Arts & Culture » Holiday Gift Guide

Our all-local gift guide

Presents people might actually want, based on what we actually want

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Be sure to check out Peter Margasak's guide to year-end box sets and reissues.

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Visions of doughnuts

The Donut Shop, a photo project started in 2011, allows you to buy art in bulk (at a discount!). Groups of rotating photographers, based in Chicago and elsewhere, offer up five-by-seven-inch limited-edition photo prints, available in sets of six or 13 for less than $2 each—a nice price, especially when the Shop's current crop of artists includes local hotshots Daniel Shea and Stephen Eichhorn. The Donut Shop, of course, wouldn't be appropriately named without the inclusion of doughnuts, and you can buy those prints in bulk as well, from the mauve sheen of strawberry frosted to the flawless, waxy surface of vanilla icing. The highlight of the Donut Shop is without a doubt The Big Donut, a 16-by-20-inch print of a sprinkle-covered double-chocolate doughnut. Who wouldn't want something that looks this goddamn delicious hanging in their home? Luca Cimarusti $10 for a half dozen, $20 for a baker's dozen, $30 for The Big Donut, the-d-o-n-u-t-shop.com.


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Local pride on your sleeve

Joseph "Fresh Goods" Robinson and Terrell Jones like to weave local pride into their streetwear brand, Vita Morte. Case in point: a bold T-shirt and hoodie that proclaims, "Chicago Over Everything." The threads have become more sought-after as they've been donned by members of the booming local hip-hop scene; surging septet Kids These Days flaunt the design in the brand's fall lookbook, and Universal Republic signee YP wears a hoodie version of it on the cover of his recent No Doz mixtape. While the "Chicago Over Everything" hoodie is great for the cold, we suggest the slightly cheaper T-shirt for a gift that can be enjoyed year-round. Leor Galil $30 plus shipping, shop.vita-morte.com.


Paula Scrofano as Mickey in My One and Only - PETER COOMBS AND THE MARIOTT THEATER
  • Peter Coombs and the Mariott Theater
  • Paula Scrofano as Mickey in My One and Only

Hot tickets

Want to look like you've got inside connections even though you know absolutely nobody of any importance? Make a present of what promise to be the hottest tickets in town this holiday season. Broadway in Chicago is bringing touring productions of War Horse (12/18-1/5, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, $30-$97) and The Book of Mormon (12/11-6/2, Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, $45-$115) to the Loop. Both were huge hits in their New York incarnations—in fact, they formed a kind of tag team at the 2011 Tonys, Mormon running the musical awards while War Horse did similarly well in the play category.

Other gifts requiring some (public) assembly: Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol (through 12/29, 170 N. Dearborn, $25-$82), indisputably classic after 35 years. Congo Square Theatre's Afrocentric Nativity (12/13-12/23, Kennedy King College Theater, 740 W. 63rd, $45), conjuring Christianity's creation myth in dance and sacred song. Marriott Lincolnshire's My One and Only (through 12/31, 10 Marriott, Lincolnshire, $40-$48), for those more inclined to worship at the Church of the Patent-leather Tap Shoe. Either of the dueling "radio" versions of It's a Wonderful Life, staged lovingly and live by American Theater Company (through 12/30, 1909 W. Byron, $35-$40) and American Blues Theater (through 12/30, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, $29-$49). And Profiles Theatre's 20th-anniversary revival of Hellcab (through 12/23, 4139 N. Broadway, $30-$40), wherein a taxi driver arrives at grace by means of a trip through Chicago's infernal regions. Tony Adler


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Boutique (and low-brow) DVDs

Olive Films, which operates out of Saint Charles, has become one of the most eclectic and unpredictable DVD manufacturers in the country. Not only has the company released major works by Jean-Luc Godard (Histoire(s) du Cinema, Ici et Ailleurs), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (I Only Want You to Love Me), and Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face) previously unavailable on disc in this country; they've put together new editions of such American classics as John Ford's Rio Grande, Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil, and Sidney Lumet's film version of Long Day's Journey Into Night. Their low-brow selections are pretty interesting too, ranging from vulgar satire (Otto Preminger's Skidoo) to high camp (the Jacqueline Susann adaptation Once Is Not Enough) to schlock favorites from 90s Hollywood (The Perfect Weapon, Stephen King's Thinner)—all at a reasonable rate for boutique-label DVDs. Ben Sachs $16 to $20 for most single-disc releases if you order directly from olivefilms.com.


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Yes, irony is still in style

The New York Times last month published a broadside against "irony" by Christy Wampole, a professor of French at Princeton. She mourned the old, sincere ways she saw being subsumed by an onslaught of hipster affectation. Wampole identified with some of these tendencies herself: irony "signals a deep aversion to risk," she noted, so she herself found it "difficult" to give "sincere gifts," opting instead for impersonal kitsch—ironic presents. The ironic gift of the 2012 season is a cat drawing from the I Want to Draw a Cat for You guy, whose name is Steve Gadlin. He's a Chicago resident who has drawn, as of this writing, 9,805 cats. (Gadlin also writes songs (iwanttowriteasongforyou.com), but, starting at $99.95, they're not for the hoi polloi.) Gadlin can't guarantee delivery of cat drawings by Christmas anymore, but the alternative, a gift certificate, is a much better idea: like snowflakes, all people are different, and maybe you'd better let your loved ones choose their own fucking cat. Sam Worley $9.95 for cat drawings; $5 for customization, color, or shipping, iwanttodrawacatforyou.com.


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Like Threadless, but for art

Cheap art! It is the metier of Chicago-based Thumbtack Press, which acts as a sort of conduit between a community of some 100 artists and illustrators and the community of cheap-art enthusiasts—it's like Threadless, sort of, but with the option to hang the work on your wall rather than on your chest. On the Thumbtack website you can search by color, artist, size, genre ("low brow" is about as close as you'll get, categorically, to "hard-core porn"—sorry), or subject matter. And there's a search function—if you have a friend who's particularly enamored of monkeys, for instance, you'll be pleased when a search yields a healthy range of options, including a Sacred Heart of Christ-type thing, by Craig LaRotonda, but with a rhesus Jesus. The press casts a wide net for its artists, with four hailing from Chicago: Steve Seeley, Matthew Woodson, Jeremiah Ketner, and Kate Pugsley. Sam Worley $20 for simple prints, $50 for stretched-canvas prints, $75 for framed prints, thumbtackpress.com.


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Gateway to absinthe

Letherbee Distillers, a Ravenswood-based concern that began distribution just over six months ago, has created a gift set that includes a bottle of Letherbee Original Gin, one of its Autumnal Gin (made with clove, nutmeg, and allspice), and a half bottle (375 ml) of its barrel-aged absinthe, which the distillery boasts could be "the whiskey drinker's gateway drug to absinthe." The boxes themselves, by RX Made—an arm of the Rebuilding Exchange that uses reclaimed wood to create new pieces—are made from old-growth pine floorboards salvaged from Chicago buildings and straps repurposed from old leather belts. Letherbee owner Brenton Engel says that he's run into bureaucratic delays with getting the absinthe label approved, but he expects the gift sets to be available very soon—at the latest, ten days before Christmas, even if he has to write the labels himself. Julia Thiel $90, sold at Provenance Food and Wine, Lush Wine & Spirits, Life's a Cabernet, the Noble Grape.


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