Street Smart Chicago

Where Dreams Lie: Inside the strange compelling worlds of Jesse Ball

Events, Lincoln Square, Lit, News etc., Wicker Park No Comments »

By Tom Lynchjesseball_014

Growing up in Long Island with a father in social service and a librarian mother, Jesse Ball was a hyperactive kid. He was held back in kindergarten as a result—yet, because he showed signs of budding intelligence, he was also enrolled with the gifted students in advanced classes. At one point, he would bounce between special education and elevated study at the same time, one class right after the other. He also liked to draw, vivid doodles of grotesque demons, with such frequency he was sent to see a psychoanalyst. When he was 5, he mailed some drawings to the Queen of England. In response, her Lady in Waiting wrote, “The Queen has asked me to write to tell you she liked your drawing very much…”

Such a colorfully ironic childhood is that of fiction, it’s no wonder Ball grew up to be a writer, though the man himself contends that when he was young the first thing he wanted to be was a garbage man, because, as he puts it, “They get to ride in the back of the truck.” Second was writer. Read the rest of this entry »

Haute Cuisine: The fashion and the food at Tocco Pizze e Arte

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toccoBy Michael Nagrant

There’s just something about Bruno. And tonight, I aim to please him. How else explain that, though I’m a 32-year-old straight dude who shops entirely too much at Old Navy, I’m more skittish than a red-carpet-roving Hollywood starlet caught in the crossfire gazer beams of Joan Rivers and Steven Cojocaru?

Since I’m a food critic, Bruno Abate, restaurant impresario/owner of Wicker Park’s Tocco Pizze e Arte, should be the one to impress me. Yet I’m worried that my recently pressed white-stitched ultra-indigo dress jeans are slightly wrinkled at the ankle, and I’m wondering whether they drape over my pointy-toed Robert Wayne dress shoes enough to prevent me from looking like a court jester. Abate, who cooks from $8,000 San Lorenzo sauté pans, wears sunglasses that make Bono jealous and rocks orange shoes, has seemingly turned the tables. Read the rest of this entry »

Variety Show: Gretchen Travers debuts her Wicker Park Nights

Events, Wicker Park No Comments »

At 7pm, the room is empty. It looks like an abandoned PayLess. There has been some trouble with the city regarding permits. Audience and artists are asked to come back around nine o’clock, after a sound system, tables and chairs will have been set up. At 9pm, things look pretty much the same, save for a P.A. system and a few more people in the room.

Wicker Park Nights is the vision of Gretchen Travers. Her goal is to bring artists of different mediums together and to provide them a common audience. Inspired by Around the Coyote, the long-running art show that has since moved its big annual event from Wicker Park, Wicker Park Nights is what Travers refers to as a Room Opera. “We have painters and architects and poets and filmmakers and actors and dance troupes, and hip-hop, classical, opera, jazz and so on,” Travers says. On a given night, an artist is given fifteen minutes to perform or showcase his or her work, and the hope is that the fast-paced changes will keep an audience interested in everything that is presented to them.

Around 11pm, after an hour of a sort of free-form jam session that includes beats, electrical guitar and classical guitar that serves to open the night, the lights are dimmed and Saniqua Thompson is introduced to the stage. Thompson performs three pieces of spoken word. The audience is attentive, and after the third, a round of applause is given, and the next artist, Dwayne Richardson is introduced.

Richardson plays the blues. He introduces himself and his music with a story. When he was 5 years old, he looked up at the sky, and asked himself, “What the hell is wrong with this world?” He closes his set with a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” He repeats the chorus four times in a sing-along fashion as the audience sings with him, “If you’re lost you can look, and you will find me, time after time. If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting, time after time.”

“It’s an opportunity for musicians to just play and meet each other and there’s no pretenses, there’s no glitter and glamour,” Richardson says, “It’s just a place to come, and everybody can do their thing.”

Following Richardson is a stream of short performances from artists, a singer/songwriter, a poet, a spoken word artist, a guitarist and a filmmaker.

“It’s a cool idea,” says Whitney Jones, an audience member. “It’s good for all of the artists to be able to come together.”

The evening begins to wind down with two short films from filmmaker Amir George. The first, “Sneaker Freaks,” and the second, a music video that he directed for hip-hop artist Go Bezerk, “Drunken Monkee.” When the credits roll, the champagne is popped. (Todd Miller)

Have a Car-Free Summer: Life around the Edge

Bicycling, Essays & Commentary, Events, Green, Oak Park, Wicker Park No Comments »

By Elizabeth Winkowski

Shortly after I began biking a few years ago, I showed up at the Hollywood Grill on Ashland and North early one Saturday morning for the fifth-annual Perimeter Ride, a hundred-mile jaunt around the edge of the city. I knew little about bicycling then, except that serious bicyclists called hundred-mile rides “centuries.” I had done some research online, and found information on proper century training and equipment—padded spandex shorts, a skin-tight jersey and a light, carbon-fiber bike. I disregarded this information and pulled up in a t-shirt and sunglasses instead, riding a rickety, rusting, pink Schwinn ten-speed. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Hype Exchange: Charting the capricious contours of celebrity

Chicago Hype Exchange, Wicker Park No Comments »

This Week’s Biggest Gainers:

Hillary Clinton
The Senator banked a triumphant win in Nevada.
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Bohemian Rhapsody: University of Chicago profs study the migration of hipsters and other urban phenomena

Andersonville, Bridgeport, Bucktown, City Life, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Kenwood, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Little Village, Logan Square, News etc., North Center, Pilsen, Roscoe Village, South Shore, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Washington Park, Wicker Park, Wrigleyville No Comments »

By Sean Redmond

Entering Wicker Park by the Blue Line, you emerge into the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee to a long-familiar sight. There’s the Double Door across the street, Flash Taco and, until just recently, the façade of Filter, Wicker Park’s former hipster coffeehouse extraordinaire. These staples, like many along these primary roadways, fade into the background with repeated visits; yes, you know you can find Reckless Records and American Apparel and the venues and art galleries in the surrounding area, but getting where you want to go requires little thought once you’re situated enough to put your eyes to the sidewalk and your feet into autopilot. But then one day, you get off the train and, surprise, the boarded-up shell of Filter is replaced with an expansive Bank of America, and your mind jolts back into motion. Suddenly, a wave of thoughts bursts forth: “Man, there are a lot of banks in the area,”or “Wicker Park really is getting commercialized,” or  “Maybe I need to start spending more time in Logan Square.”
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Butts Out: Calling it quits at Rainbo Club

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park No Comments »

A lifetime second-hand smoker bellies up to the bar of Rainbo Club. You’re a smoker, the woman beside him reassures him, “You smoke as much as anyone in here including that beat-up leather jacket. The buzz won’t be the same, I guarantee you.”
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NYE 2007/Still Burning: Wicker Park’s smokers’ haven

City Life, Holidays, Wicker Park No Comments »

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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Massive Attack: Joshua Fischer spends the day wandering about, talking about tragedy

Essays & Commentary, News etc., Wicker Park No Comments »

By Joshua Fischer

This is how my day began: I woke up to NPR on the radio. I heard some strange talk of an “attack.” I turned on the television and saw that image, which has continued to play repeatedly in my head since that point. Those buildings. That plane. The explosion. I screamed. A few hours later, I went outside, walked through Wicker Park, and talked to others about their day.

On this beautiful sunny day, perfect for flying, a plane soars overhead. According to news reports, all planes have been grounded. I realize that it’s a fighter plane patrolling. On my block, a young woman clutching a laptop computer exits her car and enters her apartment. I can hear her crying. Read the rest of this entry »