Arts & Culture » Holiday Gift Guide

Chicago gifts that should be on your shopping list this year

Our favorite buys, from lewd Legos to street art stickers to jewelry made with illegal guns.


  • Courtesy Citizen Block

Big-kid Legos

For the still-toy-obsessed man-child on your shopping list, the local deviants behind Citizen Brick offer a custom-printed Lego building set replicating the strip club experience. As a disclaimer on its website states, Citizen Brick isn't affiliated with the Lego brand; the creations are merely built out of the same familiar blocks and designed for those yellow humanlike creatures to get seriously weird in. While they sell minifigures ("Da Coach" is obviously Ditka) and accessories (a bong labeled "paraphernalia"), the Center for the Performing Arts set comes with four figures (three of which are scantily clad), a stage with a stripper pole, and a DJ booth, among other things, and it's rigged with working LED lights. This adult-themed playset is rather dirty, but it's cleanly designed as anything the actual Lego company mass-produces. Leor Galil $275,


Apparel out of the past

You wouldn't think sports fans are difficult to shop for, but really, you can only buy so many Cubs or Sox hats. Replica jerseys are nice, but not really a sound investment: you spend $150 and then the player's gone in five years or less. Then there are the T-shirts and sweatshirts from the People's Garment Company: each features a vintage logo of a team that no longer exists. They will never become obsolete because they already are! Show your belated pride for a variety of men's and women's baseball, basketball, and football teams: the Chicago Whales and the Detroit Gems, the Ohio Wingfoots and the Logan Squares, the Taylor Trunks and the Baby Ruths. The shirts themselves are 100 percent cotton and exceptionally soft. They look cool. They will not provoke inane arguments in bars or accusations that the wearer is a loser or a poser. That's because he or she will inarguably look like a winner. Aimee Levitt $15-$50 at and at Andersonville Galleria.

  • Courtesy Pawn Works

Curb a-peel

The Chicago street art organization Pawn Works runs Sticker Club, which produces artists' sticker designs and distributes them mostly through vending machines scattered around town at spots including Beauty Bar, Empty Bottle, and Galerie F. But online and at Quimby's you can also purchase Pawn Works' very giftable sticker packages, which feature a random sampling of work by artists such as NYC legends COST and ELIK, Parisian C215, and locals like Left Handed Wave. According to PWSC cofounder Nick Marzullo, the stickers are an opportunity "to take away something tangible from artists whose work may be ephemeral and/or unreachable." Isa Giallorenzo $10 for ten stickers, $20 for 25 at Quimby's Bookstore,, and

  • Stephanie Bassos

The gift that keeps on blooming

Do you have a special someone who gets especially bummed by the unending dreariness wrought by Chicago winter? (Sure, the city's a wintry wonderland in December, but come February, it's a sea of dirty snow piles strewn with frozen dog shit.) Does that seasonally affected someone like flowers? And would she/he enjoy fresh blooms delivered on a monthly basis to her/his home, artfully presented in a bad mood-busting bouquet? That can be arranged. Floral artist Caitlin Kerr, of the Foxglove Studio, offers a subscription for a year of flowers (a new bouquet every month), as well as deliveries downtown and options for pickup. (If your special someone is outside the downtown area, Foxglove may be able to accommodate delivery.) Laura Pearson $65 per month,

  • Tim Stet

"David Bowie Is" for sale

The Museum of Contemporary Art's David Bowie exhibit lasts an hour and a half, two hours if you move through it slowly and stop to study every music video and watch Bowie's performance in The Elephant Man. But memories, no matter how spectacular, are fleeting. The MCA hopes you'll commemorate your visit with more tangible mementos, for yourself and for the Bowie lovers in your life, and they've got plenty for you to choose from. In addition to the expected posters, mugs, and T-shirts, there are Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust necklaces, iPhone cases, and even a very tasteful cheeseboard. Do you have loved ones who, for various reasons, like being the wrong age or the wrong species, couldn't see the show in person? Have no fear: there are paper dolls, an astronaut duvet cover, and a CD of Bowie songs lullabized for your little Ziggy, Major Tom, or Thin White Duke, and a gold-plated bowl for your Diamond Dog. Everyone can be a rock star—and for longer than just one day. Aimee Levitt $1.95-$4,400 at the MCA Store and


Sausage fest

Nothing says "I love you" like the gift of meat. West Loop Salumi, the city's only USDA-certified salumeria, has come a long way in its first year, fermenting and aging a dozen different kinds of salumi, with eight more on the way. Get a sampler box of three of the following: finocchiona, Spanish chorizo, Barolo salame, or soppressata. Or upgrade to a party box, with the addition of a bag of local bakery Crumb's taralli and a wedge of three-year aged Vacche Rosse Parmigiano Reggiano. —Mike Sula $60 for sampler box, $100 for party box at West Loop Salumi,

  • Courtesy Marushka

Retro classics

Even if the name Marüshka isn't familiar, you've likely seen the retro wall art—screen-printed canvases featuring seagulls, sailboats, owls and the like—adorning homes and apartments around the midwest. Founded in 1971 in Grand Haven, Michigan, the company is known for its simple hand-printed designs of plants, wildlife, and seascapes. Ukrainian Village boutique Study Hall has resurrected some of the iconic 70s and 80s Marüshka graphics in a limited-edition collection of stationery, apparel, and housewares. It includes pretty begonia tea towels, an awfully cute raccoon onesie, a variety of T-shirts, printed note cards, a stretched canvas showing a beach scene, and more. Laura Pearson $3-$50 at Study Hall,

  • Courtesy Liberty United

Heavy metal

Liberty United jewelry is made from confiscated guns and bullets. The company is based in NYC, but when you buy one of their gunmetal cuffs or necklaces or pairs of earrings, there's a chance it contains remnants of a weapon that came from Chicago's streets. Husband-and-wife team Peter Thum and Cara Buono (the actress who played Dr. Faye on Mad Men) set out to address gun violence, first in Africa, now in the U.S. Along with Syracuse, Philly, and New York, Cook County is one of the communities they've partnered with to give illegal guns a new life. Proceeds go to programs working to reduce gun violence. A lot of Liberty United's jewelry is lovely, particularly designer Pamela Love's line. Her tag pendants start out at just $35, but some of Love's more intricate pieces—like a silver and gunmetal cuff shaped like a bird's talon—get up into the $1,500 range. Gwynedd Stuart Various prices,

  • Baker Miller

Fresh flour

There hadn't been a commercial flour mill in Chicago for 20 years. But in September, former Bang Bang Pie Shop owners Dave and Megan Miller opened Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse in Lincoln Square, where they use wooden mills to stone-grind their own flour from organic, non-GMO whole wheat. In addition to using the flour in the breads, muffins, pies, and pastries they sell at the cafe, the Millers sell it by the pound (along with cornmeal and flaked oats, also processed in-house). Julia Thiel $5 per pound at Baker Miller (4610 N. Western),

  • Courtesy The DropCatch Team

A bottle opener with a twist

Invented by former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign college roommates Joe Walsh and Kent Frayn, the DropCatch is, like any typical undergrad student, a free-form art project that grows more peculiar and outrageous as more bottles of beer are popped open. Consisting of a typical wall-mount metal bottle opener on a block of wood embedded with a rare-earth magnet, the DropCatch retains discarded bottle caps at its base, eventually creating a colorful cluster that can hold more than 60 caps on the standard model and about 140 on the ultra. The designs are classic: the "Pilsner" model, for example, is carved from walnut and features two subtle maple inlays. Engraving is available for an extra fee. Kevin Warwick $50-$95,

  • Courtesy Hidden Folk

Scents and sensibility

Unless someone on your gift list has requested a specific fragrance, follow these tips for scented gifts: Don't buy anything that smells like food (e.g., sugar cookie candles or candy apple bubble bath) or has the potency of a Glade Plugin. Skew instead toward products with subtle scents like those made by Hidden Folk, a Chicago-based apothecary that produces small batches of plant-derived, ethically sourced, beautifully designed bath and beauty products: soaps, lotions, roll-on perfumes, face masks, and more. There are plenty of natural scent combinations—patchouli/black pepper/Peru balsam and lavender/palmarosa/bergamot, for example—but the recent "white line" features fragrances that are a bit more floral and citrusy, in case the recipient is not so earthy. Laura Pearson $14-$54,, and Asrai Garden, Humboldt House, Una Mae's, Vividbraille (2064 N. Damen).

  • David van Alphen

Bloody good

Give the gift of never having to leave the house hungover on a Sunday morning with a Bloody Mary kit composed of locally made mix and booze. SuckerPunch, a gourmet food producer located in La Grange, sells a mix that includes house-made pulverized pickles—and not much else. While the Zing Zangs of the world contain MSG, something benzoate, and hydrolyzed such and such, SuckerPunch's Spicy Gourmet Bloody Mary mix includes only water, tomatoes, cucumbers, vinegar, sugar, and spices. And since it would be a bogus Bloody without booze, throw in a bottle of locally made vodka; take your pick from Koval, Chicago Distilling, and Next Star. Gwynedd Stuart $21 for a pack of three 32-ounce bottles of mix,; vodka prices vary.

  • University of Minnesota

That's our rap

Earlier this year VICE's Noisey and the World Star Hip Hop blog rolled out documentaries on Chicago's hip-hop scene, Chiraq and The Field, respectively. Both failed to capture the complexities of the nebulous, expanding universe of the city's scene, partially because of their pinhole focus on drill, the white-hot commodity that's served as a raison d'etre for many examinations of local rap since 2012. Geoff Harkness fares better with his book, Chicago Hustle & Flow: Gangs, Gangsta Rap, and Social Class (University of Minnesota Press). The assistant sociology professor at Iowa's Morningside College spent several years observing and documenting the local hip-hop underground on the road to getting his PhD at Northwestern. While the title of this rather academic text hints at Harkness's intimate, sometimes engrossing perspective on Chicago gangsta rap, he cast a wide enough net to show the challenges aspiring Chicago MCs faced when this city was still considered a hip-hop flyover zone. Leor Galil $25-$75,

  • Courtesy Po Campo

Intelligent Divvy design

The open-ended racks on the front of Divvy bikes look constructed to be as inefficient as possible at actually holding stuff. (Supposedly, the design is meant to deter people from leaving trash in them.) So earlier this year, local industrial designer Maria Boustead, who founded bike bag company Po Campo in 2009, launched a Kickstarter campaign to create a product that makes use of the racks. The Bike Share Bag is weatherproof, comes equipped with bungee cords that secure it to the rack, and is large enough to hold a 15-inch laptop or a six-pack of beer. It's got handles and a shoulder strap for carrying, lots of pockets, and a keychain for your bike share key fob. Bonus: it also happens to be compatible with bike-share cycles in other cities. Julia Thiel $85,

  • MashTun Journal

Reading under the influence

Published by Bridgeport impresario Ed Marzsiewski (also of Marz Community Brewing), the lively, unpretentious Mash Tun journal communicates its contributors' enthusiasm for beer with a dizzying mix of cheeky reviews, deep-dive history, scene reports, instructional pieces about what goes into my favorite adult beverage and how best to appreciate it, and unguarded interviews with brewers and other industry people. This gift pack makes it easy to give all five issues. Philip Montoro $35,

Add a comment