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The Best of the City

How did we find all these extraordinary people, places and things? We asked you, for starters—and added your answers to the long list of discoveries we’ve been gathering all year. Need a suit or a sweat or a suite? You’ll find the very finest choices here.

Caroline Neff is ready for her close-up at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Ge Wang, founder of ESQ Clothing, at his flagship location in the West Loop

Studio Lagree master trainer Laurie Campbell on a Megaformer, which trains your muscles using resistance and counter-resistance

Interior designer Nicholas Moriarty is a name you should know.

Parachute’s Beverly Kim and John Clark inside their restaurant


Caroline Neff
This rising triple threat—theater, television and movies—can next be seen in Steppenwolf Theatre’s The Flick.

Caroline Neff didn’t grow up in Chicago, but this Texas native has taken her adopted city by storm. Neff started as a theater major at Columbia College Chicago and quickly earned a list of credits that includes multiple plays at Steppenwolf, Steep Theatre Company and Griffin Theatre, as well as a Chicago Reader pick for best actress two years in a row. She has a recurring role on Chicago P.D. “They bring me in whenever they need someone to hold a baby,” she jokes about her role as the daughter-in-law of character Sgt. Hank Voight. And she recently appeared in the movie Open Tables, which was featured at the Chicago International Film Festival. “There’s something so real about what happens in Chicago,” she says. We were talking about her recent show, Airline Highway, which moved from Steppenwolf to Broadway. “You cannot thrive on bull---- in Chicago, and I love that!” Her next run at Steppenwolf in the intense drama The Flick is a perfect example. “It’s a beautiful play that’s a microcosm of humanity,” she says. “It’s just four people on the stage for three hours. It’s going to be amazing.” The chance to spend three hours watching this luminous star? Tickets, please! Feb. 4-May 8, tickets from $35, Steppenwolf Theatre

Readers’ Choice: Favorite Festivals
Art, literature, music, food—Chicago puts the world’s talents on display every year with hundreds of festivals. Here are five favorites.

1. Chicago Gourmet features celebrity chef demos and tastings from more than 190 restaurants, plus hundreds of wines, spirits and beers. Come hungry. Sept. 23-25

2. Chicago Humanities Festival brings the world’s most exciting, controversial and thought-provoking speakers to the city for two weeks of exploration. Oct. 22-Nov. 5

3. Lollapalooza is the summer music event of the year, with more than 130 genre-crossing bands and 100,000-plus fans who sell out the fest before the headliners are even announced. July 28-31

4. Old Town Art Fair boasts more than 250 artists at this juried show that prides itself on the wide range of mediums represented, plus goodies like a garden walk and food court. June 11-12

5. Printer’s Row Lit Fest is a literary smorgasbord with booksellers, authors and fellow book lovers focusing on reading for two great days. June 11-12

Money Ball
Chicago’s culture coffers are overflowing.

This year, our city’s great arts organizations received some major donations—and with a bevy of new programming, expansions and renovations on the horizon, they’re sure to be the gifts that keep on giving. To wit: The recently approved, privately funded Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be an exciting addition to our museumcentric lakefront in 2018; the nonprofit Rebuild Foundation creator Theaster Gates debuted a $4.5 million transformation of an abandoned South Shore bank turned public library and cultural center; the Museum of Contemporary Art raised a staggering $3.7 million at its annual Benefit Art Auction—the most successful in the museum’s nearly 50-year history; and thanks to the enormous success of its On to a New Stage fundraising campaign, Writers Theatre will soon unveil a brand-new $34 million Studio Gang-designed theater center in downtown Glencoe.

Number Crunch
193: At the time of press, the number of local actors who have been cast in the triumphant hip-hop soap opera Empire. Overseen by Simon Casting, it’s a pop culture showcase of the wealth of talent here in the Windy City.

400 and Counting
Plays, dance, music and more—the city is all in for 2016’s Shakespeare 400 Chicago.

Shakespeare died 400 years ago, but he’s still an influencer—big time—so Chicago Shakespeare Theater is spearheading a yearlong celebration of all things Bard that includes international artists, experimental works and even restaurants. But the real meat of the festival will be the 60-plus local institutions programming around the theme. From Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Romeo and Juliet to Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Falstaff to Newberry Library’s Creating Shakespeare exhibition, Elizabethan culture will reign. Chicago Shakespeare will be putting on a six-play history cycle called Tug of War. “The power of our world-class cultural institutions uniting behind one theme,” says Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “serves to amplify Chicago’s role as a global destination for cultural tourism.” So bring on the visitors and the locals as we celebrate not only Shakespeare, but the fact that “all the world’s a stage,” and Chicago is the star.

Highlight Reel
Beginning to end, 2015 was a big year for the arts. The Chicago Architecture Biennial in its inaugural year was a much-welcome showcase of one of the city’s greatest assets. The Field Museum opened the Cyrus Tang Hall of China, a new permanent exhibit. Joffrey Ballet offered a stunning 60th-anniversary season, closing out with finale performances of its beloved Nutcracker (don’t worry: There will be a new one next year). But they’re just kids compared to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which launched its 125th season under the baton of newly re-contracted maestro Riccardo Muti. And speaking of blasts from the past: The Grateful Dead—or most of the band, anyway—played three massive final shows at Soldier Field. In attendance, somewhere in the throng, was soprano Renée Fleming, taking a break from a stunning year as creative consultant for Lyric Opera, which included the lead role in The Merry Widow and the world premiere of Bel Canto, a work she commissioned. Take a bow, everyone.


Retail Refresh
Who would have thought Michigan Avenue could get even more magnificent? Lucky for us, legacy luxury brands on the Mile keep stepping up their style game with stunning remodels that match their ever-evolving high-fashion lines. Tiffany & Co. unveiled its bright and modern new space last fall. The store oozes glamour—the chandelier in the fine jewelry salon and the regal staircase to the second floor make a major statement—but there’s more to the renovation than just aesthetics. The new watch salon, the first of its kind in the country, pays homage to the brand’s watchmaking history and aptly showcases the new timepiece collections. Just up the road, Gucci recently unveiled its highly anticipated renovation. The new second floor brings the shop to more than 10,000 square feet, which will highlight the children’s collection and Gucci Beauty in addition to the men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, handbags, shoes, jewelry and accessories customers expect. The interior is a play in contrasts—the lush alongside the industrial, the modern with the classic—reflecting the brand’s elegant yet eclectic style. Even more reason to stop in? One of the first new collections available in the space will be recently appointed Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Cruise 2016 collection. And across the street, Louis Vuitton is poised for its own refresh, though details are under wraps at the moment. If its predecessors are any indication, it will be a sight to see.

Number Crunch
87: The number of years Marshall Pierce & Company, a sixth-generation family business of fine jewelers, has been at 29 E. Madison St. This winter, the company opened its doors to a 5,000-square-foot two-story showroom on Michigan Avenue, where it has expanded its collections to include seven different watch salons and displays for its 600-plus ring styles.

“Chicago style is the perfect blend of East and West Coast fashion. Chicagoans do an amazing job of mastering trendy but practical looks that are appropriate
for all seasons and every occasion.” –Jenny Applegate, personal stylist, The Leading Image

Readers’ Choice: Favorite Boutiques
The city's most stylish herald their favorite retail destinations.

1. Azeeza US
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sophia Bush and Gabrielle Union have all sported the modern, handcrafted designs by Azeeza Khan. We’re anxiously awaiting her spring-summer 2016 collection featuring opulent black silks, baroque accessories and sophisticated cuts. 

Founder Jeff Burkard clads clients in luxe fabrics—think Giza 45 Egyptian cotton shirts and cashmere blazers—custom-fit to every man’s lifestyle.

3. Burdi
For more than 45 years, the Burdi family has sought to provide the finest garments and most innovative products straight from Italy to the sharpest guys in town. An absolute local gem. 

4. Independence
A strictly American-made selection of heritage-influenced pieces gives this Oak Street shop a welcomed edge, with its premium rag wool, leather and raw denim for men. 

5. Ikram
Owner Ikram Goldman has a pedigree for dressing powerful women. Her iconic, chic boutique couples an art gallery and cafe with an eclectic mix of designers and hand-curated vintage pieces.

Top Five: Chicago Firsts
1. Steps from the city’s hottest dining spots, Billy Reid’s Midwest location—the first clothing retailer on Restaurant Row—brings the brand’s Southern-bred luxury lifestyle pieces to Chicagoans.

2. Functionality meets fashion at Kit and Ace’s West Loop digs. Since launching in 2014, the Vancouver-based company has put athleisure on the map, having amassed more than 20 locations internationally (with 30 more in the works!).

3. Luxury costume-jewelry brand Les Néréides opened its first American outpost at Block 37 with a wide range of handcrafted 14K and 18K gold jewelry that is undeniably stylish—and undeniably French.

4. At Rebecca Minkoff’s fourth store, eBay-powered technology delivers a next-generation shopping experience with touch-screen mirrors that allow customers
to browse lookbooks and request items and specific sizes.

5. Combining its British heritage with the effortlessly cool influence of New York, Rag & Bone touched down in the Windy City with a 4,000-square-foot store located at the epicenter of luxe apparel.

Major Tailor
After years of struggling to find the perfectly fitted suit, real estate lawyer Ge Wang made the decision to go the custom route. The hobby became a midlife career change, and now he’s the founder of ESQ Clothing, a new bespoke suit shop in the West Loop. “I’ve always had a passion for clothing,” Wang says. “It’s kind of a running joke in our family. When I was little, I used to watch my father dress in his superbaggy suits and go to work.” Although Wang admits he still can’t get Dad out of his drab duds, his penchant for expertly made garments has attracted a following of sports pros, including hoopsters from the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets, as well as Chicago Bear Matt Forte. His process begins with a consultation and fabric selection-followed by 43 measurements and a fitting to ensure precision. Then clients can customize their look with a host of ESQ’s ready-to-wear ties, cuff links and shoes. “Athletes wear their suits maybe six times a year,” says Wang. “We also want to lend our expertise to the everyday lawyer and banker who wears four or five different suits each week. That’s our target audience.” Speaking of expansion, customers can expect an ESQ women’s line (think cool cashmere sweaters, colorful overcoats and custom shoes) to launch early this year. Bespoke shirts from $300 and suits from $2,000


Winning Workout
Chicago is known for being a sports-oriented city, and we take our own fitness seriously. Several new studios have opened in the past year, but the one that has really delivered on its promise of long and strong muscles is Lincoln Park’s Studio Lagree. Named after Sebastien Lagree, who developed the patented Megaformer machine (similar to a Pilates reformer), classes are typically 50 minutes long. Fair warning: They are hard, but they deliver results quickly (Hollywood types such as Sofia Vergara and Courteney Cox are longtime fans). Laurie Campbell (in slideshow above) is a master trainer and the force behind the company’s expansion across the United States and now Europe. “The method itself is hard to duplicate anywhere else,” she says. “It is like getting a personal training session within a group setting—you have the benefit of being pushed by the energy of the group, but the machine and small classes make it a personal experience.” Because the method works every muscle group to exhaustion, you see results quickly—most notably abdominal and arm definition in women and longer, leaner muscles in general. Campbell adds, “You can achieve this without any negative impact on joints.” No class is the same, and it’s nearly impossible not to be focused. We dare you not to get hooked—and ripped. $35 per class

Making Scents
Q Brothers diversifies fragrance collections with unique offerings.

“Fragrances are an art form in their own right,” says Anthony Qaiyum, president and co-owner of Merz Apothecary and Q Brothers. And Qaiyum knows true artistry when he sees—or smells—it. The shop’s expansive fragrance collection focuses on scents from independent brands you might not see in a department store, like Tauer’s Lonestar Memories ($130), a smoky and leathery scent for him. Adds Qaiyum, “These are people with their own take.” Right up our alley.

Shining Bright
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the SilkPeel facial is showing its staying power. Available at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria spa, the facial merges expert exfoliation, performed with a diamond tip, with perfectly tailored-to-you serum infusion to clarify, hydrate and firm. The result? Oh-so-plump and luminous skin almost immediately. It seems diamonds are a best friend in more ways than one. $175-$345

Man Up
It’s no longer news, but it nevertheless bears repeating: Men are taking better care of themselves. They need help, of course, and some wonderful options have sprung up around town. There’s the Men’s Recovery package at The Spa at Trump ($225)—a facial with male-friendly Mediterranean scents, a shoeshine, suit pressing and—strictly for aromatherapy purposes—a nice pour of hard-to-find whiskey (23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle was recently on the slate). NoMi Spa gets into the spirits too (sort of), with a 45-minute full-body treatment using the Bourbon Bubbler scrub from FarmHouse Fresh. The Spa at the Peninsula offers the clever ManKind tension-reducing massage and aromatherapy ($265 to $280 for 90 minutes). And, naturally, there’s never anything wrong with going old school: At Merchant & Rhoades, the name has changed, but the air of timelessness has not. Go for a full reset with the Gold Coast package: haircut, straight-edge shave, facial, manicure, pedicure, hand and foot massages, and a shine ($423). She might not even recognize you.

Number Crunch
25: Beauty industry maven Bobbi Brown will celebrate her brand’s 25th anniversary this year, and the Chicago native gives her hometown some of the credit. “Coming from the Midwest really taught me what’s important in life. What’s important is being comfortable with who I am,” Brown says. “I started this brand to empower women to be themselves. It is what I hope my legacy will be.”

Readers’ Choice: Favorite Salons
A savvy salon can help ensure hair looks red-carpet ready even on the windiest Chicago day. Here, our readers’ favorites.

1. Anthony Cristiano Salon
Known for his editorial work (including the most recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit-edition cover), Cristiano set up his flagship salon in the Trump Hotel and it has been a favorite ever since. Cuts from $75

2. Civello
Ray Civello expanded his thriving empire into Chicago one year ago, and the salons—with three city locations—have quickly made their mark as a beauty staple. Cuts from $50 

3. Mario Tricoci
With 14 locations around the state, including the recently remodeled salon in the 900 North Michigan Shops, Mario Tricoci’s salons are synonymous with style. Cuts from $35 

4. Michael + Michael
Open for more than a decade in River North, Michael + Michael and co-founder and stylist Michael Jacobson have a robust celeb client roster, including Maria Menounos. Cuts from $65 

5. Paul Rehder
Nestled in the Gold Coast, this upscale salon (along with its sister location on the North Shore) is a natural fit in the chic and stylish neighborhood. Cuts from $75


On the Rise
With ever-increasing industry cred and a dazzling portfolio, this up-and-coming interior designer is hard on the rise in Chicago and beyond.

In a city of top-notch talent and storied firms, making a name for yourself as a young designer is no easy task. Nicholas Moriarty, however, has made a big impression. Since launching his own multidisciplinary design firm in 2008 after graduating from Harrington College of Design, he’s quickly climbed the ranks of emerging designers in Chicago—including being named one to watch by the Design Center at the Merchandise Mart. From a sleek Mies van der Rohe condo revamp to an artsy Wicker Park bachelor-pad redesign to a cozy Victorian overhaul in Evanston, Moriarty’s portfolio is as diverse as his inspiration. “My favorite part of any project is seeing how far I can push a client in blending ideas, both past and present, to create a truly unique and one-of-a-kind interior,” says the designer, who combines his love of early modernism with his interests in fashion and art to meet his clients’ specific needs. What’s next for this rising star? “Not much sleep,” he jokes. With a curated art and design show at Gallery 19 in Ravenswood, a bevy of new projects in the city and suburbs, and rumors of his own furniture collection on the horizon, we think he might be right.

Number Crunch
31,000: The estimated number of attendees at the opening weekend of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial—North America’s largest survey of contemporary architecture.

Off the Wall
A local legacy of artisans with wall-to-wall style

Since 1969, Maya Romanoff’s guiding mantra has been “make every wall beautiful,” and, well, we think the company mastered it. The family-owned wallcovering company is the largest of its kind in the country, with each of its artisanal offerings made by hand in its Chicago studio. From gold leaf to glass beads to seashells, the company’s specific attention to material and process yields statement-making wallcoverings that might be better described as art. Case in point: the new collection of shimmery latticed seashell and glass bead tiles. $155 per tile

Making It Big Time
The new 4 East Elm development proves it’s smart to make no small plans for the Gold Coast. You can do the math: With 25 floors and only 35 units, the new 4 East Elm building will offer unusually roomy half- and full-floor condos in the jam-packed neighborhood. Buyers noticed, snapping up most of the units before the property even opened. Now only 3,100- and 3,500-square-foot choices remain in the building, developed by Convexity Properties (the same team behind the Esquire Theatre and Loews Hotel projects, among others), priced between $2.1 and $7.2 million. The places have style, too. Posh design firm Gary Lee Partners was engaged to provide a polished, understated look for owners, who can enlist his expertise to completely personalize the space from the floor up. “The building features ultraluxurious finishes and first-class amenities including an outdoor pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a theater and an elegant owner’s club room,” notes Lisa Madonia, a realtor with @properties. Owners in the LEED-certified building will access their units through private elevators, presumably after greeting their 24-hour doorman—happy too, under the sleek lobby’s 15-foot ceilings. 312.542.1144

Readers’ Choice: Favorite Showroom
Here are five design destinations that have got the goods.

1. Kneen & Co.
Owner Mary Jeanne Kneen’s expert curation of tableware and accessories—from Saint-Louis crystal tumblers to porcelain Hermès chargers—is a one-stop shop for the stylish party host.

2. Casa Spazio
Tucked away in River North’s Design District, this 5,200-square-foot showroom brings high-style Italian furniture to the modern urban dweller. 

3. Primitive
Treasure seekers are sure to find their next gem in this four-story showroom filled with antiques, artifacts and textiles from around the globe.

4. Haute Living
Industry players and design enthusiasts alike flock to this sleek showroom to get their hands on contemporary wares from emerging designers and forward-thinking brands.

5. RH Chicago
It was hard to escape the buzz when Restoration Hardware opened one of its new reconcepted galleries in the historic 3 Arts Club—and with good reason. Apart from the brand’s signature collections, the 70,000-square-foot showroom features a cafe, wine bar and rooftop garden.


Flying High
As years go, Avondale’s Parachute has had an unusually great one. For starters, the creative Korean-American restaurant was a James Beard Award finalist for 2015. Then, late in the year, it received a Michelin star. “When we first opened, we just wanted to keep the doors open and focus on not failing,” says John Clark, who debuted the place with his wife, co-chef Beverly Kim, in the summer of 2014, partially with Kickstarter funding. (It isn’t hard to see why the campagn succeeded: He’s a Culinary Institute of America grad who has worked at Chicago’s Lula Cafe and at restaurants in Korea and Paris, and she’s a Top Chef contestant who has done stints at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago, Aria and Takashi.) Still, while Parachute has become one of the toughest reservations in town, it remains, at its core, a charming 40-seat neighborhood spot—from the friendly yet polished service and funky decor to the ever-changing menu of deeply flavorful dishes that might include crispy stuffed sesame leaves ($6), udon with crab and guanciale ($19) and braised goat with pickled beech mushrooms ($24). (Fortunately for its many fans, the baked potato bing bread—$5 half, $8 whole—is a menu mainstay.) “As an independent restaurant, we have a chance to be very genuine and unfiltered in what we do,” says Kim. “We hope that comes across in a positive way.” Note to Kim: It definitely does.

Readers’ Choice: Favorite Lounge Acts
Five spots with great cocktails—and entertainment on the side.

1. Bordel
Filled with pulp imagery and a whimsical edge—check out the risqué custom wallpaper—this Wicker Park lounge offers craft cocktails and live shows ranging from burlesque to jazz. 

2. Smokey Hollow
This new River North spot channels a vintage vibe with retro design details while at the same time entertains with an eclectic mix of performers on its red-curtained stage.

3. The Drifter
A unique evening awaits the patron looking for a carefully crafted cocktail and something you don’t see every day—circus sideshow, anyone?—at this charming lounge located below the Green Door Tavern.

4. Coq d’Dor
This legendary Drake Hotel bar opened to a line of thirsty patrons after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. It still draws in plenty of loyal fans who appreciate the historic vibe, classic cocktails and live music.

5. Green Mill
Head to this Uptown lounge on Wednesdays and you’ll be rewarded with the gypsy-swing sounds of Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan.

Weekend Warriors
Remember when brunch was the bane of chefs’ existence? This year it became a much different story, with big-name toques all over town taking the same amount of care with the first meal of the weekend as they do later on at dinner. Morning pizza lovers (that’s everyone, right?) have a friend in Balena, which offers seven tasty pies ($16 to $20) as well as more traditional dishes like scrambled-egg bruschetta ($12) at its new brunch. At Bohemian House, chef Jimmy Papadopoulos’ tasty treatment of Central European cuisine is evident at brunch too, with dishes such as Bavarian pancakes ($13) and smoked beef-tongue hash ($15). Can’t snag a seat at popular newcomer Formento’s? Opt for brunch instead and indulge in chef Tony Quartaro’s terrific Italian-American dishes—canestri with Sunday gravy ($16), anyone? Fried cheese curds ($8) and a duck-fat hot dog ($10) may not sound like breakfast dishes, but in the hands of The Duck Inn’s Kevin Hickey, they make total (and delicious) sense. Getting out of bed just got a whole lot easier.

Number Crunch
18: GreenRiver’s location on the 18th floor of a high-rise isn’t its most noteworthy detail. Or that the building is a medical center. Rather, it’s that this Streeterville restaurant and bar from NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer has been wowing diners from the moment it opened in September. We feel better already.

It Takes Two
What’s the best way to make sure you have quality face time with your significant other when you work in the time-consuming restaurant biz? Partner up with them and open your own eatery.

Longtime Blackbird chef David Posey and Publican pastry chef vet Anna Posey have big plans for the Sawtooth space on Randolph Street. Look for a tasting menu and a la carte options when it opens early this year. Between them, chefs Karen and John Shields have worked at Charlie Trotter’s, Tru and Alinea. No surprise their soon-to-open two-story West Loop restaurant has Chicagoans buzzing. At the just-opened Dos Urban Cantina, ex-Topolobampo chefs and couple Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones tapped into their mutual passion for Mexico and its cuisine. Ain’t love grand?

Right on Course
While the small-plates trend isn’t going anywhere, some local chefs have recently taken a step backward in the most delicious way possible and opted instead for those lovely multicourse tasting menus of days gone by. Or, in other words, size does matter.

There’s plenty of excitement at the South Loop’s Acadia beyond its recent two Michelin stars. Chef Ryan McCaskey now offers five- ($95) and 10-course ($165) tasting menus. >>> When Oriole from chef Noah Sandoval (Senza) opens this winter, the West Loop restaurant will offer a single tasting menu of 15 to 20 courses. >>> What’s the best way to celebrate a five-year anniversary? If you’re Noble Square’s Ruxbin, it’s by changing your a la carte menu to a hybrid of a tasting menu and dinner party. Diners choose five dishes for the table ($65) from 10 or so options. >>> At Spiaggia, chef Tony Mantuano always had an unwritten tasting menu for those in the know. But now everyone can get in on the meticulously choreographed dining experience with three tasting menus to choose from ($95 to $250).