Just a few blocks from Sheridan Road and the dog parks and walkways along Lake Michigan, the businesses near the Granville L extend all the way to Broadway Street, where change is visibly underway. With a new construction on the corner of Granville and Broadway, locals will soon see new condos and enjoy the organics and deals of Trader Joe's. Along Broadway you'll find Granville Gallery (an old picture framing store with dozens of beach scene paintings in the front windows), mega-mall-size antique stores and Hancock Fabrics, a great resource if antique shopping inspires you to create something original from scratch. Many storefronts are abandoned or for rent, keeping people guessing about what might pop up next or what may be living its final days.
Place to be seen solo
Left of Center Bookstore
1043 W. Granville
Right next door to Edgewater's beloved Metropolis Coffee Company, the Left of Center Bookstore has become a welcome addition to the Granville strip, complete with the motto of "fostering ideas that build community," which is exactly what the bookstore (and Metropolis) does. Left of Center's intimate space is minimal but not sterile, with comfortable seating and friendly, informative staff willing to chat and impart some wisdom. The store's collection is continually growing to include an extensive art and cultural studies section, contemporary fiction, nonfiction, history and politics (yes, with a left-of-center edge).
Opened in February of 2004,its initial 1,500 titles have expanded to more than 4,500, thanks not only to owner Arlene Levey staying on top of what's happening in the book world, but also to continuous community support. Be sure to keep up with the events calendar, as the store hosts discussions with writers surrounding the critical issues of contemporary society in their work.
Sure bet for shopping
Edgewater Antique Mall
Just north of the Broadway Antique market, this shopping dream of 20th-century furniture and collectibles is worth a stop for a visual feast of home decorating ideas, even if your wallet is currently empty. From the elegantly small (salt-n-pepper shakers, tea towels and Bakelite brooches) to the strikingly large (Mission-style bureaus, Art Deco light fixtures and Eames armchairs), your wants will definitely surpass your needs. With 35 dealers, the mall's range and collection represent daily life from past decades, drawing together picture-perfect scenes of vintage clothing, jewelry, appliances, rugs, wall hangings and mid-century modern furnishings. Be careful before you get too excited about that one piece you can't live without, though: Some of the amazing shelving units and bookcases are for display only.
Thai Grill & Noodle Bar
A sometimes-finicky friend of mine doesn't throw around the word "amazing" lightly, not when talking about food anyway. As a neighborhood local, she turned me on to the Thai Grill & Noodle Bar, which sits in The Sovereign apartment building's ground level. With the colorful, refine and warm dining atmosphere, you may expect "classier" prices than your other more casual Thai noodle houses. But don't; Jasmine rice, stir-fried noodles, soup or curry entr�es run from the expected $5.45 to $7.95. Your best bet is the special combination (only $6.99) that includes your choice of entree served with two pot stickers, an egg roll and jasmine rice.
As for what to drink, you and your date are welcome to BYOB, but the Bubble Bar (with seven flavors of bubble teas) is not to be missed. Try the Similan, a blend of fresh mango, pineapple and coconut served with or without tapioca bubbles and topped with fresh fruit, or go for the simply sweet Sukhothai, a lychee-flavored black milk tea. The open and comfortable dining room is complemented by a private room that can be reserved for larger parties, with buffet-style selections ready for your group.
Good for groups
Vee-Vee's African Restaurant
This "home of fine African cuisine" makes its presence known far beyond its Broadway Avenue location. A staple at neighborhood festivals throughout the city including the Taste of Chicago, Vee-Vee's also makes its way into rural territory catering such events as Black History Month dinners and cultural festivals on student campuses (including my alma mater Illinois Wesleyan, where I first tasted the meat-centric wonders of African cuisine).
Specialty soups and stews, made with your choice of meat, fish and spices, also include traditional African flavors of ground pumpkin seeds and okra. If you'd rather not explore the potent tastes of goat and dried fish in the traditional stews, try the popular bean plates or rice entrees offered with yams and plantains. Running from $7.50 to $9.50, favorites include black-eyed beans with plantains and your choice of meat, or the sweeter side of coconut rice served with fried plantains and chicken.
Best of the nighttime world
Yes, it has the same name as the apartment building that houses Thai Grill, but it's a few blocks west of the Granville L, not east. The Sovereign exceeded my expectations, showing that it doesn't stop at just serving up affordable drinks. It is the best type of dive: friendly bartenders (who not only ask how you're doing but also believe in a heavy pour and three cherries in a cherry Coke), concerned staff (my friend and I watched a too-drunk man being escorted to a taxi) and a clean and comfortable bar. There's also something to be said for not drowning out the rest of your senses before you've even had your first drink; the music isn't so loud that you can't hear your own conversation, and the lighting is bright enough that you can see the person next to you.
As for cost, $5 can cover two drinks, with $2 Old Styles and Pabsts and wonderfully inexpensive liquor shots from $2 to $4 (my tab ran a mere $4.25 for Maker's Mark on the rocks and the largest cherry Coke I've ever seen at a bar). In the back you'll find a jukebox, Ms. Pac-Man and perhaps most importantly, the pool table. Could it get any better? Yes. Pool is always free.
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