Ranked as some of the Best Barbecue in Chicago by CBS News, Honky Tonk Barbecue is the brainchild of pit-master, chef, and owner Willie Wagner. Within the Pilsen space, Wagner rubs and smokes his famous pulled pork for 17 hours, using the same recipe and technique that won him third place at the world Championship Barbecue Cooking contest in 2008. Barbecue-loving Midwestern crowds—and celebrity chef Guy Fieri—flock to Honky Tonk for not just the pulled pork, but also to sample bacon candy, beef brisket sandwiches, and bold slabs of dry-rub St. Louis ribs.
It’s a difficult task to pull off—taking a hodgepodge of recycled odds and ends and creating something entirely new. Simone’s Bar, however, has proven up to the challenge. An architectural potpourri of artifacts salvaged from around the city, the Pilsen bar is best known for the retired pinball machines that line its walls. These ancient tables lend a retro vibe to the bar area, where microbrews and cocktails take the place of pins on a recycled bowling lane. Other idiosyncratic elements include chemistry tables from nearby Westinghouse High School, conveyer belts from Chicago’s Fanny May Candies factory, and a chandelier molded from bicycle chains and rocking chairs. Combined with the solar panels on the rooftop, these repurposed knickknacks have earned Simone’s status as a three-star certified green restaurant. Simone’s décor may come from all corners of the city, but its food is influenced more by the bar’s immediate surroundings. Empanadas and a grilled cheese sandwich with Chihuahua cheese nod to Pilsen’s proud Mexican heritage, as do burgers topped with jalapenos and guacamole. The drink menu also has a local slant, highlighting Chicago brews and craft cocktails that would feel right at home in one of the galleries on nearby Halsted Street.
Masterminded by brothers and Pilsen natives Everardo and Adres Garcia, Del Toro puts forth a straightforward menu of family recipes that the Chicago Sun-Times asserts is “…pretty much the prototype for what an upscale taqueria should be.” While its granite bar is sleek and its abstract art modern, Del Toro’s food is largely pared down and simple—fish and carne asada tacos come with pico de gallo, and house-made soups steam under a cover of queso fresco and sour cream. The drink list, on the other hand, includes a wide selection of tequilas for coloring cocktails. The hibiscus, one of many signature margaritas, swirls with Gran Centenario Roseangel tequila, Gran Torres orange liqueur, Jamaica syrup, lime juice, and grapefruit juice.
When passing by Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, one might mistake it for a liquor store. But behind the windows shuttered with bottle-lined shelves lies a DIY masterpiece, unfolding with bomber bottle chandeliers, floors made of reclaimed hardwood, and stamped metal ceilings. The selection of American craft brews and Belgian ales showcases a rotating inventory of more than 450 at any given time, which guests can sample onsite, or take home. The whiskey and spirits is equally as daunting in the best way possible, with a roster of ryes more than 60 strong, including a smattering of Irish whiskeys. Though guests would be hard pressed to find a proper food menu, the slashie hosts regular tasting events, many of which are backed by live DJs and tunes from a specific musical era or artist. Diners often nosh on bites from a variety of restaurants, from the Mediterranean Zaytune to the Pleasant House Bakery, while listening to The Smiths and Morrissey. Maria’s also serves complementary Korean-Polish barbecue in the beer garden every Monday throughout the summer.
Push the boundaries. That's pretty much the only rule for performances at the Chicago Fringe Festival, an unconventional expo of new theatrical works from around the world. Now in its fourth year, the Windy City's festival joins in a dramatic tradition shared by cities including Indianapolis, New York, and the original outpost, Edinburgh. The week-long event provides a prominent stage for up-and-coming productions, helping little-known companies catch some buzz and established groups test out new ideas. A lottery system determines the year's lineup, a process that keeps each festival exhilaratingly unpredictable while delighting statisticians.
Javaris Stevenson helms J.Inspired Events, an event company that hosts social gatherings in private and historic venues to elevate social life experiences for all its attendees. Guests dance, eat, and drink in new and unfamiliar places while meeting a mix of affluent locals and tourists at fun, chic socials. While the company certainly hosts its share of private social galas, they also give back to the community by hosting hands-on gatherings and bi-annual fundraisers for their adopted charity of choice. In 2014, J.Inspired Events helped The Jimmy V Foundation and have raised more than $100 million in support of cancer research.