It's a question he gets asked at least four times a week. “Everyone wants to know where the President’s home is,” chuckles Maurese Nelson, director of sales for the brand-new Hyatt Place Chicago South/University Medical Center. “It’s become quite an attraction around here during the last few years.”
Indeed, before Barack Obama became President Barack Obama, the 5000 block of South Greenwood Avenue was just another street in just another racially diverse Chicago neighborhood. Yet, with its presidential status and constant security detail, the street has become a tourist spot and one of the many reasons behind the current revitalization of the historic Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood.
“There hasn’t been a new hotel here in over 50 years,” explains Nelson, making the opening of the new LEED-certified, six-story property even more special. “With all of the revitalization and the demand from our proximity to the University of Chicago, it just made sense to open here.”
The opening of Hyatt Place Chicago-South/University Medical Center was a welcome sight to many meeting planners, especially those who routinely work in correlation with the University of Chicago campus and University of Chicago Hospital. Based in the heart of Hyde Park’s new Harper Court development and located only 5 miles from the McCormick Place Convention Center and Soldier Field, the hotel offers more than 130 modern guest rooms and private meeting spaces for up to 100 people.
“It also provides the opportunity to stay in Hyde Park rather than travel to downtown Chicago since there are plenty of interesting things to do here now,” Nelson says. That includes a slew of sprawling mansions, historical landmarks and a revitalized retail and restaurant district that have helped to make Hyde Park a destination for meetings and events of all kinds. And make no mistake, Hyde Park knows how to put on an event. From hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 to the annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival in September, the South Side neighborhood is even more poised to impress its increasing numbers of visitors.
One of the best aspects of Hyde Park is its compactness with attractions literally steps away from one another. From the famous coalmine at The Museum of Science and Industry to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House to a brand-new movie theater and an improved bike path along the shoreline, Hyde Park offers plenty of things for visitors in a relatively small area, making it perfect for a succinct tour.
Gregory Fairbanks Jr., a Hyde Park resident and owner of A Taste of Hyde Park, offers group walking tours of the area, incorporating local eateries such as Rajun Cajun, Café 53 and the much-loved Kilwins ice cream shop. “With the recent foodie craze in Chicago and new restaurants opening up here in the neighborhood, I wanted to be a part of it and make sure that the neighborhood was being represented by local residents,” he explains.
Not only do the growing number of restaurants in the Hyde Park area point to the neighborhood’s resurgence, they also give meeting planners yet another excuse to stay put. One of the spots getting a ton of attention is Porkchop, a barbecue joint (with a sister location on Randolph) that offers traditional southern fried chicken, double dipped in buttermilk batter and served with sautéed green beans alongside red smashed potatoes. Porkchop serves brunch, lunch, dinner and late night options as well as live music.
“We can accommodate parties and meetings of all sizes as well as catering, or we can even swing by with our food truck,” explains Ashley Nicole Resa, marketing and events coordinator.
Another new restaurant worth a visit is A10. Led by well-known Chef Proprietor Mathias Merges and Executive Chef John Vermiglio, A10’s most popular dishes include Bucatini Carbonara, Guanciale, Sixty-Minute Egg and Steak Frites. While A10 does not offer a private dining room, it does routinely host large groups, events and business dinners and is available for rent for private functions. The main dining room can hold 65 people, with 34 more in the bar dining room and up to 70 in an outdoor seating area. “We always thought that handmade, market-driven, simply made and delicious food at a reasonable price with great service could really change the dynamic down here,” says Events Coordinator Eva Frahm of the restaurant, which opened in March and is just a five to 10 minute cab ride from McCormick Place.
Besides being home to the renowned University of Chicago Hospital, Hyde Park also attracts some of the world’s brightest minds at the University of Chicago. But not just students; in fact, the university hosts a number of unique and popular spaces for meeting and event planners. Ida Noyes Hall remains one of the best event venues in Hyde Park, with eight event spaces for a range of 30 to 475 people. The historic gem brings both ambiance and the very latest in technological capabilities. Specifically, the in house theater is one of Ida Noyes Hall’s most beautiful spots, featuring a high-arched ceiling, rows of French doors and a gorgeous 1918 mural painted by Jessie Arms Botke called “The Masque of Youth.”
Known as one of the largest science museums in the world, Hyde Park’s Museum of Science and Industry also features a number of exciting and unique spaces to hold an event. The heart of the museum is the Rotunda and Balcony space, which can host 1,200 to 3,000 guests in luxury. If you’re looking to plan a cocktail hour or a dessert reception for up to 600 people, you can opt for the Entry Hall of the museum, where the classic Pioneer Zephyr train will be your backdrop. Another great feature of MSI is the ability to give learning experiences by incorporating exhibits into your program and décor, such as hosting a dinner for 150 to 700 near the U-505 Submarine or Henry Crown Space Center. And of course, if you want to make the ultimate impression, consider renting out the entire museum for 12,000 attendees, and all exhibits are yours to explore.