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Back to School: Our Favorite Things

Open Mike at Gallery Cabaret

Now approaching its second decade and currently superintended by the exuberant and engaging Garrett Lane, the Thursday night open mike at Bucktown’s Gallery Cabaret is saturated with eccentrics, both onstage and in the crowd. Many performers are regulars who’ve been around since the club’s early days in the late 80s—like singer and pianist CJ, a former lawyer and current promoter of pot legalization who claims to suffer from “CCM: constant cotton mouth.” Or Belinda, a Renaissance Faire costume enthusiast, who I’m told has been accompanying her father, former Thursday-night host Fred Simons, to family-oriented events at the bar since childhood. She now performs with her husband and guitarist Greg Nelson in what Garrett describes as “a mutant cover act redefining the tribute genre single-handedly.”

When asked to name his favorite performer, Garrett graciously declines: “I love them all like a mother loves her kids.” But my favorite is Wayne Kusy. This singer-guitarist’s comfortingly consistent repertoire includes the guttural classic “Pepsi Generation” as well as his masterpiece, the screechy and by turns frantic “Happy Merry Manic Letdown.” These songs may be less elegant than the massive model ocean liners Kusy constructs entirely from toothpicks—see for yourself at waynekusy.com—but they’re no less well crafted.

In recent years Gallery Cabaret owner Kenny Strandberg has invested in central air and some smoke eaters. But despite the improved air quality, the atmosphere hasn’t changed a bit—it’s dingy, dark, and completely lacking pretense, and on Thursday nights a pitcher of Leinenkugel is still $4. 2020 N. Oakley, 773-489-5471, gallerycabaret.com. —Julia Rickert

We also want to hear your stories about your favorite people, places, and things in the city--go here to share them with the rest of the class.


A & T Grill
Elizabeth M. Tamny

All Rise Gallery
Liz Armstrong

The Ando Gallery at the Art Institute
Tamara Faulkner

Bartender Ballet at the Violet Hour
Mike Sula


The Basement of After-Words
Monica Kendrick

The Blue Crab Lounge at Shaw’s
Michael Lenehan

The Butcher Shop
Noah Berlatsky

Deborah Butterfield’s “Ben”
Ryan Hubbard


The Diary of Virginia May Garcia
Noah Berlatsky

The Fern Room at the Garfield Park Conservatory
Martha Bayne

Fine Wine Brokers
Kathie Bergquist

The Grid
Bill Savage


Hideout Dance Parties
Martha Bayne

Jazz Record Mart and Dusty Groove
Peter Margasak

Jollyball at the Museum of Science and Industry
Noah Berlatsky

Ken Dunn
Mick Dumke


The Lobby Bar at Second City
Albert Williams

Lost & Found
Kathie Bergquist

Manhattans at the Matchbox
David Hammond

Matinees at the Music Box
Adam Langer


Marina City
Lynn Becker

The Mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery
Kerry Reid

Monday Night at Sidetrack
Zac Thompson

Monday Night Farm Dinner at Lula Cafe
Peter Margasak


Moo & Oink
Mike Sula

Music Box Massacre
J.R. Jones

The Murals at the 18th Street El Stop
Brenna Ehrlich

The Newberry Library
Harold Henderson


The North Branch Trail
Jennifer Sodini

Open Mike at Gallery Cabaret
Julia Rickert

Outdanced!
Liz Armstrong

RUI: Reading Under the Influence
Kathie Bergquist


Silent Summer Film Festival
J.R. Jones

Sunday Transmission at the Hungry Brain
Peter Margasak

The Sweet Spot at the Empty Bottle
Miles Raymer

Textile Discount Outlet
Tasneem Paghdiwala


The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute
Albert Williams

Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater
Albert Williams

Wil Hasbrouck
Harold Henderson

The Window Seat at Letizia’s
Emerson Dameron


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