Choose Chicago spotlights five neighborhoods through film

Sun. April 7, 2024 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

The global population connects to their ancestors and relatives through food, environment and culture. In Chicago, residents are surrounded with opportunities to celebrate and relate to others from different backgrounds.

The marketing organization Choose Chicago set out on a mission to not only connect travelers to all that the Third Coast has to offer, but to also give residents insight into this vast, diverse landscape as well.

On April 6 in the afternoon an exclusive premiere screening of the company's latest endeavor The 77: A City of Neighborhoods was held at CIBC Theatre on 18 West Monroe Street.

Guests entered the venue after a red-carpet opportunity to enjoy libations before everyone gathered for formal announcements. Three short films clocking in around 25 minutes each were presented to thunderous applause, then after a quick break, two more short films were screened and a reception followed where the ravenous crowd could sample some of the delicious treats found throughout the various films. Old Fashioned Donuts, Inc. supplied a handmade dessert in a carryout bag as attendees exited the establishment.

The first segment began with the owner of this donut shop Burritt Bulloch's charming story and traveled over to queer-owned BBQ joint Lexington Betty Smokehouse. Executive chef and owner Dominique Leach made spectator's mouths water thanks to her description of oxtail stew from her grandmother's recipe.

The Pullman/Roseland area, where these restaurants are located, was just one of the five Chicago neighborhoods spotlighted in this project.

Host Rob Fojtik continued taking viewers on a ride through more diverse locals while mentioning authentic decor and art such as in Bronzeville's Carver 47. Little Village's La Catedral was another example of that with a more is more attitude in adorning its walls with representation. Osito's Tap and drag bar La Cueva were both presented as places to find entertainment and drink in the Mexican fiesta part of town.

Changes were in the air for Humbolt Park as renaming it Puerto Rican Town has caused controversy in the western region. The metal arches of the Puerto Rican flag were made to last 500 years and still stand there proudly today on Division Street in the section known as Paseo Boricua. The executive director of The Puerto Rican Cultural Center Jose E. Lopez gave an overview of the journey and colonialism of people from the Caribbean island during this segment.

Chicago's 26th ward's alderperson Jessie Fuentes spoke on education and said, “When we teach young people their history it transforms young people's lives.”

Papa's Cache Sabroso jibaritos were shown as a staple in the cuisine of this cultural corridor.

More hot topics were addressed through sometimes difficult conversations with business owners and random customers at a wide range of venues. The documentarians didn't shy away from the fact that Esmeralda's Lounge Dino Vulpitta owner is not Puerto Rican. One customer named Nerida chimed in, “He's Puerto Rican to me!”

Conversations about gentrification and people being erased while being pushed out of their homes linked some of the videos. Finding a person's tribe and seeking others of the same ethnic background was brought to light in the last video covering Uptown. Nha Hang Vietnam serving pho was tied in with immigration and finding a place to raise a family before Dim Sum drag shows were featured in one section.

LGBTQ+ historian Owen Keehnen spoke on the importance of the private club Man's Country and its early participation in HIV testing on the Clark Street property. The Uptown bathhouse was shuttered in January of 2018 after 44 years of business, but the memories live on.

Restaurant owner Tigist Reda is a true crossover artist while expanding her Ethiopian restaurant Demera empire to Bronzeville after a successful longtime run in a prime spot in Uptown. Offering Vegan dishes, but not as a fad, was shown as being important to diners and eating with their hands as a valuable connection to the cuisine.

While there is no way to make the individual films completely comprehensive due to such massive areas in the city the curators gave an overview and well-rounded taste of these specific pockets of Chicago.

Viewers were left hungry for more content and enticed to explore more of what the Windy City offers. Cheers to 72 more of these visually striking videos!

The half-hour episodes can be streamed in English and Spanish with a link on