Photos by Colin Metcalf
Colin Metcalf, co-publisher and designer of Lemon magazine, a lavish pop-culture annual, gives us an extensive tour of Chicago’s bacon, coffee, and modern architecture.
Favorite high-end restaurant
615 West Randolph Street.
Chicago is awash in excellent food, so this is a difficult one. But Avec never, ever lets me down. It’s first-come, first-served and all of the tables are communal seating. The menu changes frequently, but there’s usually a variation of a pork shoulder dish simmered in a small iron pot — sometimes with chipotle, sometimes with tripe, and always spot on. A friend from SF even conceded that the plank-roasted fish was the best she’d ever had. When you walk in, it looks like you might have inadvertently entered a Swedish sauna, but you can keep your clothes on.
Best deal restaurant
1865 North Milwaukee Avenue.
I love Irazu. It’s a homestyle Costa Rican restaurant with an oddball floor plan and outstanding food. Order a Costa Rican steak sandwich, a side of patacones and a horchata and you and your wallet will both walk out full and happy.
Best street food
I never trust street food entirely. But when it’s 90º outside, there’s nothing as good as a flavored ice from one of the Mexican old-timers pushing green, white and red street carts wrapped in miniature bells.
1223 West Grand Avenue.
Sip is a true neighborhood coffee house. It’s the ideal place to chill on a Sunday morning with your girlfriend, a newspaper, some coffee and a pastry.
Three store locations in the city.
Intelligentsia is a top-tier local roaster with new locations in Silverlake and Venice in LA. Their coffee is on par with my favorite in California, Peets, and has hands down the best graphic identity in the coffee industry. I have to say that cuz it’s what I do… and it really does affect how you experience the product.
Best place to work on laptop with free wi-fi
Daytime / Sip / Intelligentsia / Fulton Lounge
955 West Fulton Market.
Daytime, Sip or Intelligentsia. Though in the evening, I cross the street to Fulton Lounge for a drink and try to hook a signal from my office.
Juicy Wine Co
Juicy Wine Co
694 North Milwaukee Avenue.
A nice vibe, they know their offerings well, and they can pair you with any number of fantastic cheeses and meats. I had a pretty amazing lamb carpaccio yesterday, but their Tennessee-raised bacon is flippin’ ridiculous. Sounds mundane, but if you get a chance to order their seasonal BLT sandwich, do NOT pass the opportunity. They make them one at a time on a counter-top grill and you will fall out of your seat when you taste it.
Side Street Saloon
1456 W George Street.
Complete with septuagenerian barflies, neighborhood lushes, neon beer signs, a dated rock-n-roll jukebox and sports on the TV, Side Street Saloon is a neighborhood dive a block from my house (in a neighborhood in need of some old-school dives). But the people are friendly and real. Maybe living in the Midwest makes you overly partial to bacon and dairy, but the bacon pizza they make in a closet-sized kitchen is legitimately amazing.
Two locations: 1501 East 57th Street and 2850 North Lincoln Avenue.
The original Powell’s in Obama’s neighborhood of Hyde Park is one of the best used book stores in a city with many. Well organized and loaded with a disparate array of subject matter, you can burn away hours browsing the shelves here. The Powell’s on the north side is a half-block from my house. It doubles as my local polling place, so long lines on election day are made sufferable by stacks of amazing reading material.
Best Magazine Stand
1854 West North Avenue.
If you’re looking for mainstream magazines, any Borders will do. But if you’re looking for something a little left of the dial, try Quimby’s. More of a print curiosity shop, Quimby’s carries a smart array of newsstand titles as well as an amazing assortment of comics, graphic novels, art & design books and even some vintage erotica. Comic genius Chris Ware (who created their logo and storefront) counts this place as one of his favorites, so you can fill in the blanks from there.
Favorite art space/gallery/museum
Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue.
The AIC used to feel like a musty ancient history museum, but with the beautiful new architectural expansion and the extended modern art collection, it has a really rounded appeal now.
Favorite outdoor space
Northern edge of Lincoln Park.
If the weather’s warm, I like to get up early and drive to Montrose Harbor. Depending on which side you’re on, you can walk the beach and breakwater, walk through a wood and prairie bird sanctuary, or catch the sun rising over the skyline. It’s all equally beautiful.
Best touristy thing to do
The Gehry-designed walkway and amphitheater is framed by one of the most incredible skylines in the world, and parts of the park are sculpted with prairie flowers and tall grasses that connect it more to the earth. The giant chrome sculpture Cloud Gate (nicknamed “the bean”) is beautiful to walk under and around. Then again, I think Jeff Koons is the greatest pop artist ever, so anything chrome gets my vote. There’s also a huge, morphing video monolith that serves as a waterwall in warm weather. Lastly, in the summer, the city stages ostentatious fireworks displays over the adjacent lakefront every Wednesday and Saturday. Any one of these displays is bigger than most 4th of July offering.
Only local does or knows about
1558 North Elston Avenue.
Great place for your greens and fruits. Good and super cheap, but you gotta eat ’em fast.
The must-see thing in your city
It’s a cliché, but the architecture. Like a lot of American cities, many of the streets outside of the Loop have been lined with harsh-looking, new mixed-use and apartment buildings built by aesthetically dead contractors who consider architects “middle men.” Thankfully, there are still ample examples of genius to counter the onslaught. From relatively ornamental 19th-century masterpieces by Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan to the modernist cathedrals of Mies van der Rohe and Skidmore Owings & Merrill, you can see the origins and the evolution of the most quintessentially American structure: the skyscraper.
[my friend] Seng Rimpakone’s house
How would you spend a day off in your city?
I’d get up early, pick up some food at Stanley’s and Paulina Meat Market (3501 North Lincoln Avenue) and then invite 40 people over to [my friend] Seng Rimpakone’s house. We’ll make 3 kinds of sangria, cook a ton of food and spill out onto her deck overlooking the city. It happens a lot.