Chicago

Explore Chicago's South Side With Recs From a Local Expert

The founder of grassroots org Causing a Stir shares her favorites

Courtesy of Virtue Restaurant
Courtesy of Virtue Restaurant
Courtesy of Virtue Restaurant

Celebrated Chicago barkeep Alexis Brown is as passionate about her hometown as she is about hospitality-and that’s to say, pretty damn passionate. The born-and-bred Southsider made industry waves back in 2016 when she co-founded Causing a Stir, a grassroots foundation focused on fostering inclusivity within the bartending community by empowering underrepresented folks via specialized training courses, mentorships, professional collaborations, and other vital career advancement tools. Throughout her decorated career, Brown has mixed it up behind the sticks everywhere from swanky West Loop restaurants to high-volume events, secured a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s 2019 40 Under 40 list, and most recently started working as an Education Ambassador for Hennessy US. And through it all, she’s always remained loyal to the city that raised her.

“My dad and his family, they’ve all been in Chicago for the last maybe five or six generations,” she says. “When the great migration happened after slavery was abolished and everybody moved out of Mississippi to the North, his family came to Chicago. There’s even an article about us-they did some ancestry work and traced the line back to my great, great, great, great, great grandmother. It was just so interesting to see, like, ‘Wow, we’ve all been here ever since then.'”

A self-proclaimed history nerd, Brown has always been interested in investigating and preserving the South Side’s-and particularly Bronzeville’s-rich cultural past. She’s spent countless hours poring through archives, bringing to light long-shuttered bars, restaurants, theaters, and other institutions that were once pillars of the largely self-sustaining Black population. All that digging has led her to the understanding that Bronzeville actually encompasses a bit more real estate than what Google Maps might portray.

“So, I like to give some historical context,” she explains. “Bronzeville, traditionally, was that whole stretch from about McCormick Place, so like 26th Street, to around 63rd Street-that was what they considered the boundaries. And they called it Bronzeville because that’s where the bronze people lived. Due to restrictive covenants, there was literally a line Black people couldn’t cross to buy property or rent or anything. These were the only places we could go.”

“This is also where Black people were able to thrive in the city,” Brown continues. “We kind of built something out of nothing. The Black surgeon came from Bronzeville, what we know now as the lottery started as the numbers game on the South Side, some of the first Black banks in Chicago were in Bronzeville. I feel like knowing your history is how you can move into the future with a little more direction.”

Courtesy of Alexis Brown's Instagram
Courtesy of Alexis Brown’s Instagram
Courtesy of Alexis Brown’s Instagram

As with so many American cities, decades of white flight, widespread disinvestment, and blight spurred by rampant systemic racism has taken its toll on the area. Today, Brown views the South Side as “somewhat of a food desert,” even as gentrification continues its northern march from the University of Chicago’s stately Hyde Park campus. “But,” she adds, “the places you do find, they are like these little gems.”

“Back in the day, we recycled our dollars right here,” she says. “We used to have grocery stores, we had restaurants, all of these things we don’t have anymore. From the ’80s going into the ’90s, that’s when everything started crumbling, you know? But that history is what drives me, thinking about ways to get the neighborhood back to what it was and encouraging the next generation to keep that fire and passion going. I feel like knowing your history is how you can move into the future with a little more direction.”

And while Brown made the move downtown in recent years, her connection to the South Side remains as strong as ever. “That’s where I’ve been all my life,” she says. “My mom still lives on 31st Street. My best friend, she lives on 47th Street. That’s where we’re from. So yeah, I’m tied to it no matter where I live.”

Take a page out of Alexis Brown’s ridiculously well-researched book and explore the South Side for yourself (socially-distanced and masked-up, of course). Here’s a list of can’t-miss recommendations to get you started.

A.P. Deli

“Growing up on the South Side and living downtown now, there are a few must-haves I absolutely have to hit up if I’m on the South Side and one of them is A.P. Deli. It’s a corned beef place and they have this sandwich called The Big Beef. For real. Everybody on the South Side knows that A.P. Deli is the place for that.”
How to order: Call 773-288-4931.

Courtesy of B'Gabs Goodies
Courtesy of B’Gabs Goodies
Courtesy of B’Gabs Goodies

B’Gabs

“There are a few vegan spots where you have organic, whole foods, wraps and stuff. I like a place called B’Gabs. They have smoothies and a lot of really good original vegan and vegetarian options.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Pearl’s Place

“For breakfast, there are a couple of different spots I like, but the best in Bronzeville is called Pearl’s Place. It has a lot of history, too. It’s attached to a motel, and they used to hold concerts there. Duke Ellington and a lot of the other jazz greats, they would play there at night, get a room at the motel, and then eat breakfast at Pearl’s the next day. They have this breakfast buffet they do every day and it’s really, really so good.”
How to order: Use Chownow to order online.

Courtesy of Ja' Grill Hyde Park
Courtesy of Ja’ Grill Hyde Park
Courtesy of Ja’ Grill Hyde Park

Ja’ Grill

“When it’s not COVID, Ja’ Grill is a super hip spot. It’s a Jamaican place and it has, in my opinion, the best lamb chops. They’re the best jerk lamb chops you’ll ever have.”
How to order: Use Grubhub to order online.

Courtesy of Virtue Restaurant
Courtesy of Virtue Restaurant
Courtesy of Virtue Restaurant

Virtue Restaurant

“If we’re talking about diverse types of cuisine rather than your fast food or soul food, Hyde Park is kind of where to go. And if you want to sit down and have more of a fancy dinner, it’s got to be Virtue by Chef Erick Williams.” 
How to order: Use Toast Tab to order online. 

Harold’s Chicken 

“When I go to the South Side, I’m specifically looking for all the junk food, all the bad food. I mean, obviously, it’s all about Harold’s Chicken. Southsiders are Harold’s Chicken people. Uncle Remus? That’s Westside people. They put an Uncle Remus on 47th street and I’m very surprised that it’s still in business… “
How to order: Use DoorDash to order online.

Courtesy of Majani Restaurant
Courtesy of Majani Restaurant
Courtesy of Majani Restaurant

Majani Restaurant

“If you want well-seasoned, not bland vegan food, there’s this African place on 71st and Exchange, Majani. That’s another really, really great place I like to go in South Shore.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Dock’s Fish

“Dock’s! Dock’s has always been a South Side favorite. You have to go to Dock’s for a Famous Fishwich sandwich. They opened up a location on 35th Street in Bronzeville and, actually it’s funny, my ex-boyfriend and his family owned that one. Yeah, they franchised that.”
How to order: Call 312-929-2336 to order.

Courtesy of Goree Cuisine
Courtesy of Goree Cuisine
Courtesy of Goree Cuisine

Gorée Cuisine

“There’s a place on 47th Street, Gorée Cuisine. It is a Senegalese spot, and they do a really, really good whole fish. I always get the snapper, and I think you can get it three different ways, depending on the marinade, but they’ll grill them all.”
How to order: Use Grubhub to order online.

Courtesy of Sip & Savor Chicago
Courtesy of Sip & Savor Chicago
Courtesy of Sip & Savor Chicago

Sip & Savor

“We have to talk about Trez Pugh. He opened a few cafes-one is on 53rd Street, one is on 43rd, and one is on 47th, and they’re called Sip & Savor. The one on 53rd in Hyde Park, they actually have a liquor license so you can get your tea or coffee spiked and they have some special cocktails-it’s kind of a hidden menu, but it’s available.”
How to order: Call 773-855-2125 to order.
 

Kimbark Beverage Shop

“Kimbark is a great Black-owned liquor store in Hyde Park, been there since the ‘60s. And they just announced that they’re using their window space to educate people about different contributions Black people have made in our community all throughout Black History Month.”
How to order: Call 773-493-3355 to order.

Everything else:

Stony Island Arts Bank

“Theaster Gates, he basically turned a bank into a library, and that’s the Stony Island Arts Bank. They have a bar there and they do a lot of live performance art-so poetry, spoken word. It’s beautiful. You can look through old Jet magazines or Ebony Magazines and play all different records. There’s a lot of traditional house records there and when the library is open, you can go and check out, which is really, really awesome.”

Courtesy of Chicago Park District
Courtesy of Chicago Park District
Courtesy of Chicago Park District

Garden of the Phoenix

“There’s a garden I love in Jackson Park and I don’t think a lot of people know about it. I lived in Chicago my whole life and my friend just introduced me to it like four years ago. I think that everyone should go and see that, in the spring or summer, of course. Anything outside in Chicago is kind of difficult to maintain, especially with our winters, but when it’s in full bloom, it is really beautiful. I’ve gone out there to picnic and read and just kind of clear my mind.”

53rd Street

“Every Chicagoan should take a walk-through of the 53rd Street strip. You can see where Barack Obama and Michelle Obama had their first kiss, you can see their house. You can see Louis Farrakhan’s house, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s old house, you can see Muhammad Ali’s old house-all right there in Hyde Park.”

Gallery Guichard

“Another art space I love is Gallery Guichard on 47th Street. We actually held our first Causing A Stir gala there. It’s a husband and wife duo, Andre and Frances Guichard-I think they’re both artists. They showcase a lot of Black artists and do a lot of work in the community. They have an artist’s loft where they host resident artists and then the gallery is on the main level. They also have some public art on the outside, like installations people can see year-round.”

Courtesy of The Silver Room
Courtesy of The Silver Room
Courtesy of The Silver Room

The Silver Room

“Oh, and the Silver Room! I love the Silver Room. It’s a store in Hyde Park and they have great things-books and clothes, jewelry, mostly from local Black artists.”

Promontory Point

“The rocks at Promontory Point are a really nice place to hang out. You can barbecue over there and you get a really, really amazing view of the skyline. I might be a little biased, but I believe you get the best view of the downtown skyline from the South Side, honestly. You can just see everything.”

Jackson Park Highlands Historic District

“If you’re on the South Side, you have to check this area out. There are huge houses, like the houses that you see Hyde Park, just huge. I love perusing around there because you don’t see architecture like that anymore.”

Meredith Heil is originally from St. Louis, now lives in Chicago, and in between has been to all 50 states (that’s feet on the ground, none of that airport BS). She enjoys reading about, thinking about, talking about, writing about, putting on events about and drinking about craft beer.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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