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The Best, From the Best: Best of Chicago 2015

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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

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 in Print

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Cover by Ivan Brunetti

Cover by Ivan Brunetti

With the great digital beast devouring the media landscape at a still-ferocious pace, those of us who retain an affection for and livelihood from print have spent the last decade contemplating the future in ways more emphatic, perhaps, than those who do not. We can’t speak for others, but here’s what we’re thinking: print is not dead, or even dying. In an increasingly ephemeral digital world (coming soon, the end of cash!), the tangible object becomes increasingly dear. Maybe not for everyone, not for the masses who once flipped their nickels to the newsies for a fix on the day’s headlines and stock prices, but for a discerning audience. Because print serves a smaller, if more selective crowd, than not long ago, its Darwinian struggles are not over. So what will separate the tetrapods who climb out of the media sludge and onto the dry land of the twenty-first century from those doomed to sink in the mud? Quality, we think, of writing and of image-making. And, most of all, finesse in integrating the whole into something that conveys the essence of print—that is, something that would be inherently inferior experientially in byte form. Read the rest of this entry »

Best of Chicago 2012: Letter from the Editor

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Best of the World
Twenty years ago, we decided to take up an enterprise that flourished in other cities but that was absent in Chicago: the Best of edition.

We committed ourselves maniacally to the editorial integrity of the enterprise, going so far as to code-name the computer folder on the server that housed the files in process. (We called it “pizza” in honor of the sustenance that fueled the many all-nighters we pulled to get the first issue out.) And we committed with equal vigor to making it visually the best it could be. For the first issue, we asked a young artist who’d been making a comic strip for us to create the cover. Maybe you’ve heard of him, Chris Ware?

Jorge Colombo was the art director of that first issue and established many of the visual structures that we still use today. Jorge, a native of Portugal, brought boundless curiosity, an intellectual approach to design and a demanding standard for the best in illustration to us, not to mention introducing us to the sounds of the great Brazilian musicians singing in his native tongue. Jorge has since moved to New York, where his career flourishes as an artist, most notably for his regular covers of The New Yorker. Though he assigned and designed several editions as Newcity art director, this is his first Best of Chicago cover, a fitting bookend to the one he first designed. Read the rest of this entry »

Best of Chicago 2011: Letter from the Editor

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Illustration by Lilli Carré

All for the best

It’s less than a year since the farewell that changed the face of the city, the visage we’d shown the world for a generation, and it already feels like a different town, doesn’t it? After all, Rosie’s taken to her new Chicago-ness with the relish of an ecstatic newcomer, homesteading in Lakeview, popping up in all the right gay bars and generally reminding us that Oprah long ago transcended us, becoming a citizen of the planet even as she still blessed us with her presence. Oh, and that other game-changing retirement’s kicking up a fair bit of dust, as well, as Rahm redefines the mayor’s office. Here’s what we’ve noticed: while Richie was always one of them, an insular member of Chicago political royalty who seemed to operate with their own code, Rahm seems like one of us. He shows up at rock concerts, at theater openings, at triathlons. He takes the el. We even know a guy who says he bumped into him at a quiet little bar before the election. You didn’t bump into Richie. Read the rest of this entry »

Vote for the 2011 Best of Chicago

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Thank you for a record turnout in this year’s election: four times as many voters as last year! We’re counting the votes and doing our thing and will be back with the results on December 15.

Best of Chicago 2010: Letter from the Editor

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Illustration by Paul Hornschemeier

It was the best of times…

A not-so-surprising coincidence, is it, that a significant number of you quoted the classic opening line from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” as your “best opening line from the (imagined) memoirs of Richard M. Daley” for the eighteenth annual Best of Chicago? Of course most of you also cited the other half of that line, “it was the worst of times,” as well.

Though we started Newcity in 1986, before his arrival, we’ve never published a Best of Chicago without a Mayor Daley. And certainly it’s been a tale of two cities under his leadership, with some magnificent bests and troubling worsts. But we’re still having a hard time imagining Chicago without him so, this final year of Daley’s Chicago, we’ve dedicated a few questions to considering both his legacy and also the prospects for the future leadership of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Best of Chicago 2009: Letter from the Editor

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“Celebrating the awesome nature of Chicago every day.”

That’s the answer that one of you offered up to our audience-survey question: “Best idea to salvage from Chicago 2016.” We couldn’t agree more—that could actually be our tagline.

When we sat down as a group of editors and writers to plan this, our seventeenth edition of the Best of Chicago, the city’s lost Olympics bid was still a fresh wound. Whether you found that day’s news devastating or perhaps a relief, chances are you felt at least a little bit worse. Like deciding to break up with someone and having them beat you to the punch: you’re left wondering what was wrong with you. Read the rest of this entry »

Best of Chicago 2008: Letter from the Editor

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Never better

Won’t you please come to Chicago
For the help that we can bring.
We can change the World.
—Graham Nash

Last Tuesday night will be forever known as a new beginning in Chicago history, like the morning after the Great Conflagration, though this moment washed in triumph rather than burned in tragedy. The city will never be the same, having sent one of its own to the nation in a manner that will be marked as a turning point in American history. As the city basks in this glorious moment, it has the chance, one chance, to reach for new heights, to rebuild itself anew, on top of its already mighty foundation, and to create a vision of what a new city can be.

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.
—Alan Jay Lerner

Our enthusiasm is inflamed not only by the new possibilities of the body politic, but also by our own current obsession, our annual Best of Chicago. Herein we celebrate much that is fine about this town of ours and, if not so fine, much that makes us what we are. Sixteen times now, we’ve journeyed thus, and still we find ourselves running out of time and space before we run out of words. And you participated as well, by casting votes in seventy-five or so categories. Your results follow our critic’s selection in each category, sometimes punctuating our choice, sometimes setting us straight. And if you still have more to say, starting this week, you’ll be able to comment directly, at our new Best of Chicago web site, found right here at And here you are.