Best new band: From left, Cullen Omori, Max Kakacek, and Cameron Omori of the Smith Westerns
Our favorites in arts, culture, and entertainment in the Chicago area. PLUS: Tell us in the comments below, do you agree or disagree with our picks?
ASIAN KARAOKE ROOM LINCOLN KARAOKE Forget going to a kitschy bar, downing some shots, and bravely belting out Weezer in front of strangers. Lincoln Karaoke’s private rooms run $30 to $40 per hour and come equipped with couches, flat-screen TVs, a full bar, and a Korean menu featuring chicken wings and dumplings. The Lincoln Square joint beats similar spots on value, song selection, and service. Tip 1: Make reservations on the weekend. Tip 2: Ask the friendly owners how to find songs too new for the songbook. 5526 N. LINCOLN AVE.; 773-895-2299
NEW MUSIC VENUE LINCOLN HALL Here’s a novel idea: Defy the stereotype of the small, grungy music venue and give fans and bands a place they can bring their parents. Carved out of the old 3 Penny Cinema, the ten-month-old Lincoln Hall is a 500-person space with two levels housing a full-service kitchen, a dining room, three bars, and acoustics by a company with a client list that includes Symphony Center and Carnegie Hall. Also, the place is run by the folks behind Schubas, so expect a first-rate lineup of up-and-comers. 2424 N. LINCOLN AVE.; 773-525-2501, LINCOLNHALLCHICAGO.COM
BAR WITH A VIEW THE TERRACE AT TRUMP There are rooftops in Chicago, but this is the rooftop. And, as The Donald might say, if you’re going to drink, you might as well drink big. Here, the clock tower on the nearby Wrigley Building seems close enough to touch. Boats putter up and down the sparkling green river 16 stories below. Fireworks explode in the distance and are reflected in the shimmering blue-gray glass of Trump Tower’s 92 floors reaching for the sky overhead. All the while, servers in tailored Ivankaesque dresses bring rounds of cocktails and bubbly to a crowd of suited-up business travelers, Loop office dwellers, and tourists who can’t believe their luck. 401 N. WABASH AVE.; 312-588-8600, TRUMPCHICAGOHOTEL.COM
GAY BAR SCARLET A fire in February 2009 shut down Scarlet, but it reopened in October hotter than ever. Chicago gay clubs from a century ago inspired the name and décor, with dark floors, chandeliers, a tin ceiling above the bar, and mirrors recovered from old buildings. Yes, the ambience is upscale, but the vibe is laid back and low attitude. Where Minibar is $300 Gucci mandals, Scarlet is flip-flops. Paul Cannella, a co-owner, says he wanted to re-create that corner bar that you and your pals went to every weekend. And there’s never a cover—ever. 3320 N. HALSTED ST.; 773-348-1053
LESBIAN BAR JOIE DE VINE Don’t be confused by the French name or the cheese and olive flights—this is not a snooty wine bar. Joie de Vine also offers a great selection of Midwestern craft beers and unique whiskeys, rums, and liqueurs (such as maple syrup and pistachio) in addition to the dozen or so pours of red and white. The lesbian-owned-and-operated bar hosts burlesque shows, open mics, and ladies-only mixers in the long, narrow space just off the hustle and bustle of Clark Street in Andersonville. You can also sip a joitini in the sidewalk café. 1744 W. BALMORAL AVE.; 773-989-6846
NEW IMPROV ENSEMBLE MICHAEL PIZZA If a great improv team is all about chemistry, then these four guys are Marie Curie—er, Marie Curies. Brett Elam, Ben Kass, Eric Christensen, and Josh Logan are playful, considerate, fast, and smart. After training at The Second City, The Annoyance, ComedySportz, and iO Theater, they won both the 2009 iO Improv Cagematch and Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s 2010 improv showdown. At the moment, the team’s high-energy, hilarious character-driven new improv show runs Thursday nights at 10:30 p.m. at iO (3541 N. CLARK ST.; 773-880-0199).
OPEN MIC NIGHT COLE’S COMEDY OPEN MIC The most experimental, exciting, and supportive open mic in town, Cole’s stands up (pun intended) above the others. The local comedy celebs Adam Burke and Cameron Esposito host 40 to 50 comedians each week and make the free show a place where brand-new or newer comics feel like they fit in with the veterans and pros. The venue is a Logan Square bar with a positive attitude, cheap beer ($2 PBR), and an owner/bartender—Coleman Brice, a.k.a. Cole—who remembers names and drink orders. COLE’S, 2338 N. MILWAUKEE AVE.; 773-276-5802; WEDNESDAYS FROM 9:30 P.M. TO 2 A.M.
EMERGING ARTIST RACHEL NIFFENEGGER Rachel Niffenegger (no relation to Audrey) left the School of the Art Institute in 2008 with a slew of awards and shows lined up—no small feat for a 23-year-old finishing a bachelor’s. Wielding a glue gun and spray paint as deftly as she does a brush, the Evanston native specializes in sculptures and paintings of disintegrating human heads, a paean to the horrifyingly beautiful. Now a grad student at Northwestern, Niffenegger appeared in Big Youth at the gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey this past summer. Watch for her M.F.A. show.
ART GALLERY, CITY DEVENING PROJECTS + EDITIONS Away from the herd (in East Garfield Park) since its opening in 2006, Devening Projects + Editions has thrived. Shows such as Rodney Carswell’s abstractions, Jin Lee’s environmental photographs, and the holiday-themed Home Wreckage have not just rewarded the trek—they’ve required it. The gallery’s mastermind is Dan Devening, who impressively produces an edition for nearly every show. 3039 W. CARROLL AVE.; 312-420-4720, DEVENINGPROJECTS.COM
ART GALLERY, SUBURBS THE SUBURBAN In 1999, Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam cleaned out an 8-by-8-foot cinder-block shed in their backyard. Since then, they’ve put up high-quality shows in it, including the work of Luc Tuymans, Katharina Grosse, and Gaylen Gerber—laying to rest the notion that suburban galleries show only fluff. Last summer, the couple acquired an old Wisconsin almshouse for an artists’ residency/exhibition space—a celebration of the gallery’s ten years of success. 125 N. HARVEY AVE., OAK PARK; 708-305-2657, THESUBURBAN.ORG
APARTMENT GALLERY HE SAID SHE SAID Apartment galleries tend to be short lived, often vanishing in months. Displaying impressive longevity—three-plus years—He Said She Said hosts events that take a married couple’s ongoing debate about art to the public. “He” is Randall Szott, a merchant marine with an M.A. and an M.F.A. “She” is Pamela Fraser, a painter with an enviable setup—New York gallery, international exposure, and a teaching gig. 216 N. HARVEY AVE., APT. 1, OAK PARK; 708-310-2607, HESAID-SHESAID.US
NEW BAND SMITH WESTERNS In the era of Justin Bieber’s diabetes-inducing brand of pop, how can three Chicago lads born in the early nineties evoke a time of turntables, T. Rex, and lazy summers at the community pool? Armed with a Nuggets compilation and plenty of teenage longing, Smith Westerns exploded onto the national scene last year, charming critics with a low-fi sound reminiscent of sixties prepunk bands. With a recent European tour, a highly anticipated Pitchfork debut, and a second album on the way, these underage garage rockers are primed to conquer your heart—and the charts.
LECTURE SERIES THE NEWBERRY LIBRARY After 12-plus decades of public programming, the Newberry Library has it figured out—its free lectures and discussions have the widest range in the city. Recent talks have covered Satchel Paige, 400 years of Shakespeare, and how Hyde Park nurtured President Obama’s political career. The library also offers adult education seminars ranging in price from $80 to $200, including Six Secrets of Writing Short Stories; Richard J. Daley: Life and Times, Myth and Realities; and The Radio Genius of Jack Benny. 60 W. WALTON ST.; 312-943-9090, NEWBERRY.ORG
CITIZEN ENRIQUE PEREZ Since when can a stay-at-home dad throw a meet-the-candidates forum at the Hotel Blake and draw nearly 60 political hopefuls from more than a dozen local races? Such a feat is all in a day’s work for Enrique Perez, 42, who has built up a trusting and politically active base in the South Loop through an e-mail newsletter. Enrique’s Community Updates (PerezEG@aol.com) was born almost four years ago when the former food-factory manager started e-mailing condominium neighbors about nearby community meetings and events. Today, Perez has about 2,000 people on his list for frequent messages about South Loop development, school council elections, fundraisers, and other topics. “I’m just a concerned person who doesn’t like a lot of what he sees, especially at the local level,” Perez says. “I put all the information out there, and my hope is that once people know what’s going on, they’ll feel compelled to act.”
RESTORATION 860–880 LAKE SHORE DRIVE “They were the most radical buildings of their time,” says the architect Ronald Krueck about 860–880 Lake Shore Drive, Mies van der Rohe’s groundbreaking 1951 twin tower residential commission in Streeterville. And now—after a brilliant restoration by Krueck’s firm, Krueck & Sexton—they’re back in all their Mad Men–era glory. The two-year, $9 million project involved stripping and recoating the buildings’ exposed steel frames, replacing the historically inaccurate laminated glass in the lobbies (from an earlier renovation), and restoring the travertine plaza. The result is as bracing as a chilled double martini.
EMERGING ARCHITECT PAUL DE SANTIS Paul De Santis has enjoyed a meteoric rise at Goettsch Partners, the Chicago architecture firm where he has worked since 2005. At the moment, he is the lead designer on at least seven large-scale projects—either in the design phase or under construction—all in China, a country still building with an exuberance that is just a memory for most of the world. Colleagues say De Santis, 34, designs skyscrapers with the enthusiasm of youth and the maturity to get them built, all the while melding his firm’s form-follows-function philosophy with the Chinese taste for architectural pyrotechnics. “The Chinese like aspirational buildings,” says De Santis, who these days works about two weeks a month in Shanghai, Guangzhou, or some other city. In other words, his buildings don’t just mark the sky—they reach for it.
COOKING CLASS CULINARY SKILLS BOOT CAMP, KENDALL COLLEGE What separates home cooks from chefs? After experience, unflagging stamina, and palate, not much, really, once you have an understanding of the basics: how to properly use a knife, butchering, making soups and sauces, braising, poaching, grilling, roasting, and sautéing. In Kendall College’s teaching kitchens, students—around 15 per class, all skill levels welcome—make 30 recipes that target essential techniques. The course costs $295 and sucks two days from your life, but you’ll walk out with a new chef’s knife and never fear a recipe again. 900 N. NORTH BRANCH ST.; 312-752-2206, SPICEUP.KENDALL.EDU
BUDGET MOVIE THEATRE, SUBURBS TIVOLI THEATRE On a suburban landscape overrun with sterile cookie-cutter multiplexes, the Tiv (established 1928) is the kind of five-aisle, one-screen, thousand-seat palace that most moviegoers are too young to remember. But with its $4 admission, live organ music, free popcorn and soda refills, and adjacent 12-lane bowling alley, it’s a trip to the talkies that they won’t soon forget. 5021 HIGHLAND AVE., DOWNERS GROVE; 630-968-0219
BUDGET MOVIE THEATRE, CITY LOGAN THEATER With Chicago’s few remaining budget movie theatres turned into rock clubs (Lincoln Park’s 3 Penny, now Lincoln Hall) or closing altogether (the Village Art in Old Town), the Logan is a rare breed. The no-frills theatre sells $4 tickets for its four screens, and the original Art Deco styling is as it was in 1915, the year the Logan opened. Gentlemanly men in suits work the lobby. Cash only, please. 2646 N. MILWAUKEE AVE.; 773-252-0627
Photograph: Saverio Truglia