A few months time can make a big difference.
In previous columns this year, I've expressed concern about goings-on in downtown Highland Park. I was particularly fixated on an influx of caloric confections, but also the lack of activities and events drawing people into our fine city center.
The last few weeks, it feels like downtown HP has taken a turn for the better.
True, the sweet tooth invasion is still in progress. Frost Gelato opened, and every time I've gone in or passed by, there seems to be a nice crowd inside. Menchie's Yogurt looks like it is getting close to opening on Sheridan Road, and my wife is promising/threatening to be their first customer in Highland Park. Marla's Sweet Bites hosted an enjoyable Chamber of Commerce event, validating owner Marla Levitt's decision to build out in a space big enough for gatherings. I'm still not sure there's enough demand for these and all the other dessert purveyors, but Highland Parkers appear to be giving everyone a good shot.
On the savory side of foodstuffs, we also have several new restaurants open or opening. I've had the chance to try lunch at M Restaurant, in the cozy spot on the northeast corner of Green Bay and Central. The food was tasty, and the staff are enthusiastic and hard-working. They've made the space warm and inviting, which is also how I would describe the loaded baked potato soup. Another recent opening is 2nd Street Bistro, where Chef Michael Gottlieb is like a kid in a candy store, experimenting with creativity and local ingredients. 2nd Street Bistro is a BYOB restaurant, and owner Bobby Dubin told me he is confident this economizing approach is packing the restaurant. Down the street is Benjamin, which I haven't been able to sample yet but also recently started a lunch service. I'd like to get in there, but unfortunately, we called one time to stop in for lunch and learned they do not have any high chairs or booster seats. An adult-oriented restaurant certainly has a place to play in Highland Park, but it will take some babysitter planning before I can check it out.
Beyond food and sweets, the holiday season has prompted several interesting events in downtown Highland Park. This coming weekend, Highland Park has finally planned the kind of bring-in-the-bodies event that Highwood has been doing so successfully -- they're calling it Shhhhhh....opping Highland Park, from December 8 to 10. On Thursday and Friday evenings, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., along with Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., several activities will be available. Thirty ice sculptures will adorn our streets, along with chestnuts roasting on an open fire (really). In a reprise from the holiday tree-lighting ceremony, the North Shore School of Dance students will perform scenes from the Nutcracker. Last month, my two-year-old was transfixed to the Uncle Dan's window, running back down the sidewalk to try to watch more of the ballet.
Other Shhhhhh...opping plans include face painting, wandering street carolers and live jazz ensembles. On the streets, there will be horse-drawn carriage rides and reindeer. In short, this seems like a great weekend to visit downtown.
Our city has made plans to keep the focus on downtown into 2012 as well. As part of the recently-passed city budget, funding continues for the Late Night HP efforts, promoting arts and entertainment in our downtown core. LNHP venues include restaurants The Art Center and more. Upcoming performers include jazz, poetry, dancing, and blues performances. Maybe that babysitter planning needs more focus.
I'm hearing about yet more businesses planning or hoping to open in downtown Highland Park in 2012. Our downtown core is, to me, one of the top attractions for living in Highland Park. I visit for some reason or another almost every day. It looks like it's going to be pretty crowded in the next few weeks as the holiday season continues, and that can only be a good thing for all of us.