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Best Lost Boys treehouse gallery

Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Hills Esthetic Center

For the better part of a decade, the Hills Esthetic Center has been a live/work outpost for Chicago’s alternative art scene. In 2014 they’ve updated the exhibition space and exhibited a roster with increasingly national reach. But the endearingly casual vibe of DIY constructed gallery, studios and living quarters remains, with jovial times around the gallery’s tiki bar, and openings that still veer into raucously fun parties as the night wears on.

128 N. Campbell,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best book to get laid with

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Stuart Dybek’s “Ecstatic Cahoots”

The men and women in this book spend more time horizontal than the characters in “Mad Men.” They belly up to diners and get busy beneath the counter, they kiss until the night falls and the last bus has passed. They press their bruises, just to feel something. Dybek is an acrobatic of the sentence. He makes them turn inside out, the way we do just about anything, sometimes, for love.

Best of Chicago 2014

Best new DIY event space

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Dollhouse DIY

Run out of a second-floor apartment in the Northwest Side neighborhood of Irving Park, the Dollhouse DIY describes itself as a “feminist art collective.” Formed by roommates “Serena Fath (filmmaker), Cassandra Jimenez (poet), and Lola Gutierrez (music manager),” the Dollhouse periodically stages event nights that include wall-hung visual art exhibitions, live music performances (that sometime get the cops called), and poetry readings. Organized loosely around the scene inspired by the trio’s circle of friends, it’s a hidden gem of new talent. Most evenings are BYO, and visitors will recognize the place from the crummy, fetid-looking giant oversized sneaker they mount outside on the roof overlooking the entrance.

Best of Chicago 2014

Best rock ‘n’ roll-inspired restaurant

Food & Drink No Comments »


Inspired by the Rolling Stones, Nellcote takes its name from the French villa where the group partied with bohemians in the 1970s. Located on the Randolph Street restaurant corridor, the airy atmosphere welcomes hungry patrons to dine like VIPs. Their menu offers reasonably priced shareable portions using local Midwest ingredients. Their house-milled flour is featured in handmade bread and artisan pizza crust.  Wood-fire-grilled meat and veggie dishes can be paired with house-crafted cocktails. Inside you’ll notice photos of the Stones, an homage solidifying that Nellcote is, too, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

833 W. Randolph, 312.432.0500,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best handmade soap

Goods & Services No Comments »

Venus in Pisces

File it under the beautiful bathroom additions section. Made from vegan glycerin, Elaina Bender’s Venus in Pisces handmade soap uses a patented, layered process of imprinting a photographic image on a shower bar. Over time, as they wear down from use, the image remains intact, reproduced through the glass onion of the soap’s layers. Drawing from a reference library for her “Encyclopedique” collection, Bender appropriates full-color images of botanical and insect species. Each frosted glassine bar, at a square two-and-a-half inches, is a miniature art object.

Best of Chicago 2014

Best place for bird watching

Audience Choice, Lincoln Park, Sports & Recreation No Comments »

Lincoln Park

In the city proper, Lincoln Park wins hands-down. That includes the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (including the Magic Hedge), the Bill Jarvis Bird Sanctuary, North Pond, and South Pond (which is now called “Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo). Wooded Island in Jackson Park is also phenomenal and, like North Pond, has organized bird walks almost every week. Calumet Park on the far South Side, and the two new city parks at the old steel plant property (87th and Lake Shore Drive) are great, but under-birded. And LaBagh Woods at Foster and Cicero on the city’s Northwest Side can be really good, especially in the spring. And the big “central parks”—Douglas, Columbus and Humboldt—are good during migration.

Audience Choice: Montrose Point, Northerly Island

Best of Chicago 2014

Best suggestion for a more appropriate location for the controversial TRUMP sign

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »

Along the river near the Chicago Skyway

When the turgid, silver-sheened twenty-foot-tall ego-alephs rose up along the mirrored surfaces of the Trump Tower like a logo from 1980s straight-to-VHS monster movies, the slow reveal seemed like a joke from another Michael Bay Chicago-River-side blow-‘em-down, especially the days that “TRUM” stood without quite attaining completion. “T-Rum”? Would this be the new rap name of the trigger-fingered twitterer and perennial candidate-not-candidate for president? But once the last letter landed, the “short-fingered vulgarian,” to use the celebrithet coined by Spy magazine in the 1990s, was quickly, if ineffectually barked out as “architecturally tasteless” by our missing-middle-fingered mayor. While it would be beguiling to see those letters thrusting up from the foul black piles of life-endangering petroleum waste dumped along the Calumet River, like a befouled rendition of glasses on the billboard in “The Great Gatsby”—The Donald’s I’s instead of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s—there’s a wrack of ruin that suits the mogul’s latest self-erection better. Think of the Calumet River near the Chicago River, the acres-upon-acres of rusticated buildings, bulwarks of decline that will stand for decades longer, even after Trump’s hair no longer blows in any given wind. The silver word would grow increasingly mysterious, iconic, reduced to its sounds, like the byways of Chicago named for mayors whose names no one has recognized for decades.

Audience Choice: At the bottom of the Chicago River

Best of Chicago 2014

Best gallery to people-watch

Culture & Nightlife No Comments »


If you have an eye for art it is very likely you will also have an eye for fashion, so it only makes sense that art galleries are filled with interesting types to watch. Now how about a gallery located almost on the corner of Milwaukee and Honore, where some of the hippest people from in and out of town happen to circulate, rain, snow or shine? That is the case of LVL3, run by Vincent Uribe and Anna Mort—quite a stylish duo themselves. By welcoming everyone into their art space, they gather an eclectic and lively crowd, dressed to impress and express. Right now they’re expanding and taking their business to Stardust, held at Berlin nightclub. Every second Thursday they’ll be hosting Gravy, a dance party which will be benefiting a not-for-profit organization every month. Among the many reasons for attending is getting it down with Uribe, whose contagious energy and funky moves set any dance floor on fire.

1542 N. Milwaukee, 312.469.0333,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best place to see art films

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

 The Music Box

Stellar programming of as many as a dozen attractions a week under the star-filled night-canopy ceiling of the Music Box, a newly refurbished second theater with comfy seats, an expanded lobby with improved lineups and a full bar with programming-themed tipples? It only gets better, and it’s a challenge for each and every space small and large to up the local exhibition game.

3733 N. Southport, 773.871.6607,

Audience Choice: Music Box Theatre

Best of Chicago 2014

Best burgers

Audience Choice, Food & Drink No Comments »


We’ve enjoyed foie gras-laced burgers at Daniel Boulud’s db Brasserie in Vegas, but simplicity is surely the best way to highlight a hamburger’s high-quality ingredients. Eddie Lakin of Edzo’s has been kicking it old school since 2010, and though we’re almost abashed to ladle another plaudit upon him, his hamburger leverages house-ground beef (locally sourced, grass-fed, hormone-free, of course) to strike a satisfying balance between fine-dining finesse and drive-thru minimalism. If this powerfully primal sandwich is not fancy enough for you, upgrade with an order of truffle fries.

2218 N. Lincoln, 773.697.9909 and 1571 Sherman, Evanston, 847.864.3396,

Audience Choice: Au Cheval, 800 W. Randolph, 312.929.4580,

Best of Chicago 2014