Chicago murals: The ‘Eyesore’ garage behind Nicky’s of Beverly South Side fast food restaurant is now a street art heaven
Paul Branton, 48, began painting at the age of 14, hoping to one day create album covers.
Phil Cotton, 71, grew up in Buffalo, NY, immersed in jazz and rock thanks to his bartender father.
Won Kim, 41, started his graffiti career because he was obsessed with lettering.
Along with street artists Max Sansing and Ruben Aguirre, they worked to transform a garage behind a South Side fast food restaurant, Nicky’s of Beverly, into a tribute to blues music, hippies and street art.
For 23 years, owner Paul Kostopanagiotou has served Chicago-style hot dogs, burgers and vegetarian versions at Nicky’s. When he moved from 103rd Street to 10500 S. Western Ave. in January, Kostopanagiotou wanted to improve the mood, starting with “the horror of a garage” behind the new location.
He asked the Beverly Area Arts Alliance for someone who could paint the garage. Sal Campbell, co-founder of the group, entrusted him with five artists to do the job in style. When she sent the artists to the restaurant, Kostopanagiotou already had one theme in mind: the blues.
“We always play the blues” at the restaurant, says Kostopanagiotou. “It was something I liked. If you’re white, Black, old grandma, middle aged white man, you’ll be happy. I felt it brought people together.
As soon as the artists got down to work, people started showing up. First, they would slow down as they passed. Then they would stop and ask what was going on. Many ended up staying, watching and taking photos as the murals took shape.
“We would work nights, and there would be times when we would have to stop what we’re doing to engage and have conversations with people because they were so engrossed in what we were doing,” Branton says.
His fresco faces Western Avenue. It’s a wave of blues, yellows and greens with a touch of pink. A guitarist plays in one corner, a pianist in another.
Colors roll over the next wall to Cotton’s mural: a guitar that runs the length of the garage door. It’s a dedication to Lucille, the guitar of the legendary bluesman BB King.
Cotton, who lives in Hyde Park, says he met King at the bar where his father worked in Buffalo.
Its mural wraps around the back of the garage, leading to Kim’s green and purple graphics facing the alleyway, painted by Sansing and Aguirre.
Kim’s mural was degraded shortly after its completion. It made him think. He decided he could keep the mural fresh by “rotating” it every few weeks, adding touches to showcase his style of lettering as an art form.
Kim grew up on the North Side, but says he found his place on the South Side when he started painting, graffiti being his “vehicle” for bonding with other artists.
“I want to show that letters can be super artistic, that letters are an art form,” Kim says.
For three months from June 2020, the artists worked on the garage.
When they finished, Kostopanagiotou wasn’t ready to say goodbye. So for another three months, the artists worked inside the restaurant, where a color palette featuring seemingly random objects of hippie peace signs, graffiti and astronauts now covers the walls.
Kostopanagiotou says he aimed for artists to “create life”. He thinks they have succeeded.
“Sometimes I walk past it and around the corner I see people noticing it,” he says. “And they want to be a part of it all. It was the goal. “
Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago area murals
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Sun-Times via Report for America, a non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.