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Chicago's Printers' Row a Guide for the Visitor, New Resident or Merely Curious

Nearly a century ago people and goods flowed into Chicago through four train stations. People transferring from train lines in one station to those in another fed local businesses catering to travelers and the good that arrived on those same trains supplied those businesses and industry in the surrounding blocks. One of those train stations, still standing though no longer in use, was Dearborn station. The trains coming into the city through it’s infamous stockyard supplied the paper and machinery as well as the eventual shipping of finished good to the printing companies that gave Chicago’s Printers’ Row it’s name.

Following the flight of Chicago’s meat-packing industry and the beginning of the rail system’s dismantling, Dearborn Station fell into decline as did the neighborhood surrounding it. By the time the last years of the 1970’s arrived the area was largely deserted, it’s main inhabitants being the homeless attracted by the Pacific Gardens Mission and former railroad employees living off their pension checks in the area’s single room occupancy hotels.

However, in the final years of the 1970’s a wave of urban renewal project started rolling through cities across the United State. It continues today with the hip 20-somethings from New York and Baltimore to Austin, San Francisco and Seattle living in newly ‘transitioning’ neighborhoods. Formerly small ethnic enclaves or simply run down the low rent, edginess of dive bars gone chic and empty store fronts turned art galleries in these neighborhoods now draw the post-college set.

Areas that began this transition back in the late 70’s have come full-circle, with Starbucks on prominent corners and apartment buildings going condo, or rents soaring to the point that only the already-established parents of those hip 20-somethings can afford to live in them. Chicago’s Printer’s Row is one such neighborhood. The stretch of long, narrow buildings that once accommodated the lengthy girth of printing machines now house baby boomers returning to the city after their children have left home and professionals who have never experienced the financial burdens of parenthood.

Once a community of artists and hippies who moved into what were largely abandoned buildings, Printers Row is now one of Chicago’s most desirable neighborhoods. Which is unsurprising considering its position three blocks south of the Loop, bordered by the Red Line and serviced by four major bus lines that run north through the Loop’s office-filled blocks and onto the Gold Coast and south to Museum Campus.

Whether one is looking to relocate from within or outside of the city or just spend an afternoon in one of Chicago’s historical neighborhoods Printers’ Row has plenty to offer new and long-time residents as well as the curious visitor.

The event which draws the most visitors to the neighborhood, by far, is the Printers’ Row Book Fair. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2004, the Book Fair is usually held during the first weekend in June. Originally stated by the South Loop Planning Association the Fair is now the Midwest’s largest literary event and is now run by the Tribune Company. While it is still popular for the independent booksellers’ stalls, whose occupants come in from across the country and deal mostly in rare and used books, the Tribune Company has also brought in vendors such as Target and Barnes and Noble.

However, with the increase promotion and budget that come along with corporate ownership has also come more nationally known authors for readings and panel discussions. In the smaller tents, fair goers can still listen to readings by local authors, including students from Young Chicago Authors. The fair usually takes up the two blocks of Dearborn Street between Polk and Congress as well as the two blocks of Polk Street between State and Clark Streets. A map of the stalls along with a schedule of author events is published as an insert in the Chicago Tribune each year.

Through the rest of the year, visitors come through the neighborhood mainly on architectural tours. Many of the buildings within the boundaries of the Printers’ Row historical district, which is larger than what most would consider to be the neighborhood of Printers’ Row, were the first of their kind in the country and often the world. Some are among the few remaining buildings in Chicago designed by Louis Sullivan, who is widely considered to be the father of the skyscraper. The Chicago Architectural Foundation’s Historic Skyscrapers, Monadnock and Printers Row tours run year round and visit part or all of the Printers Row historic district. More information is available at or (312) 922-3432.

While the area does draw visitors year round and is situated at the south end of the city’s most office-dense area, it is a neighborhood of mostly quiet streets and, as with most of Chicago’s neighborhoods, feels more like a small town to those who live there than the heart of the country’s third-largest city. It is common to see people stop to chat with their neighbors sitting in one of the many sidewalk cafes that pop up on Dearborn Street during the summer and while children are becoming more the exception than the norm for households in the area, it is still a child-friendly place to live for those who can afford it.

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The making of a great neighborhood is heavily dependent on there being at least one good brunch spot. Printers’ Row is lucky enough to boast three. The oldest and most basic of the three is Blackie’s, a bar and restaurant which has been in it’s current location at the corner of Clark and Polk Streets since 1939. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 10:30 am Friday and until 11:30 am, Saturday and Sunday and consists of your basic eggs, omelets and pancakes, all of which are well done and reasonably priced.

Hackney’s, at the corner of Dearborn and Polk Streets is relatively new to the neighborhood, having opened in 2002, but is the sicth location of this family-owned franchise in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. The brunch choices may be slightly more varied than the fare at Blackie’s, but remains fairly standard. The prices are also higher than Blackie’s, but are still reasonable for the food and service provided. Hackney’s is a particularly good choice for those brunching with children.

Finally, the second location of the popular Wicker Park restaurant Orange opened in 2003 on Harrison between Dearborn and Clark Streets. Brunch here is definitely more of an event and the prices reflect it. While not outrageous by any means brunch at Orange will run you more than you might expect else where. To make it worth your take advantage of the fresh juice bar and stick to the pancake and french toast-type options. The pancake flights in particular are a unique treat if you enjoy your brunch on the sweet side.

If brunch is not the only meal you require there are establishments to meet your needs in Printers’ Row. Blackie’s offers basic bar food for lunch everyday from 11 am to 3:30 pm and dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 pm. It is definitely the neighborhood’s most blue-collar bar, though less so now that the neighborhood’s inhabitants are lawyers and investment bankers instead of railroad conductors.

Hackney’s also serves lunch and dinner, the franchise is known for it’s burgers, which are decent. Each night there is a home-style entree special, the meatloaf is one of the most popular, and there is also a wide selection of salads on their menu. Still kid-friendly after dark, the prices for lunch and dinner are average for a family restaurant. The bar is cozy and there will be as many people ordering glasses of wine as pints of beer and the restaurants boasts a respectable selection of each.

Across the street from Hackney’s at 728 S. Dearborn is Gourmand, a coffee shop that has an a la carte food menu and also serves bottled beers and wine by the glass. Filled in the late afternoons and evenings with students from DePaul and Roosevelt Universities and Columbia College who live in the large residence hall nearby, the cafĂ© features the work of a different artist every month and also hosts live music performances on occasional weekend evenings. Open from about 8 am to 11 pm, they also have WiFi access, which is available for a fee.

At 701 S. Dearborn is Kasey’s Tavern. A neighborhood fixture before the area’s redevelopment, this establishment fills the sports bar and hipster niche all in one go. The large TV’s draw the sports crowd while the decor that hasn’t changed since the mid-70’s draws the older of the college students in the area. There is a good selection of beers on tap and Kasey’s is the kind of place where just about anyone can feel at home. Holey jeans and an old t-shirt are as welcomed as suit pants, a dress shirt and a loosened tie.

For a quick burger or hot sandwich and fries SRO is the place to go. The food is not as good as what is available at Hackney’s but the prices are lower and the order at the counter style of service is faster. SRO is open for lunch only and

Next door at 616 South Dearborn, Trattoria Caterina is open for lunch and dinner and serves standard Italian dishes at an average cost. The small restaurant is cozy and is owned by a married couple who have lived in the neighborhood for about 20 years.

The cheapest option for lunch and dinner in the neighborhood is Taste of Siam which features solid Thai food with prompt, if brisk, service. Take out orders are usually ready in 15 minutes and delivery is available for a fee. The place is rarely crowded, so eating in is just as fast and the soft rock playing quietly in the background offers the suggestion that Thai food has become as mainstream in the US as James Taylor.

If you have never tried Chicago-style stuffed pizza, or are craving is, Printers’ Row’s Edwardo’s is located at 521 S. Dearborn.

Beyond eating out in Printers Row the neighborhood is reasonably self contained and residents can easily go weeks without driving, many do not own cars. On the stretch of Roosevelt Road between Wabash Avenue and Kedzie Avenue there is Jewel, a Dominck’s and a Target. The Jewel is walkable, however only if you are comfortable carrying your groceries for a solid 10 to 15 minutes. Target, at the intersection of Clark and Roosevelt is also walkable, if you are not making bulky purchases.

Within half a mile of the Auditorium Theater and the Art Institute, it would be hard to find a neighborhood more accessible to Chicago’s cultural attractions. For something a bit more off the beaten path HotHouse at 31 E. Balbo Avenue serves as a live jazz and world music venue and art gallery. Columbia College students also regularly display their culminating projects in the school’s galleries throughout the area.

The neighborhood boasts seven dry cleaners – a testament to the concentration of suited professionals living here, but no laundromats. However, all of the area’s residential buildings have laundry rooms if the individual apartments do not. Coffee drinks of every variety are available at Gourmand, as well as at the Starbucks at the corner of Dearborn and Harrison and the newer Caribou Coffee 41 E. 8th Street.