Thursday, February 16, 2017

Where does one go for dinner... Koreatown? Why, a Brazilian restaurant, of course.

Which is what the seven of us -- Jack, Bradon, John, Michael, Ryan, Alan and me -- did last night on our Hike through Albany Park, on the Northwest Side.

We ventured out to Albany Park, one of the 77 community areas of Chicago (and one we hadn't previously visited), by taking the Blue Line to Irving Park and walking north on Pulaski. We turned right (east) on Lawrence and trekked through Koreatown, or "Seoul Drive," on our way to Brazilian Bowl at Kedzie.

While there are still a handful of Korean signs on Lawrence (you can tell it's Korean from the circles, which aren't used in Chinese), I have to admit it looks nothing like the street I last saw while riding my bike there in the early 1990s. Back then it was lined on both sides with Korean shops and restaurants and was clearly a majority Korean neighborhood. According to Wikipedia:

Although many of the Korean Americans in the neighborhood have been moving to the north suburbs in recent years, it still retains its Korean flavor. Every year there is a Korean festival, and the neighborhood is home to a Korean television station (WOCH-CD Ch. 41) and radio station (1330 AM) as well as two Korean-language newspapers. There are still many Korean businesses interspersed among the newer Mexican bakeries and Middle Eastern grocery stores. Approximately 45 percent of the businesses on this particular stretch of Lawrence Avenue are owned by Korean-Americans.

"Still retains its Korean flavor"? I think this is more accurate:

Albany Park is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the United States. It has one of the highest percentages of foreign-born residents of neighborhoods in Chicago.

Although the majority of those foreign-born residents are from Latin America, the majority from Mexico (especially from the state of Michoacán) and Guatemala, substantial numbers are from the Philippines, India, Korea, Cambodia, Somalia, the Former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia), Romania, Pakistan and the Middle East (especially Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon). Over 40 different languages are spoken in its public schools.

That sounds more like the neighborhood we tramped through last night. If I had to describe it, it wouldn't be "Koreatown" so much as it would be "Everywheretown." I can't recall seeing a greater variety of ethnic restaurants anywhere in Chicago. And the guys wanted to go in every one of them.

I stuck to our original plan, however, which was to eat Brazilian food before catching the Brown Line at Kedzie for home. What I didn't do, because it was kind of cold and the guys were getting hungry, was to take a short detour past a Romanian church and a mosque -- both housed in former synagogues -- on our way to dinner. I tell ya, there's every ethnic group and religion you can imagine up there.

Originally a German and Swedish neighborhood, as evidenced by Swedish Covenant Hospital and the Swedish-American Historical Society at North Park University, Albany Park:

...became home to a large number of Russian Jews leaving the crowded neighborhoods of Chicago's Near West Side. The community remained predominantly Jewish through the 1950s. Between 1910 and 1940 several synagogues and churches, public schools, and public parks opened. Albany Park's population reached a high of 56,692 in 1940. After the Second World War, many Jewish families—like the generation before them—moved north, this time to suburban Lincolnwood and Skokie.

One of those pre-war residents was the famous Chicago writer, Nelson Algren, whose family moved to Albany Park in 1917, when he was eight. Conveniently, Algren's "father was the son of a Swedish convert to Judaism and his mother was of German Jewish descent," so he was practically a living metaphor for the changing character of the neighborhood itself. The author of The Man with the Golden Arm (1949) and A Walk on the Wild Side (1956), Algren was "a bard of the down-and-outer," who "articulated the world of drunks, pimps, prostitutes, freaks, drug addicts, prize fighters, corrupt politicians, and hoodlums." Gotta love him!

As I said, it was cold and dark last night, and the guys were getting hungry, so we didn't linger over the neighborhood quite as long as I would have liked. Maybe we'll return when it gets warmer and the sun sets later. I found an awesome website, "A Walking Tour of Albany Park’s Corner Buildings," that looks like it would be a good guide to the neighborhood.

To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in the 1984 science fiction film The Terminator, "We'll be back."

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