Best of Chicago 03
New Wedding Reception Venue
For the city’s betrothed, the two scariest words may be “Cafe Brauer.” Finally, there’s a new option. Last May, the Art Institute decided to make some of the most popular areas of the museum open for wedding receptions. The famed Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, which the museum reconstructed after the exchange was demolished in 1972, goes for $6,000 a night. The Garden Restaurant, which extends to the outdoor McKinlock Court, can be had for $3,000. Europhiles without a destination-wedding budget can soak in culture ranging from the armor of the Medieval Gallery ($2,000) to the Old Masters Gallery (which is billed by the hour at $1,000 per), home to the museum’s important Impressionist collection.
On August 5th, the local Web entrepreneur Ted Widen holds his fifth annual Chicago Scene Boat Party, in which any boat (or minimally navigable floating object, for that matter) may tie up near the Play Pen, just south of Oak Street Beach, and become part of a giant skin-baring flotilla—he’s expecting 500 craft this year. The festivities kick off at noon and you can expect some very R-rated behavior as the day progresses and deck-jumping hardbodies get increasingly addled by sun and drink. “It’s a party that you’d expect to see in Lake of the Ozarks or South Beach,” Widen says, deftly picking comparisons from opposite ends of the spectrum. But, as the Web site’s online invitation (at chicago-scene.com) wisely counsels, a fun party is a safe party: “Go buy extra life vests!”
Hanzhi Zheng used to go to Andersonville to eat, but, he says, “there was nothing to do after that, not enough places to shop.” So, armed with a hunch and a decade of experience importing home accessories for chains like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, Zheng opened Urbanest (5228 N. Clark St.; 773-271-1000) this past spring. He travels regularly to China and back, returning with a line of modern Asian furnishings designed by his in-house creative director Cynthia Cunningham. The stuff isn’t exactly Pagoda Red caliber, but it gives economizing homeowners the look for a fraction of the cost. Standouts include black- or burgundy-lacquered bureaus with little drawers, useful for storing jewelry or other trinkets (in four sizes, $79 to $369) and a nearly 30-pound crystal ball table lamp ($199) that will certainly have people asking where you got it, even if it may not reveal your future.
Graham Thompson knows hats. Lovingly sculpting lids from his Beverly haberdashery since 1994, Thompson hung around Johnny’s Hat Shop, the venerable South Side institution, as a teenager and learned the trade from its owner, Johnny Tyus. Old-school attention to detail has Thompson jetting down to Ecuador three times a year for the handwoven straw material he and his crew of artisans use to make Panama hats that are light as a feather yet tough as nails. Your own personal Panama will be ready to roll in two to six weeks (prices start at $350 and can crown at a daunting $15,000 for the finest, tightest weave that’s denser than linen)—but Thompson also provides cleaning and blocking services to ensure it will last a lifetime.
This past November, chef Mary Ellen Diaz opened the First Slice Pie Cafe (4401 N. Ravenswood Ave.; 773-506-7380), a casual restaurant on the ground floor of the Lillstreet Art Center in Ravenswood. The food is terrific, but the idea behind opening the café is even better: use it to fund and advertise her four-year-old nonprofit venture called First Slice (3744 N. Damen Ave.; 773-506-1719, firstslice.org). The charity provides about 400 restaurant-caliber meals a week to the hardest-hit cases among the city’s homeless, delivering the food and serving it hot at established community centers. “This week, we served fennel-crusted pork chops, and salmon cakes with mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus,” says Diaz, a 46-year-old chef who once cooked at North Pond restaurant and for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. “They are so in need of good food.”
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