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Best non-corporate neighborhood

City Life, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Lincoln Square
You could go almost anywhere in Chicago and not chalk up anywhere near the non-corporate island haven-like status of Lincoln Square. Truly unique in the Rahm Emanuel business-friendly landscape of in-your-face commercial madness splashed across every rentable surface in the city, this neighborhood boasts not one but three (two of which are local) coffee shops within a two-block radius, hold-out record store Laurie’s Planet of Sound (a shocker in and of itself in the age of iTunes), and the neighborhood-owned Davis theater. “Locally owned” doesn’t just do the fight happening here against the tide of cheap, corporate replacement options service. This ‘hood is sexy as hell, and knows it.
Montrose Avenue on the south, Ravenswood Avenue on the east and the Chicago River on the west

Best of Chicago 2013

Best kids shoe store

Goods & Services, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Piggy Toes
Finding the right shoes for your kids can be a hassle, and the ones you got from Payless literally just fall apart at the seams after a month or two of rough use. Piggy Toes in Lincoln Square on Western offers the city’s most extravagant, most well-pruned selection of well-made, hard-to-find designer kids shoes, such as Tsukihoshi, Puma and a full line of Geox, built like tanks and guaranteed to last for months. There is a sale going on constantly, and the service is attentive, informed and patient with even the most rambunctious little ones. Truly a must-visit for urban parents.
4548 North Western, (773)281-5583, ptoes.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best authentic German pub interior

Culture & Nightlife, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Hüettenbar
If you find yourself with a yen for a good ol’ fashioned German pub experience, there are plenty of options in the city. But entering the Lincoln Square neighborhood’s Hüettenbar is like walking into a cuckoo clock. Unfathomably meet-marketish and yuppie cliquey at times (when did traditional German culture become trendy?), their selection of German beers satisfies and the décor, while striving for authenticity with its exposed wood beams and faux Alpine lodge façade embedded into the storefront of the building, is a bizarre simulacra of the real thing. Belly up with a nice, fat mug of Spaten and muse at the contradictions.
4721 North Lincoln, (773)561-2507, huettenbar.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best vintage-shop window display

Goods & Services, Lincoln Square No Comments »

A Secret Closet
Chicago is home to innumerable vintage clothing stores across the city, but none can beat the loving tenderness of the Lincoln Square neighborhood’s A Secret Closet. Piled high with costume jewelry, arrayed with any number of sunglasses, shoes and handbags, and two well-dressed mannequins, the proprietors of this little shop across from the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square change their window display daily. Without exception, every day. And every day it is decked out with amazing fifties- and sixties-era wares for sale at bargain basement prices, constantly drawing pause from pedestrians to admire the day’s selections. And you should, too.
4617 North Lincoln, (773) 293-2903, facebook.com/ASecretCloset

Best of Chicago 2013

Best toy store

Audience Choice, Goods & Services, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Timeless Toys
Why supply your kids with the usual fare from Toys “R” Us when you live in a city with the Lincoln Square neighborhood’s Timeless Toys? Open since 1993, in toy industry terms, Timeless offers a selection that is more “home cooking” than most other Chicago stores’ McDonald’s-variety approach, with a solid selection of educational and wooden toys, including staff picks from the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association selections. Cozy, welcoming, and constantly jam-packed full of kids of all ages, they occasionally have events scheduled such as game demos and face painting.
4749 North Lincoln, (773)334-4445, timelesstoyschicago.com

AUDIENCE CHOICE: Uncle Fun, 1338 West Belmont, (773)477-8223, unclefunchicago.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best Philly cheesesteak

Food & Drink, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Monti’s Restaurant
Husband-and-wife team, chef James Gottwald and Jennifer Monti were longing for a bit of home when they opened Monti’s in Lincoln Square. The Philadelphia natives managed to combine the Chicago craft beer scene with Philly cheesesteaks in a casual bar atmosphere that’s both welcoming and gloriously filling. Their rolls are from Amoroso’s in Philly—adding an inimitable bit of authenticity to the sandwiches, while the local beer selection is impeccable, with an ever-changing chalkboard of options listing what’s currently available. And their cheesesteaks—from the incredibly spicy “The Rocky” (every time we’ve seen it ordered the waitress sternly warns the person about what they’re getting into) to the meatless “Where’s the Beef?” (hey, it’s Lincoln Square) to the truly incomparable South Side Johnny (mushrooms and horseradish cream sauce)—are all delicious and delivered with a mound of fries.

4757 North Talman, (773)942-6012, ilovemontis.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best new tabletop RPG gaming shop

Goods & Services, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Wanderer’s Refuge
Out of date? out of style? Think again, my friend. Gary Gygax may be gone, but he has become more powerful than any of us could have possibly imagined. Desperately seeking a copy of “Firefly: The Game?” Running low on d12s? Among the current keepers of the flame there comes Aileen Bishop and Nick Huaman, owners of Lincoln Square’s all-inclusive gaming shop, Wanderer’s Refuge. With a selection of across-the-board gaming systems and daily hosted in-store gaming nights, the Refuge is a bastion of the nerdy enlightened.

4546 North Western, (773)661-4440, wanderersrefuge.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best place to try the national food of the former Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (now Kyrgyzstan)

Food & Drink, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Jibek Jolu
This is comfort food, an excellent choice for a cold winter Chicago day. Three main components of Kirghiz cuisine are milk, meat and baked goods, and most of the time all three are combined. Choose juicy and tender beef shashlik (similar to kebabs) or hearty manty (steamed dumplings), add a helping of hot kesme (a type of soup with beef and veggies), and you can easily imagine that you are thousands of miles away from the metropolis, in the middle of vast Kyrgyzstan, and are about to climb its highest mountain Jengish Chokusu (if you manage to eat all you have ordered, you just may have enough energy to do so).

Jibek Jolu, 5047 North Lincoln, (773)878-8494, fjibekjolu.us

Best of Chicago 2012

Best place to hear world music year round

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Lincoln Square No Comments »

Old Town School of Folk Music
Since the unfortunate demise of Hothouse a few years ago, Chicago has been without a venue that programs world music at its core. And that’s a cultural shame as well as a market void if the massive crowds at the city’s World Music Festival this past September were any indication. Fortunately, a number of venues are producing world music shows on a consistent basis, from stalwarts like Martyrs’, Evanston Space and Jazz Showcase to relative newcomers like Mayne Stage, City Winery and The Shrine, to name a few. Arguably that diffusion of venues is a good thing, representing a maturity of the marketplace for world music here. In any case, Old Town School, with its comfortable auditorium, good acoustics and most consistent flow of world-music acts stands out from the pack. Especially noteworthy is the regular nature of its commitment, as Old Town School offers three regular showcases: World Music Wednesday, Global Dance Party Friday nights and the pan-Latino Pueblo Latino Chicago.

Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544-45 North Lincoln, (773)728-6000, oldtownschool.org

Audience choice: Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, (773728-6000, oldtownschool.org

Best of Chicago 2012

Best foreign cultural center in Chicago

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Lincoln Square, Near North No Comments »

Instituto Cervantes
Foreign cultural centers are under-appreciated assets of a city like Chicago. Often established by the governments of various nations, they serve as a sort of home away from home for the various expats and émigrés who are now living in Chicago. But their offerings to the rest of us risk getting lost in the noise of the city’s larger cultural entities, and that’s unfortunate. In addition to offering classes in the native tongues of whatever nation they serve, they often produce and promote singular cultural activities, from cinema, to literary, to academic forums to visual arts and dance. Instituto Cervantes, which opened a beautiful new space in River North a few years back, has an art gallery that offers a regular rotation of high-quality exhibitions, along with a spacious auditorium in constant use. We’ve caught flamenco performances, classical music, a panel on Spanish graphic novelists and appearances by Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists in the space, for example, along with an appearance of Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia at the space’s inauguration in 2009. What’s especially compelling about Cervantes is that, though it is founded and funded by the government of Spain, its mission is the promotion of its language, which means it features the cultures of all Spanish-speaking peoples, including most of Latin America. In a country where the Latino minority is becoming a major part of its identity, Cervantes offers Americans an easy path to increased knowledge and appreciation.

Instituto Cervantes, 31 West Ohio, (312)335-1996, chicago.cervantes.es

Audience Choice: DANK-Haus, 4740 North Western, (773)561-9181, dankhaus.com

Best of Chicago 2012