There’s a ritzy stretch of a ritzy stretch.
There’s a high-end Irish restaurant there, something bordering cuisine and pub. It’s lovely, golden lettering on the side and tasteful sidewalk patio area. Even among River North, the swath of condos, hotels, hot bars and beggars, it glitzes.
In 1978, this was skid row. Lines of liquor stores passing the hooch through bulletproof glass. Drunks and junkies slept it off in the alleys.
And the site where this lovely Irish restaurant now sits was the home of one of the most raucous, rowdy and seminal punk clubs in town — O’Banion’s.
Hüsker Dü played there. So did the Dead Kennedys. Naked Raygun got their start there. The Replacements played there when they were just teenagers.
Before the punks came, the place was a rough trade gay bar called PQ’s. A lot of the old clientele hung on, not having many other places to go in the era.
Each night, the bartender would play Sham 69’s “Sunday Morning Nightmare” to signal to the crowd the venue was switching from gay to punk.
The Irish restaurant with the patio seating seems a planet away, just on the same spot.
Gentrification seems an easy get for today’s Chicago media scene. You call it out and claim your high fives. You mumble and groan and write ponderous treaties about how things aren’t as cool as they were when you first moved there, when you were the one displacing the ones who came before.
San Francisco gay rights activist Bill Kraus described the process of gentrification by three groups that move into a poor area, always in this order.
It starts with the “risk-oblivious” — artists, recent college grads, the O’Banion’s punks, the gay and lesbian communities around PQ’s who had nowhere else in the ‘70s that would accept them. They bring the cool.
Then after the artists, comes the “risk-aware.” Developers and that most dated of terms, “yuppies.” They bring the money.
Then the “risk-averse.” Dentists from New Jersey, as Kraus described them.
We always hate the people who come after us. The punks hate the yuppies who hate the dentists from New Jersey.
If you’re Hispanic, black, an immigrant population like Chicago’s huge Polish and Eastern European communities, you’re angry at everyone who priced you out of your long-time family home.
Or who priced out the junkies and winos of Chicago’s skid row. I don’t want my easy high five or to claim this fine Irish restaurant is somehow worse than a bar I probably would have been scared to go into.
I don’t know how to fight this march toward priceout. I don’t know how we can get low-income families to enjoy the dining, dancing and lower street crime the wealthy enjoy.
I don’t know how to halt this process, since whether you file me as “aware” or “oblivious,” a white blogger from Rockford who lives by the old Polish Broadway is definitely part of it.
The Onion, fake newspaper, put it a little better in a 2001 article set in Wicker Park: “Resident of Three Years Decries Neighborhood’s Recent Gentrification.”
The book “Suburban Nation” gives a grimmer tally: Without reform to the zoning laws that guide how we use and define space, they write, “Urban living will be affordable only to those who have no desire to live there.”