Best of Chicago 2012

An exhaustive exploration of our city and all its eccentricities

The A Side cover of this week's issue was the joint effort of Reader art director Paul Higgins and Chicago photographer Paul Octavious.
  • The A Side cover of this week's issue was the joint effort of Reader art director Paul Higgins and Chicago photographer Paul Octavious.

The pages of proofs were piled at my feet. Bourbon had been poured. We were putting to bed our biggest issue of the year—double the size of a normal book on top of having to deal with a deadline a full day early . . . and an art director who was forced to miss almost the entire production cycle because his second baby arrived two weeks ahead of schedule. We were changing the orientation of a page, and one of our fearless designers, in an attempt to address the fallout of a much-tweaked layout, asked me what the last two words happened to be on the proof I held in my hand; she wanted to triple-check that all the shifting hadn't knocked us off course.

"Exhaustively explore," I mumbled, in a hurry to get past the proofing process so I could finally run off and write the intro to the Best of Chicago issue that I should have written on Sunday night or Saturday afternoon or any time that wasn't 9:26 PM on Monday, the day we went to press.

"Exhaustively explore." It's on the bottom of page B29, part of the description of John Herndon's tattoos printed under the banner "Best Tortoise Side Project." The iconic drummer has gone to great lengths to ink "friends and fellow travelers in the Chicago music scene," writes Reader music critic Miles Raymer, who is among those who've gone under Herndon's needle.

The B Side cover is the creation of Ryan Duggan, our pick for Best Gig Poster Designer.

Not all of the research undertaken to produce this issue has been as exquisitely painful. But a lot of it has. The Best Baby Step Forward on Pot Policy rose out of Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky's intense reporting over the past year on the racial disparities in marijuana prosecutions—reporting that continued through last Friday, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel surprised us by voicing his support for a proposal to make possession of up to 15 grams of weed a ticketable offense. Before Friday, Evanston had been the most recent local government to, as Dumke writes, pull its head "out of the clouds." On Monday afternoon, Dumke smartly suggested that we change the winner of that award. Where it once said "Evanston sort of almost decriminalizes possession," it now bestows that honor on Chicago.

With a staff so devoted to seeking out the great and important things bubbling up to (or just below) Chicago's surface, it was bound to happen that a little overlap would occur. It wasn't until I read Asher Klein's account of the Best Reappropriator of Hip-Hop on Etsy in our Goods & Services section that I realized the same winner, Meaghan "Moneyworth" Garvey, had been christened Best Rap DJ and Hip-Hop Illuminati Conspiracy Theorist over in Music & Nightlife. Talk about exhaustive. We even pushed ourselves to find the few matters on which one writer's research (Sam Worley's) clashes with another's (Mike Sula's), hence Best Appetizer on Which Reasonable Critics Can Disagree.

Of the work that went into this issue, I think it's fitting to describe those efforts—as Tony Adler did when writing of the theater company that produced the Best String of Theatrical Stunners—as follows: "You don't go there for an easy time. But you very definitely go there for a good one."

We'd of course be remiss to overlook the tireless contributions of our readers to this issue—and we're not the remiss types. Over 100,000 opinions were offered on everything from Chicago's Best Revival of a Well-Known Play to its Best Cheesemonger, its Best Indie Crafter to its Best Local Genius. You guys really outdid yourselves.

No, exhaustive is never easy. But it's definitely worth the effort.

Mara Shalhoup