Thursday, October 25, 2018

Just short of a century, long-time So. Chgo ice cream parlor meets its maker

I know many of you are capable of telling me where the best ice cream can be found. It’s probably some place where you can find assorted flavors and toppings and where you can watch as they hand-make your sundae or whatever other treat you desire.
The old Gayety theater (and neighboring ice cream parlor) died in 1982, and its suburban descendants ceased to exist this week
You’re probably prepared to fight to the death in insisting that your place is the absolute best, and I haven’t truly lived until I’ve tried it.

WELL, I’M HERE to tell you that you don’t know beans! No matter what perks your place has, the truly best ice cream parlor is one that is no more.

I’m referring to Gayety’s Chocolates & Ice Cream – a shop dating back to 1920 along Commercial Avenue in the South Chicago neighborhood and that existed at that location until the early 1980s; when a fire destroyed the building.

The family of the man who originally founded the business rebuilt – although they used the destruction as an opportunity to move from the old neighborhood to a suburban base where many of their customers had moved to.

Hence, there were generations of people making a trip to suburban Lansing to get their ice cream fix. In recent years, the Gayety’s “empire” extended to another location in northwest Indiana (Schererville, to be exact).
29 cents for a quart of ice cream

BUT ALL THAT is now history! The shops haven’t been open for a couple of weeks, and vaguely-worded signs alluded to the idea of the shops being closed for remodeling.

Then on Tuesday, the store did what many other people of the 21st Century do when they want to spread the word – they turned to Facebook to say, “after 98 great years, we have officially closed.”

Perhaps it’s just evidence that nothing lasts forever. Every business entity will eventually come to an end. Even the place that did the best banana-flavored ice cream (a personal favorite of mine) ever made.

Which also was a favorite of my mother’s. For what it’s worth, I made the trip back to Gayety’s just before her death and was able to pick her up a half-gallon, which I recall was a treat she particularly enjoyed.
Keep your Frango mints, I'll take Gayety's candies. Photos by Gregory Tejeda
GAYETY’S WAS A neighborhood thing. Facebook is filling up with comments (more than 1,400 statements and 2,800 shares as of Wednesday morning) from people with old ties to South Chicago reminiscing how much they enjoyed the made-in-the-shop ice cream.

And the chocolates. Because for some people, the boxes of Gayety’s candy was an even-bigger deal than the ice cream. Those of us with a South Chicago connection (my parents were raised there and I was born there) think those people who rave about Marshall Fields and Frango mints don’t know what they’ve truly missed.

I know my father and uncles grew up on Gayety’s. Even I had my exposure to those old South Chicago days in that a childhood trip to grandma’s house could usually include a trip to the Gayety’s parlor on Commercial. I hate to say my brother and I only wanted to visit grandma for the ice cream, but you know kids can be so superficial.

Now for some, Gayety’s has been dead for decades. A 1982 fire destroyed the building and its neighboring movie theater, and the remains were torn down to clear the way for yet another McDonald’s franchise. Which I personally think looks so ridiculously out-of-place at the site whenever I have reason to travel through South Chicago.

AS FAR AS the suburban locations, they didn’t quite have the character of the old place. But then again, nothing remains the same as our childhoods. And the ice cream quality still was better than anything you’d find elsewhere.

I actually pity the child who grows up thinking a Dairy Queen is something special, or anybody willing to pay for the highly-priced candied concoctions of a Coldstone (my nephew briefly worked in one of those places last summer). A trip to Gayety’s was a chance to reminisce about what once was.

But now, I can’t even go to Lansing for an occasional taste of my childhood past. The thought does feel like a loss, and having to settle for consuming Ben & Jerry’s “Chunky Monkey” just won’t be the same.
At least we still have Hienie's
That, and also settle for boasting about the best chicken in Chicago coming from Hienie’s, a one-time South Chicago place now located in the South Deering neighborhood (with a second location in suburban Orland Park). Just one taste with a jolt of “hot” sauce and you’ll realize just how inferior a poultry product Kentucky Fried truly produces.


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