Justin's gift wrap features hands spelling "C-H-I-C-A-G-O" in American Sign Language, while Laura's depicts a host of culturally diverse naked bodies. Credit: Justin Clemons and Laura Berger
Credit: Jeremy Hayes (Photographer) and Matthew Ancer (Stylist)


1/ Local coffee subscription: Back of the Yards, Dark Matter, or Metric Coffee

Coffee is the social lubricant that wakes you up, keeps you awake—or maybe puts you to sleep. You can drink it hot in winter to stay warm! But drink good, fresh coffee. Chicago is home to many fine craft coffee roasters, and may offer subscriptions for a steady supply. Metric Coffee offers espresso ($20) and blend ($20) subscriptions as well as a Roasters Choice Subscription ($22) and Single Origin Subscription ($24) each with two different eight-ounce bags in every weekly or monthly delivery. Dark Matter Coffee offers three, six, and twelve-month subscriptions to their monthly limited blends for $20 per month—with discounts for longer subscriptions. Back of the Yards Coffee Co.’s Coffee Club subscriptions page is currently under construction. Hopefully that will be available again soon. In the meantime, they do sell their espresso and 47th Street Blend medium-dark roast coffee in twelve-ounce bags ($15.99), with one dollar from every 47th Street Blend going to their Social Impact fund to benefit the neighborhood.—John Dunlevy Prices vary at backoftheyardscoffee.com, darkmattercoffee.com, and metriccoffee.com.

2/ Coffee maker Nº3 by Manual.is

Manual’s newest coffee maker is four usages in one: pour over, French press, cold brew, and a pitcher. It can keep its liquids hot for about an hour in the double-wall insulated design. With this elegant, hand-blown borosilicate glass vessel, even a person who doesn’t drink coffee regularly (me) will savor the ritual of making, and serving coffee. —Sue Kwong $140 at Manual Shop & Studio, 3251½ W. Bryn Mawr, 312-870-0799, manual.is.

3/ Mushroom tree ornaments by Facture Goods

The handcrafted mushroom Christmas ornaments come in earthy brown clay glazed in gray and flecked with 22-karat gold. They typically sell out in minutes when creator Aron Fischer puts a fresh batch in his online shop. But on November 24 you can find them at Martha Mae in Andersonville during Small Business Saturday. The mushrooms come in enoki, morel, shiitake, and straw varietals. Plus, while you’re there, you can snag plenty more gifts for loved ones in Jean Cate’s magical shop. —Maya Dukmasova $18 each or $60 for a set of four at facturegoods.com and on November 24 only at Martha Mae, 5407 N. Clark, 872-806-0988, marthamae.info.

4/ Malort soy candle

Everyone’s favorite drink in candle form. —Vince Cerasani $30 at reuse-first.com.

5/ Tellicherry Black Whole Peppercorns from Reluctant Trading Experiment

Pretty amazing pepper from an outfit started by Scott Eirinberg, the entrepreneur who founded, and later sold, The Land of Nod. —Suggested by Kate Schmidt, written by Reader staff Starting at $6.50 at reluctanttrading.com.

Credit: Jeremy Hayes (Photographer) and Matthew Ancer (Stylist)

Self Care

1/ Houseplant from Foyer

This little plant and stationary store opened in Andersonville a few months ago. It’s run by a tremendously helpful and non-judgmental Alma Vescovi, who wants you to get past your fear of killing houseplants. The stock is refreshed weekly and she carries hard-to-find varietals like pilea, monstera, and satin pothos alongside all kinds of succulents and cacti. There are also vintage planters and pots as well as ones made by local artists. If things don’t go well with your new plant friend, you can always bring it back for a check-up with Vescovi. She once helped me resuscitate a delicate plumosa fern. It’s doing great. Plants are the gift that keeps on giving.—Maya Dukmasova Starting at $8 at 1480 W. Berwyn, 713-994-0302, foyer.shop.

2/ Sound wave art, Soundwaves by Mordecai

Kathleen Mordecai turns sound waves from parts of songs or special moments (for example Pat Hughes saying “Chicago Cubs win the World Series” or children’s laughter, as pictured) into sculptures she handcrafts using reclaimed wood. Whether you’re shopping for someone who lives in a tiny studio, or in a mansion with plenty of wall space to fill, there’s likely an option that will fit; the current selection of sculptures in her online shop runs from 12 inches to 4 feet. Mordecai also takes custom orders, and for those who want to be able to hear the sound while enjoying the visuals, she offers an option for audio playback. —Jamie Ludwig Starting at $76 at etsy.com/shop/SoundwavesByMordecai.

3/ Soap Distillery

The brand tagline for Soap Distillery may promise “Small batches. No hangovers,” but no such claim can be made about whether these boozy body care miracles are addictive. Because they are, friends. A bottle of the Beer + Cigarettes hand and body wash disappeared so quickly from my bathroom that I’m not entirely convinced my partner wasn’t drinking it. Perfect for the person on your list who always smells so damn good. —Karen Hawkins Prices vary at soapdistillery.com. Catch up with founder Danielle Martin at a holiday shopping event or click here for a list of retailers.

4/ King Spa & Sauna

King Spa & Sauna, the Korean spa in Niles, does not fulfil the glossy magazine ideal of the spa day. There are no fluffy white robes, no soothing music or nice-smelling oils and lotions. Instead, there’s a series of saunas, each filled with a different substance that will relieve you of a different source of stress, each more baroque than the last: amethyst geodes, living crystals, 350-million-year-old salt rocks, a 23-karat gold pyramid. The admission fee gets a person access to all of them, plus the soaking pools, food court, and movie theater. (Massages and other spa treatments are extra.) The spa’s open 24 hours, so guests can stay as long as they like. In Korea, entire families go to spas for an easy weekend getaway. Maybe they’re onto something? —Aimee Levitt $40 admission at King Spa & Sauna, 809 Civic Center Drive, Niles, 847-972-2540, kingspa.com/chicago. Gift cards available.

5/ Mochimochi Land knitting kits

Forget sweaters and scarves, Mochimochi Land gives you the tools to show off your needle skills by knitting something truly unique: cute miniature characters like tiny burgers or tiny walruses or tiny robots and really any other tiny thing you can dream up. The kits go for $12-$15 and include yarn, stuffing, notions, and patterns—all you need are knitting needles, available separately on the website. Mochimochi Land creator Anna Hrachovec features her knitted friends in stop-motion animated videos and GIFs of everyday life in the mystical, yarn-covered land of her own creation. Hrachovec also used the style in her book, Adventures in Mochimochi Land, which follows the adventures of a talking doughnut and a lovelorn balloon, of course. The online shop offers patterns for larger, equally adorable knitting projects ranging from $5-$8 and, for the less crafty among us, pre-knit gnomes, hedgehogs, zombies, and unicorns for $25 each. —Brianna Wellen Prices vary at mochimochiland.com.

6/ Mano y Metal handmade accessories

These aren’t your basic accessories. Mano y Metal offers handmade metal jewelry that spices up any look. Owner Desiree T. Guzman features hand stamped metal rings, cuff bracelets, earrings, necklaces, dog tags and more with empowering sayings engraved on them like “be badass” (“chingona” in Spanish) or “me vale madre” which translates to “I don’t give a damn.” The online shop even offers options available for customization and a Chicago collection. —Marissa De La Cerda $10 for keychains, $16 for rings, $20-$22 for double finger rings, $16-$28 for bracelets, $17-$58 for necklaces at manoymetal.com.

7/ The WasteShed Art Supplies

Help fuel your loved one’s winter craft addiction and help rescue markers, knitting needles and paints from the landfill. Cultivating a more sustainable culture, The WasteShed accepts donations of art supplies and repurposes art, craft and school supplies. Pull together a gift basket for a DIY project from their low cost offerings, or grab a gift certificate for the creatives and teachers on your list. While you’re there, drop off the crocheting you gave up on. The WasteShed is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) so your donations are tax deductible! See their web site for complete list of acceptable donations. — Jamie Ramsay Prices vary at 2842 W. Chicago, 773-666-5997, thewasteshed.com.

8/ Mermaid lessons at AquaMermaid

Who doesn’t know someone who once dreamed of being a mermaid? (If your answer is “me,” feel free to skip this item.) Fortunately, AquaMermaid exists for the sole purpose of helping people fulfill this glorious dream. Weekly lessons are available on Sunday afternoons at the UIC Sports and Fitness Center pool for both kids and adults; parties can also be arranged. You’ll learn basic mermaid maneuvers, like how to glide gracefully underwater, flip your fins, and wave gracefully with your tail. And yes, tails are provided—though you’ll have to wear your own bathing suit, or a seashell bra if you want to go full Ariel. Be warned: being a mermaid is a lot harder than it looks, but you’ll get a great core workout. —Aimee Levitt Starting at $60 at UIC Sports and Fitness Center, 901 W. Roosevelt Road, 866-279-2767, aquamermaid.com.

Credit: Jeremy Hayes (Photographer) and Matthew Ancer (Stylist)

Community Care

1/ Chicago Community Bond Fund donation

What better way to spread holiday cheer than to help someone in jail get home to their family? CCBF accepts donations large and small to pay bail for those awaiting trial in Cook County Jail. —Maya Dukmasova Visit chicagobond.org to see the criteria they use to select whose bail to pay.

2/ Women & Children First gift certificate

This post-#MeToo moment is a really good time to give all the sexist jerks in your life a gift certificate to one of the oldest and most significant women-owned bookstores in the US. Making people support women-owned businesses and select from an array of books including a higher-than-average spate by women and nonbinary folks is truly a gift that will benefit generations to come. —Anne Elizabeth Moore Prices vary at 5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299, womenandchildrenfirst.com.

3/ My Block, My Hood, My City gear

Founded by Jamal Cole, MBMHMC is a connectivity-encouraging, mentoring nonprofit that focuses on providing underserved teenagers exposure to opportunities beyond their familiar neighborhoods. Through excursions in STEM, art, entrepreneurism, and community development, called the Explorers Program, as well as service projects like shoveling snow for seniors, MBMHMC fosters experiences to nurture and empower Chicago youth. Twenty percent of all apparel sales go toward the Explorers Program. On December 1 and 8, volunteer to help hang holiday lights from 51st to 87th Streets along historic Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Like their Facebook page or check https://www.formyblock.org/events/ for updates on projects, calls to action, and to learn about volunteering. —Jamie Ramsay from $50 for hoodies (available in English, Spanish and Mandarin), $25 for skullies, at formyblock.org.

4/ Haymarket Books Book Club

If there’s a radical or revolutionary on your shopping list, or, at the very least, someone who cares about social and economic justice, odds are they already know about Haymarket Books, the Buena Park-based publisher of Angela Davis, Rebecca Solnit, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Eve Ewing, among many, many others. Membership in Haymarket’s book club provides regular monthly shipments of all the publisher’s new titles, in either print or e-book format, plus discounts on everything on the backlist. Not only will you provide someone with the foundation of a great personal library, you’ll also be supporting a local business. It’s a win for everybody. —Aimee Levitt $20-$30/month at haymarketbooks.org.

5/ T-Shirt from the Silver Room

I discovered Silver Room when I first saw Eve Ewing wearing a “Make Chicago Great Again” Harold Washington T-shirt at Pitchfork last year. But the store has a lot more to offer, with shirts by local artists ranging from a profile of Colin Kaepernick made out of tiny red fists to one that looks like a hand-painted bodega advertisement for Hyde Park. The store is full of hand-crafted leather goods, jewelry, and home decor, many by black makers. —Maya Dukmasova $20-$30 at Silver Room, 1506 E. 53rd St., 773-947-0024, thesilverroom.com.

6/ Rebel Betty Arte prints and zines

Support a Latinx artist this holiday season by buying zines, prints, buttons and other artwork by Rebel Betty, an Afro-Latina artist, DJ, and educator. Her work focuses on raising awareness and creating discussions about gentrification and issues affecting black and brown communities. —Marissa De La Cerda $5-$35 for prints, $5-$15 for zines, $10-$15 for buttons and other items at rebelbettyarte.com.

Credit: Jeremy Hayes (Photographer) and Matthew Ancer (Stylist)

Good Times

1/ Hollow Leg cocktail class

Contrary to popular belief, Hollow Leg is not a store where you can buy a leg lamp a la A Christmas Story, it’s a company that offers mixology classes at various venues around the city. Founded by Devin Kidner, Hollow Leg aims to share the art and science behind crafting cocktails so that anyone who attends their events leaves with the knowledge, taste, and skill to finally make a decent drink—and since they offer plenty of non-alcoholic options, everyone can join in on the fun. You can purchase individual tickets or gift certificates to workshops such as Liquid Confidence: Mixology 101, or book them for a holiday shindig so you can give a whole bunch of your friends the gift that keeps on giving (and giving, and giving . . . depending on who you hang out with). Though most classes are hands-on, they also offer tastings, so you and your guests can just sit back, sip, and learn. The best part might be that they’ll play “cocktail whisperer,” and tailor the menu for their audience, so if, for example, you hate sugary sweet drinks, you won’t have to waste your time—or your booze—mixing one. —Jamie Ludwig $60-$95 for gift certificates at hollowleg.com.

2/ Fat Tiger Workshop hat

Streetwear boutique Fat Tiger Workshop first set up in a small Congress Theater storefront four years ago. Founding designers Vic Lloyd, Desmond Owusu, Terrell Jones, and Joe “Freshgoods” Robinson quickly made the space a home for friends, aspiring artists, and established musicians. One day I wandered in to find Chuck Inglish and Sulaiman filming a music video behind the storefront; on another I bought a Save Money shirt during a pop-up helmed by Joey Purp. Fat Tiger has changed locations twice since then, and the owners still make sure its large West Town headquarters is an open-door community space, even as their individual profiles have risen. Robinson has become a streetwear celebrity since he made a one-off clothing line in homage to our previous president, “Thank U Obama” (Chance the Rapper wore one such hoodie while collecting his first Grammy), and he’s since been enlisted to make clothes for the Chicago Bears, McDonald’s, and the MCA. All four designers make gear for their individual brands, but they also have a run of Fat Tiger clothes. The simple, bold Fat Tiger hat is a great way to show love for all four of these independent, community-driven designers. —Leor Galil $30 for a signature hat at 836 N. Milwaukee, fattigerworkshop.com.

3/ Custom handmade guitar strap from Souldier

In 2004, Chicago musician Jen Tabor started making instrument straps for her friends, and soon began selling them at shows. Nearly 15 years later, her company Souldier, which specializes in hand-cut leather guitar, bass, and banjo straps, has helped support the instruments of artists such as Jeff Tweedy, Tom Petty, and Kim Gordon, and has practically come to have rock-star status of its own. You can find Souldier straps at a number of instrument shops and other retailers throughout the city, or purchase directly through their website, where there’s more fun to be had by customizing a strap of your own. Choose between dozens of color and fabric patterns to match anyone’s personality and/or artistic aesthetic. And though Souldier is most known for their instrument accessories, their product line also includes camera straps, headbands, wrist cuffs, dog collars, and more, so there are plenty of gift options for your non-musician human and canine friends. —Jamie Ludwig Prices vary at souldier.us.

4/ Fine Prints cassettes

Chicago’s rock scene–if you can say there is one single community–is a lot broader than it often gets credited. Local label Fine Prints gets it. Founded by Robby Haynes (who helps run Hermosa studio Strange Magic Recording) and Ziyad Asrar (of Baby Blue, formerly of Whitney), Fine Prints has put out only a handful of cassette releases, but the small catalog shows how weird and wonderful Chicago rock can get. The label launched in August by releasing tapes from prog misfits Mayor Daley, art punks Wage, and synthpop hypnotists Desert Liminal; in October, Haynes and Asrar dropped the second EP by bedroom-pop wizard Adam Schubert, aka Ruins. The acts Fine Prints have worked with don’t overlap stylistically, and that’s partly why these four cassettes work well as a single package; they’re great individual documents, and all together they unintentionally function as a reminder that there’s a lot of great music happening in the city beyond the sounds on these tapes. —Leor Galil $7 per cassette at fineprints.bandcamp.com.

5/ Sharkula T-shirt

Can you really claim to be a Chicagoan if you’ve never met Sharkula? For the past couple decades, the oddball rapper who also answers to Thigahmahjigggee and Dirty Gilligan has roamed around the city’s streets, selling his wares hand-to-hand: usually that means CD-Rs of his unpredictable raps housed in a photocopied sheet of paper littered with his drawings. He recently started making his own T-shirts, and his detailed, gritty graffiti style gives his pieces a lived-in quality. Sharkula designs each shirt by hand and no two are identical, which means this is the most unique gift you can give the Chicago hip-hop fan in your life. And, since buying a shirt requires that you call Sharkula, this also gives anyone who has never met him before the opportunity to finally meet a local legend. —Leor Galil Starting at $30 at 773-647-4995.

6/ Experimental Sound Studio tickets

Experimental Sound Studio, founded in 1986 and based in Edgewater since 2006, is one of the city’s great incubators of avant-garde and experimental music. The nonprofit’s facility houses a full-service recording studio, of course, as well as a small public gallery that hosts exhibitions, workshops, and other events. ESS also provides a home for the Creative Audio Archive, which it describes as “an invaluable collection of recordings, print, and visual ephemera related to avant-garde and exploratory sound and music”—including a trove of Sun Ra material dating back to the 1950s and thousands of improvised and underground shows captured between 1981 and 2006 by Chicago sound recordist Malachi Ritscher. The concert series that ESS presents in its cozy live room, including Option and Oscillations, feature internationally celebrated Chicagoans—drummer Hamid Drake, sound artist Olivia Block, visionary multi-instrumentalists Ben Lamar Gay and Douglas Ewart—as well as renowned out-of-towners such as trumpeter Greg Kelley, saxophonist Don Dietrich, and pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn. —Philip Montoro $40 for a pack of five tickets good for any concerts, which usually cost $10 apiece—and if you e-mail info@ess.org in advance to make a reservation, they’ll even get you into one of the handful each year that sell out, 5925 N. Ravenswood, 773-998-1069, ess.org.

7/ Ninja Zombie DVD

In 1992, aspiring writer-director Mark Bessenger and a small crew filmed a low-budget Super-8 horror comedy in Chicago, the exurbs, and Wisconsin. No distributor wanted to touch his movie, Ninja Zombie, though I have a little trouble understanding why; the sight of a green, shirtless zombie adeptly fighting off a small army of ninjas would’ve sold me in 1992, but I was also seven at the time. Bessenger made a few VHS copies for friends, but the film otherwise disappeared. More than two decades later a copy wound up in the hands of cinema fanatic Zack Carlson, who helps run Bleeding Skull, a site and film distributor that documents obscure horror pictures. In 2014, Carlson brought the VHS to his Bleeding Skull collaborators (writer Annie Choi and site founder Joseph Ziemba, an Illinois native) who were so charmed by the goofy, light-footed picture they decided to find a way to release it. Last month, Bleeding Skull and Austin-based nonprofit the American Genre Film Archive co-released Ninja Zombie on DVD. I just hope with this wide release it may soon become a midnight staple. —Leor Galil $13.99 at americangenrefilm.com/releases/ninja-zombie.

Credit: Jamie Ramsay

About the artists

To accompany our gift guide, we commissioned two local artists to create the gift wrap featured on our two variant covers. To take full advantage of the festivities, pick up a paper copy of this week’s Reader.

Justin Clemons from Chicago Lawn is also the Production Manager at Magnolia Printing. His gift wrap features hands spelling “C-H-I-C-A-G-O” in American Sign Language. The piece started as a hand study he painted at age 17 in the program After School Matters, and his instructor noted that it evoked the feeling of people being deaf to the youth of Chicago and their issues. Years later, Justin completed the painting in acrylics. It was featured in Black Creativity Juried Art Exhibition hosted at the Museum of Science+Industry Chicago 2014.

Laura Berger is an artist living in Chicago who paints, sculpts and also animates. Her beautifully minimalistic work often focuses on themes of nature, dreams, or travel. Sometimes, her images feature a host of culturally diverse naked bodies—as appear on one of our variant covers. She is interested in how people create meaning and a sense of belonging to a greater whole.

For more info on Justin’s work: justinianart.com. For more info on Laura’s work: lauraberger.com.   v