Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A City's Hidden Places

I found myself in the Fulton Market area last week, a grungy looking industrial neighborhood with meat packing trucks lining the streets. It didn't exactly feel like a hip locale, at least not at first. Sprinkled in amongst the desolate buildings and vacant lots are a handful of quaint restaurants, galleries and boutiques that would otherwise go unnoticed if it weren't for the energetic crowds out front. The Publican was my first indication that life did exist here. This unique gastropub is famous for their pork dishes, communal dining and signature brews.And while I was intrigued to enter this bustling food mecca, I walked on past the outdoor tables and toward my destination. Another block up and I faced a building front made completely of glass windows and doors, with a small fluorescent sign that read Otom. It took me a moment to register that this was the place where I was meeting my friend, it seemed so quiet, practically dead. But after some intoxicating cocktails--practically couldn't put mine down--and an incredible meal--a delicious spin on mac and cheese--I was hooked on this place, and the neighborhood where it resided.

Much to my chagrin, it seems other people have known about this area for years. How it is possible I had never ventured here before? The whole experience made me realize that there are way too many places around Chicago that I've never visited, who knows what I'm missing out on. But it made me think about the hidden gems in other cities. So I went online to search on the secret neighborhoods of major metropolitan areas, and I came across an article about a quaint area in East London. It talked about all the unique shops, bars, markets and restaurants that were hidden from London's more touristy locales. I am a huge fan of London--in fact it's probably the European city I would most likely live in, apart from Rome--and I had honestly never heard of Regent's Canal or the old industrial sector of the city, not to mention neighborhoods like Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Hackney Wick. (Yes, those are their real names, it's England after all.) And even though I have never been to this part of London, I can certainly appreciate what it has to offer. Because it seems to me that some of the best places are off the beaten path, they make a city what is it, add a little more flare--as if there wasn't enough.

I fully intend to visit this part of London when I have the privilege of returning. For now, I might try to venture further outside my comfort zone in Chicago. And I encourage everyone else to do the same, you may be surprised with what you find.

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