This past week brought an emergency family trip to Chicago. As always, we paid a visit to my husband’s old neighborhood of Pilsen.
The houses in this lower west side neighborhood sit in sunken lots with garden apartments below street level because the sewers went in after the houses were built.
Our visit includes a drive past the old family house, but as we circle the blocks and continue on, my tour guide’s best stories involve the sights on what I like to call his Pilsen Taverns and Tabernacles Tour.
Back in the day, there were a whole lot of bars and churches in Pilsen.
Some of the bars are closed, like Ross’s, always known as Danny’s.
Some of them, like the former Schultzy’s, have been converted into other businesses.
Or, like the former Helen’s, into something less identifiable.
We did find one tavern that appears to have survived and thrived, Martin’s Corner.
One of the more popular local watering holes was not actually a public tavern, but a peculiarity of working class Chicago, a Social Athletic Club. This one was known as the Trotters. It’s now a hair salon.
If there’s a tavern–or two–on every block in Pilsen, the same can be said of churches. St. Michael’s is down the street from Our Lady of Vilna, not too far from St. Stephens, near St. Ann’s, close by to the Lutheran church, St. Matthews, and also Providence of God, St. Procopius, and St. Adalbert.
And then there’s St. Paul’s, a church built by German Immigrants without a single nail. The spires of St. Paul’s soar over the neighborhood.
Though nationalities have changed, working class immigrants have always called Pilsen home. It does seem that the current crop of immigrants have upset the tavern/tabernacle ratio. We saw only one church building for sale, but many of the taverns are out of commission.
The lakefront gentrification that has transformed Taylor and Maxwell Streets has not seeped westward into Pilsen–yet. When it does, perhaps the ratio of taverns to tabernacles will change once again.
As long as we never lose the magnificent St. Paul’s!