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Best gift shop in West Town

Goods & Services, West Town No Comments »

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 Jewish deli inside an Italian pharmacy

Andersonville, Food & Drink No Comments »

Gordono Pharmacy

Sixteen years ago Jeff Bendix, owner of Gordono Pharmacy in Andersonville, found himself lamenting the lack of great Jewish delis on Chicago’s North Side. So he decided to solve the problem by making room in his store for a full-service deli. Gordono’s JB’s Deli offers everything from hand-cut lox to homemade brisket, soups, knishes and, of course, prescription medications. It’s hard to beat the weird pleasure of heading to a pharmacy for bagels on a Sunday morning.

5501 N. Clark, 773.561.3671,

—Michele Morano, director, MA in Writing and Publishing, DePaul University (Lit 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best timeless restaurant

Food & Drink, Lincoln Square No Comments »

The Chicago Brauhaus

A cornerstone of Lincoln Square since 1965, Guenter and Harry Kempf’s Chicago Brauhaus is so purely itself—stuck beautifully in time and with no regard to the changing fashions outside its warm wooden interior. Order the Brauhaus Special (which includes the not-to-be-missed Sulze), a delicious beer and listen to the musical stylings of Gody—the self-proclaimed “Austrian Elvis”—and all will be right with the world.

4732 N. Lincoln, 773.784.4444,

—Kelly Leonard, The Second City (The Players)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best stand-up comedy

Culture & Nightlife, Old Town No Comments »

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 hole-in-the-wall smoke shack

Albany Park, Food & Drink No Comments »


It’d be easy to drive right past the tiny brick building painted blue in Albany Park that houses smalls. smoke shack, unless you have your windows down, in which case you’ll stop, unable to resist the alluring scent. There’s not a bad dish on the menu. There’s not even an okay dish—it’s all great, from standards like beef brisket and fried chicken to specialties like Filipino BBQ pork and curried cauliflower… it’s tough to choose which favorite to order, but once you do, sit next door at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge and have a drink while you wait. Then kick yourself for loving smalls. so much that you can’t help but tell everyone about it, even though you want to keep it your little secret. The wait might get longer, but it’ll always be worth it.

4009 N. Albany, 312.857.4221,

—Jeffrey Brown, cartoonist (Lit 50)

Best of Chicago 2015


Best place for kids to have fun with science

Goods & Services, Lincoln Park, South Loop No Comments »

Kids Science Labs

Kids Science Labs is an amazing resource for parents wanting their children to learn about science in a stimulating and creative environment, with classes after school, weekends and during the day for homeschoolers. The staff is second to none and the topics themselves are well organized, giving students enough time to examine scientific concepts in a number of ways.  My boys have come out of class rapping about elasticity, discussing friction, displacement, environmental science, and how a volcano erupts.  Whether the Lincoln Park or South Loop location, the classrooms are beautiful, sunny and airy places to learn. They also have WiFi for parents, and the Lincoln Park location is next to Whole Foods, which makes shopping easy while the kids are in class. The South Loop location is near a historic landmark area and beautiful park with a cafe on the first floor.  We have experienced the weekly classes, as well as the camps, at both locations, all well worth it. Driving to KSL, I often hear: “I cannot wait to find out what I will learn today!”

1500 N. Kingsbury, 312.846.1426 and 1801 S. Indiana, 312.225.4747,

—Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart, president, KOVAL Distillery (Big Heat)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best new jazz venue

Culture & Nightlife, Wicker Park No Comments »

The Revel Room

Wicker Park’s Revel Room has been a music venue for a while now; but beginning in November, it’s devoting Thursdays to a progressive jazz series called “Revelations.” Upcoming acts include MAST, ROOMS trio, David Boykin Expanse, Sam Trump and Will Miller Trio. Constellation’s success seems to be paving the way for more serious new jazz outlets on the north side; here’s hoping The Revel Room makes a go of it.

1566 N. Milwaukee, 773.278.1600,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best stretch of street art

Culture & Nightlife, Pilsen No Comments »

16th Street, Halsted to Wood

18th Street, the main artery of Pilsen, has its fair share of street art, from a towering “Declaration of Immigration” to a rendition of Fozzie Bear peeking out from an alley. But the real center of Pilsen street art lies slightly north, on the stretch of 16th Street spanning from Halsted to Wood. The path follows a set of train tracks and the concrete wall that guards them, creating a perfect canvas for murals of every style—detailed portraits next to futuristic scenes next to geometric abstractions next to simple cartoons in a long corridor of vibrant images. 18th has a certain intoxicating bustle, but for a calmer and far more colorful route, take a step north and watch the city’s artistic side unfold.

Best of Chicago 2015

Best backyard gallery

Culture & Nightlife, East Garfield Park No Comments »

The Franklin

Artists Edra Soto and Dan Sullivan have been running the Franklin in their East Garfield Park backyard since 2012, opening dozens of short-term, unconventional exhibitions in just under three years. This year’s highlights included “Hardcore Architecture,” a show of Google Street Views of the suburban abodes of 1980s punk bands assembled by Marc Fisher, and “Finocchio,” a group show on queer identity in the twenty-first century curated by neuropsychologist Scott J Hunter. Among dozens of alternative art spaces in Chicago, the Franklin has distinguished itself for staying strong and keeping it weird.

3522 W. Franklin, 312.823.3632,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best new community-service festival

Culture & Nightlife, Pilsen No Comments »

O+ Festival

This art, music and wellness festival migrated from its original location in Kingston, New York, where it was launched in 2010, and this year was spearheaded by local artist/activist Cheryl Casden and festival director Amy Jo Arndt. With a stated goal of offering medical care services in exchange for artwork as a way of bridging the gap “of inaccessible healthcare for the creative community,” the event used locations throughout the Pilsen neighborhood, and drew hundreds of people over the course of its weekend-long event this past September.

Best of Chicago 2015