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The 2014 Chicagoist Holiday Gift Guide

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 16, 2014 9:35PM

We're into crunch time for those folks on our gift lists who are hard to shop for when buying holiday gifts. We always publish a holiday gift guide this time of year, and this year's list is chock full of ideas for anyone on your list. And if there isn't something for someone here, they simply belong on the naughty list.

For the budding photographer: Lomography Embassy Store
One of my nieces wants a digital camera for Christmas and listed a slew of expensive options I wouldn't buy most adults. Knowing interests can often be fleeting with teenagers, I'm buying her a Holga with some film instead and then her father can buy her the digital camera if it holds her interest. This Wicker Park shop carries a deep inventory of analog cameras, nearly all of them point and shoots, along with film to add texture, color and depth to the photos. If you want a mini Holga, they have it. Want a Wideluxe variant? They have those also, and in price ranges that will take away much of the sting when my niece breaks it. —Chuck Sudo

The Lomography Embassy Store is located at 1422 N. Milwaukee Ave.

For the lover of classic R&B and funk: The One-derful! Collection
Bewteen 1962 and 1971, Chicago-based African-American-owned One-derful! family of labels released over 180 soul and funk singles. While the Motor City saw higher profile success through the Motown label, One-derful! kept pace with a stable of artists and releases that are still hot enough to blow out your speakers. There's an extensive re-issue campaign centered around the label that will include double-LPs (and CDs) featuring songs from the Mar-V-Lus, M-Pac!, Halo, Midas, and Toddlin' Town sub-labels to be released next year (and available for pre-order as a subscription). The first compilation is already out—The One-derful! Collection: The One-Derful! Label—and while you can buy that separately we recommend signing up a loved one for the whole collection. —Jim Kopeny/Tankboy

For the nostalgic audiophile on your list: Something From Logan Hardware
Everyone knows someone who dabbles in odd trinkets and collectibles from another era (namely, the 1980s and 1990s). If at least one of these types is on your list, Logan Hardware is a place to head to find them the perfect gift. From collectible fan zines of musicians, to toys, vintage trading cards and other random finds, to reasonably-priced vinyl, CDs and movies, this record store is one of those “you never know what you will find” gems in the city. Plus, with a purchase, you get a code to enter the free-play arcade in the back, gifting yourself while gifting in the process. —Carrie McGath

Logan Hardware is located at 2532 W. Fullerton Ave.

When rare, weird and cool books and zines are a must: Quimby's Books
Quimby's is one of those staples in my life and is always a place I go for gifts. It is the kind of place I take out of town guests and they always leave fulfilled by the bevy of rare, weird and intriguing selection of books, comics, zines and more that has made this place such an institution over the years. Their enduring support of local authors is fantastic, giving them a space to sell their wares and to read or perform their work. —Carrie McGath

Quimby's is located at 1854 W. North Ave.

Gift set from Epic Spices. (Photo credit: Melissa McEwen/Chicagoist)

For the avid cook: Spice Gift Sets at Epic Spices
You’ll delight your favorite cook with one of Epic Spice’s gift sets. All the spices are freshly ground in-house and they have a great selection for every style of cook. The Grill & BBQ Flavors set contains a rub, a marinade and two flavorful seasonings. The Spicy Hot set contains some of their famously hot blends including the “Crazy Hot Seasoning” which I can attest is actually crazy hot. For a hostess gift I recommend the hot cocoa duo which includes both Decadent and Spicy Aztec cocoa blends in a nice gift bag for only $10. —Melissa McEwen

Epic Spices is located at 1725 W. Chicago Ave.

For vintage clothes lovers: Happy Forest Vintage
You could spend hours digging through thrift shops and estate sales, or you could let someone do it for you. Chicago-based Happy Forest Vintage stocks their online shop with a curated collection of bright, bold, retro clothing. Pick up a neon space-dyed 1970s cardigan for your eclectic friend prone to seasonal depression. The vibrant colors in the collection can transform the greyest of winter days and lift your mood. —Allison Kelley

Visit Happy Forest Vintage online.

For the under-30 set: RED Card at Steppenwolf
In Europe, many museums, theaters and rail systems offer steeply discounted tickets for not just students (which are often straight up free) but for anyone under age 27. Here in Chicago and the US, theater tickets don't come cheap, but if you or a potential gift recipient happen to be under 30, you can see great plays for significantly less than face value. A RED membership at Steppenwolf costs $100 flat and gives the card holder access to 6 tickets, equating to about $17 per seat for shows that range from $45-90. RED members can reserve tickets to any show—single, couple, or all six at a time—and also get $1 off drinks at the theater's bars and discounts at participating restaurants in the area. It expires when the card holder turns 30, so time is not intensely of the essence. Choose a show and go! —Kristine Sherred

Purchase Steppenwolf's RED Card online.

For the architecture buff: AIA Guide to Chicago
Architectural details abound in the home of the skyscraper, and while many tours offer a unique take on Chicago’s structural legacy, they’re worth scouting on your own. Arm your favorite building buff with the third edition of the AIA Guide to Chicago, bursting with photos, maps and indices for exploring the skyline at ground level. If your pal name drops Bertrand and Mies like old friends, consider browsing CAF’s excellent holiday guides . —Jessica Mlinaric

For the new indie literary fan: The Pitchfork Review Gift Package
The quarterly print arm of a periodical better known through its long-running digital imprint, The Pitchfork Review weaves longform think pieces, comics, fine photography and other art together in a single high concept package. To celebrate the completion of their first year as a publication they are offering a gift set combining all their issues thus far with three 7" records (from artists such as King Tuff, Kurt Vile and Zola Jesus) for the low price of $34.99. Considering each issue retails for twenty bucks a pop that's a pretty great deal! —Jim Kopeny/Tankboy

Geared bookends from Salvaged Metal Designs. (Photo via Salvaged Metal Designs website.)

For the person who appreciates repurposing: Salvaged Metal Designs
Steven Pickens takes seeming scrap metal and gives it new life, creating accent furnishings such as bookends made from gears and necklaces in brass or brushed stainless steel in shapes of states. Pickens' Etsy shop currently features pendants in shapes ranging from Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and even Virginia, but he's also capable of making custom orders. (I placed one through his shop.) The best thing about Salvaged Metal Designs is the cost; this is affordable jewelry. —Chuck Sudo

Visit Salvaged Metal Design's Etsy shop online.

For the Dapper Dans: Flower Lapel Pins from The Tie Bar
Gentlemen, are you facing a sartorial dilemma this holiday season? We suggest you stick a pin it—a flower lapel pin from The Tie Bar. A Chicago-based e-commerce destination for over a decade, The Tie Bar hawks neckties, bow ties and pocket squares in fashion-forward patterns and fabrics—but it’s their modern spin on the sad, saggy boutonniere that’ll have you looking singularly dapper. Our favorites include the Petite Gingham in Plum and the Danbury Plaid in Fuchsia. Wear them on vests, sweaters, scarfs and jackets to give your look a little pop. And speaking of pop, check out the retailer’s first pop-up store, which opened in Lincoln Park this fall. —Tony Peregrin

Visit The Tie Bar online or their pop-up shop at 918 W. Armitage Ave. through Jan. 4, 2015.

For café dwellers: The Indie Coffee Passport
From your coffee snob friends to coworkers who need to break their crippling Starbucks addiction, the Indie Coffee Passport is a great gift option for all the caffeine addicts in your life. Purchase one passport for $25 and your friend can enjoy one free drink from a designated passport list at each of the 22 participating cafes. From Evanston to Pilsen and many neighborhoods in between, your coffee traveler will get to sample a cup and find a new barista crushes all over the city. Passports are good from now until June 30, so try to encourage them to get those passport stamps in while the weather is chilly. —Gina Provenzano

Buy the Indie Coffee Passport online.

For the coffee-addict: Dark Matter Gift Sets
Dark Matter is my first choice for coffee gifts first of all because their labels are really gloriously cool and look great, but second because their coffees are unlike any others. I know I can send them to my family across the country and they won’t be receiving coffee they can find around their own blocks. Like their barrel-aged blends, which have spent important time in beer or whiskey barrels. One that’s available now is Mastodon Black Blood (also perfect for heavy metal fans), which is aged in Basil Hayden's Bourbon Whiskey barrels. Grab one (or five) soon because the barrel-aged blends tend to sell out quickly. —Melissa McEwen

Purchase Dark Matter Coffee gift sets online or at Star Lounge (2521 W. Chicago Ave.), The Mothership (738 N. Western Ave.) and Osmium Coffee Bar (1117 W. Belmont Ave.).

For the foodie: À La Card Chicago Decks
The gift card is the least exciting gift for both the giver and the receiver, save those control freaks who send out lists to their family and friends as if each holiday requires a registry. For your loved one with the endless appetite, don’t give them a gift certificate to the Cheesecake Factory, provide them with a year of exciting dining experiences. A La Card is a deck of $10 (off purchases of at least $25) coupons to 50 of Chicago’s best restaurant, offering an economical way to explore our city’s food scene. The restaurants range from affordable, like Cemitas Puebla, to more upscale options like Fat Rice. This year, the lineup includes welcomed newcomers like Cellar Door Provisions, Tete Charcuterie, and Table, Donkey and Stick. Just like the jelly of the month club, it really is the gift that keeps on giving. —Erika Kubick

Purchase À La Card Chicago Decks online.

2014_12_16_cutlermakesmedrink.jpg For the exasperated Bears fan: "Jay Cutler Makes Me Drink" T-shirt
If you've watched the Bears this season, no doubt Jay Cutler has driven you to drown your sorrows on many an occasion. And this t-shirt from Strange Cargo lets you broadcast your sentiments even when you're not taking a swig from a bottle of Malort to dull the pain. The Bears committed $126 million ($54 million guaranteed) just last January, and already rumors are that team management is feeling buyer's remorse. But we all know we're stuck with Cutler for the long term now, because Bears management will never walk away from that kind of dough, our livers be damned. —Benjy Lipsman

Buy the "Jay Cutler Makes Me Drink" t-shirt at Strange Cargo (3448 N. Clark St.) or online.

For the voracious readers: Purchases from Open Books
In an increasingly fast-paced and technological age, the holiday season often becomes about what is new and shiny. All we have to do is turn to on the TV and see phones, tablets and the like singing carols and delivering festive greetings. The problem is that it while gifts like these are lovely to receive, and can be immensely practical, it can sometimes be hard to imbue them with much meaning or sentiment. Take a deep breath this winter and do things old school. Buy a book! Used book shops are the perfect place to find gifts for everyone, even the most distant relative. If you know one or two things about someone, you can probably buy them a book. Not only will you endear yourself by demonstrating that you pay attention, there are few more pleasant ways to pass an afternoon than wandering the aisles of a used book store. Check out Open Books, with locations in River North and Pilsen, as well as an online shop, they make it easy for you. Not sold yet? What if we told you that each book you purchase does good for the community? Open Books runs a series of programs such as one-on-one reading practice with area students as well as a book granting program that support Chicago’s youth. —Sophie Day

Open Books is located at 213 W. institute Pl.

For Toys! Toys! Toys!: Play
It is impossible not to think of toys when one reflects on the holidays, so Logan Square’s charming toy store, Play, is always a stop for me during the holidays. The selection of toys is impressive for such a small space and has oodles of stuff for infants to older kids ranging in price from $5 and $10 to $50 and up. With everything from unique books, classic toys, puppets and an array of stocking stuffers, it should be on every shoppers’ to-do list for holiday shopping and beyond. As a bonus, the helpful staff and complimentary gift-wrapping will alleviate some of that inevitable holiday stress. —Carrie McGath

Play is located at 3109 W. Logan Blvd.

For the coffee drinker in your office: Loop Stripe Coffee Mug
This colorful mug depicts a stylized version of the various "L" lines that compose the Loop that encircles downtown. At 15 ounces it's also generously sized for a big, Chicago-sized cuppa Joe. Compliment it with a pound or two of fresh roasted beans from one of the countless local coffee roasters. —Benjy Lipsman

Purchase the Loop Stripe coffee mug online.

For the chocolate addict: Mayana Chocolates
Chocolate gifts aren’t just for Valentine’s day. They’ll please almost any sweet tooth and won’t clutter up anyone’s house since if they are good like these they’ll be swiftly devoured. We’ve praised their glorious Space Bar ( and if you can restrain yourself from eating them all yourself, their monster candy bars make an impressive and delicious gift. They also have more conventional, but still delicious gifts like boxes of chocolates featuring flavors like Mayan spice and Caramelized cashew and 72 percent ganache. Melissa McEwen

To purchase Mayana Chocolates online or find a list of retailers, visit their website.

For new parents: Johnny Casserole's "Operation Hotdish" Subscriptions
If you have friends or relatives who are new parents, you know they've got a lot on their plate. Give them one less thing to worry about with a Johnny Casserole Operation Hotdish subscription. With this subscription meal plan, you can have homemade comfort food classics like Shepherds Pie or the "For Your Thighs Only" Mac 'n Cheese, delivered to your friend's doorstep. Just choose which meals and what dates you'd like to send them. —Allison Kelley

Contact Johnny Casserole about ordering a subscription here.

To keep your lenses and screens clear: Toddy Gear Snowfall Tech Pack
Keep your computer, smartphone and tablet screens and eyeglasses and camera lenses clean and clear with this gift pack containing 5”x7” Smart Cloth, 9”x9” Smart Cloth, Pocket Toddy, and The Wedge Mobile Device Stand, all contained in a free mobile gift pouch. —Chuck Sudo

Buy this and other Toddy Gear tech packs online.

For the darker side of exercise: Healthgoth
Local DJ and musician Johnny Love has helped kick off the healthgoth trend—it's exactly what it sounds like—and launched a website filled with videos and various health tips. We don't necessarily endorse all of the advice offered there but his heart seems to be in the right place. Alongside those tips he's also launched his own line of healthgoth fitness wear, so whether you want to follow his training regimen or not you can still look like a cool kid at the gym. —Jim Kopeny/Tankboy

Buy Healthgoth online.

For the eclectic local: Handmade Aprons from Pilsen Outpost
Who needs Renegade Craft Fair when you can stop by this brand new Pilsen shop, which doubles as a gallery for local art. Owned and operated by the artists themselves, the Outpost is more than just a retail shop: it is a place to interact with artists in order to understand the meaning behind your purchases and discover the inspiration that put them there in the first place. With stacks of colorful screen prints and a hearty selection of handmade goods like jewelry, toys, purses and more, you are sure to check a few names off of your list. —Carrie Laski

Pilsen Outpost is located at 1958 W. 21st St.

For perfect nails: AstroWifey Manicures/Pedicures
Whatever you can dream up, nail artist AstroWifey can translate that to nails. Her next-level polish skills have transformed nails all over the city into gorgeous pieces of art. Big names in pop culture like Pokemon, Wu-Tang Clan and David Bowie have all gotten the AstroWifey treatment, plus tons of drool-worthy patterns. Give the gift of wearable art by picking up a giftcard for a friend. —Allison Kelley

Check out AstroWifey's products/services and request an appointment online.

For the turophile: Local Cheese
Cheese is nature’s greatest gift to us: a taste of miraculously fermented curd is a holiday for your mouth. Why not wrap up a wedge or two in shiny paper and top with a bow? I recommend taking pride in all the miraculous cheeses that the Midwest has to offer. You can visit your local cheese monger for some suggestions on cheeses from creameries nearby or shop Great American Cheese on Artizone. To give it a more personal touch, try making your own accoutrement like an onion jam with gruyere or nut brittle with crunchy gouda. If you want to pay someone else to do the work, you can always order a gift box through Pastoral. —Erika Kubick

Visit Artizone's website.

For the painfully hip babies and kids on your list: Psychobaby
Not being a parent myself, I thoroughly enjoy the “kooky auntie” role I have taken on to the babies and children of many family members and friends. Particularly if this is a “first” holiday for a baby on your list, you will want to stop by Psychobaby. Nothing makes a new parent squeal with joy like a personalized beanie, onesie or bib for their new bundle of joy, making it as satisfying for the gifter as the receiver. Beyond this personal touch, their shop is filled with unique toys and punk, rap and rock-themed garb that will make any baby, child and parent painfully hip. It is a great place, too, for Chicago-themed bibs, shirts and other accessories if you want to also give a bit of The Windy City. —Carrie McGath

Visit Psychobaby's online store here.