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Only the Best: Best of Chicago 2014

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Cover by Jay Ryan

Cover by Jay Ryan

In May, when Doug Sohn announced he would be shutting down his sausage emporium Hot Doug’s this fall, it set off a feeding frenzy both literal and metaphorical, as lines at the shop got even longer, and the media could not shut up about it. Like Michael Jordan ending his Bulls career with a shot to win his sixth NBA title, Sohn was exiting at the top. This was perplexing to everyone; in America, we respond to the pursuit of size and wealth as a principal value and Sohn clearly had a scalable idea. Instead of closing, he could have opened a second location to meet the demand for his product, and then a twentieth, a two-hundredth and so on. That, we get. But Sohn saw his endeavor’s success as inextricably tied to his own presence, to his singular vision and passion for quality. Thus, Hot Doug’s always seemed to have more limited hours than it could or should. And when he was done, it was done. His was not the first Chicago food obsession to end it this way; early in 2013 Great Lake pizza closed its always busy doors just a few years after GQ magazine proclaimed it the best in America. Read the rest of this entry »

Best DJ masquerading as a lawyer

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Alan King

To say 2014 is The Year of Alan King as a DJ might be a little bit of an oversell. But not by much. For someone that has been one of the most quiet and overlooked foundations of Chicago’s most important musical cultures for years, this year King went from Chosen Few to the Chosen One. Legendary sets at everything from “the Picnic” to Frankie Knuckles’ Millennium Park Memorial to weekly drop-bys at Bang Sundays at the Shrine and residency sessions at Chant in Hyde Park made this lawyer-by-day/spingali-by-night the Bruce Wayne/Dark Knight of Chicago’s music scene.

Best of Chicago 2014

Best longest-running show in Chicago

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Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

A self-described “ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes,” “TMLMTBGB” is, well, exactly what it says it is. Or how about this: take “Saturday Night Live,” hand it to a bunch of punky weirdos, make it three hours long, then make it one hour-long  without cutting anything from the three-hour version, slash the budget to something like $27.14 per show, get rid of the cameras, infuse the whole thing with principles from a semi-obscure early twentieth-century art movement and then plop the whole thing down in Andersonville across the street from a funeral home. Do that and you’ll be kind of close.

5153 N. Ashland, 773.878.4557,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best cheap classy pizza and beer special

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When Simone’s offers $6 pizza and beer on Monday nights, they’re serious about the pizza part. This pizza can comfortably feed two people—and even skews toward adventuresome. Quinoa, potatoes and black bean sauce are guest stars in a lineup of kinda quirky pies. For more traditional folks, the Tuscan, with red pepper and portabella mushrooms, is a consistent winner. Pie quality? No Pequod’s, but way better than Pizza Hut. The beer? OK, it’s PBR. But some of us like PBR and, besides, you’re getting a pizza for $6, so order your favorite craft brew with the savings. The pizzas are just $8 a la carte any other day, and the ongoing mystery four-dollar draft could inspire your own reasonable pizza and brew combo.

960 W. 18th, 312.666.8601,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best place to see grown Chicagoans acting like little kids

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The Chicago Riverwalk construction site

The less-than-incendiary Great Chicago Fire festival made recent riverfront headlines. If you want to check out a spectacle of a different kind, join the crowds oohing and aahing as workers build the $100 million Chicago Riverwalk extension, slated for 2016 completion. This new segment will extend from State to Lake, incorporating six themed sections delineated by the bridges, ranging from “The Jetty” fishing area to “The Cove” kayak dock to “The Swimming Hole” water play zone. It’s mesmerizing to watch towering cranes on barges driving long pilings and dropping huge loads of gravel to widen the shoreline. Sure, a barge sinks now and then, but that’s part of the excitement.

Wacker Drive between State and Lake

Best of Chicago 2014

Best new high-touch design venue

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Chicago Design Museum

At its very heart, design is utile, intended to serve a function and interact with the world. Yet, most Chicago venues for presentation of design don’t treat it this way. At the Art Institute, design is displayed like art: look, but don’t touch. At the Chicago Architecture Foundation, design is perhaps too approachable: too touchy-feely. At Wright auction house, design is up for sale: you touch it, you buy it. The new Chicago Design Museum inside Block Thirty Seven seems to be getting things right in its first year. Between the exhibitions, talks, events, collaborations and a little shop, the museum is creating enough opportunities to engage with design on its own terms. Small details—like handsome custom seating and vitrines—along with occasional interactive displays remind visitors that design belongs in the hands of the people.

108 N. State,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best album covers by a local label

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Aerophonic Records, designed by Johnathan Crawford

Founded and run by Dave Rempis, a Chicago-based world-class saxophonist, Aerophonic produces not only notable records, but also some of the coolest album covers around. Designed by Johnathan Crawford, they’re highly collectible; each cover may feel different, but they all maintain a consistent aesthetic, featuring elegant and organic abstract shapes that almost seem to have a life of their own. An ideal complement for the free-flowing tunes presented by the label, performed by household names such as Frank Rosaly, Joshua Abrams, Avreeayl Ra and Dave Rempis himself.

Best of Chicago 2014

Best way to fight winter depression

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King Spa

One strategy for staying sane through Chicago’s long deep-freeze is to temporarily pretend that it’s not winter at all, with a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory or Hala Kahiki tiki bar. Add to that list King Spa, a Korean-style resort in the ‘burbs that feels like a tropical getaway. Lounge nude in one of several hot tubs or a steamy sauna. Then don a pajama-like uniform and hang out in one of several kiva-like hot rooms. The walls are lined with minerals like salt, charcoal, amethyst and gold, said to have mystical healing properties. Spring for a massage or a King Scrub—being exfoliated with scruffies while you lie naked on a table. Afterwards, you can refuel with tasty Korean chow at their café, or catch a flick in the mini movie theater. The entry fee is only about $20 with a Groupon or Living Social coupon—a small price to pay for beating the winter blues.

809 Civic Center, Niles, 847.972.2540,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best place to run where you aren’t supposed to run

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Rosehill Cemetery

Here’s what you do when the funeral home director catches you (all pulsing earbuds and flying feet). Cry. Immediately. This is the price of admission: tears poised like actors awaiting their cue. Say: “I come here to be close to my father.” No matter your father was cremated. No matter the director is already shaking his head. This is no Lakefront Trail with its double strollers and kamikaze cyclists. This is 350 acres of existential fodder: lonely angels and etched surnames; angry geese and fallen trees amidst aisles of silent stone. You run here because segregating the dead does nothing to honor them. Because respecting a rule’s spirit doesn’t mean you have to obey.

5800 N. Ravenswood

Best of Chicago 2014

Best story… period

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An all-black, fundraising-burdened baseball team from outside of Roseland makes it to the Little League World Series. And just when the city rallied behind them just for making it there, the team decided to inspire Chicagoland even more by proving that there’s more to winning than just winning. If any one thing could begin to redirect the national perception about Chicago, the Jackie Robinson West team—and story—was it.

Best of Chicago 2014