2201 W Devon Ave. Chicago, IL 60659
The original Hyderabad House (2201 W Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60659) restaurant is a typical example of an inventive reuse of an existing building along Devon Avenue. It used to be a gas filling station and repair shop. The name Hyderabad House is a reference to a regional subculture within the South Asian subcontinent. The store in Devon Street is known among local South Asians as a place where one may get regional specialties from Hyderabad, a South Indian metropolis.
The original Hyderabad House has numerous wall signs. The brightly colored window sign lists a daily menu that lists regional delicacies not found in other North Indian and Pakistani restaurants. The sections titled meetha lists sweets and desserts while a list of parata or flatbreads are quick carryout orders for cab drivers. On the top of the store facade, painted on the parapet, ostensibly for local residents and those returning from morning prayers, is another sign that lists South Indian idli, vada, dosa, upma,and puri. These items are served daily from 8 AM to 11 AM for breakfast.
Irrespective of the time of the day, the canvas entrance into the original Hyderabad House restaurant produces a dark transition. Stepping into the dining space a customer finds a jarring contrast between the light outside and the fluorescent interior lights. According to some cab drivers, the lights remind them of vernacular dining rooms in India. vii The missing ceiling tiles, stained patches marking old water leaks, the wall paper strip along the ceiling, the pickle containers lining the front counter, the loud flatscreen television looping Bollywood movie songs, plastic covers over cloth tablecloths are intimate and familiar reminders of these popular subcontinent canteens. Framed images on the wall are strategically chosen. They are monumental architectural sites from the subcontinent, their Islamic architectural styles clear from the minarets, domes and scalloped arches. Many of these images are that of mosques and tombs, official forms of national architecture. They perform mnemonic acts connecting individuals to a national memory. They are nostalgic imagery that reproduces a sense of a safe space in the New World.
The Family Dining Restaurant (2226 W Devon Ave Chicago, IL 60659) across the street occupies a corner storefront with a diagonal front entry. The interior space occupies two adjacent premises - a corner store and an adjacent mid-lot space. The facade of Hyderabad House Family Dining restaurant serves as an exercise in total contrast to the restaurant across the street. A series of formal green awnings has Hyderabad House Family Dining LLC written in bold san serif font. The narrow band below it carries the words “dine-in, carry-out & catering” and the store phone number. In contrast to the cluttered signage on the entrance to Hyderabad House, the Family Restaurant is marked by a lack of signage on the store windows. The only sign strategically posted on top of the entrance door located on the chamfered street corner wall says “Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Rahim” (in the name of Allah the most beneficent, the merciful). The intricate Arabic script may not be read by all, but it stands out signifying difference and Islam even to outsiders. That sign, not immediately visible from the automobile is clearly seen by pedestrians entering the restaurant. On both sides of the inscriptions are quotes “mash’a Allah” (all praise to Allah translated in English). The sign, placed symmetrically on top of the entrance sanctifies, marks and identifies the restaurant space, its Muslim-ness clearly communicated to the customers. Its prominent, yet odd location seduces the customer crane her neck up to see it, an unrehearsed momentary act that makes one face up and read a verse in praise of God.
On stepping into the restaurant one confronts a brightly lit (with natural light from the windows and warm filament ceiling light fixtures), tidy space. The parquet floors are shinny as are the cushioned chairs. The tables, spaciously laid out, have white table cloths, metal silverware and glass table tops. The glass add to the reflective shine of the space. The framed images on the wall are real and abstract artwork of flowers, leaves and plants. Menus, interior plants, and a bowl of anise seed mouth freshener are the only objects on the uncluttered counter. The “back room” is cosy and narrow. It is visually inaccessible from the front room, creating a sense of intimacy and privacy that is appreciated by large families. It fits around ten tables for families with children. The lady’s toilet is located at the back of this room.
The distinction between the first sight of the original Hyderabad house and Hyderabad House Family restaurant speaks to the different clientele the two stores attract. The working class men and cab drivers who frequent the original Hyderabad House restaurant make this a more male space. The green awnings, the closeness to the sidewalk, the long frontage render the Hyderabad House Family Dining highly visible and certainly more accessible from the street. The Family restaurant caters to families with women and children. Non-South Asians too come this restaurant because of its legibility. viii
A visit to the toilet is yet another reminder of distinct cultural practices in the old Hyderabad House. The plastic tumbler with a long spout is for ablutions that are customary for South Asians. The toilet floor in Hyderabad house is often wet. Patrons wash their hands in the wash sink before leaving. Since many of the customers eat curries and flatbread with their hands, as is customary and efficient with South Asian food, hand washing is a common practice. The sink is outside the toilet, in a transition space near the entrance. The toilets at the Hyderabad House Family Dining restaurant have the same objects, but the neatly tiled floors are continuously kept clean and dry by the employees.
Text by Arijit Sen
A typical canteen in Hyderabad, India