interest are currently seeing impressive, painstaking (and slow) restorations. The neighborhood has a very quiet, sleepy feel, so be sure to visit either on a tour or while the museum and visitor center are open, or you might leave disappointed.
The CTA is not a great way to get to the Far Southeast, nor is it a useful way to get around, as there are only a few Red Line stops in Greater Chatham.
The Metra Electric Line is the best public transportation bet for traveling to the Far Southeast as it has numerous stops in convenient locations. The Pullman/111th St and Kensington/115th St stops are located right next to the Pullman Historic District. The South Shore area is served by stops at Stony Island, South Shore (next to the golf course), Windsor Park, and Cheltenham (next to Rainbow Beach). Metra also serves Hegewische via the first stop on the South Shore Railroad to South Bend, Indiana.
To an extent, buses can get you from point to point in the district, but there are no good routes coming here from the city center. If arriving by the CTA Red Line, you can take bus #111 from the 95th/Dan Ryan stop straight to the Pullman Historic District.
Since this is the least densely populated section of Chicago, a car is the most convenient method of travel, especially to far flung areas on the Southeast Shore. Free on-street parking is plentiful.
The Chicago Skyway is the main highway for the eastern half of the district. The main exit is at Stony Island Avenue, which is itself one of the most useful roads for navigating the area. US-41 is the old pre-Skyway route along the lake, and is way slower, but a good deal more interesting (and toll-free). 41 connects up with Lake Shore Drive farther north.
The main exits off the north-south Dan Ryan Expressway are at 79th and 87th Streets, while the main exits off the Bishop Ford Freeway are at 103rd, 111th (for Historic Pullman), 115th, and 130th Streets. 103rd and 130th Streets are the main roads for traversing the industrial wastelands lying between the western and eastern neighborhoods in the south of the district.
Pullman Historic District street map
- A Philip Randolph/Pullman Porter Museum, 10406 S Maryland Ave, ☎ +1 773 928-3935 (fax: +1 773-928-8372), . Open April-Dec 1 and in Feb for scheduled Black History events; Th-Sa 11AM-4PM. A museum in tribute to A. Phillip Randolph, which focuses on African-American culture and history, the Pullman Historic District, and US labor history. The interior has a big and rare manual tracker Organ. Admission $5.
- Greenstone Church, 11211 S Saint Lawrence Ave, ☎ +1 773 785-1492. A landmark church in the heart of the historic Pullman community. It was initially intended to be a Unitarian church, where all the workers would go to service. That did not catch on and the church sat empty for years before becoming a Presbyterian and then Methodist church.
- Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center, 11141 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 785-8901 ([email protected], fax: +1 773 785-8182), . T-Su 11AM-3PM. The first stop to any Pullman visit houses a 20 minute video about the town's history, several exhibits, and a gift shop. Offers guided tours, events, and self-guided tour brochures. Be sure to head around to the back of the building (North side) to check out the impressive mural, "Visual Interpretations of Pullman," which depicts the former Pullman Arcade building coupled with an interpretation of the Pullman town and its laborers. 2 hour guided walking tours: 5$, 4$ (seniors), 3$ (students).
- Hotel Florence, 11111 S Forrestville Ave, ☎ +1 773 660-2341. By appointment M-F 10AM-4PM. The Hotel Florence, named after Pullman's favorite daughter, is the most splendid building in the district. It was built in 1881 to accommodate visitors from all over the United States and Europe who came to see Pullman's "perfect town." The hotel is currently closed as it is going through a $1.2 million restoration and renovation program, but interior tours, focused on the restoration itself, can be arranged through the Historic Pullman Foundation.
- Market Square, (2 blocks east of the Visitor Center at the intersection of E 112th St and S Champlain Ave). Market square is just lovely. The Market Hall, which served as a grocery store, is currently being restored as it has suffered from several fires over the years.
- Pullman Clock Tower and Factory, 111th St and Cottage Grove Ave (just north of the Hotel Florence), ☎ +1 773 660-2341. One of the world's most beautiful factories is undergoing a $3.4 million restoration, after it was badly damaged in 1998 by an arsonist. 90 minute guided tours, which focus on the restoration itself, are available by advance appointment.
- Southeast Historical Museum, 9801 S Avenue G (in the Calumet Park Fieldhouse), ☎ +1 312 747-6039, . Th 1PM-4PM. A small history museum with exhibits celebrating the area's once mighty steel industry and labor history.
- Annual Historic Pullman House Tour, ☎ +1 773 785-8901. October 13-14 11AM-5PM. Includes a tour of about eight historic Pullman district homes as well as the visitor center and Greenstone Church. Reservations strongly recommended. $20, $17 (seniors or advance purchase).
- Avalon Park Ice Skating, 1215 E 83rd St, ☎ +1 312 747-6015, . Outdoors 7AM-11PM daily, Indoor rink M-F 9AM-10PM, Sa-Su 9AM-5PM. Free skating; 3$ skate rentals.
- ETA Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S South Chicago Ave, ☎ +1 773 752-3955 (fax: +1 773 752-8727), . Box office: M-W 10AM-6PM Th-Su 10AM-10PM, ETA Gallery: M-W 11AM-6PM, Th-F 11AM-10PM, Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 2PM-10PM. A community center housing one very popular African-American theater that puts on an extraordinary number of plays, nearly all of them world premieres. The theater itself is very nice and the community center includes two art galleries featuring mostly local African-American artists. Live music on Music Mondays (second Monday of the month). Admission to the main stage: $25.
- Harborside International Golf Center, 11001 S Doty Ave, ☎ +1 312 782-7837, . Open 1 April–30 November, sunrise-sunset. 36 holes of golf on the shores of Lake Calumet with some classic Far South views of the distant skyline and nearby decaying steel mills. Lighted driving range. 18 holes $65 weekdays, $75 weekends, $40 twilight.
- Rainbow Beach, 7600 South Shore Dr, ☎ +1 312 747-0832. Summers (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 9AM-9:30PM. One of the best and biggest beaches in Chicago, boasting a magnificent South Side view of the Chicago skyline, and it has a free parking lot! Free outdoor movies are often held in the adjacent Rainbow park. Free.
- The Rink, 1122 E 87th St, ☎ +1 773 221-3290, . T 10AM-2PM (30+) 8PM-midnight (21+), W 5:30-8:30 (families), Th 8PM-midnight (30+), F 7PM-11PM, Sa noon-3PM (pre-teen) 7PM-11PM (teen) midnight-4AM (18+), Su 5-9PM (30+) 9:30PM-1:30AM (18+). Ok, this place is cool. A roller rink oozing with South Side character and home to not a few serious skaters who flaunt their moves to smooth R&B and old school. It's showed up a bit in pop culture, from the movies "Soul Food" and "Roll Bounce" to several nationally aired music videos. If you are intimidated by the pros on the rink, but want to check the place out, there are also arcade games and pool/ping pong tables. It is open to different age groups at different times, so make sure to double check the hours before coming here. Usually $7, but varies.
- South Shore Country Club, 7059 South Shore Drive, ☎ +1 312 747-6250, . sunrise-sunset. Nine holes of golf maintained (somewhat) by the Chicago Park Administration. Great skyline views over Lake Michigan from the course. The club building exterior, by the way, served as the "Palace Hotel" for The Blues Brothers. Weekdays: $11, Weekends: $12.50.
- South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S Shore Dr, ☎ +1 773 256-0149, . M-Sa 10AM-6PM. A community institution that hosts plays, live music, and dance performances.
- William W Powers Conservation Area (Wolf Lake), 12949 S Avenue O (entrance at 126th St and Avenue O), ☎ +1 773 646-3270, . sunrise-sunset, office: M-F 8AM-4PM. A conservation area around large Wolf Lake that is a study in contrasts between the industrial surroundings and the local cattails. It's a good spot for fishing and even some hunting. In the winter, come here for ice skating and ice fishing.
- New Sound Gospel Records and Tapes, 10723 S Halsted St, ☎ +1 773 445-1899. M-T 10AM-7PM, Th-Sa 10AM-6PM. A huge collection of new and used gospel records, tapes, CDs, and sheet music. Also sells gospel-related clothing and instruments.
- The Underground Afrocentric Book Store, 1727 E 87th St, ☎ +1 773 768-8869. M-Sa 11AM-7PM. Books by and about African-Americans. Prides itself on distributing new and controversial publications. Also sells recordings of speeches by African-American leaders, African clothing, and other odds and ends.
- 5 Loaves, 2343 E 71st St, ☎ +1 773 363-0393. T-Th 7AM-7PM, F-Sa 7AM-8PM, Su 9AM-5PM. A pleasant cafe serving big down-home American breakfasts and Po'boy sandwiches for dinner. $4-12.
- Cafe Nine 17, 917 E 79th St, ☎ +1 773 723-2222. T-W 11AM-9PM, Th-Sa 11AM-10PM, Su noon-9PM. A sandwich shop/eatery with open mic poetry nights T-W. The owner is openly gay and markets the cafe as a safe spot for the south side LGBT community. $4-8.
- Dat Donuts, 8249 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 723-1002. 24 hours daily, except Su-M 10PM-4AM. A must for serious donut eaters as it is home to the legendary "Big Dat" — the mother of all donuts. In addition to quantity (i.e., size), the quality is pretty darn high too.
- Harold's Chicken Shack, (Multiple locations). The great South Side fried chicken chain is cheap, usually a little dirty, and always delicious. $2-5.
- 100 W 87th St, ☎ +1 773 224-3314. Su-Th 10AM-2AM, F-Sa 10AM-3AM.
- 12700 S Halsted St, ☎ +1 773 785-4153. 11AM-2AM daily.
- Helen's Restaurant, 1732 E 79th St, ☎ +1 773 933-9871. M-Sa 7AM-4PM, Su 7AM-3PM. A family soul food diner that was James Brown's personal Chicago favorite. $3-7.
- Old Fashioned Donuts, 11248 S Michigan Ave, ☎ +1 773 995-7420. M-Sa 6AM-6PM. Fast food on offer, but the main attraction are the donuts, which this place has been serving since 1972.
- Shawn Michelle's Old Fashioned Ice Cream, 332 E 95th St, ☎ +1 773 785-1232. M-Sa noon-8PM, Su 1PM-6PM. Homemade ice cream in some surprising flavors.
- Skyway Dogs, 9480 S Ewing Ave, ☎ +1 773 731-2000. M-Sa 10:30AM-10PM, Su 11AM-8PM. This is about as far from the city center as you can get, but this ramshackle little hot dog stand serves up some of Chicago's best hot dogs. They've got a drive thru, and there are usually a couple hungry squad cars "refueling" in the line. The picnic tables outside are a great place to soak up the local atmosphere, watching riced-out cars and other hungry patrons roll by. $1.50-4.
- BJ's Market & Bakery, 8734 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 773 374-4700 (fax: +1 773 374-9200). M-Th 11AM-9PM, F-Sa 11AM-10PM, Su 11AM-8PM. This dining-hall like eatery offers some of the best soul food in a city full of great southern cooking. Moreover, the chef prides himself on cooking soul food for the heart, meaning that the food is actually healthy and won't sit so heavy in your stomach. $8-15.
- Calumet Fisheries, 3249 E 95th St, ☎ +1 773 933-9855. 10AM-9:45PM daily. One of the last great waterside shrimp and fish shacks from the glory days of the Port of Chicago. Calumet Fisheries offers all sorts of breaded and fried seafood, but the slow-smoked offerings might be the top draw. They recognize this too — they advertise their smoked chubs as "fish crack." The atmosphere here is just right too, it's right by the 95th St bridge (which the Blues Brothers jumped in their car), and boasts some serious industrial vistas. $7-18.
- Captain Hook's Fish & Chicken, 8550 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 483-4600. 24 hours daily. A huge menu offering southern cuisine from mundane fried catfish to more exotic southern chicken gizzards and frogs legs. Try the watermelon lemonade and save room for sweet potato pie. $5-15.
- The Cal Harbor Restaurant, 546 E 115th St, ☎ +1 773 264-5435. M-Sa 5:30AM-5:45PM, Su 6AM-5:45PM. Serving the historic Pullman neighborhood, a classic South Side diner with all that entails. 3-9$.
- Hienie's Shrimp House, 10359, ☎ +1 773 734-8400. 11AM-midnight, F-Sa 11AM-1AM. Hienie's has been around for decades (albeit not in the same spot) and proudly upholds grand tradition of roadside shacks full of fried seafood and chicken catering to industrial workers. Their shrimp and gizzards are simply outstanding, and their hot sauce is beloved enough by the East Siders that it's made its way into local grocery stores. Any way you slice it, the piping hot, cholesterol laden, made to order food here will be great, but it's best enjoyed on the hood of your car while gazing off into the nearby smokestacks. $4-17.
- Leon's Bar-B-Q, 8249 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 488-4556. 11AM-3AM daily. A famous South Side BBQ joint with great rib tips, fried chicken, and sauce soaked fries (usually all jumbled together) for take-out. $4-16.
- Maxine's Caribbean Spice, 1232 E 87th St, ☎ +1 773 933-0540 (fax: +1 773 933-0500). M-Th noon-10PM, F-Sa noon-midnight, Su noon-9PM. One of the best Jamaican restaurants in town. Features a weekend Caribbean breakfast which comes with sides of fried dumplings and boiled bananas. Note though, like all South Side Jamaican places, service is s l o w. $7-15.
- Ranch Steak House, 11147 S Michigan Ave, ☎ +1 773 264-0320. Su-Th 7AM-10PM, F-Sa 7AM-11PM. This steak house, despite the inauspicious location, is actually quite good and strikingly cheaper than what you would pay for this sort of food downtown. $10-15.
- Soul Queen, 9031 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 773 731-3366 ([email protected], fax: +1 773 731-6869), . Su-Th 11AM-11:30PM, F-Sa 11AM-1AM. One of Chicago's more well-known soul food diners. $8-15.
- Uncle Joe's, 8211 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 962-9935 ([email protected], fax: +1 773 221-0021), . Sa-Th 11AM-10PM, F 11AM-11PM. Jamaican restaurant serving great jerk meats. Their jerk chicken has near-legendary status on the south side, and the major Chicago publications confirm that this is the place. $7-13.
- The Parrot Cage, 7059 South Shore Dr, ☎ +1 773 602-5333 (fax: +1 773 994-0021), . W-Sa reservations accepted 5:30PM-8:30PM. An upscale restaurant at the South Shore Cultural Center that offers fine seasonal American cuisine and nice views of Lake Michigan. $16-25.
- Artis's Lounge, 1249 E 87th St, ☎ +1 773 734-0491, . 10AM-2AM daily. Written up in the paper as one of Chicago's coolest "dive bars," although one might wonder whether a local "dive bar" really appreciates such attention. In any rate, it is dripping with south side character, everyone will know your name by the end of the night, and it has fantastic live blues Sunday and Monday nights from around 10PM-2AM. Drink prices are a bit steep, and there's a rule that no one may be inside without a drink — you'll be leaving drunk, so plan accordingly. No cover.
- Club Escape, 1530 E 75th St, ☎ +1 773 667-6454. South Side gay bars are rare creatures. A very laid back and exceptionally welcoming bar/lounge frequented mostly by men and women in their 30s and 40s, dancing mostly to soul, house, and smooth jazz.
- Crow Bar Inc., 4001 E 106th St, ☎ +1 773 768-6985. 10AM-2AM daily. Probably the nicest neighborhood bar on the East Side, with strong drinks, friendly clientele, and sports on the television. It's also not a bad place to grab a corned beef sandwich.
- Pullman's Pub (Umberto's), 611 E 113th St, ☎ +1 773 568-0264. Su-F 9AM-2AM, Sa 9AM-3AM. A classic south side pub that has been serving the neighborhood since the 1920s. A good place to get some pizza and Old Style. In addition to having a nice small-town feel, this pub also enjoyed a visit by Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive," shortly after visiting one one-armed man in the neighborhood.
- Red Pepper's Masquerade, 428 E 87th St, ☎ +1 773 873-5700 (fax: +1 773 873-5701), . M 3PM-2AM, T-F 10AM-2AM, Sa noon-3AM, Su noon-2AM. A Mardi Gras styled bar/restaurant serving Cajun cuisine. There's blues on Wednesdays and stand-up comedy Tuesdays and Thursdays. F-Sa usually see live DJs and lots of dancing. The entertainment is in the back room past the front bar. Dinners $5-8.
- Small World Inn, 3325 E 106th St, ☎ +1 773 721-2727. 11AM-11PM daily. This would seem to be yet another run of the Mill workingman's watering hole, except for the fact that it has served as a Yugoslav-American cultural center for decades. A drink here is a pleasant occasion, but focus on the menu — the Serbian cevapcicci will open your eyes to sausage possibilities you never knew existed. Entrees: $3-8.
None of the Far Southeast Side's hotels are very nice and they are far from most of what you want to see in the city, so think carefully about whether it might make sense to stay elsewhere before you book a room.
- Camelot Motel, 9118 S Cottage Grove Ave, ☎ +1 773 488-3100. Rooms have a dresser, table, and television. $40 for ten hours, $55 overnight.
- Hotel Toledo, 10928 S Michigan Ave, ☎ +1 773 568-2643. Transient hotel, often at full capacity. Rooms include a shower and television. $40 for eight hours, $50 overnight on weekdays, $60 on weekends.
- New Riviera Motel, 9132 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 773 221-6600. Offers king-size beds, televisions, clock radios, and some furniture. $50 for ten hours, $66 overnight.
- Royal Castle Motel, 45 W 103rd St, ☎ +1 773 468-8100. Just off State Street in Roseland. $50 for ten hours, $60 overnight.
- Lake Motel, 9101 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 773 731-6600. Not far from Chicago State University and the Chicago Skyway/I-90 to Indiana. $40 for eight hours, $60 overnight, plus $2 key deposit.
- Stony Island Motel, 9201 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 773 731-8817. The friendliest looking option in the area, with standard rooms, also close to the Skyway. $55 for eight hours, $70 overnight.
- Zanzibar Motel, 8101 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 773 768-1430. Offers cable television and air conditioning. $40 for ten hours, $55 overnight.
There are five public libraries in the Far Southeast Side, all offering free public internet access:
- Avalon Branch Library, 8828 S Stony Island Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-5234. M-F 9AM-8PM, Sa-Su 9AM-5PM.
- Hegewisch Branch Library, 3048 E 130th St, ☎ +1 773 747-0046. M-F 10AM-9PM, Sa-Su 9AM-5PM.
- James F Vodak East Side Branch Library, 10542 S Ewing Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-5500.
- Pullman Branch Library, 11001 S Indiana Ave, ☎ +1 312 747-2033. M-Th 9AM-8PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM.
- Whitney Young Branch Library, 7901 S Dr Martin Luther King Jr Dr, ☎ +1 312 747-0039. M-F 9AM-8PM, Sa 9AM-5PM.
- The South Side's Bronzeville and South Chicago Shore are just to the north of the Far Southeast Side and have a lot to offer a visitor. They also have far better hotel options, so if you are visiting the Far Southeast, it may make sense to get a room near a metra stop in the South Side.
- If blues is your thing, you should certainly check out the Southwest Side to the north and west of Chatham. In the same neighborhood, you can visit Oakland Cemetery, a beautiful park in its own right and final resting place to many of Chicago's most famous south side residents and African-Americans.
- Travelers interested in the labor history of Chicago should also mosey on over to the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the Southwest Side, former home to the sprawling Union Stockyards made infamous by Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.