An insider’s guide to Bronzeville: Where to eat, shop and celebrate Black history

Only 10 minutes south of downtown Chicago, Bronzeville offers live music every night of the week, Southern comfort food and more.

Bronzeville Neighborhood Guide
Bronzeville, a Chicago neighborhood full of history, features live music every night, local food spots and great shopping. From top left clockwise: The South Side Community Art Center; Bronzeville Winery; Sip & Savor; Small Shop Cycles; First Church of Deliverance; interior of The South Side Community Art Center K’Von Jackson for WBEZ
Bronzeville Neighborhood Guide
Bronzeville, a Chicago neighborhood full of history, features live music every night, local food spots and great shopping. From top left clockwise: The South Side Community Art Center; Bronzeville Winery; Sip & Savor; Small Shop Cycles; First Church of Deliverance; interior of The South Side Community Art Center K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

An insider’s guide to Bronzeville: Where to eat, shop and celebrate Black history

Only 10 minutes south of downtown Chicago, Bronzeville offers live music every night of the week, Southern comfort food and more.

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Bronzeville, the notable and renowned mecca of Black history, is located just 10 minutes south of downtown Chicago. And while the boundaries of the neighborhood may be the subject of some disputes, residents agree on how culturally rich the neighborhood has been — and still is.

Another recent revitalization, spearheaded by Black residents, is fortifying the neighborhood for generations that will follow. A new 86,000-square-foot venue called The Grove Bronzeville is in the planning stages and promises to bring a food hall and marketplace featuring Black female entrepreneurs, plus a Five Iron Golf and performance space.

Still, there’s plenty to experience in the neighborhood now. Looking for live music every night of the week? A neighborhood that offers a quick bike ride to the lake? Or a quick walk to grab Southern comfort food from a handful of local spots? Bronzeville has you covered.

WBEZ asked three residents to take us to their favorite spots in the neighborhood, where we collected the top restaurants to eat in, the best shops to shop in and avenues to meander down.

Bronzeville Guides
WBEZ asked three residents to take us to their favorite spots in the neighborhood. From left to right: Lamar Moore, the head chef of the Bronzeville Winery; Myiti Sengstacke, the president and CEO of the Chicago Defender Charities; Ian Gonzalez, organizer of the running club 7onSundays. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

A 30-second Bronzeville history

Black Southerners fleeing violence and oppression migrated here from the Deep South starting in 1916. The Great Migration would ultimately spur the creation of businesses, many historical “firsts” and legendary cultural moments, including jazz music performances starring Joe “King” Oliver and Freddie Keppard.

Originally called the “Black Belt” and a laundry list of derogatory other names, Bronzeville got its official name in 1930. Legends like Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bessie Coleman, Ida B. Wells and even her great-granduncle, Robert Sengstacke, who founded the first Black newspaper in the United States, the Chicago Defender, all walked the streets of Bronzeville.

In addition to the Defender, the first Black-owned bank, insurance company and department stores started in the community. And in 1930, the Black newspaper Chicago Bee first used the word Bronzeville to describe the skin tone of residents in the community.

By the 1950s and 1960s, Bronzeville experienced population declines as factories relocated outside the vicinity, and residents began feeling the pull of higher-paying jobs outside of Chicago and more affordable suburban life. The construction of the Dan Ryan Expressway, which began in the late 1950s, cleaved the community from the rest of the city. During this time, the massive public housing complexes Stateway Gardens and the Robert Taylor Homes were constructed in the neighborhood.

Details of The First Church of Deliverance
The First Church of Deliverance reflects its rich history through its architecture. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

In 1992, activist and historian Harold Lucas Jr., who is nicknamed the “Godfather of Bronzeville,” said in the Chicago Sun-Times, “My heart has a vision of Bronzeville restored.” Remarkably, that’s exactly what happened through the Mid-South Planning and Commission, which protected historical buildings and promoted Black culture. Ultimately, the city committed millions of dollars to infrastructure, preservation and revitalization of the neighborhood. By the 1990s, Black professionals began moving back into Bronzeville, and by 2004, Bronzeville had made a comeback.

According to a study published by Brookings Metro, Bronzeville is one of the few neighborhoods in the country that has experienced economic growth with little displacement or gentrification.

Sip and Savor
Guide Ian Gonzalez shared that he frequents the coffee shop Sip & Savor, which offers tea and coffee options. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

Where to eat and drink

For those starting their day early, Gonzalez and Moore both suggest Sip & Savor (528 E. 43rd St.). “I’m a big tea drinker. I love going to Sip & Savor because I can walk [there],” Moore said.

Gonzalez said he frequents the lively spot because it’s full of people from the neighborhood. “It’s Black as f***. It’s a great place to grab a coffee, but even just to sit and chill, you know who you will spark up a conversation with.”

As for lunch and dinner, Sengstacke recommends neighborhood food staples Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles (3947 S. King Drive); Two Fish Crab Shack (641 E. 47th St.), which just announced a $9 million renovation with a rooftop cafe; and Bronzeville Soul (4655 S. Martin Luther King Drive) for jerk lamb chops and homemade peach cobbler.

She also frequents Cleo’s Southern Cuisine (4248 S. Cottage Grove Ave.), where her must-order is the Eddie Mac, a chicken thigh topped with baked mac and cheese on a toasted brioche bun.

Gonzalez is also a fan of Cleo’s. “That woman can cook,” he said. “She puts her entire foot into what she is cooking.”

Another stop for Southern comfort food, Gonzalez says, is Pearl’s Place (3901 S. Michigan Ave.), known for its golden fried chicken and buffets with a splash of Creole.

For sandwiches, Gonzalez’s go-to is the jerk salmon wrap at Ain’t She Sweet Cafe (526 E. 43rd St.), which offers a large selection of smoothies and paninis.

Yassa African Restaurant (3511 S. King Drive) is a beloved Sengelese spot where the menu is centered around a series of Yassa dishes, which are prepared with onions, lemon, mustard, garlic, hot pepper, chicken, lamb or fish.

Bronzeville Winery
All three Bronzeville guides recommend Bronzeville Winery. The must-haves include the Maine lobster rolls, white truffle chips and the wine flight. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

Once the sun sets, the dive bar Juke Joynt — AKA “a grown folks bar,” as the sign outside promises — is a proper watering hole with karaoke, DJs and a small dance floor. The Renaissance, a popular South Side spot, hosts reggae music nights and NBA playoff game viewing parties.

The only Black-owned brewery in Chicago, Turner Haus Brewery, opened a taproom at Sip & Savor, where they operate as a brewery at night. The five flagship beers at the brewery are named after women in the extended Turner family.

Thee Beauty Bar, (810 E. 43rd St.), formerly known as Some Like It Black, describes its space as a Miami-esque vibe with craft cocktails, a beauty bar where cosmetics can be purchased and tacos for evening snacks.

Bronzeville Winery
Bronzeville Winery combines owner Eric Williams’s love for music, food and wine. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

All three residents suggested Bronzeville Winery (4420 S. Cottage Grove Ave.). Owned by Eric Williams, the staple of the South Side combines Williams’s love for music, food and wine — and it was just recognized with a Jean Banchet award.

Where to shop

While Bronzeville is bustling in terms of food and bars, there’s no one destination for shopping. A smattering of small businesses operate in two general areas: at the corner of 35th and State streets, where the Illinois Institute of Technology dominates the intersection, and 47th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Absolutely Anything Essential (3521 S. King Drive) is a three-level gift shop and venue owned by Kenya Renee, who sells handmade gifts, soaps and scrubs. She also hosts events, including a candle-making class and a body scrub and soap-making class.

At Bronzeville Boutique (4259 S. King Drive), the tagline is, “We don’t sell clothes, we dress people.” Lady Mocha has operated the business since 1991, selling everything from sequin ball gowns to bedazzled T-shirts.

Small Cycle Shop
Small Shop Cycles on S. Cottage Grove Ave. sells affordable bikes and offers repairs. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

For those looking for a South Side bike shop, Small Shop Cycles (4250 S. Cottage Grove Ave.) sells affordable bikes and offers repairs.

If you’re interested in picking up a snack or a gift, stop by Moore Poppin’ (749 E. 47th St.) instead of the tourist-ridden Garrett’s. Dre Moore, the owner, creates gourmet popcorn flavors made from scratch.

Treat yourself at CBQ Facial Beauty Bar (4458 S. Cottage Grove Ave.), the first facial bar in Bronzeville that offers 30-minute facial treatments for that extra wintertime TLC.

Where to get cultured

Bronzeville continues to be at the forefront of culture, from live jazz performances to the visual arts.

Moore, the chef at Bronzeville Winery, said a lot of the wine, food and live DJ sets at the restaurant encompass the jazz history of the neighborhood. “We integrate live bands. And for me, as a native of Bronzeville, and outside of what I do as a chef, those are some of the things I enjoy.” Upcoming events include brunch DJ sessions on Sundays as well as member-only events for Bronzeville Winery’s Wine Collective.

If you’re looking for gospel music, look no further than the choir at First Church of Deliverance (4315 S. Wabash Ave.). The architecture of the church, designed by Illinois’ first licensed Black architect, Walter Thomas Bailey, is adorned with terra cotta art deco. The interior is unreal, with colored lights and a cross on the ceiling illuminated with bright green walls. Open House Chicago called it “undoubtedly one the most unique [churches] in Chicago.”

First Church of Deliverance
The First Church of Deliverance was designed by Walter Thomas Bailey, Illinois’ first licensed Black architect. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

The First Church started with a gay preacher, Clarence Henry Cobbs, who began broadcasting Sunday church services in 1935. From then on, songwriters began pitching gospel songs to the church’s choir. In 1994, the building was designated a Chicago Landmark. Today, church services still include a hand-clapping, lifting-your-hands-high, rejoicing choir that can be experienced live, on a broadcast or on the radio.

As for music events on stage, the Harold Washington Cultural Center (4701 S. Martin Luther King Drive) hosts theatrical performances — including a series called Broadway in Bronzeville — and musical performances. Other neighborhood cultural venues include the Center for Inner City Studies (700 E. Oakwood Blvd.) at Northeastern University, which hosts live performances, guest speakers and a summer jazz series.

For art lovers, there’s a trio of galleries: Blanc Gallery (4445 S. Martin Luther King Drive), Guichard Gallery (436 E. 47th St.) and Faie African Art Gallery (1005 E. 43rd St.). The Bronzeville Art District Trolley Tours, where you can visit each gallery, will kick off on June 21 for the 2024 season.

Southside Community Art Center
The South Side Community Art Center on South Michigan Avenue is the oldest Black art center in the U.S. K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

The South Side Community Art Center (3831 S. Michigan Ave.) is the oldest Black art center in the U.S. and is a Chicago Historic Landmark. The building, acquired in 1892, was designed by architect Gustav Hallberg, and walking through the doors of the Art Center is like traveling back in history itself. The exhibition “Bending Light” will be on view until April 27, featuring a cohort of Chicago-based painters.

A walking tour

Residents say the best way to explore Bronzeville is to simply take a walk.

“Bronzeville is filled with amazing architecture,” Sengstacke said. “You can almost go on any street and see the fascinating, historic gray and Brownstones. Dr. King Drive alone is filled with history and beautiful homes.”

A good DIY tour can start with the postwar modernist church Liberty Baptist Church (4849 S. King Drive), which was Martin Luther King Jr.’s headquarters for meetings and rallies. The building sits two blocks north of Provident Hospital (500 E. 51st St.), which was the first Black-run hospital in America and where the first open heart surgery occurred in 1893.

The Illinois Institute of Technology (10 W. 35th St.) offers the largest group of Mies van der Rohe buildings on its campus. Once the weather warms up, join a two-hour walking tour where participants can hear about the Helmut Jahn-designed residence hall and the McCormick Tribune Campus Center.

Other neighborhood historical highlights are the historic home of Ida B. Wells (3624 S. Martin Luther King Drive) — Gonzalez likes to point it out during his Sunday down King Drive. Just two blocks away are the Robert W. Roloson Houses (3213 S. Calumet Ave.), which are the only Frank Lloyd Wright row houses ever built.

While strolling the streets, take a walk along the Bronzeville Hall of Fame, which highlights the incredible former residents of Bronzeville on sidewalks, medians and crosswalks where 91 bronze plaques cover 10 blocks between 26th and 35th streets on South King Drive.

'Have a Dream'
‘Have a Dream,’ located on the East side of 40th Street and King Drive, was painted in 1995 by the Rev. C. Siddha Webber and renovated in 2015. Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times

Bronzeville is also home to many outside monuments, including Alison Saar’s bronze sculpture, the Monument of the Great Northern Migration (345 E. Eastgate Place), and two murals, “Earth Is Not Our Home,” (West side of 40th Street and King Drive) created in 1981, and “Have a Dream,” (East side of 40th Street and King Drive) painted in 1995 by the Rev. C. Siddha Webber.

Whether it’s next week or next month, visit Bronzeville by taking the Red Line, Green Line or the 29 and 35 buses. By supporting the businesses, folks are supporting the expansion of a new history for Bronzeville residents and building upon what their ancestors started.

S. Nicole Lane is an editor for Healthnews and freelance journalist.