I haven't much to say about Cabrini-Green. I lived in that apartment for four years and never had any kind of problem.
But Old Town . . . .
It was a little smaller than I might have expected, given Chicago's size. Others I've been to were larger - Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia, for example, but like the others it was interesting.
In Chicago's Old Town, there was:
- A Mexican restaurant that was *hopeless* - the refried beans were Campbells mashed, I suspect, and there was one middle aged mariachi who was so pot-bellied that he simply rested his guitar on his stomach.
- Second City, a comedy club where many subsequently famous comedians appeared early in their careers. I saw John Candy there before he made it big.
- O'Brien's, an excellent fine dining restaurant that looked from the outside like a place you'd go to order meatloaf.
- A Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum.
- An expensive men's clothing store, Davis, I believe.
- That Steak Joynt, another expensive but very good restaurant.
- Treasure Island, a supermarket used as the site of employment of the bag boy in the Paul Galloway/Bob Greene fictional series, Bagtime, in the Chicago Tribune. This was almost directly across the street from That Steak Joynt, and if memory serves, the bag boy lived over the restaurant.
- The Earl of Old Town, a small bar featuring live folk music, where entertainers such as Don Gibson, Bonnie Raitt, and others played and sang, often for nothing, just to keep folk music alive in Chicago during one of its bleaker periods.
- The Bizarre Bazaar, the biggest head shop I have ever seen, about the size of a small Woolworth's deparment store, for those of you old enough to remember those.
- A smaller head shop, name gone from my memory now.
- Other restaurants and coffee shops, ranging from less expensive than those above to dirt cheap. There was one on the northwest corner of Wells and North Avenue that seemed to change hands and name every two or theree years.
- A store that sold old juke boxes, and perhaps other things.
- Other places, not coming to mind, but for the most part mom-and-pop owned places.
Old Town is no longer Old Town. The same thing has happened to it that has happened to others (it was happening in Alexandria when I left that area in 1998). It was on its way up and kept going until it was too far up. These areas become popular and begin making more money, and property values go up. Mom and Pop can no longer afford the taxes, and bigger money moves in. Pretty soon when you go there you find that you're in a nice - but cookie cutter nice - area, with Pier 1 Imports, McDonald's, etc., and all the atmosphere and character have leaked away, much like the air in a five cent balloon.
When last I was there, Ripley's and Davis were gone for reasons unknown. The Earl of Old Town had become a dry cleaning establishment. Cook County paraphernalia laws had done the head shops in, although the Bizarre Bazaar hung on for a while selling tee shirts and other junk. The last time I saw it, it was a hole in the ground awaiting the condominiums that were to be built on the site.
The Mexican restaurant was still there, as was O'Brien's. I think That Steak Joynt might have closed, although the lettering was still there. Treasure Island was still open, and might outlast us all.
I lament the passing of places like this, places with genuine atmosphere, but I have no solution that would enable them to survive prosperity.
During the writing of this post, one incident from living in that apartment has popped into my head, so I'll close by relating it.
(Recognize it? That's a segue. What follows is connected to what precedes by only only the most tenuous of threads.)
One night I had an informal party of perhaps twenty people. Not far from where I lived was a place called Chester's, which not only made the best greasy food around, but delivered it as well. I ordered a ton of chicken, fries, onion rings, etc., picked up some beer, made sure the bar was stocked, and awaited my friends. There was a pass-through from the kitchen to the living room, and when the food arrived I spread it out there, along with paper plates, napkins, cups, and whatever.
Unbeknownst to me, this was the night that the "Who Shot J.R." episode of Dallas was to air, and about fifteen minutes before show time, the people began to divide into two groups - those who would remain in the living room and watch Dallas and those who would scoot down the hall to the bar area. I was with the latter group, so with five minutes to go I made sure the door was unlocked for any late arrivals and abandoned the Dallas fanatics.
Dallas began and but for its own sounds you could hear a pin drop. We closed our door almost all the way and spoke softly, but even so were occasionally subjected to a chorus of "Shhhhhh!" from fifteen feet away.
Once an especially loud "Shhhhhh!" was heard and it was unrelated to us. A moment later, a newcomer - Jeanne - joined our company, food in hand, closed the door, and with an injured look whispered "I took my fries too loud."