The Best, From the Best: Best of Chicago 2015

Cover: Tristan Young

Cover: Tristan Young

It’s just a coincidence that this is Best of Chicago number 23, a number beloved in Chicago for its presence on a certain legend’s basketball jersey back in the day. But we kind of think of this issue as the Michael Jordan of Chicago journalism, humble as we are. But like His Airness, we’re not content to coast on our past accomplishments; instead we’re always looking to change our game in the interest of keeping it fresh for ourselves and our fans alike.

So careful students of the Best of Chicago will notice some big changes this year. We’ll let you discover what’s been discontinued and let us know if you miss it, because we’re too excited to discuss what’s new.

Over the course of each year, we devote enormous amounts of time and resources to chronicling the cultural leadership of Chicago, publishing seven distinct “Leaders of Chicago Culture” editions—Lit 50, Music 45, Players 50, Art 50, Design 50, Film 50 and the Big Heat 50. Given that unique relationship, we thought that it’d be interesting to hear from them—several hundred folks each year who determine what we see, hear and experience in Chicago—about some of the things that they love about our city. And interesting it is: fifty-eight players in our cultural lives—some household names, some more behind the scenes—offered up a wide range of passions and curiosities for this issue. In those cases, we’ve attached their name to their entry, as opposed to the group byline throughout the edition otherwise.

Ivan Brunetti’s been featured in our Lit 50, but he did not write for this issue. Instead he marshaled his entire illustration class at Columbia College to devote themselves to creating the artwork. More than a dozen students poured their talents into making work each for us. I visited a class and critiqued their work in process, and the best of what ultimately resulted is featured on our cover and on each of the section’s splash pages.

We didn’t really plan it this way, but by matching up the current cultural leadership of Chicago with some of the city’s artistic future, we touched on the dynamic at the core of Newcity. Add in almost two hundred additional entries by some of the city’s finest journalists, and you’ve got something special. At least we think we did. Perhaps you’ll agree.

—Brian Hieggelke, editor and publisher

Best of Chicago was written by Nick Cecchi, Zach Freeman, Isa Giallorenzo, Amber Gibson, Rae Gray, David Hammond, Ray Pride, Elliot Reichert, Robert Rodi, Bill Savage, Ben Schulman, John Wawrzaszek, David Witter and Michael Workman

With additional contributions by Alberto Aguilar, J.W. Basilo, Amy Danzer, Shay DeGrandis, Allison Glenn, John Greenfield, Jack Helbig, Sharon Hoyer, Lauren Knight, Hannah Lorenz, Raf Miaskowski, Cary Nathenson, Kathleen Rooney, Noel Schecter, Kim Steele

Leaders of Chicago Culture contributors are Joshua Abrams, Alberto Aguilar, J.W. Basilo, Jeffrey Brown, David Dastmalchian, Glenn Edgerton, Lori Felker, Bruce Finkelman, April Francis, Anthony Freud, Dianna Frid, Allison Glenn, Melissa Graham, Rae Gray, Sonat Birnecker Hart, Rhona Hoffman, Jac Jemc, Christopher Jobson, Christopher Johnson, Ayako Kato, Devin Kirk, Kim Knoll, Tom Leavens, Riva Lehrer, Ruth Leitman, Kelly Leonard, Greg Lunceford, David Manilow, Bonnie McDonald, John McNaughton, Stephen Melamed, Janine Mileaf, Rob Miller, Michele Morano, Ian Morris, Eugene Sun Park, Nicholas Photinos, Jason Pickelman, Ina Pinkney, Megha Ralapati, Stacy Ratner, Kathleen Rooney, Renee Rosen, Gordon Quinn, Chandra Ram, Roche Schulfer, Kimberly Senior, Jonathan Solomon, Megan Stielstra, Michael Tiknis, Dave Tolchinsky, Scott Turow, Nan Warshaw, Tom Weinberg, Irvine Welsh, Garry Wills, Tanner Woodford


Cover: Tristan Young

City Life: Owen LaMay

Culture & Nightlife: Zelda Galewsky

Food & Drink: Jessica Galbraith

Goods & Services: Kristine Prada

Best of Chicago 2015

Best gift shop in West Town

RR#1 Chicago

Very high sense and not too expensive, gift shop RR#1 Chicago is the spot for me in the past ten years since I moved to Chicago. For any age range and gender, they have a wonderful selection. Plus, they wrap your gift so beautifully, so you don’t have to hustle around for wrapping supplies—it’s ready to go. The dimmed light and wooden shelves with beautiful and natural color goods make you feel like just staying there to look around longer. Inspiration…

814 N. Ashland, 312.421.9079,

—Ayako Kato, dancer/choreographer (Players)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best music school

The Old Town School of Folk Music

Founded in 1957 by a Chicago blues giant, a folk singer and a socialist baritone turned children’s TV personality, the Old Town School of Folk Music favors an ethos of participation, community and inclusion. Students range demographically from infants in Wiggleworms classes to members of the Beatles Ensemble who are old enough remember when the songs they knit their graying brows to cover first topped the charts.

4544 North Lincoln, 773.728.6000,

—Ian Morris, co-founder and editor, Fifth Star Press (Lit 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best reimagined nachos

Old Fifth’s Brazilian Nachos

At a bar known for its gourmet pizza and whiskey, it’s easy to overlook other sections of the menu like “snacks” and “bar bites.” The latter is certainly an understatement for their Brazilian Nachos—akin to a meal for four—but it’s worth ordering, because even just a bite feels like making love. Triangular tortilla chips topped with slow-roasted pork, aged white cheddar, Chihuahua cheese and Brazilian black beans, and drizzled with chipotle-lime and avocado puree, these nachos resemble something you’d find in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing. But this is art you can eat!

1027 W. Madison, 312.374.1672,

—Rae Gray, actor (Players)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best example of the failing of local television

TV/media coverage of regular and genuine Chicago people, streets, communities and neighborhoods

White people are thirty-two percent of Chicago’s population (and just over half of all Chicagoland) but the ratio of people seen on TV is nowhere near those numbers. On Channels 2-5-7-9-32,  “local news” is overwhelmingly about crime and disaster, frequently African American. The stations’ rationale is to broadcast what sells commercials to consumers who have money. Similarly, on public TV, the emphasis is on programs that can maximize contributions. Financial considerations are the first priority, rather than responsibility to the local people they are required to by the FCC to “serve in the public interest, convenience and necessity.” I’ve been watching TV since it started and producing programs for decades, but now Chicagoans under forty almost never watch local TV. It’s mostly irrelevant to them. Local arts, performance, neighborhood personalities and works by local filmmakers are practically invisible.

In this era of corporate domination of all TV, on all channels, genuinely local is the exception, not the rule. It’s time to reevaluate priorities of local programing and commit resources to new ways to use the airwaves for genuine benefit of all the public. We all need to see our own worlds on TV.

—Tom Weinberg, President and founder, Media Burn Archive (Film 50)

Best of Chicago 2015