By Kate Bernot, @redeyeeatdrink
May 2, 2013
The Wicker Park neighborhood has public basketball courts, a baseball diamond and has recently increased bike parking. But thus far, fans of bocce, a European lawn game, haven't had designated public courts on which to play.
That could change this summer.
Justin Arnett-Graham, who works at L2O, and Alex Gara, beverage director at Hot Chocolate, are behind a grassroots push to add two bocce courts at 1944 W. Crystal St. in an empty lot adjacent to an alley.
"We’ve always believed that hospitality should not be contained within the walls of your establishment," Arnett-Graham said. "Our community, in whatever neighborhood it is, is about more than just handing over a drink or putting food in front of someone."
The fledgling group, calling itself the Wicker Park Bocce Club, hopes the court would be a space for relaxing with neighbors and building community. Members of the public could stop by SmallBar on Division Street, sign up for a time frame for the courts and leave an ID to rent a bocce set. Arnett-Graham hopes that if this initial project goes well, it could be replicated in other parts of Chicago.
Thus far, the group has encountered little opposition from the city, which currently owns the vacant lot. Arnett-Graham said Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno, whose 1st Ward includes the site of the proposed courts, has been supportive.
"In a city such as this with so many loopholes and distractions, it’s nice to see that the city is not only behind you but right alongside you," Arnett-Graham said.
To raise funds for the court's construction, Wicker Park Bocce Club has enlisted fellow chefs to host a party May 16 at Fulton Market Gallery. A $15 donation at the door includes food and drinks.
"It's not going to be like a park," Arnett-Graham said. "We just want it to be a co-op within the city for anyone who likes bocce ball and enjoying beautiful days in their neighborhood."
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