Each year on Brightest Young Things we ask people what they love about their city. You can love a city without being in love with a human being.
For this year’s Why We Love Chicago we asked activists, actors, chefs, children’s television show hosts, comedians, illustrators, journalists, musicians, painters, photographers, radio personalities and Svengoolie what they love about Chicago. The following will make your heart swell with Chicago pride and/or envy.
- Strong, stabilizing creative scene. We’re not as big, geographically, as NY and LA but we’re large in the talent pool with many creatives making national waves and a lot of us aren’t making the moves to the coasts anymore..
- Food. Hands down best food in the country. From small neighborhood spots to lavish downtown staples you won’t find, collectively, a better food town. Ask around 😉
- Cultural Diversity. For being relatively small in comparison with other ‘big cities’ the stew of culture in Chicago is apparent from one side of the street to another, in many neighborhoods, allowing people to learn more about each other’s backgrounds symbiotically
- Hoodie Season. Yeah, it’s prob great to live by the beach or enjoy 75 deg+ temps all year round in some American cities but nothing beats a cool breezy fall day in the Chi that allows you to pull out the hoodies and fresh pair of boots
- City Scale. Not too big not too small.
5 favorite places to catch me drinking
- Cole’s Bar: It’s the best dive bar around, with a really great staff. It’s also the first place I ever did standup, so I’ll always have that bias. Go to the open mic on Wednesdays!
- Cafe Mustache: This coffee shop by day, bar by night has a wonderful staff as well, and is a great stop for all different events throughout the month. Check out their calendar, and definitely head over on Sunday nights for Karaoke! Bonus: It’s right across the street from Cole’s Bar!
- Cole’s Bar again: After going to another show somewhere else: Look, the drinks are cheap here. Did i mention I’m biased?
- Uncharted Books: How is a bookstore one of my favorite places to drink? Well, the first Thursday of the month there’s the free, BYOB comedy show Congrats on Your Success, co-produced by your’s truly (shameless plug!). Bonus: After the show, some of the comedians from the show often head over to a little known spot called Cole’s Bar for after-show drinks.
- I don’t know… just anywhere that is not alone on my own couch: Somebody has to be out, right? I know it’s midnight on Tuesday, but I can’t just SIT here and watch Netflix… maybe someone’s shooting pool over at Cole’s. I should go check. Yeah.
I travel the world as a professional wrestler. Tokyo, Australia, China, Mexico…I’ve been everywhere. I’m so proud to call Chicago my home and tell you for A FACT, Chicago has THEE best food in the world. Here’s the five best places you NEED to hit up when in my city.
- Subway on Belmont & Harlem. Make sure Franke is serving you if you can. He’s the best artist in the city, bar none. Here’s a tip from me to you…get it toasted. You won’t be sorry.
- Chipotle on Broadway & Foster. The steak here is to die for. Clean bathroom and that real neighborhood feel. Try the guacamole, you won’t be sorry.
- Arby’s on Madison & Wells. Just like mom used to make. This can get busy, it’s almost like the secret’s out. I recommend their select sauces. It’s a great way to spice up any of their meals, but to be honest, you probably don’t even need em.
- Papa John’s on Damen & Polk. Can you say Chicago Style Pizza?!? The best in the city by far. Made right here, in Chicago, Il. You’ve heard of mom and pop pizza before…well just wait to you try it from mom and PAPA!
- Dairy Queen on Irving Park & Central. Gotta save room for desert! This local hidden gem will get packed on a hot night, so be prepared to wait. It’s sooooo worth it though. Just act as your a local, play it cool and enjoy the perks of city living!
The CTA Red Line is the aorta into the heart of Chicago, a main ventricle that supplies the city with dissimilar perspectives, traditions, and behaviors. I take pleasure in my daily commute/adventure downtown because while riding in our tax-dollar-funded rail system, I can feel the pulse of the city. Every day, I rub shoulders with working-class Chicagoans who struggle with widespread issues and communicate passionately, as if their problems were exclusive. I’m also surrounded by impressionable teens in search of an identity, speaking and dressing loudly and yearning to feel important. Panhandlers of all ages and sexes ask me for spare change, not knowing that what they already have in their half-empty (or half-full) cups is more money than I have sometimes.
Every so often, I’ll engage in a conversation about Derrick Rose, Barack Obama, the unemployment rate, the shifty weather, a robbery, etc., but mostly, I just sit back and savor every taste the city has to offer. I listen for answers to questions like: What are the masses of people thinking? Are the laws coming from the State Legislature being received in good spirits? Do the people even know who their State Representatives and Alderman are? I highly doubt it.
This is no fault of theirs. Most citizens are too busy worrying about their own lives, their children, their parents and/or their bills. I honestly don’t believe that many people know how a public servant can be of any assistance in their lives. Sexy politics typically focus on the national issues,overlooking the juvenile community issues that everyday citizens deal with on the South Side. Below par drainage systems and catalytic converter heists get placed on the back burner in favor of deficit talks and controversial marriage pledges—you know, more important things.
Nevertheless, this community-level feedback is what I’ve come to enjoy about my commute on the Red Line. It’s a great way to start the day. You’re immersed right in the thick of things. Your ears are right to the streets, and if you listen objectively, you can learn a lot.
- Weather. I really like it when we get buried in snow. I like thunderstorms. I like that our weather changes. And our summers can’t be beat! People lose their minds when it gets warn here after a long winter.
- It’s affordable! L.A. is warm and beautiful and New York is cool but I OWN MY HOUSE. I draw dogs taking a shit for a living and I own my home.
- We’re friendly! There are more working poster artists here than any other city and we’re all friends! No back-biting, jealousy, or other nonsense. Chicagoans have a great work ethic and we help each other out whenever needed.
- Music. We have a perpetually-thriving music scene with a number of great venues to see music in. Let alone the rich history of Chicago music we have great current bands like Melkbelly, DIM, and Meat Wave.
- Food. We have an insane amount of good food. Whether it’s cheap tacos or upscale dining, we have it covered.
- Arcade Bars: About 15 years or so ago, I was visiting Brooklyn, and there was this arcade bar my friend took me to. I thought about it forever, until they started to pop up here. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted. Beer and pinball. Pinball and beer. Logan Arcade is my favorite.
- Owning and Being on the Radio: Not just because it’s my bread and butter. There are still really good, non-mainstream stations to be had here. And all of them are invested in making Chicago’s cultural landscape better.
That’s huge, considering the size of the market, and the number of potential listeners, and doers of better.
We’re doing great work at Vocalo, but so are CHIRP, and WLUW, and Lumpen. All on terrestrial radio. In 2018, that’s a wild notion.
- Live Music, for All: I live in this wonderful space where I get to be a DJ at a hip-hop/R&B/dance music radio station, and also get to be a rock musician and fan. Any day of the week, I’m faced with the enviable dilemma of “What kind of music do I want to go and hear some of the best of today?” And, sometimes, I get to go and see the best for FREE. We still have free shows here!
- Being Fat: Being fat in Chicago is the best. I’ve been fat for a nice long while now, and I never had any trouble with the fellas. If I wanted to be this fat and desirable anywhere else in the US, I’d probably have to move someplace far less interesting. Chicago wants you to eat, because it wants you to survive the winter.
- All My Stuff Is Here: I’m from here, my family’s from here, I went to school here, we bought a house here.
If I was from one of those aforementioned “less interesting” places, that might be super depressing. But, I’m from Chicago. It’s awesome to be from Chicago and live in Chicago.
Chicago rules. If you’re not from here, well, that sucks for you.
Doug Kaplan (MrDougDoug), Co-founder of Hausu Mountain, Guitarist in Good Willsmith
- The Empty Bottle – The most consistently amazing venue to see both local and touring musicians. It’s one of the few places in the world that I can confidently roll up to by myself and know that I’ll run into many, many buds. Also there’s a wall of dismembered doll heads which is an enormous bonus if you’re anything like me.
- North Park Village Nature Center – There are a lot of amazing parks in Chicago, but this far northwestern nature center is the only park I’ve been to in the city proper that deserves to be called a nature preserve. There’s a forest, a prairie, several interconnected ponds with cool frogs, and no cars in sight. One of my favorite places to have some solid outdoor / alone / quiet time.
- Helltrap Nightmare – A mostly monthly series at The Hideout pairing cutting-edge, mega-horrific, standup WITH mind-exploding experimental music. Hosted by fellow Northwestern alum Sarah Squirm (who is half swamp hag and half super-hero), Helltrap almost always sells out – so get your tickets in advance!
- Terrapin Flyer – One of the better Grateful Dead cover bands around… better than Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Family Band in my estimation. They play almost weekly in Chicago and the nearby suburbs. Every time is a “real good time”, many shows are free… just go and twirl around y’all. Make sure to go on a night when Josh Olken is playing the guitar. He’s the second coming of Jerry – #1 in the game.
- Sarkis Cafe – Not in Chicago proper, but this Evanston diner is a staple restaurant for many high schoolers and man-children alike. The Bacon Loretta is the ultimate breakfast sandwich served on a Connella Italian beef roll. The walls are covered with pictures of regulars throughout the years. A few of my friends are up there, but I haven’t made the cut. Like most every grease-heaven restaurants in Chicago, it’s cash only. Always carry cash in this city y’all!
- Diverse grocery stores such as Joong Boo Market in Avondale neighborhood: a quaint grocery store where you can get most Asian ingredients, steamed buns, and Korean pickles! Thai Nam Food Market in Uptown: get all your Southeast Asian groceries here! On the south side, Richwell Market to get Chinese groceries, and the whole street of Devon for Indian/Pakistani and Middle Eastern groceries.
- Lots of dining choices!!!! Fun neighborhood restaurants, such as Cafe Marie Jeanne, Lula Cafe, Giant, and Fat Rice.
Creative yet casual restaurants, such as David and Anna Posey’s Elske.
- Great pastries and bakeries like Cellar Door Provisions, Floriole, and Bang Bang Pie.
- Great independent coffee roasters, such as Metric Coffee in Fulton Market.
- Plethora of local breweries with taprooms including Metropolitan Brewery and Revolution Brewery in our Avondale neighborhood.
- Lake Michigan. Having the lake right by the city is a real gift- a place to swim, sail, and fish- a cooler place to be during the summer- and surrounded by great skyline visuals. Watching fireworks reflected in the water- and seeing the sun come up over the lake- or just walking or biking along the shoreline can be really re-invigorating!
- The museums. From the typical to the unusual, we’ve got them all. My favorite since childhood is the amazing Museum of Science and Industry, in a building still standing from the 1893 Columbian Exposition “White City”- loaded with all sorts of great things and interactive exhibits. Add to that the Museum of Broadcast Communications (and I’m not just saying that because there is an exhibit about me there!), currently hosting a terrific Saturday Night Live display. What other city has a button museum, and, just north of town, the cool Volo Auto Museum with classic and TV/movie cars?
- Comedy. From Second City to great stand-up venues like Zanies, this is a great place to see comedy and practice the art.
- Food. Sure, there’s the often-mentioned deep dish pizza- but there’s so much more! You can probably find every ethnicity’s cuisine in a restaurant in the city. You have everything for Italian food on Taylor Street to Czech-Bohemian food in BERWYN- and you probably can’t walk a couple blocks without running into a place with Chicago hot dogs ( I know, I know- hold the ketchup…)
- Proximity to other great places. Our location makes it easy, and not a very long trip, to go to other places I love- including the “sunset coast” of Michigan; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; or Galena, Il.
Chicago is rough. I don’t mean this in a big dick swangin’ under a big belly under a big mustache, Polish-Irish Southside accent yellin’ “Da beers and da brats and da Sox and da Bears!” tough guy way. I mean it’s cold and violent, obsessed with its own mythology and yet insecure about its place in the world. It’s wealthy, it’s poor, and a whole universe of inequity between. It’s immigration, the Great Migration, and segregation. It’s corrupt and underfunded; there’s a school-to-prison pipeline and a Governors Mansion-to-prison pipeline. It’s working class, an industrial city in a post-industrial world. Even as our textile mills and abattoirs gentrify into barcades and tiki bars; as we butcher fewer hogs and build more apps, something makes us hold onto that spirit. We make things. Roll up your sleeves and get it done yourself because no one is going to do it for you.
That’s the vacuum in which our art is made, and maybe that’s why so many art forms are created here.
Factory worker Muddy Waters was a part of one revolution in the Blues with the creation of Electric Blues (aka “the Chicago Sound”) in the ’40s and spurred another when he released Electric Mud two decades later. Construction worker Marc Smith wanted to take poetry back from academia and return it to the people so he threw the first Poetry Slam at the Get Me High Lounge. Viola Spolin created the framework for Improv Comedy as a drama supervisor for the WPA. Her son and his University of Chicago cohorts would use her ideas to create Second City. Pushed out of the discos that were built on the backs of queer, black men and women, DJs like Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, and the Hot Mix 5, sought out a safe place to play, create and celebrate. The underground, members-only club that became their home was The Warehouse, and the results of their collaboration and experimentation would become House Music. Here’s five Chicago anthems that I love.
1. Cajmere “The Percolator”
In most cities, house music is a choice. In Chicago it’s in our blood, and 25+ years after being released, Cajmere’s 1991 track “The Percolator” is omnipresent, inescapable. It’s still played at clubs, where I’ve heard people cheer when they hear it, but not just there. It plays at block parties, it sneaks onto the United Center and Comiskey Park, it’s become a wedding standard like “Wobble Baby” and the cha-cha slide.
My father, a 65-year-old Jewish lawyer who raised me to believe that “Disco is the Devil and Bo Diddley is the most important man in history,” rocks out to it in the car, because “house isn’t disco.” House is Chicago, and he loves Chicago.
2. Los Crudos “Asesinos”
Los Crudos is a hardcore band from a primarily Mexican neighborhood on the South Side. They were active for most of the ’90s. They were political, they sang all but one of their songs in Spanish, and their singer Martin Sorrondeguy was openly, unapologetically gay, and they made it, outside of the city and beyond their niche, they are part of the canon of Important Hardcore Bands. Their influence cannot be overstated, especially among Latinx punks, and seeing Crudos in Chicago is like seeing the Beatles; they mean so much to so many people that it looks like religious experiences are happening in the pit.
“Asesinos” is the anthem, the one that gets the whole crowd frothing as soon as the drums kick in. A couple bands that formed in Crudos’ wake, I can recommend because they actually have music online are La Armada and Sin Orden. The one song Crudos sings in English: “That’s Right We’re That Spic Band”.
3. Jamila Woods “Holy”
Saba (feat. Noname) “Church / Liquor Store”
One of the city’s greatest resources is Young Chicago Authors, an afterschool writing program for teens that also hosts concerts and open mics and the nationwide youth poetry slam Louder Than A Bomb. They’ve also become an incubator for a new era of Chicago hip hop exemplified by Jamila Woods, Saba, and Noname.
Where you can really see YCA’s fingerprints in these artists is in their honesty. Emotional, intellectual, spiritual honesty, a very full experience of life. Jamila Woods’ soulful “Holy” recontextualizes familiar gospel verses towards self-love and self-affirmation. “Church / Liquor Store” paints a beautiful picture of a blighted, exploited, and ignored neighborhood, and the strength needed to survive through it. It’s specific to the west side but the sights are familiar to impoverished communities the world over. These aren’t the anthems for the club. For that you can look to YCA peer Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem”. These are anthems for the car, for looking in the mirror getting dressed for the club. They’re slow songs but they bang. Or I guess they slap if that’s what the kids are saying these days.
4. BBU “Chi Don’t Dance”
The outro of Taylor Bennet’s Restoration of An American Idol is parenthetically titled “Chi-Town Anthem” and reworks BBU’s “Chi Don’t Dance”. Taylor was a young teen with an older brother in high school when the song dropped and they would have heard it everywhere they could have gotten into at those ages.
BBU came out of a early social media era of cross-pollination in Chicago’s underground scene : multi-ethnic, multi-genre, and open to everything-and-the-kitchen-sink so long as it made people move. They were dudes from the neighborhoods who made militant party rap that dropped references to bell hooks, Richard Hell, and Saved by the Bell. “Chi Don’t Dance” divides the city by how it moves: Chi don’t dance it jukes, footworks, percolates. It’s a song that demands to be danced to, or at least shouted along with.
5. Serengeti “Denehy”
I was going to do a balancing act writing about R. K*lly’s “Step In the Name of Love”, about the difficulty of extricating a song from your heart when you learn that it was created by a predator. Writing that wasn’t fun, so I’m gonna kick it over to Serengeti’s “Denehy”, a love song to working class Chicago. It’s a perfect fantasy afternoon, like the kind Ice Cube fantasizes but with simpler pleasures: a softball game with the guys, a Tom Berenger movie on the TV, dinner with the wife at Bennigan’s.
In the video, Serengeti dons a big fake mustache and raps in a Polish-Irish Southside accent. Themes include da beers and da brats and da Sox and da Bears.
(6.) If you want a very specific take of Chicago through it’s music, literally my entire adolescence was soundtracked by the music of Dance Mania and Wax Trax Records.
- One time I went to a concert — this was more than a decade ago; the concert was M. Ward, and it was before he had gotten so mainstream — at The Metro. There was a man there who had on a suit and flip-flops. I thought, “Wow, that’s a look,” and it’s always so boring before concerts, so I went up to the man and I said something about his outfit. We talked for a long time. I had just moved to Chicago (and was about to move away again), and I felt like The Metro was in the middle of nowhere, because I lived in Hyde Park and it had taken me two hours to get there. This flip-flop guy said he didn’t even live in Chicago — he lived in a suburb! But he loved Chicago. He loved it because you could fall asleep on a bus and wake up in another neighborhood and know exactly which neighborhood you were in because that’s how different all the neighborhoods were. Now that I live in Chicago again, I don’t know if that’s exactly true — there are some neighborhoods that are a lot like other neighborhoods; and also, why are you sleeping on this bus without knowing where the bus is going? But I do like that people are proud of their neighborhoods. I like that this is a city of immigrants and we all benefit from the cultural diversity. Yes, Chicago is segregated, and this flip-flop guy’s comment didn’t really take that into account. But I do like that the neighborhoods are distinct. I just wish the resources were evenly distributed and that the property values were all equal. Oh, also, I did NOT have sex with flip-flop guy. But he did come home with me and I let him sleep on the couch and we became pen pals and now he is married and a doctor.
My roommate Luke says that “tacos are to Chicago what pizzas are to New York: they’re everywhere, they’re dirt cheap, and they’re excellent.” This is true. Also — unrelated — my roommate Luke and I are getting married!
Think about Chicago. What comes to mind? I’m going to answer for this for you so you don’t have to stop reading: hot dogs, deep dish pizza, the Sears Tower, Trump saying mean things, and maybe The Cubs. THESE ARE THE WRONG THINGS TO THINK ABOUT. It’s not even called the Sears Tower anymore! I am convinced that this is a conspiracy to keep people from moving to Chicago, because the things Chicago is famous for are not that great. So when you’re choosing your life destination, you overlook Chicago for sexier places that are known for their good hiking trails or their colleges. I love that this conspiracy can exist and keep my mortgage relatively low. Chicago property values have been steady for years and years. They’re rising in all the other cities, but in Chicago, they’re staying the same. This is great, and I maybe shouldn’t give any more away, but:
Chicago is the only place people should be moving. Global climate change is real. All the other cities are going to be affected by hurricanes, rising tides, scorching temperatures, inevitable earthquakes, and forest fires. Not Chicago. The winters are just less cold.
Did you know that the entire shoreline of Chicago’s Lake Michigan — all 28 miles of it — is legally public space? And that there are 24 white-sand beaches you can hang out on in the summer? When I ride my bike to the Loop in summer, I feel like I live in a tropical destination such as Belize or Fiji. Beautiful tanned humans play volleyball in bathing suits. Little huts lining the bike trail sell coconut water and very expensive cocktails. There’s a portion of the lakefront called The Magic Hedge where a WWII military base has been abandoned and allowed to grow over with a bunch of plants and every year migrating birds do spring break there. (Read: The birds gather there in the spring and have tons and tons of sex.) If you’re a birder — and I am — it’s like the holy land. I saw a snowy owl there a few weeks ago. I’m guessing you’re not a birder, so if I wrote, “I saw a summer tanager and a mourning warbler last May” you’re not going to swoon about it the way you should. Instead I will say this: the colors of the birds you can see there will make you believe that the world is not such a bad place and maybe you could talk to your estranged sister again because this life is too short. If you’re not into birds, you can lie upon the majestic white sand and wade into the cool water and swim back and forth all summer long knowing that the city hires a bunch of lifeguards to sit in tall chairs and keep you safe. I have NO IDEA why this is not what Chicago is famous for. MILES UPON MILES OF PRISTINE BEACHES versus hotdog. Maybe my problem is that I’m a vegan.
Three of my favorites are statues and two are museums all date back to my childhood and are places that my father took me to visit and I still revisit them often.
- The Statue of The Republic or the statue referred to by Chicago historians by the colloquial name of the “Golden Lady.” The location of the statue is in Jackson Park on Hayes drive it has fascinated me since I was a child.
- Fountain of Time, or simply Time, a sculpture by Lorado Taft, situated at the western edge of the Midway Plaisance within Washington Park.
- Eternal Silence, alternatively known as the Dexter Graves Monument or the Statue of Death, is a monument in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery
- The Museum of Science and Industry. Located in the area of town in which I was born and raised, Hyde Park. I have a membership to this place and go there often to just wander around, the best hands on exhibits with my favorite topics Science and industry
- The Chicago History Museum. Located in Lincoln Park this place was not far from my father’s job as he was a special education teacher at the Children’s Hospital school in the area. This place holds lots of local treasures and lore of Chicago. A full size CTA EL car , tales from the Worlds Colombian exposition, meat packing industry, all sorts of disasters the Iroquois theater and Chicago Fire etc. and my favorite, Abrahams Lincoln’s death bed
- PEOPLE: (1)Unvarnished ATTITUDE! Chicagoans are never more than three ironies, metaphors or similes from full-on kick-ass altercation. (2)You never know if Chicago’s beggar is homeless, a political spy or a Performance Artist. (3)You are never more than three blocks from “The Element” (Black or White). (4)Participating in DIY subversion of specific socio-political domination of the public sphere via creatively invisible venues that literally fly by night. (5)June, July and August. After a long Chicago winter, everybody’s got something to hide!
- INTERIORS: (1)Preston Bradley Hall/(Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, 1893) at Chicago Cultural Center. Years ago, when the CCC was the Chicago Public Library, White librarians ritually sprayed Lysol over the heads of Black people as we studied. On 26APR84, on the CCC Performance Stage, ONO presented “The Model Bride: A poetry performance in three movements: Those Who Have; Those Who Inherit; Those Who Take By Force: The Pavane/The Negro Folksong/Fantasia Finale.” On 12NOV12, In the CCC/Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Hall, I was included in the induction of American Veterans for Equal Rights, Chicago Chapter, where I served as Vice-President/Treasurer for 10 years, into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame. Mayor Richard M. Daley presiding. By 2012, AVER/Chgo and Mayor Daley met one-on-one, twice-a-year. My tux lapel pin, generator of endless query since 2007 (“Semper Fidelis Marines / Chicago Police”), was a gift from Mayor Daley’s personal bodyguard. Years of Respect. (2)Chicago Stock Exchange trading room/(Adler & Sullivan, 1893-94) at the Art Institute of Chicago. (3)Lincoln Hall/(Rogers, 1926) at Northwestern Univ. School of Law/Levy Mayer Hall. A grand design loosely based on Houses of Parliament. On 13FEB1981, ONO marked our first performance of many in Lincoln Hall. As ONO played, Mayor Harold Washington, our friend and NULS alum (1951), spoke in Booth Hall, directly above Lincoln Hall. Levy Mayer’s private courtyard: Inner-city Therapy! (4)Tango dancing in the Winter Garden/(Beeby, 1991) at the Harold Washington Library Center. I was trained and scheduled to be a docent the weekend of the HWLC opening (MON 07OCT91; I recently uncovered my docent training materials), but security absolutely refused to admit me inside the building, threatening to have CPD arrest me! Four years earlier, I was, more than once, one of “4,000 people an hour” in City Hall lost in Mayor Harold Washington’s open casket, FRI 25NOV87. (5)Navigating the tunnel systems at Northwestern University (Chicago Campus), especially in winter. (6)Admiring lobbies in Mies van der Rohe apartment buildings. Then time out to bad mouth Mies’s God Box (1952). (7)The Rookery Lobby/(Burnham & Root, 1888; significantly renovated by Wright, 1905-1907, and Drummond 1931). (8)Garden walk/tour of Prairie Avenue Historic District and research how the owners fisted their fortunes. (9)Lower Wacker Drive and the tunnel systems at Illinois Center.
- LIBRARIES: (1) Calligraphy lectures at Newberry Library/(Cobb, 1893). (2)Studied architectural designs, plans and exhibitions at Ryerson & Burnham Libraries/(Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, 1893) at the Art Institute of Chicago. (3)Deering Library/(Rogers, 1933) at Northwestern University (Evanston Campus). Make time to visit the Melville Herskovits Africana Collection. The largest of its kind in the world. Then bike from Evanston to Hyde Park along the lakefront, increasingly supporting local biota. (4)Mansueto Library/(Jahn, 2011). (5)Johnson Publishing Archive & Collections at Stony Island Arts Bank. (6)Chicago History Museum/Formerly Chicago Historical Society (1856). Bldgs: Cobb (“Old Chicago Historical Society Building”, 1896-1932), sold, but worth critique. Current: Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, 1932; first addition, Shaw & Assoc., 1972; second addition, Holabird & Root, 1988. [Honor: In 2011 CHM curated specific performances and interviews as well as my performance costumes for the CHM Permanent Collection “Out at CHM”/ Chicago activists interpreting Art Activism; Queer Activism; American Veteran Activism.]
- INSTITUTIONS: (1)Pullman. Hotel Florence/(Beman, 1881), and George Pullman’s grave in Graceland Cemetery. (When in Graceland, don’t miss the “Palmer House” starring the Potter Palmer family in the house and in the hill; the Marshall Field family; and, of course, Mies’s Modernist slab, nearby. Daniel Burnham is buried on a private Graceland island, overseen by swans.) This visit must include readings about Eugene Debs; issues of USAmerican Socialism; race and the Labor Movement. (2) Several solo performances at Rockefeller Chapel/(Goodhue, 1928). On 22JAN02, I shared the Rockefeller podium, and Green Room, with Senator/Professor Barack Obama. Rockefeller’s Carillon and Gamelan recitals are legendary. Unforgettable. (3)Exhibited original paintings (“Mississippi Iron Oxide”) at the historic Lorado Taft Midway Studios, 10MAY08 – 18MAY08. (4)The compound/womb environment of lectures at Quigley Seminary/(Steinbeck, 1918). (5)Noon concerts at Fourth Presbyterian Church/(Cram & Shaw, 1912). Then surrender to the serenity, and the design of the older section, including Parish House, a few feet across the courtyard. Five minutes Southwest, and you’re at Holy Name Cathedral/(Keely, 1874; remodeled by Schlacks, 1915; renovated by C.F. Murphy & Assoc., 1969). (Cardinal Cody’s Visitation, 29APR82, was my inspiration for “Kate Cincinnati”). Two blocks South brings the Chicago lover to St. James Episcopal Cathedral/(Burling & Bacchus, 1857; Burling & Adler, 1897). Perfect environment for a “Rush Hour Concert” or, perhaps, a performance by the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra. Highly recommended. (6)Performance Art written for and performed in, the historic, iconic, newly-renovated Blackstone Hotel Grand Ballroom/Marshall & Fox, 1909). (7) ONO performances, including “ONO with Special Guest Artist Rosé Hernandez performing ‘Requiem For David Bowie’”, at the Museum of Contemporary Art/(Kleihues, 1996. I attended groundbreaking ceremonies, 30NOV93), 04NOV14. (8)ONO pre-opening performance at the Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts/(Tod Williams Billie Tsien, 2012. I attended groundbreaking ceremonies, 12MAY10), 11MAY12.
- I LOVE the architecture. from industrial revolution to shiny seamless bean, the structures we live in and around are diverse and inspirational. A great walk is Hoyne street in wicker park to see grande Victorian homes.
- I LOVE my TV show, Chic-A-Go-Go! I don’t think we could have a straight edged rat puppet and perky human hostess facilitate over 2 decades of punk, free spirited, kiddie loving, elder adoring, happy, edgey magic on cable access TV in any other town. #shamelessselfshoutout
- I LOVE the spiritual community in Chicago. there are really grounded people interested in inner development that create a great environment to be yourself in and grow.
- I LOVE the lake and rivers. the wandering rivers and huge lake smack in the middle of downtown influences everyone who sees that water, is in the water, has to drive over the water, or wants to ride on top of it. The Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour is world class. Do it.
- I LOVE the ease of living. in general, the cost of living is manageable here. it’s easy to find an affordable place to live and if your neighbors unfortunately turn out to be major jerks, it’s not that hard to find a new place.
- I LOVE and THRIVE off of Chicago’s rich theater community, which is open minded, supportive, and creative. Chicago audiences are plentiful, allowing for all kinds of magic on stage to happen.
- Comedy. Chicago has one of the most diverse comedy scenes in the country. From open mics to improv to big names to secret pop-up shows, you can find whatever makes you laugh here. The open mic at Cole’s Bar in Logan Square does a great job of bringing different comics together. Sometimes the list is 60 people long, but it’s almost always worth it.
- Music. Free Monday at the Empty Bottle is my cheapest and best date idea every time. There are tons of venues and DIY spaces that host everything from post-modern grindcore to hip-hop. The music scene here is really collaborative, so there’s usually cool artist projections or paintings you can check out at shows too.
- Lake Shore Drive. From the North Side to the South Side, Chicago is beautiful. I always make friends who are visiting take a trip down Lake Shore Drive so they can really see the city’s skyline and the lake. It’s probably the best way to see Museum Campus/downtown without getting out of your car and dealing with tourists.
- Movies. A lot of movies come out in Chicago before they’re anywhere else. We’re lucky to have a lot of indie an first-run theaters like the Logan, Music Box and ArcLight Chicago. They show old classics, new stuff and smaller releases on the cheap. Spending the day in a movie theater is probably my favorite wintertime Chicago activity.
- Food. Everyone will have food on their list. Chicago is a food mecca. We have the best of everything here. I don’t need to tell anyone that food is a major activity in Chicago. BUT, I do recommend doing your own food tour. Make a list of the best donut places in the city that you want to try (start with the Doughnut Vault). Go on a hot dog tour, a BBQ tour or do a fried chicken March Madness-style bracket tournament. No two restaurants in Chicago make anything the same way, so food tours are a great way to experience a new part of town.
Built in 1926, when Old Man Daley was still finding his way around Bridgeport, Joseph Sapp and his wife Katherine built Original Rainbow Cone, a small store at 92nd Street and South Western Avenue that sold a unique, five-flavor ice cream treat of the same name. Ninety-plus years later, the store is in roughly the same location as when it opened and a Rainbow Cone remains one of the finest desserts known to man, woman or child.
The Rainbow Cone is a both an engineering marvel and a kid’s fantasy come true. Literally. The story goes that New York-born Sapp grew up as an orphan on an Ohio work farm and had few indulgences, save for the times he could save up enough money for ice cream. At the time, he had two choices: chocolate and vanilla. Rather than a single serving of one or the other, Sapp envisioned a carnival of flavors perched on his cone. As an adult, he brought this vision to life:
Five layers of ice cream, which could fairly be called slabs. They are not scoops. In a city once known as Hog Butcher to the World, this seems right. Built one level at a time like the skyscrapers the city invented. The slender cone below never seems quite up to the task of supporting it all, but it perseveres.
Chicago winters are not to be trifled with, it’s true. All the more exciting it is when Rainbow Cone opens for the summer and you have its signature ice cream. It tastes like roller coasters and a run through the sprinkler and staying at the park until 9 p.m. and all the joys afforded by the warmth of the sun.
Driving south on Lake Shore Drive
With all due respect to Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah, the best drive on Lake Shore Drive is not from its northern terminus on Hollywood south into downtown, but rather south out of downtown toward the museum campus.
Start at Randolph Street and on your right will be the iconic Buckingham Fountain. You’ll cruise through the majesty of the museum campus and toward the Field Museum standing like a guardian before you arrive at The Spaceship Daley Built inside Soldier Field. From there, it’s a South Side tour of the city’s frequently slept-on joys and cultural landmarks – from the city’s most underrated beach at 31st Street to parks named for Bronzeville and Harold Washington, on to the Museum Campus South with the Museum of Science and Industry evoking the Chicago World’s Fair. A jump through Douglas Harbor and a drive-by the South Shore Cultural Center (the stand-in for The Palace Hotel Ballrooom where The Blues Brothers’ last show before the hoosegow), you’ll drive through four more parks before ending a stone’s throw from Calumet Fisheries, where the smoked fish is not to be missed. Even without the beauty you just witnessed, it alone would make the trip worth your time.
What the north side of LSD has in skyscrapers and classic Chicago architecture, the southern run matches in green space and the blue of the lake. The urban jungle paired with lush nature is the perfect encapsulation of the city’s Urbs in Horto motto.
There are few neighborhoods/housing tracts/schools/social venues, etc. in Chicago that aren’t segregated. This behavior was enforced by official policy for decades after it was illegal and is still a de facto state of being thanks to choices and decisions made far above your pay grade and mine.
The Promontory, however, is an exception. A restaurant and music venue, the Promontory mixes fine dining and comfort food, its drinks – even the cold ones – provide a warm glow even in the coldest Chicago winters and its live acts mix salsa, DJ grooves, jazz and storytelling in equal measures.
Perhaps this is why the crowd it attracts runs the gamut from young grown folk to elders – all in shades of black, brown and white. It’s also one of a handful of spots that’s made Hyde Park nightlife no longer a contradiction in terms.
Vito and Nick’s
You have been literally fed lies by Big Pizza, my friend. Chicago-style pizza is not the cheese and bread-filled deep-dish cake you’ve been sold on since Da Superfans graced the SNL stage or the proprietors of Pizzeria Uno started franchising. Nor is it the stuffed variety the tourists at Giordano’s mistake for the above. If justice were served, we would know Chicago-style pizza as the square-cut, tavern-style variety known throughout the South Side: thin, crunchable, crust with a perfect balance of cheese, sauce and meat (and, I guess, vegetables). Easily held in your hand at a party, fundraiser, picnic, evening out or wherever life takes you.
Speaking of which, life should take you to Vito and Nick’s at 84th and Pulaski.
Out of a series of bars and taverns, Vito and Nick’s in Ashburn became a South Side institution in the post-war era thanks to its thin crust pizza and no-bullshit atmosphere. With an interior that recalls your great-grandma’s basement – Christmas lights, turquoise barstools, drop ceiling and wood paneling – and a bar that serves up cheap beer, Vito and Nick’s may or may not be the best pizza in Chicago, but it’s definitely the best pizza experience.
That time Dave Matthews tour bus pooped in the river
I know I should leave this space for a description of the exquisite marriage of form and function that is Chicago’s grid, but my friend Bill Savage – a Chicago historian who has few peers – already talked about it better than I ever could here.
So instead, I devote this space to a bit of local trivia: the time the Dave Matthews Band’s tour bus dropped a literal 800 pound load of crap into the Chicago River.
I was writing for Chicagoist (RIP) at the time and oh the fun we had.
I have nothing thoughtful to say about this incident. It is a self-contained, Möbius strip of a poop joke and how often does something like that come along?
- Circus. People might think that the circus is dying in Chicago we are proving everyone wrong. Chicago has two circus schools, several professional circus company’s, a number of aerial dance schools and you can find a circus show happening almost every weekend! In the tradition of Chicago’s comedy and music scenes, many of these, many of these shows are underground and pushing the envelope of the glitz and shazam of traditionally associated with circus. The Midnight Circus puts up a tent in Chicago parks every summer, my company, Aloft, puts on a secret show called Sanctuary in a 110 year old church once a month and there’s even a nerd circus that does aerial cosplay homages to your favorite superheros. If you want to learn, Aloft offers over 90 classes a week and a mostly grown up student base of over 500 budding circus stars every week!
- The 606. In 2012 I almost moved out of Chicago. There’s a lot of great stuff here, but I was tired of trudging through unplowed streets 8 weeks per year. Just as I closed my suitcase, the 606 trail opened. Formerly known as the Bloomingdale trail, it’s a old rail line that was converted to a 2.7 mile bike trail (and yes, it’s a bike trail–you can walk or run, but stay on the yellow if you don’t want an epic line of cyclists rightfully flipping you the bird). Full of native plants and scenic side trails it’s the perfect place to lose yourself in some nature. It kept me in the city for a few extra years and I was delighted every time I had a chance to ride it.
- Ethnic Grocery Stores. Do you need the best guacamole ever? Do you need some soba noodles or organ meat you can’t get at Marianos? It’s probably no more than a block or two away from your apartment, at one of Chicago’s endless ethnic supermarkets. There’s no better feeling than knowing you can open up any recipe and all random and bizarre ingredients are just a stone’s throw away. Plus, you can carry home 5 bags of fresh produce for under $20. Living good in the neighborhood.
- The Logan Theater. I hate when I have to see a movie anywhere else. Sometimes I just wont go see something unless it’s at the Logan. This place is a totally historically renovated art deco theater…with a bar. I can’t believe I used to have to watch movies without an Old Fashioned in my hand. Plus, at $8 a film, you have plenty to spend on cocktails. I’ll forgive you, history, but I’ll never forget that once I couldn’t get wasted at the movies.
- The cost of living. While cities like San Francisco, LA and New York wanna charge you a years salary as a “finder’s fee”, I still have friends living in 2-bedrooms in fun neighborhoods for $800/month. That’s definitely a steal, but it’s not unusual to find a two bedroom for $1000-1500/month. And do you want to buy a house? You can get one for what you’d have to put down on a place on one of those snotty, boring coasts. Granted, you’ll probably have to use the money you save to pay your parking tickets, but you don’t really need a car here anyway. Chicago is why god made bikes.
- Two Flats. The quintessential “castle” of Chicago is a brick two flat, that serves many purposes. Either you can live with your whole extended family under one roof and still have your own private quarters, or choose to be a landlord, and have tenants that offset your mortgage payments. Because of the Chicago Fire, much of the city was rebuilt in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and these two flats are very consistent as a result. For instance, you can visit a new friend’s apartment, and predict where the bathroom and kitchen are. Everyone’s living room is roughly the same size, which is democratizing. Hardwood floors, plaster walls, and subway tiles all characterize these gorgeous displays of Chicago architecture.
Hot Dogs. Three words— SYMPHONY OF FLAVOR. The Chicago-style hot dog is a typical “adult food” eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight snack. It is also the perfect hangover cure in the form of a big, meaty Tylenol. You’ve got your poppy seed bun, steamed wiener, yellow mustard, chopped onion, sliced tomatoes, radioactive green relish, spicy sport peppers, pickle spear, and of course, a dash of celery salt. A Chicagoan can detect when an ingredient is missing, because they all work so beautifully together.
The Art Institute of Chicago. Even as a native Chicagoan, born and bred in the city, I am always excited to go to the Art Institute. It is a highly organized, gorgeous building adorned by its famous lion sculptures guarding the Michigan Avenue entrance and a brand new Modern Wing. The world-class museum offers masters from every era in art history, from the Chagall stained glass windows, to Picasso’s blue guitar-playing dude, to a big Andy Warhol rendition of Mao, medieval knights’ armor, ancient Chinese pottery, Grecian marbles, a collection of decorative glass paperweights, and little tiny doll house dioramas called the, “Thorne Rooms.” Museum members get free illy coffee, so sometimes I drop in just to get a cup of java when I’m downtown.
Pinball. When I walk into a drinking establishment, my eyes dart across the room, searching for the blinking lights and slick, silver ball that characterizes so many bars here. Chicago’s got pinball machines in droves due to Stearn Pinball, the world’s leading company, manufacturing the game tables in a nearby suburb. I currently hold a #1 ranking on the Metallica pinball game at LiveWire, Ghostbusters at the Emporium in Logan Square, and “Princess Leia” mode of Star Wars pinball in Wicker Park. In the words of legendary Chicago journalist, Mike Royko in the introduction to Dr. Nightlife’s Chicago for the equally legendary writer Rick Kogan, “I believe getting a drink should be a simple matter. You walk from your home to the corner bar which was usually stocked with all a reasonable person needed…shots, beers, potato chips…and a pinball machine.”
Alleys. Ya know when you go to a fancy restaurant on the east coast, and there’s garbage bags and dirty diapers stinking up the sidewalk? Or when you’re running to work in New York, and pass by a couch in front of someone’s house with the foreboding sign, “BEDBUGS” tacked to the upholstery? In Chicago, we have something called ALLEYS, where the garbage goes. Alleys also alleviate traffic by providing parallel shortcuts to every single street in this “Smelly Onion” town. As kids, we skateboarded in the alleys and played basketball back there. Fortunately, with alleys, most buildings also have garages, where we put our cars in Chicago. It’s nice.
See White Mystery this winter and spring. Dates below.
White Mystery “F.Y.M.S” Tour
3/2/18 Gabe’s Oasis Iowa City, IA
3/3/18 Duffy’s Lincoln, NE
3/4/18 O’Leaver’s Pub Omaha, NE
3/5/18 DJ Set ~ Dave’s Stagecoach Kansas City, MO
3/6/18 Voltaire’s Kansas City, MO
3/7/18 CBGB St. Louis, MO
3/8/18 PKs Carbondale, IL
03/09/18 The Outland Springfield, MO
3/10/18 Backspace Fayetteville, Arkansas
3/11/18 Mercury Lounge Tulsa, OK
3/12/18 Do512 Strange Brew Austin, TX
3/13/18 SXSW Austin, TX
3/14/18 SXStoner Jam Austin, TX
3/15/18 SXSW Austin, TX
3/16/18 Electric Church Austin, TX
3/16/18 21st Street Co-Op Austin, TX
3/17/18 BURGERMANIA Austin, TX
White Mystery “F.Y.M.S.” Tour
3/18/18 215 Grove St. Warehouse Houston, TX
3/20/18 Valley of the Vapors Hot Springs, AR
3/22/18 BAR DKDC Memphis, TN