“It’s just such a relief that people of quality are coming to the neighborhood,” a woman sighed to me at my coffee shop. “I never thought I’d see a BMW parking on Howard. My property value must be going up!”
This woman, who I will call Kim, is a neighbor of mine. One of the few actual property owners in my neighborhood, Rogers Park/South Evanston, she owns a condo on the lake at Juneway Terrace, a posh residential development on a block that used to be sneeringly referred to as “The Jungle” by people farther up the North Shore. She is speaking, of course, about two new restaurants on the Evanston side of Howard, Ward 8 and Peckish Pig. Both of these restaurants are a couple blocks from my house. They both advertise “New American” menus with farm-to-table ingredients, cocktails that are barely 6 oz, craft beers, etc. Since they have opened, many people immediately ask me what I think about these restaurants and “how nice it is to finally have some place to go around there.” Many of the comments people make about Howard street these days sound a lot like Kim’s; it’s hard to put a finger on why it makes your stomach wrench. Is it offensive? Kinda racist? Classist? Am I supposed to be agreeing that this is a good thing? Should I print t-shirts that say Saving Howard, One $18 Cheese Plate at a Time?
A $12 beverage at Ward 8, primarily consisting of a gigantic fucking piece of ice. Photo via wardeight.com
Initially I didn’t know how to respond to her comment. My face flushed and I pressed my lips together and all I could think to say was, “Well, I live around here. And I grew up here, so…”
Instead of reading that I was offended, Kim took this as an open door. “Oh, so then you must know what I mean,” she breathed confidentially, leaning in as if to commiserate with a fellow Reasonable White Person in Rogers Park. Not really, I murmured, and winced a smile as I handed her a cappuccino.
First let me say that I have nothing against new businesses opening along Howard. In fact, I welcome them and patronize many of the stores. I know the owners of these two restaurants personally. I went to elementary school with one of their daughters. I make them shots of espresso multiple times a day. I sincerely want them to succeed, because they are good people and I have known them to be solid, ethical business owners. So, why is it that every time I pass their storefront, I feel irritated…almost angry? It wasn’t until Kim said this to me that I realized the reason these establishments make me uncomfortable is because, as an actual member of this neighborhood, I feel completely unwelcome in these restaurants because they weren’t made for me, or for anyone else who actually lives here.
Imagine my dismay when I took my boyfriend to try out Ward 8 for our monthly dinner date and opened the menu to see a fifteen dollar sandwich. Working an hourly wage, my general rule is if a sandwich costs more than an hour on my feet dealing with other people’s shit, then that sandwich is too damn expensive. A fifteen dollar sandwich sends a message in this neighborhood, and that message is we don’t want you here. Peckish Pig is slightly more affordable…slightly. All entree dishes and cocktails are over $10. Although I’ve got to hand it to them, they seem to be taking the temperature of the community and responding. Recently they have started featuring more affordable specials, and have begun hosting community events on Mondays. Ward 8 could definitely take a tip from them.
However, at Ward 8 you don’t have to wait until you open the menu to feel unwelcome. Right next to the door of Ward 8, there is a sign that reads: “NO SHOUTING. NO FIGHTING. PLEASE REMOVE ALL BASEBALL CAPS.”
Today I posted a photo of this sign on my Facebook and said, “Dear Ward 8, this is racist as hell.” The response I got, from people who live in the neighborhood and from people who don’t, was varied.
Sorry, I don’t see any intentional racism here. I understand how this could be construed as a racist message though.
Wearing baseball caps in a restaurant is pretty much a sign of having no class regardless of race and has traditionally been frowned upon by fancy establishments.
In that neighborhood…you gotta be cautious. How is this racist?
I understand you, but I don’t think it is. Its only racist if ALL black people (assuming that you mean racist against black people) shouted, fought, and wore baseball caps. Its more classist, but we know those overlap too. I get it though, pretty much could be seen as implying that much.
In order to understand why this sign is problematic, you need a little lesson on Howard Street, Rogers Park, Evanston, and the literal racial divide on Howard. You also need to know that these restaurants were heavily subsidized by the City of Evanston.
Wait, what? That’s right. My taxes are paying for bars that I and other members of this neighborhood can’t even afford to patronize. Read on.