The Run Down

Home to the University of Chicago, Hyde Park is undoubtedly the city’s ideal hub for intellectuals. To tap into your inner highbrow academic, take a trip through the neighborhood for a bookish day filled with daydreaming and fantasies about your other life as a poet or professor. Start at 57th Street Books, then take an obligatory walk around the gothic campus and finish the night with delicious Italian food at Ascione Bistro.

1. Shop @ 57th Street Books

2. Stroll @ University of Chicago

3. Dinner @ Ascione Bistro

1. 57th Street Books

If you didn’t know about 57th Street Books, it would be easy to walk right past it. A nondescript, no-frills building with a red doorway jutting out onto the sidewalk, a small black-and-gold sign and a small window displaying a few covers is all you’ll see walking down the street, but once you walk down the few steps into the garden-level bookstore, it won’t be hard to see why we recommend it.

Anyone who loves a good bookstore knows the best ones have a wide range of options, lined up in rows and sometimes stacked wherever there’s space — it should almost resemble your to-be-read list, with more books than there’s space for. In that regard, 57th Street Books does not disappoint.

Cozy would be an understatement to describe the maze of bookshelves in the store. The walls are lined with brick, and something about the exposed pipes makes it feel that much more like you’ll be sure to find your next five-star read here.

The front room is filled with new releases and popular hardcovers, plus an extensive selection focused on race, with several books by Black authors highlighted. As a good local bookstore should, the spot calls attention to Chicago authors and Chicago stories, both fictional and real. For loyal superfans of the store, there are also some notebooks and 57th Street Books merch for sale.

Continuing through the front room through a small doorway, this is where the good stuff begins. Shelves upon shelves are lined with any book spine you can imagine, from classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Fahrenheit 451” to newer cult favorites in the vein of romance novels and fantasy series.

For the die-hard fans determined to find the next Great American Novel, even if it’s on the bottom shelf, there are wooden chairs scattered about the space to help you get on your knees easier.

Not sure about you, but we’re suckers for a staff recommendation section, and you can be sure 57th Street Books delivers. The wall of suggestions runs the gamut from nonfiction favorites to thrillers to local novels like “The Last Summer on State Street,” which is set in 1990s Bronzeville.

2. University of Chicago

It’s time to continue your nerdy endeavor through Hyde Park at the slightly snobby but undeniably beautiful University of Chicago campus. From 57th Street Books, walk west until it feels like you’ve been transported to a fantasy novel. That’s campus.

Though the threshold to actually attend the University of Chicago is lofty and damn near impossible, you don’t need an ACT score in the 30s to enjoy one of the best parts of the college: its picturesque campus.

Often called the Hogwarts of the Midwest, the vine-covered halls, grand archways and expansive walking paths make for a great locale to switch up your typical jaunt. As you make your way around, reminisce on your college days, people watch among the brightest students in the city or cosplay a British student in a somewhat raunchy HBO short series.

Oh, and don’t forget to look up. There are steeples, towers and really cool windows. Even if you’re not an architecture buff, it’s easy to appreciate just how gorgeous these old buildings are.

Whether or not you latched onto the social media trend that is a hot girl walk, taking a stroll around campus is a great way to experience the city’s history and thank God you’re not one of the students taking finals at one of the most rigorous colleges in the country.

3. Ascione Bistro

From the UChicago campus, head north to 55th Street then east until you see Ascione Bistro, a lovely Italian spot with nice cocktails and nicer staff.

The bistro offers an alternative to by-the-slice pizza places and other Italian spots geared toward the student demographic but without totally breaking the bank.

Walking into the space, you’ll first enter the enclosed heated patio where you can also dine. It’s cozy and intimate, matching the vibe of the entire place. The restaurant is decorated in deep blue hues, adding to the romantic atmosphere inherent to any Italian restaurant. The wine bottles lining the back wall and framing the bar also help.

As far as drinks go, it’s hard to go wrong here. Selecting a glass of wine is bound to be a great choice, but the specialty cocktails are another respectable choice. If you like things on the more herbal side, consider the “Strawberry Sleigh,” which combines strawberry purée, mint and prosecco for a fruity, refreshing drink.

Obviously, the real star of the show is the food. From the table bread and olive oil offered immediately after being seated through to the dessert options, Ascione Bistro has it figured out.

For seafood fans, a surefire way to out-order the rest of your table is to go straight for the lobster risotto or the seafood linguine, or Linguine ai Frutti di Mare as it’s written on the menu in Italian. Both dishes were balanced and well-flavored, and you’ll be thinking about the lobster tails combined with the creamy risotto for weeks.