The architecture of the Fulton Market district is full of contrasts, from old, gritty factories to flashy, contemporary condos. It's a small area, so a walking tour of the neighborhood makes for the best way to soak in the history - and hipness - of the neighborhood. The district is a part of the West Loop neighborhood, meaning that from downtown Chicago it's located across the South Branch of the river.
Coming from downtown, I usually hop on the Green Line and ride it to the new Morgan CTA stop. Ross Barney Architects designed the station for this new stop, opened just a year ago. The big glass towers have perforated stainless steel panels that add a solidity to the structure and also speak to the area's more industrial character.
Just outside of the north exit, which is Lake Street, you can pop into Packer Schopf Gallery (942 W. Lake St.) for an inside look at the evolution of the neighborhood. Today this late 19-century building holds contemporary art exhibits of artists from around the country, but look up at the ceiling and you'll see a steel wench from its decades as a mechanic for all the trucks that would deliver meat, poultry, produce, and fish from the neighborhood to mom-and-pop shops around the city. Downstairs you will find more gallery space, as well as the possibility of going back to the neighborhood's early days, as here you will see the uneven flooring from when the space was a stables. Also here you are standing at the original ground level of the neighborhood because the streets in much of Chicago were raised four to five feet for the building of sewers.
Today's Meat Packing District... of Sorts
A block north you'll come upon the neighborhood's namesake street. Fulton Market and the immediate surrounding blocks still are home to factories buzzing with food manufacturing activity, like Bridgford (170 N. Green St.) which produces meat snacks 24/7. While the meatpacking heyday for the area was the 1950s-60s, Fulton Market was always a place for wholesale distribution of food for restaurants and hotels around the city. The two red brick Fulton Central Market Buildings at 931 W. Fulton Market were built in 1887 and designed by William Strippelman, a mentor to Louis Sullivan. These matching buildings on either side of the street held evenly sized wholesale storefronts that trucks could back right into for loading and unloading. Looking at the architecture, you can identify each storefront by the brick divisions that separate three windows each - each of these was it's own business. Today art galleries and trendy restaurants call this building home, including Publican Quality Meats (825 W. Fulton Market), which opened up multiple storefronts to enlarge their space.
Chicago's Dining Destination
Other buzz-generating restaurants in the neighborhood are Moto (945 W. Fulton Market), Grange Hall Burger Bar (844 W. Randolph St.), Au Cheval (800 W. Randolph St.), and Graham Elliot Bistro (841 W. Randolph St.). With the decrease in manufacturing in the area, the neighborhood has become a place for creative, high-end cuisine with its reasonable rents though located still close to downtown. And being close to wholesale fishmongers and meat purveyors doesn't hurt either. Also many of these restaurants use the interior architectural design to play off the edgy history of the area, with exposed brick, vintage-style lighting fixtures, and steel beams. The historic nature of the design pairs well with the food trends that these kinds of restaurants are spearheading in Chicago, with a return to the "old fashioned days" of fresh, farm-to-table food, which is in the roots of the Fulton Market area's history.
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