Greektown: In the Heart of the Metropolis

By, Joe Hynan

Along Halsted Street in Chicago, there is a small strip of restaurants and cafes. It’s similar to many other places in the heavily populated city of Chicago, but with one key difference.

The place is Greektown, and the small collection of businesses there are responsible for maintaining the sole area of isolated Greek culture in Chicago. Greektown has a population of 880 and has 23 restaurants according to Chelsea Trembly, 24, museum educator at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago.

One of the men who has taken the mantle in preserving and expanding upon Greek culture is Chris Liakouras, 75, owner of The Parthenon Restaurant. His restaurant is the oldest in Greektown, and he has been living in Greektown since 1995. According to Liakonas, the stronghold of Grecian culture in Chicago has never been better.

“Its getting better all the time; never got any worse from the beginning,” he said.

It’s because of the flourishing culture that Greektown continues to attract Greek immigrants looking for a place with which they can connect.

Panos Varfi, 29, manager and bartender of Santorini restaurant, came to America from Athens in 2008. He came because of the bad economy in Greece, and moved to Greektown with to be near his cousin, his only family in America. He said he enjoyed spending Saturday nights at Nine Muses Bar and Grill because it turns into a Greek bar with traditional Greek food music.

“So once a week, I think like I am back in Greece,” Vanfi said.

There are many people like Vanfi in Chicago. Chicago currently has the third largest Greek population of any city in the world. Only 880 of the 300,000 Greeks in Chicago live in Greektown

Put simply in the words of Omar Hatem, 25, a political researcher: “Its one of the nicest places to hang out in Chicago.”

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Diversity In The Heart and Soul of Chicago

By Maher Kawash

Greektown is filled with people who are proud of their culture.

With almost 300,000 Greeks in the Chicago area, traditions, religious practices, music, and, food are all a big part of the Greece culture.

Greektown has gone from being impoverished to now being a main attraction for many Greek tourists.

Greeks began to settle in America at the end of the 19th century and continued until 1920.

Around 400,000 Greeks migrated to America at that time, mostly from the Peloponnese and the rest of southern Greece.

Mostly all of the immigrants settled permanently in America, in large urban centers such as Chicago, New York and smaller cities scattered across the country reaching as far as California.

“Economies drove Greeks to the U.S,” said Chelsea Trembly, 24, museum educator at the National Hellenic Museum in Greektown.
The Greeks with great enthusiasm celebrate large numbers of religious festivals.

“The Greek culture centers around religion,” Trembly said.

Some major landmarks in Greektown include, Greek Islands, Santorini, Rodity’s, and The Parthenon restaurants.

“The restaurants we have here in Greektown are incomparable to any American restaurants,” said Perry Senos, 76, owner of Rodity’s.

Greektown is a place for many natives to have somewhat of a feeling like being back home in Greece.

“We can still be Greek in all ways of life,” said Lily Kim, 33, editor of Ascene Chicago, an online entertainment magazine.

A big part of the Greek culture is food, which explains why mostly all of Greektown is filled with restaurants.

“We make homemade gyros that many Americans order, along with ‘mishawka’ that my mother taught me how to make,” Senos said.

It is the food, the art, the culture and the people that attract visitors to Greektown.

“It’s getting better all the time. Never got any worse from the beginning,” said Chris Liakouras, 75, owner of The Parthenon restaurant. “We can still be Greek in wall ways of life.”

Immersed in Greek Culture: Chicago’s Greektown

Haneen Ouyoun

When visitors see Greektown today—lined with festive restaurant, lively shops and friendly people—they would ever suspect the neighborhood began as a slum.

The Greek immigrants who came to Chicago in the 1800’s lived in cheap, run down tenements. Carcasses of dead animals were left outside slaughterhouses. And with inefficient sewer systems, blood covered the streets.

This was the reality for many immigrants, including the Greek-Americans, according to Chelsea Trembly, 24, a museum educator at the Hellenic Museum,

“The conditions were harsh,” Trembly said, “These people did not live in a high quality of life.”

Over time the conditions improved, said Chris Liakouras, owner of The Parthenon Restaurant.

“When I first came here, there was a bad neighborhood,” Liakouras said, “Now it’s all clean.”

But because Greek population has the highest repatriation in their country, according to Trembly, people would come to America, make money necessary for their family in Greece and would return home.

This is one reason why, today, the neighborhood is small with only 880 people.

The boundaries of Greektown include Madison Street, Green Street, Van Buren Street, and Kennedy Expressway. But historically, this is not where Greektown used to be.

“Originally Greektown was where [Kennedy has] interchanging highways,” Trembly said, “When University of Illinois, Chicago, bought this land in 1967, it caused displacement in the Greek population.  Now theses people live throughout the suburbs.”

Even with the scattered population restaurateurs like Liakouras stayed in Greektown.

“I worked as a waiter for five years,” Liakouras said, “and thought ‘Why not [start my own restaurant]?’”

Liakouras has maintained the restaurant for 45 years.

“I love [watching the town evolve],” Liakouras said, “and it’s getting better all the time.”

An Oasis of Greek Culture

Mia Mastandrea

An Oasis of Greek Culture

“Opa!”

This three-letter word is not only a simple acclaim of happiness but also a snapshot that captures all aspects of the culture of Greektown.

Greektown has been morphed over time to become the up and running hotspot for amazing food and warm company.

The town accurately displays the architecture of Greece through classic columns and replicas that can be found throughout the town.

Several religious stores can be spotted as well. The Greek Orthodox Church unifies the people of Greece, which includes the schools and businesses.

Yet overall, the town is mostly crowded with restaurants and markets.

When the location changed in 1967, it shrunk in size but still captures the same essence from when the first Greeks arrived in the 1840s.

The Parthenon restaurant, the oldest food establishment in Greektown, has held its ground for 45 years, and owner Chris Liakouras is a legend.

He has watched the town improve from being practically a slum. Not too long ago the living conditions were horrible and the housing was cheap.

Liakouras knows Greektown better than anyone else. When he moved from Megapolis, Greece in 1955, he was the first person to serve gyros in the states. Liakouras is never shy to point out that he invented the nationwide popular flaming cheese dish, saganaki.

It’s guaranteed that he would show anyone, within seconds of the topic, the picture he has up on the front wall for all to see, when his hair was caught in sparks.

The National Hellenic Museum offers the full experience to grasp Greek culture.

“Chicago has one of the largest Greek populations in the country,” said Chelsea Trembly 24, museum educator.  “There are about 300,000 who identify themselves as Greek.” Chicago has the third largest population of Greeks in the world

The Greek culture reigns on through another generation, with both new and old traditions. The streets of Greektown continue to represent where it all began.

“We can still be Greek in all ways of life,” said Liakouras.

Immersed in Greek Culture: Chicago’s Greektown

Katie Hermann

When visitors see Greektown today—lined with festive restaurant, lively shops and friendly people—they would ever suspect the neighborhood began as a slum.

The Greek immigrants who came to Chicago in the 1800’s lived in cheap, run down tenements. Carcasses of dead animals were left outside slaughterhouses. And with inefficient sewer systems, blood covered the streets.

This was the reality for many immigrants, including the Greek-Americans, according to Chelsea Trembly, 24, a museum educator at the Hellenic Museum,

“The conditions were harsh,” Trembly said, “These people did not live in a high quality of life.”

Over time the conditions improved, said Chris Liakouras, owner of The Parthenon Restaurant.

“When I first came here, there was a bad neighborhood,” Liakouras said, “Now it’s all clean.”

But because Greek population has the highest repatriation in their country, according to Trembly, people would come to America, make money necessary for their family in Greece and would return home.

This is one reason why, today, the neighborhood is small with only 880 people.

The boundaries of Greektown include Madison Street, Green Street, Van Buren Street, and Kennedy Expressway. But historically, this is not where Greektown used to be.

“Originally Greektown was where [Kennedy has] interchanging highways,” Trembly said, “When University of Illinois, Chicago, bought this land in 1967, it caused displacement in the Greek population.  Now theses people live throughout the suburbs.”

Even with the scattered population restaurateurs like Liakouras stayed in Greektown.

“I worked as a waiter for five years,” Liakouras said, “and thought ‘Why not [start my own restaurant]?’”

Liakouras has maintained the restaurant for 45 years.

“I love [watching the town evolve],” Liakouras said, “and it’s getting better all the time.”

The Parthenon since the beginning of Greektown

By Anna Heider

Greektown Chicago started in the 1840s, with the arrival of new Greeks to America.

Greeks came to America in pursuit of a better life.

Chris Liakouras, 75, owner of The Parthenon from Megalopolis, Greece, moved to Chicago in 1955.

He has been running The Parthenon restaurant for 45 years.

Through those years, Liakouras has seen positive changes to Greektown.

When Liakouras first came here,“there was [only] one restaurant.”

But that didn’t last for long. Today, the streets of Greektown are lined with restaurants and other small businesses.

Currently there are 880 Greeks living in Greektown.

Greektown’s boundaries are, Madison Street to the north, the Eisenhower Expressway to the south, the Kennedy Expressway to the east, and Green Street on the west.

The Greek restaurants along the streets of Greek town include, The Parthenon, Pegasus, Athena Restaurant, all serving authentic foods of Greece.

When Liakouras moved to Chicago in 1955, Greektown was a different place.

“ When I first came here, there was a bad neighborhood in the way… Now it’s all clean and [has] brand new buildings. Everything is much better than it was,” Liakouras said.

The Greeks of Greektown Chicago were also the first to introduce the new cuisine of gyros and saganaki to America.

According to Liakouras “I invented the flaming cheese… saganaki.”

Greektown of Chicago has changed over the years for the better.

“ That’s my life, I love it and it’s getting better all the time,” he said, “never got any worse from the beginning we opened 45 years ago.”

Waiting for Greece in Chicago’s Greektown

by Katherine Hansen

Panos Varfy had a dream.

“I wanted to come to the United States,” Varfy said. “And I did it. It was a dream.”

Varfy, 29 and a restaurant manager in Chicago’s Greektown, came from Greece to the United States in 2006. Much like Varfy, the immigrants that established Greektown in the 1880s were convinced a better life awaited them here.

“People came here because they heard the rumors that the roads were paved with gold in the United States,”said Chelsea Trembly, Museum Educator at the new National Hellenic Museum. “They came here with this idea that they were going to pull themselves up, make a better life, and rise into the middle class. This is an idea that a lot of Greek Americans hope for still.”

Varfy is one of those.

And while perhaps not gold, he has found a living here. Yet Varfy, who came here alone, longs to return to his home in Athens. According to Varfy, only once a week in Greektown does he feel like he’s in Greece.

“Every Sunday night there’s a Greek bar,” Varfy said. “They play Greek music. And there’s a lot of people that speak Greek. So once a week, I feel like I’m in Greece.”

Greeks had the highest repatriation rate during the immigration surge of the 1800s, Trembly said.

“The vast majority of people that came from Greece to America had this idea that they were going to make enough money and then return to Greece,” Trembly said. “They came here, did what they had to do, and then returned home.”

Today, Varfy intends the same.

“I’m just working here because I have to, to make a living,” Varfy said. “I’d love to go back to Greece, but not now. The economy is very bad. No one can find jobs.”

As Greece’s economy continues to struggle, Varfy will continue to mirror the immigrants of the 1880s anticipation to return home. And warn others along the way.

“I try and tell [other Greeks] not to do the same thing,” Varfy said. “It’s easy to come, hard to stay.”