My favorite section for our BEST issue is the Culture section, which is why I've volunteered for it every year since 2010. I enjoy it because there's really no limit to what we can include here — from silly entries like "Best Gas Station" to quasi-serious ones like "Best Politician" (which we really didn't treat seriously this year). This year, I didn't have much to do with the list. I was lucky enough to be joined by Caleb Curtiss (who did ninety percent of the work) and John Steinbacher (whose entry is epic). Seriously, I owe these men my firstborn child. I was just along for the ride (and editing. always the editing).~~Tracy Nectoux


BEST GAS STATION

Collin's out on East Main St.


Photo by Sean O'Connor

Remember when there were independently owned service stations that sold gasoline for $.88 a gallon and cigarettes to barefoot thirteen year olds? We do too. And while those heady days of yore have long since passed, it's still nice to fill up at a place that retains the remnants of their physical artifacts. Fewer and fewer of these old stations are still around, but the old Collin's station (since re-named something else) on Main Street in Urbana remains. So next time you're on E over 'round them parts, swing on by and fill 'er up. Just don't pour some out for the homies, you know, because it's gasoline. (CDC)
 

BEST CORNFIELD

That one cornfield on Mattis and Curtis


Photo by Eric Ponder

Before they built Barkstall Elementary and Carle Clinic, before the city invested millions in road improvements, and yes, even before the fine folks of Southwest Champaign tried to deny bus service to their part of town, this cornfield stood proud. And it is the best cornfield (mostly just because I like how it looks). Sure, you've got the fancy schmanzy Morrow Plots, living the good life over there on campus, but this old feller, with its cool-looking, broken-down barn and its Republican candidate campaign signs, has perservered over the years, using its ancient mineral deposits in conjunction with a variety of sophisticated chemicals, to produce feeder corn and soy beans for 'Merica's rapidly growing agricultural needs. Soon, it'll be subsumed by sprawl, but in a few more centuries, it'll probably turn into a rubble pit that will eventually freeze over, and then, in a few more centuries, it'll probably become the floor of a shallow sea that will eventually subside, leaving in its wake a fertile patch of prairieland that will wait to be tilled and sown and made into a monocultivated cornfield once again. So, you know, don't cry too hard when it turns into The Agrestic Subdivision at the Crossing, or whatever the hell it's destined to become. (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO FIND YOUR NEXT REALTOR

Cowboy Monkey, right at happy hour, during the summer months


Photo taken from their Facebook page

You think I'm kidding? I double-dare you and a friend to sit down next to the most heavily made up group of women or the most Tommy Bahama-ed up group of men and spark up a conversation about being on the lookout for a new home. Just be sure to cover your eyes when the business cards start flying. Seriously, those things can getcha! (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO GET A TATTOO

No Regrets Tattoos & Body Piercing


 Image from their Facebook page

What do you want when you get a new tattoo? A solid group of artists? A clean environment? Up-front and reasonable pricing? A badass image of a cobra smoking a joint while wrapped around a dagger that has the letters "YOLO" etched in the blade? Well, you can get 'em all at No Regrets, conveniently located in downtown Champaign, not 500 yards from, like, 10 different bars. (CDC)
 

BEST PUBLIC PLACE TO STUDY

Cafe Kopi


Photo from their Facebook page

Get your table early, plug in some earphones or listen to the baristas' selections, get to work. You'll be surrounded by the perfect balance of distractions and people shaming you into working more by appearing to be way more productive than you. Oh yeah, the coffee/food/drink selection is top-notch as well. Oh hell. You already know all this. See you there on Saturday morning. (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO READ BOOKS

Jane Addams Book Shoppe (top floor)


Photo by Sean O'Connor

My spouse and I love to visit Jane Addams (or Priceless) and attempt to look at every title they have. It’s one of our favorite pastimes. Some days, though, I’m not up to doing it for hours on end. On those days, I let the spouse run around and I choose a book, head up three flights of stairs, lie down on the couch, and read. I’m never disturbed. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person in Champaign who knows about this space (well, me and whomever that interloper is on the couch in the above photo). It’s secluded, peaceful, with a huge Raggedy Ann doll, pillows, and shelves filled with more books. I love Jane Addams Book Shoppe for many reasons, and this space is one of them. (TN)
 

BEST PLACE TO FIND THE NEXT EX-MR./MRS.

Tie: The Esquire Bathroom/Boltini Lounge


Photos by Eric Ponder and Boltini's Facebook page

Esquire Bathroom

Just use protection, okay? (CDC)

Boltini Lounge

That's what she said. (TN)
 

Best Craigslist Missed Connection

Awkward Bus Stop – m4w – 22

Composed with a sparse, but surprisingly deep voice, "Awkward Bus Stop – m4w – 22" employs Carver-esque themes in a hopeful, if ultimately devastating, argument that sheds light on the underlying paradox of the Postmodern condition, how our connection to one another is evidenced most accurately in our aloneness. (CDC)
 

BEST BABYSITTER

Bubba the Dog


Photo courtesy of Caleb Curtiss

Affordable, responsible, experienced. (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO TAKE YOUR KIDS FOR AN EVENING OUT

Anywhere the fuck you want

Look, it's hard to go out when you have kids. So when you decide to take them out, you're taking them out. It's Tuesday night, and your significant other wants to eat well, not some Chili's bullshit. She's been dying to try the chicken and waffles at Big Grove. Problem being it's 6:30, and you don't want to pay $75 for a babysitter. Fine, you think, we'll suck it up. That place can't be too busy on a Tuesday night. So you spend 20 minutes in preparation, prepping snacks, books, crayons, markers, iPads, and sleeping pills. Then you spend another 20 minutes convincing the kids that this is going to be so awesome that they should really get in the car.

When you arrive, your spirits are uplifted a little — it's not too crowded; we may just pull this off, you think to yourself. The hostess is pleasant enough and only a few people give you the raised eyebrow look. And this hostess seems to know what she's doing; she's taking you straight to the back corner where the kids can be obnoxious and nary an underworked hipster can take umbrage. But then, out of the corner of your eye, you notice that two women are parked in the table right next to the one you're heading for. Like eighteen inches away! And, after years of practice, you can tell immediately that they are not child-friendly. "Abort!" you yell in your head, but no one can hear you. It's a waste — you don't want to make a thing at this point. Okay, you think to yourself, we'll make this work. We'll put ourselves between them and our kids and it'll work. You can do this. You'll put the eighteen-month-old on the outside for a quick exit if he starts to cry. Just got to pick up the three-year-old, lift her up just enough to get her through the table space without making any child-to-displeased-patron contact. The old up and over. You can do this in your sleep. Slowly ... easy. Make it work. Just one inch more ... ever so slightly got this! Or so you thought. It turns out your daughter's foot ever so slightly nudged the woman's glass. And it's tipping, tipping, tipping ... and there it goes. Dear GOD, don't let this be happening. Okay, let's just apologize. We'll buy her some drinks, be very, very gracious. It doesn't seem that bad. But then the woman opens her mouth and the something very bad seems to be happening. She screams and gives you a look of absolute terror. For a second, you think that perhaps you didn't notice your daughter pull out a knife and stab her, since that must be what happened. No, it appears a little bit of liquid spilled on her shirt. And, for shit's sake, now she's surrounded by an apologetic waitstaff and your spouse is basically bowing down in submission, with 45 Hail Marys and 22 Our Fathers already out. This is bad. Everyone at the restaurant is looking at you and thinking about what horrible, horrible human beings you are.

You take the kids and slowly back away, while your spouse does some amazing apologizing. But this woman is un-deterred. Don't look in her eyes, you tell the kids, you will go blind.

The staff is very kind to you. You say you want to leave, but at this point you almost have to stay, they're being so goddamn nice. So you do a slumped shoulder family walk of shame to a different table. Right in the middle of the place. Okay, let's all bow our heads and let everyone get a good look at these people who dare bring children to a restaurant after 8 p.m. We'll get our food and get the hell out of here. So you order the food and wait. The kids do kid stuff and basically are pretty decent. Your waitress is great! Your neck is being seared by hatred from the woman who possibly has a small stain on her shirt, but c'est la vie, right? At least Big Grove has a children's menu with chicken fingers. The kids love chicken fingers!

The food arrives, your burger looks great, the chicken and waffles look pretty good as well, and, hey, maybe this will be salvageable after all. Out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of what they're putting down in front of your children. Your wife's mouth begins to crinkle. And slowly it dawns on you what's going on here. Those chicken fingers are actually "chicken tenders" — naked, flavorless pieces of chicken. No breading. Grilled.

The horror. The absolute horror.
(STEINBACHER!)
 

BEST PLACE TO TAKE YOUR KIDS WHEN YOU'RE HUNGOVER

Meadowbrook Park


Photo by Sean O'Connor

Okay. I don't have kids, but this one time I was babysitting for a friend and I was really hungover and so I took the kid I was watching and dropped it off at the park and walked around and looked at the sculptures while I sipped my coffee and then I sat and just looked at Prairie Buoey because it's the most beautiful piece of art in all of Chambana, and then, after an hour or two, I came back and grabbed the kid I was watching out of this one guy's hands as he was yelling something about calling the police and then we went out for lunch. It was awesome. Also, I think I'm ready to be a parent. (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO BLOW OFF STEAM (if you drink)

Tie: The Esquire / The Blind Pig

The Esquire

Step 1: Order a PBR and a shot of Eagle Rare (put your money towards whiskey, people).

Step 2: Start a tab and drink them in tandem, alone, while watching the Cubs lose. Let the bartender keep 'em comin'.

Step 3: Look around you and see that you're not actually alone. That you're a part of something larger than yourself, something flawed and beautiful, and...

Step 4: Eat some peanuts before you puke.

Step 5: Stop eating all those goddamn peanuts before the guy sitting next to you notices where the smells are coming from and order some actual food for Christ's sake!

Step 6: One more round, then clear your tab, TIP YOUR BARTENDER.

Step 7: Finish your last drink while vowing to change everything in your life that got you to this point.

Step 8: Go to Merry Ann's Diner and order a stack.

Step 9: Get a cab home. (CDC)

 

The Blind Pig

No, no, no. Caleb, you philistine, you have it all wrong.

Step 1: Get invited to a Guys/Girls Night Out with coworkers/friends.

Step 2: Consider saying no, you being "post-friend" and all.

Step 3: Say yes, fuck it, these people are pretty cool most of the time.

Step 4: Get a booth at The Blind Pig. Not the brewery. The better one on Walnut, with "Refrigeration" still visible over the door.

Step 5: Order whatever you want. Begin the pleasantries. Drink thoroughly and with gusto. Buy a round. Tip heavily and notice with relish that your highball is quite strong.

Step 6: After the pleasantries, begin talking — loudly — about anything and everything that's wrong with society: politics, religion, education, healthcare, sex, work, culture, art, the fact that self-identified "hipster" librarians have succeeded in destroying libraries. Don't be afraid to pound your fist on the table for emphasis. This is important, damn it.

Step 7: Begin letting the curse words fly: fuck, douchebag, piss, shit, god-fucking-damn-it-no-you-don't-understand-because-you-don't-work-in-the-stacks-they-really-have-destroyed-them.

Step 8: Pontificate on how much better everything would be if you were Queen of the World. Laugh. Say goodnight.

Step 9: Bus home.

Step 10: Fall asleep having existential crisis due to the realization that you're just not that much fun to be around, really. (TN)
 

BEST PLACE TO BLOW OFF STEAM (if you don't drink)

Hate-Eating at Merry Ann's Diner

Nobody understands you. What's the point in trying to relate to others. Fuck it. Eat a stack. You'll feel better for a little bit. Then worse, and then, later, strangely better. (CDC)

Hmm. That might just be the answer to my existential crises. (TN)
 

BEST PUBLIC RESTROOM

Mike 'n' Molly's Women's Room


Photo by Eric Ponder

I suffer from timid bladder. Even at work, if the restroom near my office isn’t empty, I’ll walk to another floor before I attempt to go with someone else in the room with me. It just won’t work and it inevitably gets weird. Especially if the other person decides to primp before getting the hell out.

One of the many things I love about Mike ‘n' Molly’s is their women’s restroom. It’s clean; it's private. No stalls. Just me and my timid bladder happily working it out.

Also cool? I get to read the chalkboards, which are always hysterical. (TN)
 

SEXIEST LOCAL POLITIAN

Tie: Mike Frerichs & Naomi Jakobsson


Photo from mikeforillinois.com

Photo from mikefrerichs.com

SWOON! (CDC)
And they both support marriage equality! HOT! (TN)
 

BEST HOTEL/WORST PLACE TO TRY AND STEAL AN ENTIRE BAG OF COCKTAIL SHRIMP IF YOU'RE A LOCALLY-ELECTED COUNCIL MEMBER

iHotel


Photo from their Facebook page

No commentary necessary.
 

BEST PLACE TO BUY A SIX-PACK

Piccadilly on Neil


Photo by Eric Ponder

They may not be as big as some of those other places on either side of town, and if you gathered up all of their beer and poured it into a swimming pool, they wouldn't have as much as those other places, but I have little doubt that their selection is better-curated, and somehow, more delicious. Also they're centrally located, employ knowlegable staff, and have free tastings sometimes. Drank up, people. (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO BUY TOBACCO

Jon's Pipe Shop


Photo from their Facebook page

Sure, it can be a pain to get to if you're not on campus, but hey, you aren't a cigarette addict, right? You're an occasional smoker who will partake of tobacco products when the occasion calls. And when you do so, you don't wanna put bullshit into your lungs. You want to make an informed choice in the midst of experienced tobacconists, which is precisely what you get at Jon's. Smoke up, people. You know, just not too much. (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO BUY SHIT

The YMCA Dump & Run


Photo from their website

Like your hoarding grandma, the University YMCA bides its time absorbing a massive amount of shit that it finds around town. Cargo shorts, Post-It Notes, desks, couches, football helmets, comic books, garden hoses, a limited edition Donovon boxed set, baby clothes, toothbrushes, doll heads, dog collars, shoe laces, whatevz. Grammy don't care. She'll take 'em. Then, come the weekend of August 24–25, Mee-Maw ... well, she dies. Mee-Maw dies and she leaves you all the stuff that she's collected. Shop wisely, and remember, you still have time to contribute to her collection on the following dump-dates:

At the University Y: 

  • May 16–17: 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

At the U of I Stock Pavilion:

  • Wednesday, August 14: 8:30 a.m.–12 noon and 4–6 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 15: 8:30 a.m.–12pm and 4–6 p.m.
  • Friday, August 16: 8:30 a.m.–12 noon and 4–6 p.m.
  • Saturday, August 17: 9 a.m.–12 noon

(CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO BUY CLOTHES IF YOU'RE A HIPSTER LIBRARIAN TYPE

Circles Boutique


Photo from their Facebook page

Work it, girl! (CDC)

Stop oppressing me! (TN)
 

BEST PLACE TO BUY CLOTHES IF YOU'RE A 65-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO HAS NEVER LIVED OUTSIDE CHAMPAIGN-URBANA

Jos. Kuhn & Co.


Photo by Eric Ponder

Work it, old man. You're lookin' fly in that silk Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirt and those pleated, sweat-wicking Ben Hogan golf shorts. And those trousers you rock during the work week? The way it clings to your form in a wholly unpredictable fashion? Forget about it. You've for real got it goin' on! (CDC)
 

BEST PLACE TO BUY A HAT

Dan's Hat Shop, circa 1992

RIP
 

BEST PLACE TO LEARN ABOUT OTHER CULTURES

The Phoenix


 

BEST TREE

The one on Prospect and University


Photo by Eric Ponder

Look at it, all twisty and tree-like. You're the best, tree. You're the best. (CDC)

I gotta say, I'm having a spiritual moment right here. Good call, Caleb. (TN)
 

BEST BUILDING

Booker T. Washington Elementary School

Photo from macconnell.cefpi.org

A tour of Champaign's Booker T. Washington Elementary School from Illinois Public Media on Vimeo.

I don't know about you, but when the much discussed Zombie Apocalypse occurs, I'll be casting my bucket down at B.T.Dub. (CDC)

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This list compiled mostly by Caleb Curtiss, with help from Tracy Nectoux. Guest starring John Steinbacher.