April 2007 Archives

Sparki the Bartender (photo by Erica Dufour)

Sometimes, Ol' Sparki is a cowboy, other times he's pure sophistication. This week's cocktail is fancy, well sort of.

After reading today's column about Chicago's rat troubles, several people have emailed asking to contact "Rat Man" George Manning, who is Chicago's foremost expert on all things rats.

Some people will say Manning is just out to stir up trouble, but that's the farthest thing from the truth. He knows his stuff and wants the city to do more to curb the rat problem They don't call him Rat Man for nothing.

My little 'hood trivia quiz found in a corner of the neighborhoods pages makes it easy for you to know a bit more about Chicago. I give you the answer.
But starting next week ...

I spent a Sunday morning with the Santanas and photographer Timre Surrey at the Garfield Park conservatory while Surrey snapped family portraits, the last wish of Kimberly Santana, who has end stage lung cancer.

I hung back and talked to family members during the moments between pictures. Due to space limitations, not all of those moments made it in the paper. So here's the rest of the story -- in snapshots.

I went out on a rat hunt with the Mayor Daley's Dumpster Task Force, you've probably seen these rat hunters on the TV news. When someone reports overflowing Dumpsters behind your favorite restaurant or grocery, the rat patrol checks it out, inspects the inside of the restaurant, searches for rat holes in alleys and fills them with rat poison. We were in Uptown, behind an African grocery. I saw a squirrel — which is pretty much a rat with good PR — climb out of a trash bin, but no rats.
The rat hunters seem like good people doing what they're told, and claim to be decreasing he rat population. Their mantra is: "If rats can't eat, rats can't breed." And we can win the rat war by picking up after your dog and keeping your trash bin lid closed, rats will starve to death.

But "Rat Man" George Manning says that's all propaganda. He insists rats are winning. He says rats use the sewer system as a superhighway and supermarket. He says rats are living in burrowed mansions under the street and could cause cave-ins that swallow your Jetta.

Sun-Times intrepid columnist Dave Hoekstra is a master at capturing city life (especially if it's in a barroom with great music) or tidbits of Americana chronicled during his travels on his favorite road.
His latest series, Girls Gone Chicago, takes us to a Ukrainian Village coffee shop and the lives of three 24-year-old immigrant gals — Ukranians Elena Lypnytska and Nadiya Yatskiv and Polish immigrant Monica Syniweicu — adjusting to American life, the Chicago Way.

A band of federal agents wearing bulletproof vests and armed with machine guns swarmed a strip mall on 26th Street looking for people making fake social security cards and green cards at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.
They raided the photo shop owned by Ald. Rick Munoz's father, who was "visibly upset" by the whole thing.

How would you feel if ...

Investigative reporter Tim Novak dug up the rest of the story involving U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's connection to indicted real estate developer Tony Rezko, raising questions about the presidential candidate's involvement with a guy accused of demanding kickbacks from companies seeking state business from Gov. Blagojevich's administration.
Here's some story highlights:
Rezko and a business partner developed in what was Obama's state Senate district, particularly 30 buildings in Englewood that were rehabbed "in a series of troubled deals largely financed by taxpayers."

More than half of them went into foreclosure, Novak writes.

Obama worked for a small Chicago law firm that helped get Rezko's firm more than $43 million in government funding to rehab 15 of the 30 buildings.

Obama accepted $54,416 in campaign contributions from Rezko and his associates.

It's unclear how much legal work Obama did on those deals, but ...

Some folks who live on the west side of Washington Park say they fear putting the proposed Olympic Stadium in their neighborhood will spur gentrification and shove them out of the place they've called home for so long.

What's your take?

Here's what one reader had to say via email ...

Take a look at this picture of a neighborhood site. What is it?

Ron Hazen of Andersonville spends every Tuesday night tutoring a 6th grader named Sam at Bezazian Library in Uptown. Hazen, 28, has been a volunteer with the Inspired Youth Tutoring Program for two years. "It's fun working with the kids and great being a real, positive impact in their lives," he said. "And I've noticed Sam's reading skills have really been improving."

During my bartending days on the North Side, I was always amazed at how many smart, whiskey-drinking people didn't know which ward they live in, who their alderman is or the address of the local ward office.
After Tuesday's elections, we've got 8 new aldermen to get to know and some to say goodbye to others. What better way celebrate democracy than to watch the thrill of victory and agony defeat for yourself.

Mayor Daley is planning to put the kibosh on the National Vietnam Veterans Museum's proposed rent-to-own sale of the building at 1801 S. Indiana to Black Orchid Supper Club
If the city gets control of the property ...

My old man didn't want me to move to Pullman. There's nothing over there, he'd say.
And he's mostly right. We don't have grocery store or a place to grab a quick sandwich, except for McDonald's or the Cal Harbor restaurant, the greasy spoon. There's only one bar. The neighborhood's crown jewels included what's left of Market Square, a burned out shell being SLOWLY restored or the Hotel Florence, which is rarely open to the public and no longer has its popular Sunday brunch. And don't get dad started on the area crime stats.
But Historic Pullman has something few city neighborhoods can boast about ...

On the afternoon our town was selected as the country's choice for the 2016 Olympic Games, reporter Dave Newbart caught up with a woman and her son at a tiny playground in Washington Park. She talked of how a stadium will "bring jobs to the people who live down here."

Elynne submitted this essay for your enjoyment. If you'd like to submit your Chicago-themed essay, drop me a line.


Seeing Chicago from your feet is really a perspective in experiencing our
city that is unforgettably intimate. Going by bicycle, car, bus or roller
blade will not do it in the same way. It has to be you, your feet and the
city joined in a personal dance that allows you to feel the rhythms of
Chicago’s neighborhoods, lakefront and exquisite signature skyline.

Do you have a short story, essay, interesting blog item (not about your cat) or maybe an original poem about our Chicago experience? Here's your chance to ...

Things are changing in Englewood, a rather rough section of the South Side sadly plagued by murder and gangs and drugs. I took a visit this week, cruising down Halsted to 63rd where crews are working feverishly on the new Kennedy-King College campus. It appears to be the kind of construction that could bring revival in an area desperately in need of it.
If you live or own a business there ...

Welcome to my new blog-only Friday feature to get your weekend started just right. I've commandeered the services of one my all-time favorite Chicago bartenders, Sparki at Four Moon Tavern in Roscoe Village. He's a bartending talent right up there with Heather my tall, blond ex-roommate at Tavern 33 and Humberto, owner of Pullman's Pub.

And I've asked him to provide the recipe for a weekly concoction guaranteed (well almost) to make your Friday night go smoothly. Here you go ...

Sara Chazin is a sweet lady with a great store, and it's only when you stop to chat with her that you'll find out she has a great story.

Speaking of interesting characters, what I really want to know is ...

Due to plumbing problems at the Konkol abode, the blog will be delayed today.

But to entertain you, here's Flat Iron resident and traveling folk singer Jaik Willis singing "Leaving Vancouver" ...

It's no secret that I am not a Cubs fan. .
But here's a view of yesterday's pre-game festivities at the Ol' Beer Garden anyway.
Take a look at ...

Remember our Quizno's coyote? Well here's ...

Mayor Daley takes his eggs fluffy and likes them with tomatoes at Cafe Society, hizzoner's neighborhood breakfast spot.

"He always eat healthy, with a nice cappuccino," says the mustachioed proprietor, Jorge Anafador.

"I like area, many people move here. First they have doggies. I put out free doggie cookies. ... Den dey have babies. Babies call me Uncle George."

Mike McGraw traveled the world as a flight attendant, made candy at a South Side factory and served dinners on refurbished Pullman train cars on the East Coast.

He's waited tables at Smith & Wollensky downtown, mixed cocktails at fancy rich-people parties and done some house-sitting at Barack Obama's place. He's worked so many odd jobs he can't remember them all.

These days, McGraw's a treasure hunter in Pullman. He stalks flea markets and salvage shops, raids his aunt's barn in the country and searches alleys in the city.

Alright, check out these 20 and 30-something neighborhood folks talking about dating in the city.

It's their take on all things dating and more — "Going up to a dude in a bar" or "the three day rule" guys with hair plugs and kissing people with bad breath, and "remembering all your lies."

Long ago, a certain South Side guy would do just about anything to woo a particular blond with a master's degree and pretty blue eyes.

He'd make up excuses to ditch his Budweiser-drinking pals at Kilroys in Lansing just to spend a few hours with her sipping mochas, making small talk and playing Scrabble at Uncommon Ground at Clark and Grace.

Chasing the blond of course was a complete waste of time. The only good that came of it was being introduced to the city's vibrant coffee shop culture -- easily missed from his south suburban barstool.

When you talk about grabbing a coffee these days, people usually think Starbucks or maybe some other chain that offers a quick caffeine fix. But it's the little coffeehouses all over town -- places like Humboldt Pie Cafe, Uncommon Ground, Cafe Luna and MoJoe's -- that you really feel the pulse of a neighborhood without feeling rushed.

Go ahead, contribute to our neighborhood coverage.

Do you know something about your corner of Chicago that you think not many other people know?
Send me you're suggestions for our weekly, Know your 'hood feature.

Same goes for What is it? Send pictures and a description, and it might make the paper.

These are some kind people in your neighborhood.

What's this?

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Do you have a picture of a landmark in your neighborhood that would be perfect for our What's this? feature. Send me an email with the shot and a description of what it is. Your photojust might make the paper.

I'm as guilty as anyone of frequenting Starbucks, especially since there are 67 of them on my way to work. But I'm not proud of it, same as I hate admitting to hitting the McDonald's drive-thru.

Still, I believe Starbucks is evil....

Mary Mitchell suggests today in her column that black and Hispanic men read the new book "Arrest-Proof Yourself" to keep out of jail on minor crimes.
This goes double for "mopes." And not just minority mopes, but mopes of all colors.
Author Dale, C. Carson, a former Miami cop and FBI agent says ...

What a great line from intrepid reporter Shamus Toomey. It's almost as good as this line — "The officer didn't have far to go; he was at the Dunkin' Donuts next door." — later in the story.
While I've never encountered an urban coyote, I've had squirrels living in my attic, got hissed at by a possum and freaked out once when a giant raccoon came jumping out of the trash bin.
Do you have a great story of encountering urban wild life?

If you're one of those people who gets up before sunrise, turn on the tube and check me out on the Channel 2 morning show. I'll be talking about ...

Our White Sox are getting hammered by Cleveland but there's still some sunshine in Bridgeport.
Jimbo's Lounge, 3258 S. Princeton, is serving cold ones for another opening day — it's 23rd opening day — while its eviction case is still be decided in court.

Of course city inspectors slapped Jimbo and Joyce Levato with a $250 ticket for having their outdoor patio too close to the street. Here's what Joyce Levato had to say about that today ....

As a former Roscoe Villager, I had a front row seat when modest homes started being replaced by McMansions and giant condos that block out the sun. Just check out my old block, 3300 North Hoyne (just down the street from Village Tap.) and you'll have a good idea of what I'm talking about.
I just never wrote a song or made a video about it.
That's why you've gotta see ....

Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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