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Best place to inhale Italian-American culture

Bridgeport, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Gianni Cigars and Smoke Shop
Taylor Street has now become largely gentrified, and many of the old social clubs are gone. But if you want to experience the old Chicago Italian-American experience, go to Gianni Cigars and Smoke Shop. Stop in any afternoon and puff on a stogie while the old guys from the neighborhood play cards, dominos or shoot the breeze under a cloud of blue smoke. The shop offers a large selection of cigars, and even features a photo of Maxwell Street taken by Chicago filmmaker Tom Palazzolo.

Gianni Cigars and Smoke Shop, 654 West 31st, (312)791-9002

Best of Chicago 2012

Best bar in Bridgeport to watch the White Sox

Bridgeport, Sports & Recreation No Comments »


Too cheap for the Cell? This homey dive, a stone’s throw from the ballfield, is the next best thing. With its tin ceiling, year-round Christmas lights and copious knickknacks, plus dirt-cheap Old Style, this is a great pub for watching the Pale Hose. Live roots rock and honkytonk bands also make this a fun place to kill a Friday night. Open since 1965, this is one of the city’s last buzzer bars, where the front door is locked until you’re deemed worthy to enter. But once inside, you’ll find the regulars are a friendly crew–as long as you don’t mention the Cubs.

3238 South Halsted

Audience choice:
Cork and Kerry at the Park
3258 South Princeton

Best of Chicago 2011

Best Lithuanian bakery

Bridgeport, Food & Drink No Comments »

Bruno’s Bakery

Long before the fast-food chains brought us mass-produced breakfast flatbreads and biscuits filled with freeze-dried, processed, Bac-Os-like substances, Bridgeport’s Bruno’s Bakery was serving up Bacon Rolls. A soft dinner roll fresh-stuffed with generous portions of real bacon—fat, grease and all—they come roaring out of the hot oven every morning, and the day’s batch is usually gone by ten. It is the type of food that Jurgis Rudkus, the Lithuanian main character of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” would have scarfed down in the pre-dawn hours on the way to his shift at The Stockyards. In fact, Bruno’s is located about four blocks away from Chicago’s last slaughterhouse, Chiappetti Lamb and Veal. In business for over fifty years, Bruno’s was around during the final days of Chicago’s “Killing Floor.” Located on an almost unknown street, Lituanica, (one block west of Halsted), Bruno’s is nestled into a building located in the middle of the block. Bruno’s is a reminder of the era when, from Little Italy on Taylor Street, to the Greek’s in Greektown, to the Jews along Devon, to the Swedes in Andersonville, to the Germans on North Lincoln Avenue, dawn in Chicago meant hot ovens and the wonderful smells of an ethnic neighborhood bakery on almost every block. Bruno’s old wooden shelves are stocked not only with bacon rolls, but their special recipe for Lithuanian sour rye bread. Thick, hearty and full of grains, it is darker, heavier and has much more flavor and texture than its anemic, albino cousin Polish Rye (also sold at Bruno’s), and it’s much more dense and unique than high-end bakery sourdoughs. With the 2009 closing of Healthy Foods, Bruno’s also represents the final vestiges of Lithuanian culture and heritage in Bridgeport.

Bruno’s Bakery
3341 South Lituanica

Best of Chicago 2011

Best fish tacos

Audience Choice, Bridgeport, Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

Photo: Kristine Sherred


No other competitor comes close to challenging this plank of corn-tortilla-wrapped golden-fried tilapia, featuring a corn-flake-like crispy crust topped with cool crispy shreds of cabbage drizzled with enough tequila-lime sauce to make Sammy Hagar happy.

300 West 26th

Audience choice:

108 West Kinzie

Best of Chicago 2010

Best liquor store

Audience Choice, Bridgeport, Goods & Services, Lincoln Park 1 Comment »

Photo: Kristine Sherred

Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar

While Ed Marszewski has been known around town for all kinds of activities and activism, including the annual Version multimedia festival, over 100 issues of Lumpen magazine and eight of Proximity, the journal of art and urban studies, part of his life has always been centered around his mother’s bar in Bridgeport. Once known as Kaplan’s Liquors, Maria’s, family-owned since 1986, is a Chicago tavern in the classic style, half bar and half liquor store. Its latest transformation from dive bar to community asset opened in August, retaining features of the old tap room while adding an art deco cooler, chandeliers made of beer bottles; butcher block tables and co-partner Mike Marszewski’s beer-can collection in the bathrooms. Ten beers are on tap and close to a hundred craft beers and microbrews are stocked, with a rotating seasonal beer list and freshly concocted cocktails each month. Art, DJs and events are part of the tapestry as well.

960 West 31st

Audience choice:

Binny’s Lincoln Park
1720 North Marcey

Best of Chicago 2010

Best voodoo shop

Bridgeport, Goods & Services No Comments »

Augustine’s Spiritual Goods

Santana sang about a “Black Magic” woman. Well, you can buy her voodoo potions right here, as well as stones, charms and herbs. Try faith cure oil for mental health or love oil for passion. To remove a jinx or master an enemy, Augustine’s offers voodoo dolls, custom-made mojo bags or ritual spell kits.

3327 South Halsted

Best new South Side restaurant to earn a Michelin Bib Gourmand award

Bridgeport, Food & Drink No Comments »


Nana’s is barely a year old, but Michelin snuck in and left a stenciled Bib Gourmand on their sidewalk. That means good eating at a reasonable price: under $40 for two courses with wine or dessert. For breakfast, sample the freshly squeezed orange juice, banana bread and biscuit sandwich. They’ve recently expanded their organic goodness to include dinner.

3267 South Halsted

Best of Chicago 2010

Best “Chicago” tamale

Bridgeport, Food & Drink No Comments »

Veteran Tamale

Like the Italian beef, the Chicago tamale is purely a local product, virtually unknown outside the Windy City. But many a Chicagoan who has lined up at a food cart in the park on a hot summer afternoon or stumbled into a hotdog stand in the middle of the night has sampled these tasty morsels. In fact, legendary stands like Gene and Jude’s sell only hotdogs—and Chicago tamales. They differ from their Mexican cousins in many ways. In appearance, they are machine-made cylinders that resemble giant cigarettes, wrapped in paper or plastic instead of corn husks or banana leaves. The outside is made of grainy cornmeal which somewhat resembles polenta, instead of the finely ground, paste-like masa of the traditional Latin tamale. Finally, the filling is almost always ground beef, or in the case of Victory Tamales, vegetarian soy. Its origins unknown, there are many theories as to where this snack treat came from. Some say it is a Chicago-based derivation of scrapple, a mixture of pork or beef parts mixed with cornmeal and served up like little cakes. Leah Zeldes of Dining Chicago attributes their origin to African Americans from Mississippi who sold this cornmeal mixture on the South Side. Early blues songs such as Herbert Ingraham’s “Hot Tamale Man” (1909) and Fred Rose’s “Here Comes the Hot Tamale Man” (1926) support these claims. Even the legendary man at the crossroads, bluesman Robert Johnson, expressed his liking for the Chicago-based snack, penning the lyrics, “Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she’s got ‘em for sale…” at about the same time he wrote, “Sweet Home Chicago.” Read the rest of this entry »

Best gallery space located in a bathroom

Bridgeport, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Medicine Cabinet

In Chicago we praise our apartment-gallery scene for the unusual curatorial strategies arising from its relaxed environment and lack of available space. Given the latter fact, it’s not uncommon to find a curated artwork hanging in the bathroom. Residential gallerist Chris Smith has decided to parody this tendency, and the main-space/project-space dichotomy native to many commercial galleries, with Medicine Cabinet. Adjacent to Smith’s Second Bedroom Project Space, and occupying the entirety of his bathroom medicine cabinet, Medicine Cabinet is perhaps the smallest single exhibition space in town. The cabinet most recently became a projection surface for Jesse McLean’s video installation Side Effects (through November).

3216 South Morgan, 4R

Best of Chicago 2009

Best chili

Audience Choice, Bridgeport, Food & Drink No Comments »

Ramova Grill

The only thing spicier than the zesty all-spice-tinged Greek/Cincinnati-style chili here is the mix of characters who’ve gathered down the street at the 11th Ward Democratic headquarters (the political birthplace of the Daley clan) in Bridgeport to make kings and decide which city asset gets sold off next.

3510 South Halsted

Audience choice:
(TIE) Lindy’s
3685 South Archer
Ramova Grill

Best of Chicago 2009