Saying 2017 was a wild year is an incredible understatement, regardless of what side of the aisle you're on, and all that political climate stuff. We're not much into posting about anything on that scale, unless of course, your name is "Hot Rod" Davis. As the magazine just turned 10 years old, we feel like we've done a solid enough job to provide a comprehensive look at Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding communities through the eyes of the people that populate it. So, 2017 has been a big year for us here at Smile Politely, and we're grateful for the editors, writers, photographers, readers, and contributors to this operation; we feel strongly that this community can continue to inform itself well into the next decade of publishing articles.
If you read us long enough, we tend to avoid things like chasing ambulances or posting mugshots to get people to click on articles. We do our best to perpetuate the good things happening in our fair cities, and while that is consistently our mission, there are things that are worth publishing that are absolutely categorized as straight up bad news. Honestly, it is a bummer to have to do it, but we feel obligated to deliver those items to you on a regular basis.
Looking back through the year's worth of data and analytics, we decided to construct a list of what the most visited articles on the site were all year long that were published in 2017. There are always going to be our most popular articles of all time (and article in and of itself that comes at another time), but these 17 articles were the most visited that were published in this calendar year. — Patrick Singer
17. Pekara expanding to second location on Springfield & Prospect :: August 8th
Pekara currently exists roughly at Park and Neil Street in Downtown Champaign, and serve up some good stuff across the board. With the news that they would be opening a new location at Prospect and Springfield — at a building that has sat unoccopied for a bunch of years now — the overwhelming response was: FINALLY. Finally something to go in there, something good that will provide an additional expansion to what Pekara already does well. Awesome baked goods, sandwiches and soups, and all that good stuff.
The expansion will offer up a lot more space and opportunity to bake in-house, and provide an accessible option to people that might not want to venute to Downtown Champaign for some food. The resounding "YES" that came from this announcement made waves across social media in honestly what was a bigger splash than I anticipated when publishing. I thought it would do well, but not this well, which is a testament to Pekara's reputation in the community.
I can't wait for this place to open, living fairly closeby myself. (PS)
16. Richard Spencer getting punched to “Stars” by HUM is a real thing :: January 26th
I love HUM. I think I've talked about the band quite a bit on here over the course of the last few years. What I love, in addition to HUM, is a HUM song soundtracking a racist white supremist Richard Spencer being punched right in the kisser.
It was interesting, though, because we did recieve some backlash about posting this because of course, violence isn't the answer in the face of hatred. However, if you're an asshole, and one that is as monsterous as the leader of the alt-right, you probably deserve what is coming to you. If you perpetuate hate, you are going to have some angry people putting you in your place.
All that said, HUM endorsed it, which is amazing, so I thank them for that. (PS)
15. Broadway Food Hall opening Fall 2017 near Downtown Urbana :: June 21st
Just recently, we posted an article with some very definitive shade thrown as a direct shot to the owner and general manager of the soon-to-be-open Broadway Food Hall.
They gave their scoop on the reveal of the restauants to the News-Gazette, your local daily who A) doesn't even have a Food + Drink section B) never reviews restaurants C) regularly posts mugshots of the accused, but who are innocent until proven guilty D) has an Editorial Board made up of withering, stodgy half-corpses and E) — most importantly — doesn't understand how social media works and can't seem to process how to reach the massive following that it has amassed from its space in town.
Yeah, we were pissed. And mostly because the owners and general manager of Broadway Food Hall are tight homies. They took it in stride, held their ground, stuck by their decision, and we accept that — we're all the better friends for it.
Broadway Food Hall will be the most impactful thing to happen to the Food + Drink scene in Champaign-Urbana since bacaro started serving a full menu.
We can't wait to fall in love with it. — Seth Fein
14. The Himalayan Chimney hilariously goes viral on Reddit :: August 30th
While the concept of a sexual position joke better be right on the money nowadays in the current climate (and for good reason, I will add), when it is on, it makes most poeple have a belly laugh. Basically, that's what happened here with the Himalayan Chimney, a new-ish Indian restaurant in Downtown Champaign (check out our review while you're at it). From here on out, I am referring to this restaurant as HimChim, and no one else can tell me differently.
There isn't much to say about this outside of what was posted:
Absolutely amazing bullseye of a post, which has gathered 45K upvotes on reddit. Again, reddit coming through in the clutch. Good job, internet. If you want to kill some time, read that reddit thread and have yourself a good ole chuckle, because you, like me, are a mature adult. Sometimes. (PS)
13. Flying Machine Coffee Avionics, revealed: Opening soon in Midtown :: January 17th
Doing reveals of restaurants, stores, developments, and all that good new stuff happening around Champaign-Urbana is one of the best parts about publishing this magazine. Everyone loves a good scoop, of course, but these scoops are the most interesting ones — they change the landscape and vision of the community in a lot of ways. New businesses opening, like Flying Machine's expansion into Midtown with their Avionics location (and home to Page Roasting) was a big one for 2017.
Owner Josh Lucas' expansion into Midtown with a second Flying Machine, one with a roastery, Page Roasting Co. attached to it — which is owned and operated by his wife Erin Erdman — offers a different scope than its first iteration in Downtown Urbana. There's more food, and it's their own space, and is just one of more things to look forward to as Downtown and Campustown continue to connect through this First Street corridor. While they announced the expansion in January, their opening came later in the year, we're hopeful that they'll continue to develop the menu and the rest of Avionics into the future. (PS)
12. Here is footage from the protest against the “Chief” at the Homecoming parade :: October 27th
The "Chief" debacle here on campus has taken on a new twist. We've got regular old "Uncle Tom" type folks here on campus now. Self-proclaimed "Native Americans" defending the "Chief's" "honor", and staging wildly unnecessary and dangerous activities to continue to try to present a false representation of Native American culture.
Look: there is an actual Native American Cultural House on campus. And unless you are a member of that organization, you get to shut the fuck up and LISTEN when it comes to this issue. That includes any wannabes and the administration at U of I.
Get moving on a solution, y'all. At the least, please don't let this minstrel show march at the Homecoming Parade next year, and please don't throw out some bullshit about how it's a First Amendment issue. You run a major Research 1 University. Act like it.
In the end, this is still an embarrassment. Fix it. (SF)
11. Monticello has a brewery in an old church, and it’s awesome :: April 5th
Monticello has a lot going for it these days. Above any other bedroom community in the area, the seat of Piatt County has its own true and defined culture embedded into its downtown. And while that is primarily based upon its proximity to UIUC and its relationship to Allerton Park, it is remarkably different than the likes of Mahomet, Tolono, or the others I could name here.
Monarch Brewery opened earlier this year, and capitalized on two things in one shot: 1) appealing to what seems to be an endless amount of interest in places that brew local, craft beer and 2) repurposing old buildings and giving them new life.
Here we have a brewery and restaurant of decent rapport in an old church. That's a good thing.
Reports are that it's pretty OK to pretty good. Read Jess Hammie's review here, but head out there and decide for yourself. I enjoyed my experience. With time, I presume they will get better and better at running the joint. (SF)
10. Remembering Westley Banks :: April 26th
Westley Banks passed away earlier this year, and he was a writer for us, contributing in the Music section from time to time. A wonderful person in my interactions with him, albeit brief ones at our Smile Politely writer gatherings. A talented student and musician, without question, had friends that kindly contributed some thoughts and words about Westley for us to publish. (PS)
9. WORST 2017 :: June 16th
This year's WORST issue was more challenging than year's past for some reason.
Maybe we're getting soft.
Go back and read it through, and you will see, it tends to skew towards passivity. Perhaps our assessments should be more direct, our judgements, more swift. There's a lot of apologizing for what we're calling out, and that seems cowardly. I am a culprit here.
Regardless, I regret apologizing for name-calling Rodney Davis. I don't have anything to be sorry about, now that I've had a chance to assess and then reassess. This man is a goddamned shill for one of the worst Presidents we've ever had: a neo-Nazi sympathizer, a self-admitted groper, a third-rate liar.
He is an accomplice to a Congress that seems to only have one priority: fucking YOU over.
Next year, it won't be that way. We won't play as nice. Stand up for justice, Rod, and we will gladly acknowledge that. Until that happens, stop being such an asshole. That's a name I am calling you. An asshole. Stop being one. (SF)
8. Craggs & Leitch, volume one :: May 15, 2017
It's hard to say how many of you really know how much impact these two writers — both locals-gone-(inter)national — have had on the modern world of publishing, but I think it's worthy of a quick recap here:
Will Leitch: former editor of the Daily Illini / founder of Deadspin / contributor to GQ, The New York Times, Fast Company, Slate, Sports on Earth, and a bunch more / essayist and author / Athens, Ga resident / Win Ben Stein's Money contestant / die hard Illini basketball fan
Tommy Craggs: former execuitve editor of Gawker Media / editor at Slate, HuffPost / contributor to The New York Times, Washington Post, New York Magazine, SF Weekly, and a bunch more / three-point basketball shot specialist at Univeristy High School / former die hard Illini basketball fan
What a true honor it is to have these fellas writing for us. With Chris Davies' intrepid game to game reporting, and Craggs & Leitch providing color, we've got you covered when it comes to the hardwood at Illinois.
Don't worry. Honestly, that team is a few bad decisions from being 9-3. The future is bright. (SF)
Admittedly, I haven't watched much Portlandia in my lifetime. A few episodes here and there, some good and some just totally ridiculous and bad, but overall an understandable cult following with the very funny Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein as stereotypical Portlanders.
Fast forward a few years, the opening of the show (featuring the still awesome "Feel it All Around" by Washed Out) was remixed by someone, and posted to the UIUC sub-reddit — a similar opening was born, Champaign-Urbana themed. Although Boswell Hutson isn't an Editor for us any longer, I remember that morning chatting with him about this, as reddit links in the UIUC sub group were somewhat of a normal occurance to share with one another.
reddit is the front page of the internet, after all. (PS)
The saga of Maize in Downtown Champaign finally came to a close back in May when the amazing owner and operator Armando Sandoval revealed to us that — after opening for a single night on Cindo de Mayo — the second Maize was officially officially opening.
This was years in the making, there was initial word that it would be opening in 2013, then it was delayed, which happens. If you want a good and sustainable restaurant, you have to make sure the time is right, which is what happened here. The new Maize opened, and is awesome, and all is right in the world. Well, not all, but this portion of it, at least. — PS
Oh this one was fun!
In the ongoing saga of the Mueller Investigation, the first real bombshell news hit in late October, and one of the primary arrests in the initial wave of public disclosure was of a man named George Papadopoulos. What he did doesn't matter. It may end up being smoking gun material but right now, sort of soring ass shit, honestly.
Around these parts, more than a few people were like, "Hmmmm... I know that dude." And they were right. The young fella went to grade school here in the mid-90s, and had the year book photos to prove it.
In the end, I really hope this young man has learned his lesson, and can turn it around. It's one thing to rat out your neighbors, but it's another thing to do it for the likes of Donald fucking Trump, the current record holder for largest shit stain in the nation, at present.
Oh, damn. Is that me name calling, again? Sorry, but enough is enough. (SF)
4. Chester Street Bar has closed :: June 23rd
I am remiss to admit that I never once went to C-Street. It was really the most important night club that ever existed here in Champaign-Urbana, according to, well, everyone, really. Fact is, I just don't dance. Never have, for whatever reason. I'm not comfy doing it.
I guess I felt like it would just always be around, so I never made it a point to go, but now that it's gone, I am sure sad that I never went.
Our community has long been one of the most important and safest outposts for the LGBTQ community in downstate Illinois. Long before "gay rights" had its place in the national political discussion, bars like C-Street, and people like its founder Joe McNamara — all the way down the line to the likes of mainstays like Randall Ellison and Amy Myers — presided over new standards that bucked convention and provided space for anyone to live and let live.
And live they did, at C-Street. According to most anyone, the place was notorious for encapsulating the energy of an alternative movement, just blocks away from one of the most homophobic and reckless greek communities in the nation. That juxtaposition was on display here in Champaign-Urbana. It was powerful.
The building and its future remains to be seen. A "fire" earlier this year had the building condemned, and how that plays out... well, you've seen the movies.
For more on C-Street, and to be honestly, to read one of the best articles ever written on Smile Politely, check out Jacqueline Hannah's story from September earlier this year. That that article isn't in the Top 3 as opposed to this article about its closing is reflective.
People want the news, and they want it now.
They don't want to hear the story. Not as much, anyhow. (SF)
Just because you are a non-violent drug offender, does not mean someone should be issued a death sentence
at the hands of police enforcement. Those are the sort of details carried forward by the News-Gazette's reporting on this particular story, which was the incident involving Mr. Gus Edwards, 53, a citizen of Champaign earlier this year. Edwards was shot by police, and later died because of injuries sustained in this incident.
What the News-Gazette could've reported and what they found important in the story were two completely different things, sadly. As they oftentimes do, the inclusion of details of previous drug behavior (or when a body is found and an autopsy reveals the person to have cannabis in their system at the time of death) trumps that of what happened at the scene of the crime, painting a non-violent person as someone that somehow becomes violent because of the way the war on drugs makes people think nowadays.
You won't find the original content on the site — the Gazoo edited it to no longer include the past unrelated offenses to the event back during summertime. So, that's where things are at over on Main Street, apparently. (PS)
CORRECTION: Edwards was not shot by police, but he was the victim of a shooting that police responded to. However, the information about the News-Gazette's reporting remains true, where they utilized the victim's previous drug crimes to paint a different picture all together. Deep apologies for this misinformation.
2. Of course Suburban Express sent out a super racist promotional email :: December 2nd
I've never met Dennis Toeppen, ever. With the knowledge of his history of behavior as the owner and operator of Suburban Express, I have to make an assessment that he's not a good person. With this recent spell of horrible and unacceptable behavior, their non-apology, national media picking it up, and the News-Gazette being an apologist for said behavior — this type of sitaution is on par with some of the worst stuff that's happened in Champaign-Urbana all year. Coming in hot earlier this month, it catapulted to the top as one of the most visited stories on the site in 2017.
Listen, I get what some people might say: if you don't like the politics of it, just don't use the service, and get over it. Sadly, that's the type of acceptance that allows people like Toeppen to continue to perpetuate racist ideologies in our community. We think it is part of our duty as the producers of this magazine to make sure people like him are held accountable for their actions. (PS)
In ten years of publishing, I am not sure if I can remember a more painful and demented story that we've felt obliged to publish. The details of the case don't need to be rehashed here. It's heartbreaking.
What comes next is awaiting trial in 2018. The FBI has the case now, and what happens next is genuinely a mystery. But the court of public opinion seems to have suspect Brendt Christensen pinned as the kidnapper and murderer, and for good reason, assuming the information we have is correct.
A story like this one isn't our beat, won't ever be our beat, and frankly, makes me sick to even have to report upon it. But no matter how you look at it, what has happened here is a ghastly aberration to our existence living in a city like Champaign-Urbana, and we need to look at it. We have to examine it.
If only to feel human, together, about it being a real thing. (SF)
All write ups by Seth Fein and Patrick Singer.