Chicago/Southwest Side

The Southwest Side of Chicago is far off the beaten path. Plenty of visitors know Midway Airport, but never see anything beyond. Truth be told, there isn't a lot to see. But the Southwest Side does hold some interest as the former home to the infamous Union Stock Yards as well as a pretty long list of hidden culinary gems well worth the trek.

Understand

Chicago's Union Stock Yard Gate

The Southwest Side is large enough where you cannot understand it without understanding its neighborhoods — it is united only by its blue-collar character, proximity to the airport, and of course, the White Sox.

The Back of the Yards is a loose term encompassing the community areas of McKinley Park, Brighton Park, and New City, referring to the area's history as the home to the vast hordes of immigrant laborers in the Union Stock Yards of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Though the stock yards are long gone, the blue-collar character remains. The actual stock yards were located in the heart of New City between Ashland Ave and Halsted from Pershing Rd (39th St) to 47th St. Today the site is marked by the Union Stock Yard Gate and a large industrial park. The area surrounding the park is comprised of predominantly Mexican-American neighborhoods and has some good food on offer. Canaryville (between Halsted and Wentworth from Pershing to 49th) is an Irish-American neighborhood with a notoriously violent reputation. McKinley Park, on the other hand, is experiencing gentrification as younger Chicagoans are priced out of "hipper" neighborhoods.

The Union Stock Yards

The massive meatpacking industry of the Union Stock Yards developed alongside the technological innovation of the refrigerated railway car. Livestock of the agrarian Midwest were brought to the rail hub of Chicago and its stock yards to be processed and shipped off around the country. At its peak, the Union Stock Yards processed about 82% of the meat consumed in the United States!

The stock yards played a huge role in the development of the city. With the enormous wealth they brought in came some of the world's first global companies, capitalizing on the abundance of animal byproducts for use in commercial goods and technological innovations in transport, refrigeration, and the beginnings of the assembly line. Even more important to modern-day Chicago, the yards gave birth to the modern hedging industry needed to manage the inherent risks in agricultural commodities trade, establishing Chicago as a premiere world center for finance.

Further technological innovations, however, spelled doom for Chicago's centralized stock yards. The rise of interstate trucking and fast point to point shipping of meat allowed for livestock to be slaughtered where they were raised and then quickly delivered to consumers without the Chicago middleman.

Chicagoans don't lament the loss of the yards, regardless of the number of jobs they provided — the stench of manure and death was suffocating across the greater part of the city. And the environmental degradation cataloged by Upton Sinclair was extreme. The south fork of the Chicago River's South Branch (just west of Racine Ave) became known as Bubbly Creek for the methane and hydrogen sulfide gas, produced by entrails' decomposition, bubbling through the grease, chemicals, blood, and guts. It wasn't pretty.

Centered around one very large and fabulous park, Marquette Park is an ethnically mixed neighborhood divided between mostly African-Americans east of the park and Mexican-Americans immediately west of the park, along with some Polish and Lithuanian-Americans. Further west, the area becomes more ethnically inclusive, with median income playing a more prominent role in residency. Aside from the park (and its golf course), the neighborhood is alluring mostly for its great Mexican food, as well its rare-in-America Lithuanian dining. This neighborhood was once dominated by a big, wealthy, Lithuanian-American community, but its demographics began to shift dramatically following Martin Luther King Jr's anti-segregation marches (which at the time met with violence from residents). Accompanying desegregation in this neighborhood was characteristic "white flight," which put an end to the "Lithuanian Gold Coast" and heralded a more open neighborhood which recently has become a major destination in the United States for Mexican immigrants.

Around Midway, you'll find Chicago's second airport, surrounded by an ethnically diverse collection of neighborhoods. This section of town is home to a large, established Polish community, as well as more recently arrived Mexican communities. The neighborhoods of Archer Heights, Garfield Ridge, and Clearing are important centers of Polish culture in the United States; you are likely to hear as much Polish as English while walking around these neighborhoods. Polish Highlanders, or Górals dominate the local Polish population, with a unique cuisine and culture that is decidedly Balkan. A host of restaurants and cultural institutions visibly display the rustic touch of their Carpathian craft such as the Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America at Archer Ave just northeast of its intersection with Pulaski Rd. Points of interest are pretty spread out, but the food and nightlife sure beats the airport hotels. And you don't have to venture too far to find one-in-a-million pizza, or some Croatian baked goods.

In the southeast are a couple of far-flung African-American neighborhoods: Auburn Gresham and Washington Heights. Aside from the Obama family's now famous church, they have far less of interest to travelers, but both are nice enough neighborhoods and have some good places to eat if you find yourself in the area.

Englewood also deserves a mention, but mostly as a warning — it is a large, impoverished, and relatively violent neighborhood with just about nothing to offer a traveler. It is generally best to just roll through on one of the main roads (e.g., 55th St) or to avoid the area altogether.

Get in

By plane

Midway Airport (IATA: MDW) plays second fiddle to the Chicago giant that is O'Hare International, but it nonetheless services a lot of domestic flights (with Southwest & Delta) and some international flights to/from Canada and Mexico, serving as a more convenient point of entry. Just about everyone coming into this part of Chicago goes through this airport on low-cost carriers as follows:

  • Concourse A: Delta/Delta Connection, Porter Airlines, Southwest and Volaris
  • Concourse B: Southwest
  • Concourse C: Branson Air Express, Sun Country and other public charters

Parking rates

The Omega Airport Shuttle provides transfer service to Chicago O'Hare International Airport for $45 (plus tip), with hourly departures from outside Southwest Airlines Baggage Claim at Door 3LL. Service is offered daily 7:50AM-11:50PM. Chicago taxis' metered rates for the Midway/O'Hare trip are in the vicinity of $65.

If time is not of the essence, the Midway to O'Hare trip can be made via CTA 'L' lines for $5 (and only $2.25 from Midway to O'Hare). The fully-accessible Midway station is situated just east of the airport terminal building and is connected to the airport via an enclosed walkway. Follow the signs to “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City” from the airport. An orange line painted on the ground will guide you there. Take the CTA Orange Line from to the Clark/Lake stop and follow the signs on the platform to go downstairs to the CTA Blue Line which goes to O'Hare. There is no charge for changing trains at Clark/Lake. The typical time is about an hour and a half, although extra time should be allowed for delays.

Note: parking charges are incurred after 10 minutes in all lots, save the cell phone waiting area.


By train

The CTA Orange Line runs through the district on its way from the Loop, providing quick and easy access to Midway Airport, as well as some northern areas of the Southwest Side from the Loop, but keep in mind that a bus transfer will likely be necessary to get you from the L station to anywhere other than the airport. Travel time is about 25–30 minutes from the Loop to Midway, but you may wait up to 30 minutes between trains during off peak hours. Check schedules since Orange Line trains do not run 24 hours.

The CTA Red Line (as does the slightly less convenient Green Line) runs along the eastern boundary of the district. While it is fairly far from anything of interest on the Southwest Side, you'll find an east-west bus route picking up right in front of each station (except 69th St!), running the length of that numbered street (e.g., #55 along 55th St, #63 along 63rd St, etc.).

Metra's Rock Island commuter rail line serves the southernmost neighborhoods of the district, and can get you to Auburn-Gresham or Washington Heights. But again, keep in mind that you will need to take a bus from the station to your destination. Trains depart from the downtown LaSalle Station. A ride to the Gresham station costs just over $2, to Longwood or Washington Heights, just over $3.

The Metra Southwest Service goes straight from Union Station in the Near West Side to the Ashburn neighborhood, where it stops twice at "Wrightwood" and "Ashburn." Only take this train if you are going to Ashburn, not if you are going to the airport, as its stops are on the other end of the district. Saturday service is extremely limited and there is no Sunday service.

By bus

CTA bus route #62, which travels along Archer Ave from McCormick Center in the Near South to Midway, is probably the most convenient route into the Southwest Side from downtown Chicago. Other important routes include the city-spanning north south routes along Halsted, Ashland, Western, Pulaski, and Cicero: #8, #9, #49, #54, and #53. The major east west routes are #47, #55, and #63, which as you might expect run the lengths of 47th, 55th, and 63rd streets.

#62 Archer is the one bus that runs directly from downtown to the Midway Area, but it actually doesn't stop at the airport (except during the overnight hours when the Orange Line 'L' is not running), so if you're coming from that way, the 'L' is a better option. From the West Side, there are convenient and direct routes along Cicero and Pulaski (#53 and #54). Bus route #55 is by far the best way to travel to Midway from the South Side, which leaves from the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park.

By car

A hazy skyline view over Midway Airport

The Dan Ryan Expressway runs down the eastern edge of the district, and heading west on the 55th/Garfield exit will take you directly to the airport. To get to the Union Stock Yard Gate, take the Pershing Rd exit from the Dan Ryan. The Stevenson Expressway lacks exits on the main roads leading into the eastern parts of the area, but the Damen Ave exit will get you on Archer, from which you can easily get onto Western, Ashland, or Halsted. For Midway take Cicero; Pulaski is useful for exploring the areas just east of the airport.

Get around

By bus

Pretty much the only way to get around the Southwest Side by public transport is by bus, but if this is the route you choose, make a point of it to plan your route ahead of time, as distances are fairly long and the bus routes generally only run along the main streets.

By car

A car is a handy travel companion in the Southwest Side indeed. Attractions, activities, and restaurants are generally spread apart over long distances, and free on-street parking is available just about everywhere. Taxis are also a good option, but do not expect to be able to hail one off the street — you will need to call and arrange rides in advance.

See

Glad he can see now

The one big sight on the Southwest Side is the Union Stock Yard Gate, and even that is a pretty small attraction for how out of the way it is. Other sights appeal to narrow sections of society. The Chicago Blues Museum has a magnificent collection for anyone interested in blues history, but it remains to be seen whether it will ever have regular hours. The Balzekas Museum is of obvious interest to Lithuanian-Americans, the Indian Building to Wayne's World fanatics and roadside kitsch-seekers, and the Archives to, well, archivists (and to those who want to trace their roots in the Midwest).

  • Stock Yards Firefighter Memorial (right behind the Stockyard Gate). The stock yards produced an awful lot of grease, with a good amount of chemicals added to the mix. Unsurprisingly, the place caught on fire now and then. 1910 saw a particularly ferocious blaze, which took the lives of 21 firefighters on this spot, just behind the gate. The memorial is dedicated to all Chicago firefighters who have lost their lives to fires, 530 at the time of the dedication in 2004; their names are inscribed on the base.

Do

The lagoon at Marquette Park
  • Marquette Park Golf Course, 6734 S Kedzie Ave,  +1 312 747-2761. Sunrise-sunset daily. The hidden gem that is Marquette's public golf course is considered one of Chicago's most beautiful. You will feel miles away from the city. Nine holes, 3,187 yards. Weekdays: $16, Weekends: $18.

Buy

The giant Ford City Mall

The Southwest Side is not an enticing shopping destination, unless the endless strip malls on Cicero are your thing. Even Midway Airport lacks a duty-free shop, as it only serves a few international flights to Mexico. But if you find yourself here and need something, you can almost certainly find it on Cicero.

Eat

Flying over Midway

The Southwest Side excels in three culinary areas: Mexican, Polish/Bohemian, and Chicago-style fast food. Avoid the airport hotel restaurants like the plague — there are far better (and more fairly priced) places to eat nearby. If you have a car, drop whatever you are doing and head down Pulaski Ave to Vito & Nick's for the "best pizza, anywhere." If stuck at the airport, Gold Coast Dogs will give you a bonafide Chicago Hot Dog.

Budget

  • #12, 917 W 87th St,  +1 773 224-4621. 11AM-2AM daily.
  • #35, 10259 S Halsted St,  +1 773 568-5906. M-Th 10AM-midnight, F-Sa 10AM-1AM, Su 11AM-10PM.
  • #8, 2521 W 63rd St,  +1 773 778-9659. Su-Th 11AM-2:30AM, F-Sa 11AM-4AM.

Mid-range

Italian Beef at Windy City Dogs

Drink

A delicious birria en plato

The Southwest Side does not rank prominently in the minds of Chicagoans when they think of city nightlife, but there are a handful of worthwhile spots, with good live music.

Sleep

As it is an airport neighborhood, the Midway Area has a ton of hotels, which mostly fall in to two categories: bland, mid-range, three star business/airport hotels and cheap, but not seedy, motels.

Budget

Mid-range

Midway Hotel Center

The Hotel Center is a hotel campus in Bedford Park, IL, of seven individual mid-range options, located two blocks south of the airport (about a half mile from baggage claim) at 65th St and Cicero Ave. Shuttles run between all the hotels and the airport, although (despite claims to the contrary) you cannot always get a shuttle to/from the L station, so expect to have a long trip if you are heading to the city center. If you're here and looking for food, it would be a travesty of taste to go to the center's chain restaurants. Walk a block north to Giordano's for some quality Chicago-style pizza or solid Italian dishes. Better yet, get a taxi to Vito and Nick's.

Connect

Midway Airport offers high speed wireless in several lounges, restaurants, and gates, but it is only available to Boingo subscribers. All the following branches of the Chicago Public Library also offer free public internet access.

Stay safe

A stark sort of beauty in Englewood, churches amid vacant lots

As you would expect in such a large district of the city, crime levels vary throughout. The northern and western neighborhoods, while sometimes looking gritty, should not worry you in the slightest. Marquette Park is quite safe as well, although it deteriorates a bit southeast of the actual park. Englewood, on the other hand, is a huge neighborhood notorious among Chicagoans for murders, random beatings, and what have you. Auburn-Gresham and Washington Heights rest somewhere in the middle, but they're fairly quiet and peaceful — violent crime is not happening on main streets during the day.

Go next

Routes through Southwest Side

END  SW  NE  Bridgeport-Chinatown The Loop
The Loop Bronzeville  N  S  END
The Loop Bronzeville  N  S  Chatham-South Shore Far Southeast Side


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.