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Best lost-and-found (or how to bring your idol to tears) story

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Patti Smith reads from her new book, “The M Train,” at Dominican University, October 11, 2015

Patti Smith read a passage from her book about the objects in our lives, how transient they are and the ways in which we hold onto things that are meaningless. What a mystery how fleeting the things that are most precious are… During the Q&A, a woman in the audience returned a most precious set of items that had been stolen from Smith and the band in Chicago in 1976. Among them, the t-shirt she was wearing when she met ?Bob Dylan, the first shirt ever given to her by her beloved Fred Sonic Smith, the shirt she wore for the “Horses” photo shoot for Rolling Stone by Annie Leibovitz and a scarf from her dearly departed brother. She was so moved by this gesture as were the 1,000 fortunate fans in the auditorium. When someone in the audience asked how this woman obtained these items, Patti told him,”We don’t need to know.”  The woman was later reported to be Noreen Bender.

—Ruth Leitman, filmmaker (Film 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best theater for everyone

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Free Street Theater

I want art that asks big questions, that challenges the hell out of me and makes me laugh my face off. That’s Free Street Theater, creating performances by, for and with communities across Chicago and interrogating the idea of “where theater belongs and who belongs in a theater.” They stage stories that crack the world open, most recently The Young Fugitives’ “Track 13” exploring the history and present-day reality of crime and policing from the points of view of youth of color. “We’re trying to do something different,” said ensemble member Elijah Ruiz in an interview with HowlRound. “So [our stories] can actually get heard.” In addition to their home base in Pulaski Park, Free Street travels across the city (Ricardo Gamboa’s excellent “The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy de las Rosas” was performed last summer in seven public parks) and tickets are pay-what-you-can, allowing access where it’s so often denied. I can’t wait for the upcoming season: “100 Hauntings” (multigenerational ghost stories from across Chicago neighborhoods); a remount of Melissa DuPrey’s fantastic “SUSHI-frito”; a theatricalized version of “Stoop Stories” from Moth Grand Slam storyteller Lily Be; and more.

1419 W. Blackhawk, 773.772.7248,

—Megan Stielstra, author (Lit 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best art in a coffee shop/bakery

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Ruby Bradford paintings at Sweet Cakes Bakery in Noble Square

There’s a lot of art in a lot of coffee shops, but nothing has caught my attention like the brilliant, charming and unique odes to pop-culture and politics that are the paintings of Ruby Bradford. When eating my Sweet Cakes’ margarita-flavored mini cupcake, I can’t help but get lost in the eyes of Superman and as he meets Prince Charles in a primary color fantasy world. Thanks to Project Onward for supporting Ruby and getting those paintings out there!

1223 N. Milwaukee, 773.772.5771,

—Lori Felker, filmmaker (Film 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best community-based video game

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Killer Queen

Killer Queen, the world’s only ten-player arcade strategy game, pits teams against one another to bring a giant snail god home, fill hives with nectar, or execute a triple assassination of the enemy Queen. Challenge your friends or jump into a random group game at Logan Arcade.

Logan Arcade, 2410 W. Fullerton,

—Tanner Woodford, executive director, Chicago Design Museum (Design 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best music on a Thursday

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Devil in a Woodpile

Seeing live music, and being able to do it for $5, should be required in our tech-dependent, stay-a-step-ahead-of-everything culture. Thursdays at 6pm at The Hideout you get to time travel through decades of American music with Devil in a Woodpile. They had a residency at the Hideout on Tuesdays and now they’re back on Thursdays and joy abounds. There’s barely a genre they don’t touch and being that close to such genius makes it a night to remember. It’s an amazing time to put down the devices, pick up a beer, and drink in the nostalgia and vivacity that is Devil in a Woodpile.

The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773.227.4433,

—Kimberly Senior, director (Players)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best stand-up comedy

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Zanies in Old Town

I love going to Zanies Comedy Club in Old Town. It’s the place to go to see stand-up comics before they get famous. Walking into the place feels like you’re stepping back in time to old Chicago, making you want to drink whiskey and smoke a cigar. It’s a narrow and long space with seats filling every square inch and servers slinging cocktails left and right. The walls and ceiling are covered with headshots of all the famous comedians who have graced the small stage. It’s nothing fancy, but that’s what makes it so great.

1548 N. Wells, 312.337.4027,

—Kim Knoll, designer, Knoed Creative, organizer/host, CreativeMornings Chicago (Design 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best local talk show

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The Interview Show at Hideout

In a year of shake-ups in late-night TV, the best (okay, maybe only) talk show in our kind of town remains ‘s “The Interview Show.” If Terry Gross and David Letterman had a baby, Mark Bazer would be that charming love child and the show he puts on each month is everything you would expect. On the storied stage of The Hideout, Bazer lures documentarians, comedians, restaurateurs, writers and bona fide A-Listers like Jeff Tweedy for insightful conversation, cold beer and a pretty great way to spend a Friday night for everyone in the room.

1354 W. Wabansia, 773.227.4433,

—Devin Kirk, vice president of merchandising, Jayson Home (Design 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best place to hear difficult, obscure and often excruciatingly loud experimental electronic music

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The faithful who follow experimental music presenters LAMPO used to joke “difficult music, uncomfortable chairs.” Much has changed in the organization’s eighteen years. Predominantly itinerant, they’ve recently landed in the fancy-pants Gold Coast home of the Graham Foundation, but also present their mostly free concerts at the Logan, the Siskel and points in between. Everything from analog synthesizer squeaks to electro-acoustic static mixed with all forms of laptop hiss consistently challenge the idea of “music” while acoustically re-arranging your internal organs.

—Jason Pickleman, owner, the JNL graphic design (Design 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best place for an unconventional haircut/color

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Twisted Scissors

The decor is skulls, punk and vintage pinup girls. The beer, wine and WiFi are free. The tattoos and piercings are everywhere. And although you may think your green-blue-purple ombre fringe, all-over lavender curls, or long orange streaks are out of the ordinary, Tiffany and the rest of the talented and talkative Twisted Scissors crew are already rocking all those styles—and relish a challenge. Don’t take the “It Hurts To Be Beautiful” signs too seriously, either. With cuts starting at $30, your bill will be as unexpected as your bangs.

2001 N. Point, 773.227.1077,

—Stacy Ratner, founder, Open Books (Lit 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best underplayed world premiere

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“Pilgrim’s Progress” at A Red Orchid Theatre

The only indication that something huge is going on this fall at A Red Orchid Theatre is this small snippet from their website (captured over a week before the show in question even opened): “Single Tickets for Pilgrim’s Progress are currently sold out!” Now Brett Neveu is a great playwright and Shade Murray knows how to direct with the best of them, but our hunch tells us this sold-out run has more to do with this: “Featuring Ensemble Members Kirsten Fitzgerald & Michael Shannon.” And if that wasn’t enough to lead you to beat yourself up for not pre-purchasing tickets… we’re not going to overplay this production either.

1531 N. Wells, 312.943.8722,

Best of Chicago 2015