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The 2008 Chicagoist Gift Guide

By Marcus Gilmer in Miscellaneous on Dec 8, 2008 6:00PM


It's the most wonderful time of the year. Time to buy presents! Which means it's time for Chicagoist's annual gift guide. Even in 2008, with our economy, we're still putting our pennies together to get our friends and families some great gifts, many of them with - of course - a Chicago theme.

My family is a bunch of Swedes and Scandinavians, so part of my Xmas Xtravaganza planning always involves a trip up to Andersonville - preferably on a cold, windy, grey afternoon (flurries optional). There's always a few stops along Clark to find some sort of home-country gift, even if it's just a book or a tin of salted licorice candy from Erickson's Deli. It never fails to get me in the general spirit of the season, and usually results in a headcold of some sort. But it still beats the kalsonger off of Ikea, anyways. From there, I like to treat whoever I've dragged along on my Andersonville excursion to a few mugs of glögg at Simon's. Nothing says more to me about early winter and holiday anticipation than a mug of the heavily spiced, highly boozed-up mulled wine. No matter how much I may spend during the rest of my present-purchasing frenzy, it's the best $4 I can spend during the whole ordeal. (Although this year I might dive in headfirst to Chuck's recipe, posted here.) --- Karl Klockars

2008_12_08_lazarus.jpgWhile Chicago has produced so many great writers - especially in 2008 - two books in particular are worth checking out. First is National Book Award Finalist The Lazarus Project by local author Aleksandar Hemon. It focuses on Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian-American writer living in present-day Chicago. He has become obsessed with the true story of Jewish immigrant Lazarus Averbauch, who was killed by Chicago's chief of police 100 years before. Accompanied by an old colleague and serial photographer, Rora, Brik sets out to uncover the mystery surrounding Lazarus' death and write a book about it. Was Lazarus an anarchist sent to assassinate the chief of police, as the media and police claimed, or was he something more innocent, a young man caught up in a political firestorm following the Haymarket Riots? Brik and Rosa's journey take them to modern-day Modolva in search of Lazarus' history, as well as a search for their own home and place in the world. The story is punctuated by photos from Velibor Bozovic, real-life photographer and close friend to Hemon. Alternating between the story of Lazarus and his bereaved sister Olga, and the journey of Brik and Rora, Hemon weaves an engrossing tale that explores war, terrorism, paranoia, love, and the search for a home that defines us.

2008_12_08_poole.jpgAnother excellent book hitting shelves is The Galloping Ghost, Gary Andrew Poole's biography of football legend Harold "Red" Grange. With football such a part of the life of Chicagoans, there's no better way to delve into the sport's rich history - Grange was named the best college football player ever by ESPN - than by exploring Poole's excellent account of the life and career of the University of Illinois and Chicago Bears star. Poole uses a wealth of information - interviews, box scores, etc. - in recreating Grange's life and recreating specific games in exquisite detail. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is Grange's relationship with the famed agent, Charles "Cash 'N' Carry" Pyle. This book would make a great gift for the football fan in your family.

2008_12_08_obamabook.jpgThere's a whole lot of Obama merchandise out there. We've even claimed that it's jumped the shark with "gag" gifts like this. Looking for something more conventional? Remember when the Trib and S-T were reprinting their special editions celebrating Obama's historic election? Well, now Poynter is publishing a book of newspaper front pages that tells the story of this unprecedented election. Produced in partnership with dozens of U.S. and international newspapers, this exclusive collection of 75 front pages features an introduction by "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau. Participating papers include: Anchorage Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Rocky Mountain News, St. Petersburg Times, Staten Island Advance, Boston Globe, (Raleigh) News & Observer, Philadelphia Tribune, Times-Picayune, USA Today, college papers, ethnic press, and international publications.

Know someone that just seems too busy to take care of everything the need? Buy them some time from Chicago Anytime Assistants. A concierge service, Anytime Assistants is unlike many others in that it can take care of jobs on a case-by-case basis, rather than as like a weekly or service or contract. The services they provide are essentially endless but some of their most popular services are: “Saturday errands”—all those time-consuming trips to the store for returns, exchanges etc.; Weekly dry cleaning drop-off/pick-up; Drop-off/pick-up items for repair (shoes, watch, glasses etc); “Waiting” services—wait at your home and oversee the cable guy, service repairman, charity pick-up etc; Personal shopping (shower/bridal, housewarming & birthday gifts plus holiday shopping!) Mention Chicagoist and get an hour free!

Having never lived in a city whose neighborhoods were so clearly defined or figured so importantly into the jigsaw that is a city's identity, I'm still a sucker for this classic poster of Chicago's neighborhoods.

2008_12_08_darkknight.jpgThe Dark Knight on DVD. Filmed right here in Chicago, the city itself becomes a character in the film. We'll never forget hearing the audience collectively gasp when the large truck flipped during the middle act's huge chase scene down LaSalle. --- Marcus Gilmer

2008_12vertigo.jpgWe all have HDTVs now, right? If you do, now is the perfect time to buy the newest DVD re-releases of two Hitchcock classics: Vertigo and Rear Window. The new Universal Legacy editions are both in anamorphic widescreen, with colors so vivid Jimmy Stewart practically jumps into your lap. (That's a good thing). I've watched them both countless times and they're forever fresh.

A gift membership at the Siskel truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Lord knows there's something worth seeing there pretty much every week of the year. A membership means that practically every ticket is only $5, and you get a punchcard for four free popcorns right off the bat.

For those of you who have kids, or are kids, I recommend Lamar Holley's outstanding album Classroom Pop volume I: a day in the life of Fifty Capitals, available through CD Baby. If Brian Wilson, The Lovin' Spoonful and Kings of Convenience got together and made an album of kid's songs, it might sound something like this. The 38 tracks range from the bouncy ditty "Digestion" to the surprisingly reverent "Three Religions." And there are also "minus tracks," instrumental versions of the songs so that you can sing along.

If you're filthy rich, I doubt you're reading this. But just in case you are, you could do worse than gift someone a bottle of Maestro Dobel Diamond tequila. $75 gets you the smoothest tequila I've ever sampled, packaged in a swanky bottle that's hand-numbered and signed by the blender. It's damn good straight-up, but add the chilled juice of a quarter lime and it's divine.

2008_12habanero.jpgOn the other hand, if you're broke like I am, just buy your loved ones a jar of salsa. My fave? Mrs. Renfro's Habanero. It has a sweet, sweet burn that's addictive. A jar is $3.25 and available at Jewel. If you're feeling generous then you can't go wrong with the Chili Con Carne Seasoning from The Spice House. --- Rob Christopher

HALL Wines has an "Art and Wine Lovers Collection" holiday gift. $300 gets you:

  • 2005 HALL T BAR T Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2005 HALL "Jack's Masterpiece" Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2005 HALL Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1-year membership to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

--- L. Stolpman

2008_12_08_womancraft.jpgThanks to the ingenuity of the artisans at WomanCraft, a social enterprise run by Heartland Human Care Services, you can grow cornflower, larkspur and other wildflowers from pieces of recycled paper notecards embedded with seeds. The seed cards are just one type of many sustainable stationery products made by WomanCraft's women artisans, who face barriers to employment but through their participation in the program learn business and job skills as well as branding and marketing strategies. For its innovation, WomanCraft has been a winner of Mayor Daley's GreenWorks Award for environmentally responsible products. --- Lauri Apple

There's a lot of really great photography on In search of a pattern or series, we poked around and found Chicago seasonal photographs from four different artists. You will have to purchase the prints separately (Spring $12, Summer $10, Fall $5.50, Winter $17), which together make a nice compilation of our city's seasons.

Lincoln Park Zoo has put together a new concept to help animal lovers directly purchase toys or necessities for the zoo's residents. LPZoo's Wish List, launched this month, includes a whole range of items; $4 mirrors for birds in the zoo's apiary, $89 topsoil for flamingo nests or a $350 toy for the zoo's big cats. Although great for Christmas, Wish Lift gifts can be purchased at any time and the list will be updated as needed throughout the year.

2008_12_08_41pounds.jpgCheck out, a tiny non-profit out of Detroit that will eliminate most of the junk mail that gets stuffed into your mailbox on a daily basis. The service is named after the estimation that the average adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail every year. For a one-time fee of $41, the service will do all the legwork to get the designated name and address off pesky catalog lists, sweepstakes mailings and credit card offers – for five years. This isn't just lip service; we signed up for this last year, and since then our mailbox has been blessedly empty of junk mail. Perfect for parents, spouses or even give a little gift to yourself this year. --- Amy Mikel

2008_12_08_fire.jpgFire on the Prairie by Gary Rivlin
Fans of President-Elect Barrack Obama might enjoy Gary Rivlin's Fire on the Prairie. It's a wonderful biography on the late Harold Washington, who was Chicago's first African-American to be elected as mayor. Washington, a rising star in politics who helped mobilize black voters, faced an uphill battle against some of his colleagues in the Democratic Party, who exploited racial tensions in an effort to defeat Washington. The chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party at the time, Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, threw his support behind Republican opponent Bernard Epton, who ran under the infamous campaign slogan, "Epton for Mayor, Before It's Too Late." The only downside is that the book is sadly no longer in print, but used copies can be found online.

2008_12_08_joker.jpgJoker by Brian Azzarello
This graphic novel written by local author Brian Azzarello is a nice follow up to the summer blockbuster, The Dark Knight. Set in a gritty Gotham City that's similar to the movie, the Joker is released from Arkham Asylum only to find that his criminal empire has been balkanized by mobsters and other costumed villains, which include interesting takes on the Penguin, the Riddler and Killer Croc. It's a great read for both casual comic book readers and avid fanboys. --- Hunter Claus

Chicago is unparalleled when it comes to its architecture. But while many have taken the architectural boat tour to get a taste of downtown's iconic skyscrapers, many are perhaps less acquainted with the residential architecture of the suburbs despite Frank Lloyd Wright's larger than life reputation. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust hosts its annual Wright Plus tour of eight private homes designed by Wright and his contemporaries, plus entry to three landmark Wright buildings. The 2009 tour takes place on May 16 and tickets would thrill any architecture lover. Tickets, normally $95, are discounted 10% through the end of the year.

2008_12_08_shirt.jpgWhen we hear the term “Super Fan" we instantly think of fat guys in Ditka sweaters eating polish sausage while cheering on da Bulls and da Bears. Tatooed Tees has another interpretation, however. Emblazon your chest with a “man of steel” inspired t-shirts and other apperel showing your team spirit for the Cubs, Sox or Bears (and ignore that fourth available tee on the page – that was clearly posted in error). --- Benjy Lipsman

2008_12_08_oprah.jpgFor great gift ideas we go straight to the horse's mouth, and that horse's name is Oprah. Every year she puts together a list of her "favorite things" for the holidays, and while not all of us can afford to give away a refrigerator with a built-in HDTV, she usually picks out lots of cool items at a variety of price points. Last Christmas we compiled a handful of her faves for a boss who had been particularly nice that year and topped it off with Oprah's instruction book on how to live life, titled O's Big Book of Happiness.

For those whose hearts are won through their stomachs, skip the lame-o fruit and cheese this year and instead pile together a basket full of ingredients for the perfect Chicago hot dog. Who wouldn't love a cornucopia of sausage, pickles, tomotoes and the like, especially if it came with a side of Goose Island? Include a hand-written recipe as well. Mmm mmm good. --- Ali Trachta

2008_12_08_shower.jpgPerfect for when you need to hose off after a track fire or when that guy wearing too much cologne was rubbing against you all the way to Belmont, this PEVA Chicago Subway Map Shower Curtain ($29) is the perfect gift for a rail riding Chicagoan. Best of all, the profits from your purchase go into the CTA coffers, and we all know they could use the money. --- Prescott Carlson

We are in holiday gift giving lurve with this Slate Cheese Board Set from VivaTerra. The chalkboard serving plate lets you write cheese names on it so you don't have to repeat yourself over and over to every inquiring guest.

Hands down, Chicago based luxury chocolate shop, Vosges, has some of the best gift boxes for the holiday season - choose from wine and chocolate gift boxes, cheese and chocolate boxes, and a yoga and chocolate combo. Our favorites are the beer and chocolate boxes, specifically, Mo's Bacon Bar + Rogue Shakespeare Stout Gift Box.

For a more a la carte chocolate selection, check out Coco Rouge in Wicker Park. The truffles and hot chocolate are delicious for but we prefer the Artisan Honey for a more unique holiday gift.

Wrap all your presents in these misleading gift boxes from the Onion Store and watch your relatives feign excitement over a Visor-ganizer or the USB toaster. --- Jacy Wojcik

2008_12_08_boot.jpgWith beer becoming the "new wine", the Global Glassware Collection will surely appeal to the discerning beer drinkers looking to showcase their favorite beer in the correct style glass. The gift pack contains eight glasses from breweries around the globe in eight different styles of glassware. They will surely toast to your good health with this unique gift pack. You can start your own beer glass collection or give a set as a gift to toast any occasion. The collection features eight glasses in different styles to accommodate any beer you buy, and includes: Pilsner, Kölsch, Hand Glass, Tulip, Snifter, Chalice, Lambic and Weiss glasses. Each glass features the full color logo of a different world-class brewery. Among them: Stiegl and Hirter in Austria; Delirium Tremens, Chimay and Lindemans in Belgium; La Fin du Monde in Canada; and, Ayinger and Hofbrau in Germany.

You can also give your family "the boot" with the collection of Glass Drinking Boots imported from Germany just in time for gift-giving season. The German custom of drinking from glass boots, Bierstiefel, dates back over 100 years however, was recently made popular as "Das Boot" in the movie "BeerFest". Remember, toe down. Prost! --- Chuck Sudo