Street Smart Chicago

Santa’s Upgrade: Doors open on the left at North Pole

Events, Holidays No Comments »

widget_aTT7mKmDHkNQHp8FolyGWZHuddling under the heat lamps at the Brown Line stop at Damen, four rosy-cheeked little girls and three parents chat excitedly as they wait for the holiday train. A distant rumbling signals the arrival of yet another false alarm.

At 6:36pm, the train finally pulls in, just a few minutes behind schedule to the sound of cheers and screams. “Oh my gosh! It has so many lights on it,” one of the girls shrieks with delight.

Indeed, the CTA has gone all-out. The outside of the car is coated in Christmas bulbs, flickering and flashing ceaselessly. Between cars is a giant float, complete with sleigh, Christmas trees, a brick house (presumably Santa’s) and free candy. Inside, people mill around in wonderment, gazing up at the red and green fluorescent lights that bathe the car in an oddly eerie glow. The seats are reupholstered with red and green Santas, and the poles we normally grip with a single finger, like Captain Hook during rush hour, are wrapped in a candy-cane stripe. “Let It Snow” streams from the speakers. Wide-eyed toddlers clutch their parents, at once amazed and terrified. It’s like being in a Christmas-themed dream. Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: A most peculiar holiday guide and gift rap

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Two words: Shop local.p.-1-Cover-11.26

With the retail economy still in the tank for another Christmas, that little shop around the corner might just be barely hanging on, counting on an emergency shot-in-the-arm from this holiday to inject the medicine it needs to survive. That’s not the reason to shop there, though. Shop there instead because you’ll find a range of charming and creative gifts that are not for sale at your local Wal-Mart, because you’ll get knowing, thoughtful help from merchants—real merchants—who will offer living proof of that service that your grandfather complains doesn’t exist anymore. And when you’re done, you’ll have at least a fighting chance to experience the kind of Christmas you used to fantasize about as a kid, rather than the depressingly over-commercialized dreckfest it has so often been.

For Presents this year, we offer up our Twelve Shops of Christmas, each and every one local, many featuring the work of local artists and artisans. But don’t despair if you’re not nearby: the city—your neighborhood—is full of equally compelling shops that are more than worthy of your time and money. Spend thoughtfully  and you’ll help keep it that way. Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Events: Music, theater, shopping and more

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THe Cratchits rehearse for The Goodman's "A Christmas Carol"/Photo: Liz Lauren

The Cratchits rehearse for The Goodman's "A Christmas Carol"/Photo: Liz Lauren

Remember the Twelve Days of Christmas? Now the holiday season fills up a month or more. But with our handy guide, you should be able to ensure a winter’s worth of seasonal cheer.

Neville and his brother Charles perform holiday classics as well as some of his greatest hits, hopefully including 1966’s “Tell It Like It Is.” The Venue, 777 Casino Center, Hammond, (866)711-7463. Dec 10, 7:30pm. $29.50-$49.50.

Each Christmas, people celebrate the birth of one of history’s greatest stars and the crucial, crunch-time guide work of another (literal) star. It’s only logical to make some stars of the prime-time variety—Idols, perhaps?—on your annual merry-making. Paramount Arts Centre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora, (630)896-6666. Dec 19, 8pm. $48.

A rotating roster of sixteen short holiday-themed comical plays performed by A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company. The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln, (312)409-6435. Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm. $15 or two for $25, $12 for students.

An exhibition with more than a hundred contemporary Nativity scenes from around the world. Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan, (312)915-7600. Dec 5-Jan 17. Free with general admission of $5-$6 and free on Tuesdays. Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: Adopt a Pet

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Many lives will be changed by the new President-elect, but arguably none more so than that of the new puppy he promised to acquire for his daughters in the wake of his historic victory. Make like Obama this Christmas and give your own child or significant other a new friend to love—adopt a pet. Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: Have Yourself a Local Little Christmas…

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We’ve long espoused the importance of supporting the shop around the corner, but never more so than now. As we listen to the daily drumbeats of doom in these waning days of the Bush economy, expectations proliferate that some retailers will see their last Christmas this December. So if you value that creative little shop on your street, if you appreciate the friendly chats with the owner when you stop in, show your support by spending your holiday gift money local. In doing so, you’re helping yourself, since studies show that locally owned businesses keep much more money in the local economy than the big national chains. If Newcity readers spend just $100 each locally this holiday season, that will contribute more than ten million dollars to the local economy. Just consider the possibilities. We have, and that’s why we’ve joined with more than seventy alternative weeklies around the country in a coordinated “buy local” campaign this holiday season. Read the rest of this entry »

Here Come the Dead: Pilsen’s somber Dia de Los Muertos celebration

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A large crowd has gathered for the face painting portion of non-profit Pros Arts Studio’s Dia de Los Muertos celebration and children all sit patiently while they are quickly transformed into skeletons by simple swipes of black and white paint.   “Death is viewed more as a part of life in Mexican culture,” explains face-painter Krystin Grenon. “Face painting is a fun thing—a way to laugh in the face of death.”  There certainly is no shortage of laughter in this crowd, despite the fact that tragedy seems just behind the celebration.  “The altars in this room,” shares Raquel Garcia, a veteran Dia de Los Muertos volunteer and Pilsen neighborhood expert, “are made by children in the Pros Arts programs. They are often dedicated to other neighborhood children who have lost their lives to gang violence.”   Later in the evening, on the march through the neighborhood to El Casa Aztlan (“the heart of the Pilsen community,” according to Garcia) for the last of the evening’s activities, it is difficult to believe that such violence exists here.  Families all pour outside their homes to wave at the Dia de Los Muertos procession, which is made up of children and adults holding colorful, hand-crafted banners and papier-mache skeletons.  “Where are the gangbangers here?” Garcia asks. “It doesn’t seem like there are any at all.” (Meaghan Strickland)

Big Bang: New Year’s Eve 2007

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As Chicago celebrates another New Year’s Eve, we not only bid farewell to 2007, but also to smelling like freshly used ashtrays when we venture home from the bar. As part of a highly publicized state-wide ban—the Smoke Free Illinois Act—smoking in a public indoor facility is strictly forbidden,and, yes, that includes bars and clubs. It’s a polarizing issue. Most applaud the new law, for health reasons, as the restriction obviously protects patrons and bar employees from secondhand smoke. Read the rest of this entry »

NYE 2007/LA Ex

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To better understand the impact of the impending public smoking ban, it is worthwhile to look at how it affected two other major cities that have passed their own bans in recent years, New York and Los Angeles. In the case of New York, a study conducted by Zagat found in surveying 29,361 people that ninety percent are eating out the same amount or more often after the passing of the law. Moreover, twenty-three percent stated they were eating out more often because of the public smoking ban.
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NYE 2007/Still Burning: Wicker Park’s smokers’ haven

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It’s 11pm on a Friday night and the place is empty. Well, not exactly empty. Two women who look like they’ve wandered off a David Lynch set sit side by side on an orange couch. They’re not drinking. They’re not even talking. They’re just smoking. Four men stand behind the bar. Three of them come over to attend to our drink order. They get it wrong. Twice. Near the back of the cavernous room, a DJ is seemingly unaware that the party is elsewhere. Reverberating unchecked throughout the length of the space, the throbbing music serves only to exacerbate its emptiness. I shoot a quick look of apology to the girl I’ve dragged here and she laughs. “Whatever,” she says gamely. “At least you can smoke.” At that last word, one of the four men snaps to attention, producing a glossy, tri-fold menu from somewhere beneath the bar and launching into a well-rehearsed sales pitch lauding the benefits of artisanal tobacco. When he finally finishes, I ask the question. “Smoking ban?” he repeats, smiling. “Nah, we’re cool. We’ve got it covered.” This is Marshall McGearty’s Tobacco Lounge on Milwaukee Avenue and to say that they have it covered is an understatement. They’ve got help in some very high places.
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NYE 2007/Smoked Out: The hour Chicago gives up puffing

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Be afraid, Chicago. Fear the law. Thinking of taking a few extra puffs of your cigarette as you celebrate past midnight this New Year’s Eve in your favorite bar? Then be prepared to taste blood on your palate as the city’s stormtroopers, donned only in black, burst through the doors, using their high-tech, Orwellian machinery to incite terror and to shut down your favorite adult establishment.
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