Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best Ofs and Sez Whos

As they do each year, as they will do until their tired, thinning, rag finally goes belly-up, New City has their “Best of Chicago” issue cluttering up the city’s subway platform floors. There are, as usual, some interesting entries, and there are some that seem silly. It’s all debatable anyway. Still, in the spirit of the issue, and my oft disagreement, I offer my own Best of Chicago guide (in progress) for the year 2008 and beyond, and, while we’re at it, before.

Best Book Store: The Seminary Co-Op.

No matter how you slice it, this is the best bookstore in town for new books. Borders and Barnes and Nobel may vanish before long (which I don’t want to see happen) and most of the other indies have long gone gently into that good night, but the Co-Op still stands in its basement location in beautiful snooty Hyde Park (hey, that’s where Obama lives!) right on the campus of U of C. Now, remember we’re talking about new books. As for used…

Best Used Book Store: Powell’s on 57th St.

Sadly, Powell’s is the best used bookstore in town, which really means something, something bad if you ask me. Of course, the best Chicago store I’ve ever set foot in was the one where I worked, the Aspidistra, but in its absence I have to admit that Powell’s is where I often find myself. The Hyde Park location is still superior to the Lakeview store, though that place yields some pretty good finds from time to time. The books can get a bit pricey, so I have to give a shout out to…

Best Place to Find Cheap Used Books: Bookman’s Corner, a.k.a. Chandler’s.

A small, cramped store in Lakeview stuffed with books overflowing from the shelves. Most of the books are priced so low you won’t care about the slight danger that accompanies browsing. It’s a bad idea to walk in looking for a specific title. Just walk around, squeeze through an isle and see what (literally) jumps out at you. Perhaps best is the lack of pretension surrounding the place, unlike…

Best Used Book Store Staffed by Annoying Hipsters: Myopic.

Myopic is not a bad store, not by a long shot, but the seemingly bored (or trying hard to seem bored, I’m not sure which) people who work the counter get on my nerves. The atmosphere of the place is a combination of bookish (obviously) and apathetic indie-hip. They stock new copies of Bukowski and Kerouac at the front and ask that you not wander with these highly sought after items as if they were rare editions; they laughingly try to enforce a quasi-socialist policy of restocking the rejected books you have pulled form the shelves (failure to do so allegedly raises the cost of the book by a dollar); they host fair-to-lousy poetry readings and seem uninterested in giving out the details (a direct inquiry to a dead-eyed employee netted only the vague assurance that the information was on the website (it wasn’t)); they sell shitty coffee that’s supposed to be shitty, therefore hip (I guess); the staff members have the requisite tattoos and piercings and wear thrift store clothes and constantly play obscure rock on the stereo, much to the delight of the young Wicker Parkers and the chagrin of the old book hounds who have exhausted Powell’s stock of histiry books and literary criticism.

But on to other things…

Best Place to Spot a Suicide: Sheridan Between Hollywood and Granville.

Earlier this year, on this Edgewater stretch of road, a man was found dead, hanging from a tree with a noose around his neck. He killed himself publicly (or did he…) but at least he did so early enough that the local kiddies were (probably) spared the gruesome sight. Anyway, lightning of this kind doesn’t really strike twice, so maybe this isn’t the best place to spot suicides anymore, but it was a disturbing story. Even Eugene Izzi’s (alleged) suicide spectacle—hanging out of a window from his 14th floor apartment—wasn’t as public, though both contain equally chilling mysteries.

Best Place to Miss Barack Obama’s Election Day Speech: My Apartment.

The historic moment came and what was I doing? Fretting over my trammeled vision. After hours of watching election coverage (and some of Rocky II), a strange broken triangular pattern of shimmering red and blue lights formed near the lower corner of my left eye. It moved when I moved my eyes and was visible with the lids open and closed. The televised scene at Grant Park was obscured by this irregularity, causing me to freak the hell out. I assumed I was going blind, at least partially, and I opted to lay on the couch and close my eyes, waiting for the pattern to go away, watching it not go away, listening to the President Elect’s speech and thinking simultaneously that I was hearing history and not seeing it and that I might never read another book, see another movie or marvel at the beauty of mi niña, mi gato, or the Lake Michigan horizon at dusk when the lake finally looks majestic instead of merely polluted, and I’d never see Havana, Lima, Rome, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, New York, Mexico City, Bombay, Belfast, or any of the other places I’ve always wanted to see. Sadly, these thoughts overtook Obama’s words and I remember nothing of the historic evening save for my own fear over what turned out to be an ocular migraine. Look it up.

Best Place to Get Food I Would Never Eat: Hot Doug’s.

I work with a guy who won’t stop talking about this gourmet hot dog emporium where you can get the standard dog, the more adventurous pheasant dog, countless other variations on the dog, and fries cooked in (egad) duck fat complete with foie gras, served before, during, and after the citywide ban. When I tell my south-side buddies about it, they balk at the north-side affluence they assume must be the root of this establishment. “Gimmie the old Dave Berg anyday.” Personally, were I still a carnivore, I would try some of the menu items at a place like this. Hot dogs, we all know, are shit anyway, so why not at least once try the hoity-toity version? Just once and then you go back to the rat hair and bug leg laden encased meats you love so damn much. Still, can you lay off the ducks? They’re beautiful animals that ought to be left alone. Eating one automatically lowers you a notch in my book, but we all have our inexplicable prejudices.

Best Place to Try to Eat That is Almost Always Closed: Lake Side Café.

A vegetarian restaurant that boasts an impressive menu, I’ve been dying to eat at this place for a year. Unfortunately, they have odd hours and I never make it when they are open. Hippies are so unreliable.

Biggest Pain in My Ass Now That Winter is Coming: The Closed Pedway from the Washington Red Line Stop to City Hall.

I am pretty sure the signs said the pedway would reopen in the fall of 2008. They’d better hurry, as it’s getting cold out there and I’d like to be able to sneak underground from the train all the way to work, like I used to. I’m not holding my (visible) breath.

Best Place to Read About Local Crime and Reactionary Bullshit: The Broken Heart of Rogers Park.

I read this blog daily. Sometimes I feel Craig, the man behind the blog, is providing a good service for the community. Sometimes I think he’s a nut with a police scanner and a lot of time on his hands. Occasionally I think he’s a bit of a racist. Often I think he’s right about our Alderman, Joe Moore. Once in a while I think he’s in love with his local internet fame. More than often I think he’s getting off on the violence and corruption that he’s documenting. Regardless, this stew makes for interesting reading, especially when you see the proximity of a high school melee or mugged college student to your own address.

Best Place to See a Live Show: ?????

Don’t ask me; my days of going to concerts have dwindled to the current state of next to never. Hell, The Melvins are in town tomorrow night and I won’t go (previous engagement and I can’t stand going to late shows on a weekday). I do hear things and from what I can tell Reggie’s Rock Club is the place to be. One day, maybe, I’ll head over and relive my younger days.

Best Place to Try and Get a Free Beer: The Sovereign.

If you order a Pabst, you’ll see a number and suit printed on the underside of the bottle cap, just like you’d find on any of the cards in a standard deck. Guess it correctly and the bartender will give you the beer for free. I have only come close once. I guessed the eight of hearts, which I take to mean eternal love. It was the eight of diamonds (eternal wealth?). The bartender gave it to me anyway (I had been in pretty regularly trying to get a free beer and he took pity on me). I tipped him two bucks, which is what a Pabst costs anyway, so really my beer wasn’t quite free. I don’t get to the Sovereign as much these days, and when I do I usually try not to order a Pabst. I don’t want to get sucked in again. Life’s too short and there are healthier obsessions.

Best View of the City: The Dank Haus.

This is my new favorite place to get a drink, although it’s not as nice in the winter. The 6th floor view is wonderful and you can smoke on the deck, lounge in a chair and sip on incredible German beer. It’s only open on limited nights and you have to be in on the scene or know someone in on the scene to know when to show up. I’m so glad I was able to worm my way in. Last time I was there, I managed to get a sneak peek at a vintage oil painting of the Kaiser. How often does that happen?

2nd Best View of the City: The View From My Friend Julie’s Apartment.

I love house sitting for Jules. I love the view.

Okay, that’s it for now. There’s more I could say and list, but I’m off to do more constructive things. Stay tuned for more useless junk and ill-informed opinions.