THEN AND NOW:
The year 1836 saw the ground breaking of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This man-made endeavor created a connection between the Chicago River and the Illinois River, 96 miles apart. Immigrants flooded the area for construction jobs at the canal site and as a result, Bridgeport was born. Irish, German and Norwegian canal dredgers made their homes along Archer Avenue named for William Beatty Archer, who oversaw the waterway's construction. In 1848 the canal was finished and opened for business. Suddenly Bridgeport was a bustling community of lumber yards, industrial factories and meatpacking plants. Archer Avenue became the main strip, and meatpacking industries became the major employer of the immigrant residents. Although the population was diverse, each ethnic community built its own enclave. The Irish, German, Poles, Czechs and Lithuanians all constructed their own parishes, which became the moral center of each sub-neighborhood. Around these churches, two-flat houses and quaint brick cottages were built. Such a stable development led to strong businesses and soon enough, saloons, schools, and small retail, grocer, and industrial merchants came onto the scene. In the 1880s streetcars appeared on Halsted Street, boosting it to main drag status over Archer Avenue. Today industry continues to thrive in Bridgeport. Five Chicago mayors have either come from Bridgeport or made it their main residence over the years. Richard M. Daley is the fifth mayor with roots in Bridgeport, having grown up in the same modest, brick bungalow that his father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, lived and died in.
Even though U.S. Cellular Field is absolutely key to big time fun in Bridgeport, no one can watch baseball all the time... So when the stadium is quiet, or we just feel like stretching the legs, one of our favorite things to do is stroll around Bridgeport's parks and maybe even play a little baseball ourselves. A visit to the park in the summer brings pleasant shade and walking trails, while the fall bursts with gorgeous yellows, reds and browns of autumn leaves. At the turn of the 20th century, Chicago architects were beginning to realize the importance of green spaces within the concrete limits of cities -- and Bridgeport lucked out with a bunch of new parks that lure us with activity and serenity throughout the year. McGuane Park (2901 S Poplar Ave, 312-747-6497) was founded in 1905 and named after John F. McGuane, a former World War I vet and a member of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners. Toss the old ball around the bases at one of the baseball diamonds, or get a work out at the fitness center or tennis courts. When weather permits, enjoy outdoor concerts, swimming, and plenty of walking trails. Wilson Park (1122 W 34th St, 312-747-7002), named after former alderman John P. Wilson, occupies 1.6 acres of Bridgeport land and is truly a gem to this Chicago neighborhood. The consistently good family programming is what keeps us coming back. There's a sports camp, a play camp, and even a senior citizens club for older folks to meet, greet, and keep active.
One of the biggest parks in Bridgeport, and the most popular, is Armour Square Park (3309 S Shields Ave, 312-747-6012). Do you remember that ditty, "Hot dogs, Armour hot dogs. What kinds of kids love Armour hot dogs?" Well Armour Square Park was named after the Armour brothers who owned the biggest meatpacking plant in Chicago. Armour and Company became one of Chicago's most important businesses and the brothers grew insanely rich. In short time the Armour family developed into Chicago philanthropists and the creation of the park in 1905 was intended to honor the Armour family and help relieve the tensions and architectural claustrophobia of tenement housing. Armour Square Park was designed in part by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the Chicago World's Fair. Today Armour Square Park has walking trails, basketball courts, boxing, a fitness center, baseball diamonds, a community meeting room, tennis courts, and even swimming facilities. A park with a hot dog history and lots of fun going on? Sounds good to us!
Bridgeport is a neighborhood for the average Joe with an elegant edge. Its vibrant personality shines brightly through generations of hard work and rich history. Tall, leafy trees dot the streets, and wide open parks are scattered between the concrete blocks. Old churches still stand from the original immigrant settlers, and young families walk the same avenues their grandparents did. Bridgeport is a Chicago community of long-standing roots and new buds. A recent kick of modernization and round of respectable rehabbing has added a contemporary twist to an old school neighborhood. Bridgeport's residential streets house condominiums, apartments, low-rise flats, and two- and three-story walk-ups. A variety of smaller houses and private homes are also available, all examples of the blend of contemporary to classic building styles represented in this south side Chicago neighborhood. Bridgeport residences are being rehabbed left and right, many with sturdy brick facades that have stood the test of time (not too much aluminum siding here!). Generally, the average sales price for a one-bedroom condo is around $215,000, for a two- or three-bedroom place the average goes up to around $330,000. Three-bedroom single-family detached homes start in the low $200,000s, but can reach into the $700,000s -- with a few five-bedroom houses passing that million dollar mark.
There's a cuisine for every palate and every schedule in Bridgeport, from on-the-go-meals to fine dining and multi-course menus. The only problem you might encounter is making enough room in the agenda to sample all the restaurants found in this Chicago neighborhood. Every once in a while, everyone craves a good burger. When the urge hits we head to Parkside Cafe (308 W 33rd St, 312-225-0633) for some of the best burgers on Chicago's south side. Parkside is a short jaunt from U.S. Cellular field and is perfect for grabbing a quick bite after the game! The sweet potato fries are worth fighting the crowds. To up the dining class a smidge, head over to Punky's Pizza and Pasta (2600 S Wallace St, 312-842-2100), a place frequented by cops and city workers on their days off. The grilled chicken sandwich with roasted peppers is our second favorite dish. Bridgeport also has a plethora of ethnic restaurants to enliven the taste buds. The Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant (3236 S. Halsted Ave, 312-326-2724) uses recipes that go back to the 1940s and earlier. If you're in the mood for something new and different, go to Healthy Food for their shakes and try the unusual, yet awesome "Healthy Shake" concocted with wheat germ, honey and Lithuanian yogurt. If you want something a little more standard but still adventurous, Ed's Potsticker House (3139 S. Halsted St, 312-326-6898) has some of the best Asian cuisine in Chicago. Our vegetarian friends can't get over Ed's eggplant wedges. Basically eggplant is fried to a crisp and then covered in a sweet hot sauce.
The nightlife in Bridgeport definitely fosters a laid back sensibility rather than a hyperactive club scene. Most bars are local dives that serve up cold beer, friendly smiles, good conversation, and a darn fine jukebox. Bernice and John's Tavern (3238 S. Halsted St, 312-326-9460) is one of those places, family owned and run since 1965, that's the charm. Many patrons go to Bernice and John's to grab a PBR, catch up on sports, and throw in a few gripes about politics while here. Moving on to another family-owned joint, Schaller's Pump (3714 S Halsted St, 773-376-6332) has been around since 1881. Bridgeport has never really existed without Schaller's and there isn't anything fancy to the success. Just canned beer and simple bar burgers to munch on. Mitchell's Tap (3356 S Halsted St, 773-927-6073) hasn't been around quite so long, but this neighborhood fixture is getting the bar scene right as it survives by the motto "Drink to what ales you." Southsiders can grab an Old Style, rally over the Sox games, and have an occasional homemade buffet of the best meatballs this side of Comiskey. It's nothing extravagant or ultra-hip that keeps the Bridgeport nightlife going. It's just people who would rather hear each other talk than the overpowering techno bass of a DJ. That's why Bridgeport bars are different than anywhere else in the city. It's fun to discover new places like Jimbo's Lounge (3258 S Princeton Ave, 312-326-3253) and not know a soul when we get there, but make 15 new friends before we leave.
Car owners will adore Bridgeport's easy expressway access. There are two major highways connecting the neighborhood not only to Chicago, but to the outer reaches of suburbia. The Stevenson Expressway (I-55) borders Bridgeport on the north, while the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) lines the neighborhood to the east. If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, Bridgeport has plenty of public transportation options to get you where you need to go. Take one of the many CTA busses that cross through the neighborhood. The Halsted #8 and the Ashland #9 will carry you directly downtown, while the #35 bus down 35th Street connects passengers to Bridgeport's Red Line train stop and beyond. If you don't quite know where you're going, the Pershing Road #39 bus is a good bet, as it leads pretty much everywhere in Bridgeport. The CTA elevated train, or "El," is a convenient transportation resource for folks in Bridgeport as well. The Red Line runs straight through the neighborhood stopping next to the White Sox's stadium, and will take a rider north all the way into East Rogers Park at the tip of the city or way far south down to Princeton Park. The Orange Line runs along Bridgeport's northern border, with stops at Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue. This line takes passengers north to the Loop, or south to Midway Airport. Bridgeport is more spread out than most Chicago neighborhoods, which makes walking to work or entertainment more of a workout than a leisurely stroll, but biking is still easily doable and our preferred mode of transportation -- especially in the warm weather months.