Fun

CLASSIC COCKTAILS
Weegee’s Lounge
3659 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-384-0707
In researching era-appropriate liquors for their year-old bar, named for the famed 1920s–30s photojournalist Arthur “Weegee” Fellig, the husband-and-wife team Alex Huebner and Lynne Marrs hit the books. Vintage bartending guides led them to gins and bourbons—vodka wasn’t big in the United States until the eighties, it turns out—and the oldest continuously manufactured American spirit, called applejack. The resulting cocktail menu echoes Weegee’s lovingly refurbished interior—original tin ceiling, turn-of-the-century bar, shuffleboard—with time-capsule-in-a-glass offerings such as the sidecar (Korbel brandy, Cointreau, and sour mix, with a sugared rim) and the Pink Squirrel (crème d’almond, crème de cacao, cream, and grenadine). At $7 to $10 a pop, the drinks aren’t cheap for the neighborhood—a rough-around-the-edges strip of Humboldt Park–meets–Logan Square—and the blasé bartenders could use a lesson in charm. But for an authentic swig in a cozy, largely undiscovered locale (read: seats available), belly up.

ZOO ANIMAL
Sichuan Takin
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr.; 312-742-2000
It’s one of the oldest sagas of betrayal and vengeance: Jason and the Argonauts must travel to the edge of the known world in search of the Golden Fleece, hanging in a sacred grove. Chicagoans need journey no farther than the Lincoln Park Zoo for a glimpse of this mythical golden creature—or, at least, its nearest living relative, the Sichuan takin (pronounced TAH-keen). Our favorite member of the family is five-month-old baby Bao Zhen, one of only two takins born in Chicago. His legs are stocky and his head is too large for his coarse-coated body, enhancing a bony unibrow where his backward-pointing horns will soon bud. They’ll join a mishmash of takin attributes that make this animal look like a cloning experiment gone awry—the nose of a moose, the tail of a bear, and the body of a muskox. Bao Zhen means “treasure,” which is exactly what the takin is—nationally prized in China with a declining population in the temperate forest of the eastern Himalayas. He is calm, but curious. When not playfully bumping heads with the three adults or vying with the two-month-old baby for attention, Bao Zhen climbs, dismantles, or moves anything he can find. 

PLACE TO SEE COMEDY
Lakeshore Theater
3175 N. Broadway; 773-472-3492, lakeshoretheater.com
The Lakeshore Theater, a 330-seat one-time movie theatre near the grungy intersection of Broadway and Belmont Avenue, seemed headed toward the cultural abyss, presenting such forgettable fare as Puppetry of the Penis in recent days. But something funny happened earlier this year: the venue’s longtime owner and artistic director, Chris Ritter, seemed suddenly to hook into a compelling programming vision. Ritter, who had bought and renovated the aging venue in 2002, now describes his theatre’s kind of fare as “comedy with an edge.” Since spring—with a boost from friends like Paul Provenza, director of The Aristocrats, and Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller—Ritter has brought to town the Broadway-bound music-and-comedy show by Taylor Negron; the religion-bashing Julia Sweeney; the liberal-loving Janeane Garofalo; and Marijuana-Logues creator Arj Barker. Having hit his stride, Ritter has even drummed up his first original commission from local up-and-comer Kumail Nanjiani. “I feel like we finally have an identity,” Ritter says, before putting the phone on hold to shoo a man peeing in the doorway.

MUSICIAN TO OBSESSIVELY FOLLOW AROUND TOWN
Corey Wilkes
It has been a long week for Corey Wilkes. A gig the previous evening at a Stedman Graham bash followed a string of shows with bluesman Ernest Dawkins in local clubs. In a few days, the former Berklee School of Music student will pack his glimmery golden trumpet and head off to New York to play Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie. Then he’ll return to his apartment in Woodlawn, where he can finally “chill,” as he likes to say. Fortunately for Chicago, the young jazzman will be chilling in his hometown most of the late summer and fall, working out material with bandleader (and Miles Davis collaborator) Robert “Baabe” Irving for a late-2007 début on Delmark Records. “People started coming to shows and saying that they’d bootleg my CD if I didn’t come up with one,” says Wilkes, who learned to play the trumpet in the band at Prairie Hills Junior High in the south suburbs. And though he can regularly be seen mixing melodies with esteemed elders like guitarist Fareed Haque, he makes the most interesting music with his young improvisational quintet (average age: 25) and his 13-piece Afrobeat band, Black Slang, which recently took over the HotHouse for the trumpeter’s 28th birthday. Catch Wilkes’s quintet on August 28th at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

LATE-NIGHT THEATRE SHOW
The Game Show Show
Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway; 773-528-9696
It’s past midnight. You’re drunk. But for some unexplainable reason, you’re standing in front of 75 or so strangers competing in a boisterous dance-off with a Peruvian who’s been hitting the sauce. This is the wild finale for The Game Show Show, a rambling, booze-fueled, audience participation– driven game show that borrows from the best (and worst) of The Price Is Right, Jackass, and Soul Train. The results are hilarious, often. Disturbing, sometimes—like the notorious $20 challenge that has, on past evenings, resulted in a volunteer consuming an entire quart of eggnog or making out with a complete stranger. It sounds awful, and it kind of is, but in that awful-fun-unpredictable way that a Merv Griffin–like host, some goofy games, a live band, and, oh, a fully stocked cash bar can bring. The schedule, like the evening, is random. The next shows are August 17th and 18th. Go to myspace.com/gameshowshowandstuff for future dates. 

THEATRE TROUPE
Dog & Pony
dogandponychicago.org
“A lot of Chicago companies form out of college. Not us,” says Krissy Vanderwarker, the artistic director of Dog & Pony, who met co-founder Devon de Mayo while interning at Steppenwolf in 2001. “As we work on shows and build relationships with designers and actors or playwrights or directors, we bring them into the fold.” The fold now numbers around 17 members—a figure that skews heavily toward behind-the-sceners—and, yeah, well, a few actors, but only a few. Set and costume design, explains the 28-year-old Vanderwarker, are what really drives Dog & Pony productions. For its 2007–08 season, the company is mounting two original world premières: Ape, by singer-actor Paul Oakley Stovall at Raven Theatre in the fall, and As Told by the Vivian Girls—inspired by the story written and drawn by the late outsider artist Henry Darger—at a location to be announced next spring. The text for the Darger play hasn’t yet been written, but in Dog & Pony fashion, Vanderwarker says the design is already in the works. “Tonight we’re doing a design-off between two set designers and two costume designers!” she says, adding that the winner will be crowned, with that theatre kid sort of enthusiasm, “the baddest designer in the land.” Perhaps the Jeffs should add that as a category?

GROUP RUNNING
Fleet Feet Sports’ Historical Runs
For heaven’s sake, get off the lakefront path! Once a month in fall and spring, runners step off for a four- to six-mile jog departing from a Fleet Feet store (the retailer has two locations—Lincoln Square and Piper’s Alley). Trailing behind Chuck Betzold, an amateur Chicago historian, joggers navigate assorted interesting sites, from key locales of the Great Chicago Fire and the city’s old Indian boundary line to the one-time industrial neighborhood where western Lincoln Park now lies. Betzold knows them all as if he’d been there the whole time. His chosen route might take you over an abandoned railroad trestle, through a big-box store’s parking lot, and to other novel sites with stops every half-mile or so for commentary by Betzold and the occasional guest lecturer. At around the midway point, a Fleet Feet van dispenses Gatorade. The runs are relatively slow and cover short distances, so they won’t interrupt your marathon training. But they’re a fine workout for your “I never knew that” muscle. Free; for upcoming tours, go to fleetfeetchicago.com.

NBA-CALIBER BASKETBALL COURT
Joy of the Game Sports Center
158 S. Waukegan Rd., Deerfield; 847-498-6646
Plenty of gyms claim to have an NBA basketball court. But size isn’t everything. How many really have the posh NBA bells and whistles? The Joy of the Game Sports Center in Deerfield has two $150,000 courts built with air pockets underneath the hardwood. The system is de rigueur in many NBA arenas and the effect is an extra, built-in cushion whenever you run or jump. “It’s got give to it,” owner Michael Weinstein says of the courts, each of which rents for $110 an hour, unless you’re playing in one of the gym’s many tournaments, camps, or clinics. “Any player will feel the difference and, if you’re an explosive athlete, you’ll be able to play all day long.” Court connoisseurs should also note the gym’s NBA-issue Porter baskets and over-the-top ventilation system: two years ago, Weinstein hired helicopters to help install machines that remove the stale, CO2-filled air that panting players leave behind and replace it with pure, performance-enhancing oxygen.

NON-BOYSTOWN GAY BAR
Mary’s Attic
5400 N. Clark St.; 773-784-6969
Now that the residential epicenter of Chicago’s gay male population seems to be moving north to Andersonville, it follows that the neighborhood’s gay bars would improve. As it happens, the best non-Boystown gay bar is Mary’s Attic, just upstairs from Hamburger Mary’s, a casual dining chain that opened in the heart of the Andersonville gentrification on Clark Street last year. Friday nights draw a boisterous after-gym-then-dinner crowd and regulars comment that the Attic is the kind of place where you can hang out in a big group with your friends and socialize without necessarily getting cruised. On Fridays and Saturdays, DJs manage the music—a fun mix of eighties nostalgia and current dance tracks—and, though there are dartboards instead of a dance floor, the bar’s high-energy vibe will get you pumped for the inevitable late-night migration to Big Chicks or the Jackhammer. Look for Ernie the bartender, who is generous with his buyback if he likes you.

 

Photography: Anna Knott

 

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