#329: The Latest Installment of “What the Fuck, North Side?”

June 4th, 2014

Under the candelabra of wine bottles, the pianist played.

He played from a raised platform in the center of the circular bar, his shining black grand piano surrounded by a Plexiglas barrier. He played beneath that elaborate candelabra of wine bottles and glass as the 5:20 p.m. crowd straight to the piano bar from work sipped dark reds to wash away the first day of a week already sour.

Soft and slow, the notes came. “Monday, Monday.” It was both the song and the day that saw it played.

The Mamas and Papas filtered from the pianist’s delicate, flickering hands, past the candelabra, past the Plexiglas barrier, past the circular bar with the fake wicker front, past dour, tired sippers of wine and cocktails in piano bar chairs designed to look like grass, past all that out into the produce section where there was a special on melons.

What the fuck, North Side?

One of the hottest tickets in Ravenswood, a neighborhood known as much for its tree-lined streets and ritzy enclaves as it is for its Hogwartsian name, isn’t a new nightclub or eight-star restaurant. It’s a grocery store. A goddamn grocery store.

What the fuck, North Side?

I was at the new Mariano’s in Ravenswood. It’s 80,000 square feet, 600 jobs and three stories (if you count the parking lot and attached Sears and L.A. Fitness) of luxury, high-quality, high-end groceries for the luxury, high-quality, high-end people stumbling home from the attached Metra station.

This place, to quote the Blues Brothers, has got everything.

I should love this. I should love the pants off this. It’s Midwest local. It’s energetic. It’s fancy food and good jobs and goddamn that was an amazing pulled pork sandwich at the barbecue station run by a former McCormick & Schmick’s sous chef.

But something about this freaks the fuck out of me. There’s a part of me screaming not to cross the streams, that maybe the place where we buy lettuce shouldn’t be the place where we eat rib tips shouldn’t be the place where we drink away our sorrows to baby grand covers of 1960s pop songs.

A few miles south, a liquor store is listed as a grocer on city data so my students don’t understand what a food desert is.

A few miles south, volunteer hipsters grow greens when they can be arsed. Those might be the only fresh veggies the neighbors get for a long while.

A few miles south, the black community “travels the farthest distance to any type of grocery store, and their low access communities cluster strikingly,” according to a 2006 study. “Chicago’s food deserts, for the most part, are exclusively African-American.”

Is any of that the fault of Mariano’s or corporate owner Roundy’s, Inc.? No. Not in the slightest. But sometimes heaven only serves to remind you how bad and how close hell is.

I bought pulled pork. I listened to piano music. I looked at a wide assortment of fancy cheeses and alcohols. I did it because I’m well-off, white and the place was built adjacent to a Metra station that can get me home from my job at a suburban university.

Was I being harsh? Was I being judge-y and unkind?

I ate my slow-roasted pulled pork in a dining section looking out on a Metra station. I ate next to a man eating sushi from the sushi bar.

The man eating sushi at the grocery store had a pint of beer. A full pint of draft beer in a Mariano’s branded glass. Not a plastic cup. A glass glass for him to drink from while eating his sushi in the middle of a grocery store deli.

What the fuck, North Side? What the fuck?

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More North Side stories

More info on the Ravenswood Mariano’s

Some stats on the Mariano’s

Certainly not in any way misleading data on Chicago food deserts

A 2011 study that cites the 2006 one I mentioned

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