You Will Love This Creative New Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook

Belt Publishing, a Midwest-based independent book label, is publishing its new Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook on September 10th. They’ll host a launch party at The Hideout on September 11th at 5:3opm. We hope to see you there because The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook is awesome. Led by editor Martha Bayne, the contributors to The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook created a stirring, entertaining and informative collection of works. Rather than presenting standard “Guidebook” entries packed with names, dates, facts and figures, each essay in The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook is a highly personal, nuanced snapshot of the authors’ own neighborhoods. Taken together the collection presents a sometimes idiosyncratic but always insightful portrait of the City of Neighborhoods.

At Chicago Detours our mission is to share stories and places even locals don’t know through guided tours of Chicago’s history, culture and architecture. So The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook’s creative approach to sharing the Chicago’s neighborhood stories was an instant hint with us tour guides. The whole book is a delight and I recommend you check it out, but here I want to highlight the selections which provide insight into some of the neighborhoods we visit on bus or walking tours.

Bridgeport Neighborhood

Big Shoulders Historic Bar and Food Tour Bridgeport Chicago
The Big Shoulders Historic Bar and Food Tour explores Bridgeport on September 15th. Photo by Pawel Skrabacz.

I’ll start with Ed Marszewski’s essay, “Bridgeport: The Community of the Future.” We lead our Big Shoulders Historic Bar and Food Bus Tour in Bridgeport frequently for private groups (and the public has the rare chance to check it out September 15th.) This neighborhood tour uses food and drink to connect with the migrations of different groups into Bridgeport. So Marszewski’s insights into the city’s oldest neighborhood outside downtown felt timely, smart and honest. “Living here has taught me what segregation can do to a city, as Bridgeport’s prejudicial reputation went way beyond the neighborhood boundaries.”

Marszewski describes how the arrival of Asian and Mexican communities and a bubbling of hipster communities has dissolved that bigoted reputation. Some may say that he played no small part in this himself as the proprietor of Maria’s Packaged Good and Kimski. Ed recommends a bevy of other contemporary Bridgeport institutions, like the Co-prosperity Sphere and Zhou B. Center. These harbingers of the “Neighborhood of the Future” you could explore for yourself on our Big Shoulders Historic Bar and Food Tour in Bridgeport, September 15th.

Wicker Park Neighborhood

Wicker Park Food Tour Chopin Theater
Kevin Coval’s “milwaukee avenue” explores the transformations visible all over Wicker Park and Noble Square. Photo by Pawel Skrabacz.

Another favorite neighborhood of ours gets very unique treatment from the poet Kevin Coval. The artistic director of Young Chicago Authors and a UIC professor, Coval is one of the most notable poets in Chicago these days. It’s basically him and Eve Ewing vying for the title of Chicago’s poet laureate. His contribution to The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook is a poem titled “milwaukee avenue.”

In the poem, Coval skips up and down the thoroughfare of the Northwest Side. Starting at Noble Square, he examines the remnants of the working class Polish and Latino neighborhood that’s been subsumed into today’s hipster heaven. It’s much the same transformation we engage with on the Old Polonia and Wicker Park Food Tour. Coval’s vivid imagery captures the Wicker Park we can only now describe for our guests when we describe its neo-Bohemian days.

“The Avenue was avant-garde and pedestrian, pedestrians
by the hundreds. we’d wait for the clock on the bank
that is now a walgreens on the northwest corner
of the Avenue and Damen to strike ten and then
for ten minutes we’d put on a guerilla variety show”

The South Loop Neighborhood

Lightner Building Printer's Row South Loop Ghost Sign street Art Chicago Detours
The old and the new, the scuzzy and the scrubbed, blend together in the South Loop. Image by Alex Bean.

Several of our tours are based in and around downtown. Happily, The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook covers the city center along with the outlying areas. I was particularly taken with Megan Stielstra’s essay, “South Loop: Michigan and Harrison.” (Our tour of the South Loop, on September 24th or at any time for private groups, covers territory a bit further south than this, by the way.) Much like Marszewski and Coval, her writing focuses on the transformative changes of the past few decades. Stielstra arrived in Chicago in 1995 and attended the creative writing program at Columbia College. Her essay begins right there, in an old greasy spoon diner at Michigan and Harrison. She checks back in on herself and the South Loop neighborhood every five years, in a different establishment each time. Diners give way to dive bars which are replaced by coffee shops and Cuban restaurants.

Along the way, Stielstra notes her own changing status and feelings. Each half-decade reveals a growing unease with the corporatization of the South Loop until her eventual departure in 2015. She captures how much of the city’s somewhat lovable scuzziness has been scrubbed away these past decades. The march of progress must always leave some behind, of course, even highly-educated and reflection writing professors. Hers is not necessarily a tragic story, but it is an emblematic one.

Track Down the Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook!

Chicago Neighbrohood Guidebook Belt Publishing
The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook from Belt Publishing is an instant favorite. Cover art courtesy of Belt Publishing.

Obviously, I have only scratched the surface of what The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook has to offer. The full book contains dozens more essays, covering every quadrant of the city. I was particularly impressed by the works tackling Garfield Park, Mount Greenwood, Roseland, Pullman, Bronzeville and the epilogue about Rezkoville. Those works, along with all the others, bring to vivid life the diverse people and wildly divergent experiences that populate Chicago. The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook is a symphony of the city that is unharmonious, often tragic, sometimes ridiculous, and yet always home.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
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Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
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Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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