A strong history of prestigious African American-owned businesses established a solid base for a prosperous and successful Chicago neighborhood that is still present in Chatham and spills over into beautiful residential blocks and a viable commercial and dining district. Single-family homes dominate the neighborhood with a handful of multi-unit buildings here and there. But, for the most part Chatham residents live in classic bungalows and frame houses with small green yards and shaded front sidewalks. Along the main thoroughfares dozens of restaurants, takeout places, and neighborhood bars line the street, welcoming familiar faces to enjoy a meal and relax after a long day. Scattered among the eateries are a good selection of clothing stores and unique boutiques, with a Target on hand for the best in one-stop shopping.
Location: About 11 miles south of the Loop
Boundaries: 75th Street to the north, Cottage Grove Avenue to the east, 87th Street to the south and the Dan Ryan Expressway to the west
Bordering Neighborhoods: Park Manor, West Chatham, West Chesterfield, Burnside, Avalon Park
Then and Now
It’s hard to fathom that the area of Chatham was once a place so swampy that it was referred to as 'Mud Lake,' but such was the case. The land was mostly used for hunting and some farming was done to the west, but all in all, Chatham’s beginnings were rather boggy and uninviting to residents for many years.
Things started to take a turn for the better in the 1860s and ‘70s when railroad tracks were laid nearby. Industrial plants and factories that manufactured tacks, barbed-wire, scales, watches, and furniture began popping up alongside the new train route. Employment opportunities were plenty. As innovative drainage programs made the marshy territory more livable, Italian stonemasons began to build houses in the neighborhood in the 1880s. In addition to immigrants from Italy, the newly established Chatham community saw an influx of Hungarians and Irish, who came to the area mainly to work on nearby railroad construction sites. By the year 1889, Chatham was welcomed into Chicago’s ever-expanding city limits.
In the 1920s, the population of Chatham began to rise. Property value also increased due to strict codes and standards set by the community that required homeowners to care for their individual lots and maintain their houses. More and more European immigrants and Chicagoans from other vicinities moved into the area, tripling the number of inhabitants by the time the 1930s rolled around. A decade later, another population spurt hit the neighborhood, this time provoking commercial development, and bunches of shops opened up along Cottage Grove Avenue.
In the 1950s, African American families began to take up residence in Chatham, the start of a transition that would quickly make African Americans the majority. While other south side Chicago neighborhoods struggled with this shift in demographic makeup, Chatham did not. Existing churches opened their doors to the new neighbors and the Chatham-Avalon Park Community Council was formed to help promote bonding among residents. Since then, African Americans have come to comprise 99 percent of the population in Chatham neighborhood.
African American residents were drawn to Chatham due to its middle-class nature, stability, and property standards. Throughout the years, and to this day, neighborhood locals have successfully maintained these traditions, continuing to prosper as internationally recognized companies flock to the area to set up shop. Hugely successful businesses were opened in the area, like Johnson Products, Seaway National Bank, and the Independence Bank of Chicago. These have been a few of the most prestigious African American owned companies in the country, all concentrated in the small confines of Chatham. Most recently, commercial property development has expanded, benefiting this south side community by bringing well-known retail to the area and popular restaurants that frequently draw folks from all over Chicago.
While Chatham has been built up with a respectable amount of commercial and residential development, the neighborhood is not for lack of sufficient recreational parks that give residents a spot or two to enjoy open green spaces and get a breath of fresh air once in a while.
The largest of Chatham’s public parks occupies a full neighborhood block in the southern half of the community and has been there since 1961. Nat King Cole Park (361 E 85th St, 312-747-6063) offers a running track and a spray pool as well as a club for area teens. As you may have guessed, the park was named after the singer/musician Nat King Cole, and it officially took on the title six years after the commons was established. Little Natty had roots in Chatham, having grown up in the area – not far from where the current park stands. His father was also a pastor in a neighborhood church. In later years, Cole would go on to earn 28 gold records during his career and be the first African American to host a television show on a major network. Sounds like grounds for a park-naming to us!
Also located on the Chatham’s south side, Brown Memorial Park (634 E 86th St, 312-747-6063) is a very small plot of recreational space, but still has a baseball diamond and tennis courts available for the neighborhood’s sports enthusiasts. Brown Memorial was constructed in 1967 as a tribute to local firefighter Sidney Brown, who was the first African American Chicago firefighter to die in the line of duty after he entered a burning building in the attempt to save three children. One man’s bravery was the genesis of this Chatham neighborhood park, and to this day, if you visit the site for a little vigorous activity and outdoor fun, we swear a sense of Sidney’s spirit still lingers in the air.
Chatham Real Estate
Much of Chatham’s residences are single-family homes, with a handful of residential buildings here and there. A good mix of one- and two-story houses occupies the neighborhood blocks of small green lots, bordered by well-maintained sidewalks and long-established plant life and mature trees. Many of the properties in Chatham are lovely little frame homes, although the community also hosts a significant number of red brick bungalows, the Chicago staple. Most of these adorable bungalows, sporting shady front porches and second floor dormer windows, remain solid and in good condition after 80 or more years of standing. They boast beautiful exterior stone ornamentation and exquisite masonry work that is so hard to find in newer brick homes.
Chatham is a neighborhood of predominately middle-class homeowners who take great care in the maintenance of their houses, sometimes revamping the interiors for a more modern look. Recently, many new buildings have been erected, providing residents with a variety of living options and styles. There are a few larger, recently constructed homes complete with back decks and good-sized back yards dotting the neighborhood streets that appeal to many first-time buyers. The range in single-family residences offers Chatham residents a good deal of flexibility in price as well. Detached three-bedroom homes in the neighborhood run between $96,000 and the $335,000, so no matter what your budget, you should be able to find a place to suit your means.
As we mentioned before, multi-unit housing is few and far between in Chatham. There are some older upper level condos situated above storefronts that are priced between $145,000 and $165,000. Other low-rise vintage condominiums with three-bedrooms go for between $250,000 and $320,000, and newer modern townhomes can cost in the mid to upper $300,000s.
What’s on the Menu?
From stellar vegetarian to meaty barbecue, a dazzling myriad of dining choices abound in Chatham. Just step out of your door, head down the street and find yourself among an assortment of restaurants that will satisfy any craving.
Not many places serve Senegalese fare. Lucky for fans of northwest African cuisine, Chatham has a restaurant that dishes out some of the best this side of the Atlantic. Yassa African Restaurant (716 E 79th St, 773-488-5599) often makes a buzz in food circles around town. Lamb is a common meat used in this Senegalese cooking, which is apparent as many of the entrees are based around it. Dakhine, which is lamb in peanut butter sauce and served with rice and beans, is an excellent lunch decision and a popular choice among Chatham locals who come here to dine. Another tasty lunch option, and our personal favorite, is the bourakhe, which is lamb (again) and fish mixed with peanut butter and spinach in an oil sauce. It’s as unusual as it is delicious. For dinner, Yassa switches it up with chicken and beef wraps, couscous, brochette (an African-style shish kabob), red snapper, and much more. Alcohol isn’t served here, but there are a number of soft drinks and juices to sip on such as Gingembre, a strong African ginger-flavored beverage.
South siders love their barbecue, and Captain Curt’s BBQ (8210 S Cottage Grove, 773-487-6550) is one of the best places to get it. The self-proclaimed heavyweight champion of barbecue has been around since 1982. Meat, meat, and more meat is what they have here (sorry vegetarians); from various rib servings to chicken wings. The wings can be ordered in increments of three, from three to 300! We can only hope that a quantity that large would be for a really big party. The sauce is what makes this food truly special. It’s a secret recipe that’s been in the owner’s family for years. Speaking of the owner, Curt Briggs began to make waves after building his barbecue delivery truck in 1986, complete with an oven, fridge, and a sink. In his converted truck, Captain Curt could hit the downtown area of Chicago and serve up his famous barbeque to the city workers, students and tourists at lunch time. Although he’s not about to give up the ingredients that go into making them, the captain’s flavorful sauces and marinades can be purchased on the restaurant’s web site, and they’re also found at major Chicago grocery stores like Jewel and Dominick’s.
If Captain Curt didn’t quite sell you on his barbecue, perhaps you’d like to visit some of Chatham’s other famous Captain cooks that dominate the dining scene in this south side Chicago neighborhood. Seafood specialists, Captain Hook and Captain Smith serve up their catches of the day at their individual Chatham locations: Captain Hook’s Fish & Chicken (8550 S Cottage Grove, 773-483-4600) and Captain Smith Seafood (353 E 79th St, 773 488 5000). And for something a little more upscale but still affordable, Captain’s Hard Times Dining (438 E 79th St, 773 487 2900) proudly serves its neighbors soul, Creole, and continental dishes. Stop by on Sunday for a unique dining experience full of song and spirit, as Gospel singers grace the dining room in the afternoon and serenade patrons with joyous hymns and hand-clapping melodies.
Pictures of local political figures grin down upon the crowd of diners in search of good old home cooking at Izola’s Restaurant (522 E 79th St, 773-846-1484). This Chatham neighborhood gem has been open for several decades and has recently been named the city’s best 24 hour restaurant by the critics behind AOL Local. Izola’s fills this important culinary niche, with a menu that ranges from breakfast necessities like eggs and pancakes to dinner options like catfish and chicken. And certainly not an after-dinner thought at this south side eatery, the desserts are front and center here with delectable whole pies like sweet potato and peach cobbler that can be ordered and taken home for a special occasion, or, if you can’t wait that long, get a piece to gobble up right then and there.
On a different note, Soul Vegetarian East (205 E 75th St, 773-224-0104) is for anyone serious about avoiding meat and dairy but who still crave those off-limit flavors. For example, barbecue roast sandwiches (roast gluten, not roast beef) and Salisbury steak salad (not made with real steak) are on the menu alongside the basic veggie burgers. While the place is decked out in African decor and the servers wear robes to go along with it, the food is influenced by a wide range of regions such as South America, Greece, Italy and of course, Africa. Complement your entree with one of their natural sodas and be sure to save room for a taste of vegan desserts. Whether you have sworn off all animal products or not, you’ll love these sweet little after-meal treats.
Pleasant island music fills the air at Cafe Trinidad (557 E 75th St, 773-846-8081) as Chatham residents and visitors from around Chicago enjoy Caribbean-style cooking that’s slightly different than any other you’ve had. Not many of the Caribbean kitchens on the south side are specifically influenced by the small island of Trinidad, just off the coast of Venezuela. Prices are more than reasonable here, under $10 for most items, and the tastes are priceless. Oxtail stew and curry goat are some of the more adventurous items one can try, which we have yet to sample. But the jerk chicken is a sure hit and a hands-down favorite of the regular clientele. Additionally, the marinated and deep-fried perch and salmon steaks in curry sauce are sure to make many mouths water.
Best Shopping Stops
Family-owned shops alternate with popular nationwide chains in Chatham’s commercial districts, where all the locals go for their everyday essentials and the occasional weekend shopping spree.
No need to make the trip up Michigan Avenue to shop the Magnificent Mile, there are plenty of stores that cover all the fashion basics right here. Chathamites have excellent options on apparel as many differing styles of clothing and accessories are found in the local boutiques and storefronts. We’ll break them down for you. Newell Apparel (724 E 79th St, 773-488-5364) is a clothing store that serves both male and female fashionistas with a selection of trendy designs for him and her. For full figured ladies, Chatham has shops like Ashley Stewart (8658 S Cottage Grove, 773-994-1256) and Lane Bryant (712 E 87th St, 773-874-0003). Meanwhile, the men can check out businesses like Jake’s for Men (704 E 83rd St, 773-723-9380) and Serioux Store for Men (416 E 87th St, 773-723-8900) in an attempt to stay fashionable—don’t worry, the clerks will help you pick out matching slacks and shirts.
For new kicks (a.k.a. shoes), Chatham residents have their choice of places to find fabulous footwear. For those interested in supporting the mom and pop shop, La Leak Shoes (610 E 79th St, 773-723-9311) should be the first stop. While they have an excellent selection of slip-ons, loafers, sandals, and pumps, it’s hard to get specialty footgear at independent shops. For that there’s The Athlete’s Foot (750 E 79th St, 773-994-7211), which has been a growing national franchise since the early 1970s. If we need cleats for the softball league, sneakers for the tennis court, or track shoes for the early morning jog, the Chatham Athlete’s Foot can provide them, as well as any other sporty footwear we happen to need. And for simple and inexpensive footwear that follows today’s trends, it can’t hurt to have a Payless Shoe Source (8552 S Cottage Grove, 773-483-8475) in the neighborhood, too.
With all the fashion-related businesses in the neighborhood, it’s obvious that Chatham residents can stay looking good and en vogue with no problem. But sometimes it’s impossible to keep up an elevated quota of personal style without it spilling over into the home front as well. For those in search of something to liven up the interior decor or redo the living room, New Boutique Africa (213 E 75th St, 773-488-9755) and Raggs (7943 S King Dr, 773-783-8303) are places we suggest scoping out that sell decorative arts and unique home furnishings.
Night on the Town
Looking to decompress? Chatham has a couple of places to assist with that. And while you’re blowing off steam from the hectic workweek, you may discover this south side Chicago neighborhood has just the right vibe for a rather enjoyable evening out.
Decked out in Mardi Gras decor with a hearty blast of Cajun fumes spewing from the kitchen, Red Pepper’s Masquerade Lounge (428 E 87th St, 773-873-5700) is somewhere we can go when we’re itching to visit New Orleans’ French Quarter, but can’t get the week off of work. This restaurant/bar seeks to entertain its guests, showcasing live blues music and stand-up comedy, in addition to holding dart tournaments and card games. Grab a drink to wash down that spicy jambalaya or plate of mild chicken wings. If you’re not into the Cajun cooking, Red Pepper’s also serves more neutral dishes like spaghetti, burgers and wings.
Buckwheat’s Lounge (511 E 79th St, 773 783 8383) is one of the oldest establishments in Chatham and is still jumpin’ most of the time. No food served here. Just drinks. In amongst the crowd many regular patrons are found bumping elbows with the newbies, all sipping on their favorite beverages and bobbing their heads to the music. There’s plenty to do while hanging at this Chatham neighborhood institution, making it hard to get bored, and offering ample reasons to stay for awhile. After you select your top five favorite songs to play on the jukebox, pick up a pool stick and take on a friend, or challenge that lovely couple at the bar to a nice little game of eight-ball. Next try your hand at darts or hit up a few of the video games. And when you’ve had your fill of fun-filled bar activities, have a seat at the bar and enjoy another round or two before heading off to bed.
School’s in Session
Given its fairly sizeable population, the Chatham neighborhood has numerous schools where parents can to choose to send their children to class, or take their pick of countless other reputable Chicago area schools. In addition to the following list, for information on these and other educational facilities in the city of Chicago visit our Chicago Guide Schools Page.
Neil Elementary School – 8555 S Michigan Ave – (773) 535-3000
Pirie Elementary School – 650 E 85th St – (773) 535-3435
Rescue Missionary Christian Church and School – 7956 S King Dr – (773) 224-9539
Ruggles Elementary School – 7831 S Prairie Ave – (773) 535-3085
Saint Dorothy’s School – 7740 S Eberhart Ave – (773) 783-0555
To give a sense of what Chatham really has to offer, we’ve supplied you with some of the basic neighborhood resources so you’ll know just where to go, whether you need to ship a package or pick up the missing ingredients for a weekend dinner party.
Yassa African Restaurant – 716 E 79th St – (773) 488-5599
Captain Curt’s BBQ – 8210 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 487-6550
Captain’s Hard Times Dining – 438 E 79th St – (773) 487-2900
Captain Hook’s Fish & Chicken – 8550 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 483-4600
Captain Smith Seafood – 353 E 79th St – (773) 488-5000
Chatham Pancake House – 700 E 87th St – (773) 874-0010
Izola’s Restaurant – 522 E 79th St – (773) 846-1484
Lem’s Bar B Que – 311 E 75th St – (773) 994-2428
Mather Cafe – 33 E 83rd St – (773) 488-2756
Queen of the Sea – 8154 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 723-5520
Rib Joint, Inc. – 432 E 87th St – (773) 651-4108
New China Express – 718 E 87th St – (773) 488-3838
Yung’s Chop Suey – 119 E 79th St – (773) 224-6666
Cafe Trinidad – 557 E 75th St – (773) 846-8081
Tropic Island Jerk Chicken – 419 E 79th St – (773) 224-7766
Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant – 131 E 79th St – (773) 994-1525
Jamie’s Italian Beef & Pizza – 130 E 79th St – (773) 994-4000
Soul Vegetarian East – 205 E 75th St – (773) 224-0104
Chatham Foods – 327 E 79th St – (773) 783-2880
Buckwheat’s Lounge – 511 E 79th St – (773) 783-8383
Duke’s Lounge – 121 E 79th St – (773) 874-6343
Red Pepper’s Masquerade Lounge – 428 E 87th St – (773) 873-5700
Brown Memorial Park – 634 E 86th St – (312) 747-6063
Nat King Col Park – 361 E 85th St – (312) 747-6063
Cottage Clinic Pharmacy – 8055 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 651-3535
Target Pharmacy – 8560 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 371-8555
Walgreens – 8628 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 874-5500
US Post Offices – 7740 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 483-1207
Alissons la Parisienne – 8834 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 994-8975
Ashley Stewart – 8658 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 994-1256
The Athlete’s Foot – 750 E 79th St – (773) 994-7211
The Collection Clothing – 711 E 79th St – (773) 874-8887
Great Choice, Inc. – 759 E 79th St – (773) 892-1192
Jake’s for Men – 704 E 83rd St – (773) 723-9380
La Leak Shoes – 610 E 79th St – (773) 723-9311
Lane Bryant – 712 E 87th St – (773) 874-0003
New Boutique Africa – 213 E 75th St – (773) 488-9755
Newell Apparel – 724 E 79th St – (773) 488-5364
Payless Shoe Source – 8552 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 483-8475
Raggs – 7943 S King Dr – (773) 783-8303
Serioux Store for Men – 416 E 87th St – (773) 723-8900
Target – 8560 S Cottage Grove Ave – (773) 371-8555
Chicago Transit Authority – (888) 968-7282
Our neighborhoods guide is meant to give potential homebuyers a general overview of what every Chicago neighborhood has to offer and what makes it unique from the rest, and believe us, no two neighborhoods are the same! Searching for a new home isn’t just about finding that prefect condo or house, making sure the setting fits your style and needs is just as important. And whether Chatham is your ideal locale to settle down, or you’ve found the scene here just isn’t your cup of tea, we’re here to help you find the right place to make sure your home purchase a is total success. From the type of restaurants to the outdoor venues to the local schools, every detail is an essential factor in what makes a property of dream home. By utilizing our comprehensive accounts of each community, such as this one for Chatham, we hope to provide a detailed picture of not only the residential real estate available in the area, but also the additional features of the neighborhood. A quick glance and you’ll know exactly what shopping, dining, entertainment and resources are in Chatham, all without ever having to go anywhere.