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Gearing Up For Chicago’s Best Summer Concerts



With a rich music history spanning from blues to indie rock and an unbeatable summer climate, Chicago seems tailor-made for the summer concert season. Each year, the city plays host to two major weekend-long rock festivals — Pitchfork Music Festival in July and Lollapalooza in August — but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The outdoor concert season is jam-packed from June through September and touches upon every genre under the sun. Mark your calendars for the following:

Grant Park Music Festival Opening Night 2013, June 12

Conductor Carlos Kalmar is back on the podium to kick off this incredibly popular 10-week alfresco concert series at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion (Grant Park was the original home to the series, which began in 1935). This evening’s program includes Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, Turkish; Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4; composer Andrew Norman’s 2005 piece, Drip, whose manifesto of “chopped up” sounds he compares to a tossed salad.

Tip: If you want a spot on the lawn, arrive before the 6:30 p.m. start time and stake your claim with a blanket. Chicagoans are known to stage elaborate picnics that begin upwards of 30 minutes ahead of tuning.

Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19 through 21

What began in 2005 as a tightly curated lineup of bands dubbed the Intonation Festival is now an annual ritual for indie-music-loving elitists. Staged in Union Park on the Near West Side, this year’s Pitchfork represents an almost oxymoronic mix of genres. Headliners are Björk (July 19), Belle & Sebastian (July 20) and R. Kelly (July 21). Supporting acts include MIA, Yo La Tengo, The Breeders, Wire, Solange and dozens more.

Tip: Take the El. Parking is difficult, and the bike racks (of which there are hundreds) get overloaded quickly, but the Ashland-Lake El stop on the Green Line is conveniently on Union Park’s northwest corner.

Lang Lang with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, July 27

Highly decorated Chinese pianist Lang Lang joins the city’s symphony orchestra for this evening concert at Ravinia Park, marking the half-way point through the 109th season of the country’s oldest outdoor music festival. It’s a powerhouse program, including works by Beethoven, Wagner, Prokofiev, Britten and Verdi.

Tip: Unless you don’t mind listening from a half-mile away, buy a $25 ticket within Ravinia’s Pavilion. The $10 lawn “seats,” aglow with portable candelabras, sprawl back from the stage as far as the eye can see.

Lollapalooza, August 2 through 4

This is the granddaddy of all summer festivals — one of the biggest in the country and among the biggest in the world. Conceived as a multiple-band traveling festival in 1991, Lollapalooza dropped anchor in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2005 and has been drawing international fans in the hundreds of thousands ever since. This year’s headliners include The Cure, Mumford & Sons, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, Phoenix, The Postal Service and Vampire Weekend, and more than 100 other bands are on the lineup.

Tip: Unlike many festivals, outdoor water is allowed at Lolla — and you’re going to need it, as this is historically one of the hottest weekends of the summer. Just be sure your bottles (two max) are factory-sealed and no larger than one liter each.

Eighth Blackbird with Glenn Kotche & Lesley Flanigan, August 28

The last of the city’s Loops and Variations series of new music and electronica concerts, this bill showcases contemporary sextet Eighth Blackbird as well as composer-drummer Kotche (a member of local rock group Wilco) and experimental electronic musician Flanigan, visiting from New York.

Tip: No need to pack a heavy picnic basket: Plenty of nearby cafés and markets — Toni Patisserie, Mariano’s, Pastoral, even the massive State Street Walgreen’s — stock picnic-friendly food and drink with a nod toward Millennium Park’s summer concerts.

Photos courtesy of Lollapalooza, City of Chicago, Grant Park Music Festival, Rebecca Smeyne and Russell Jenkins

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Fuerzabruta Returns To Buenos Aires



Part circus spectacle, part rave and all high-energy theatrics, contemporary Argentine theater company Fuerzabruta has returned to its home city of Buenos Aires after touring the world for two years. The troupe will stage encore performances of its show Wayra in the Centro Cultural Recoleta, adjacent to the landmark Recoleta Cemetery.

Fuerzabruta, which translates to “brute force,” was started in 2003 and first won over audiences in Buenos Aires with its acts in 2005 The company banded together as an independent offshoot of the De La Guarda theater company under the direction of Diqui James, one of the co-founders of De La Guarda, and Gaby Kerpel, De La Guarda’s musical composer. Acrobatic stunts, an exhilarating score mixing electronic, pop and punctuated with strong percussion, and illusions created by ever-changing staging also established the company as an international crowd-pleaser.

Elements of surprise and mystery characterize Fuerzabruta’s exhilarating feats. Official descriptions of the show are intentionally cryptic because even when universally understood themes such as the corporate rate race are worked in, scenes then spin off into the unexpected. With the full-sensory show taking place among as well as above and around standing audience members, attendees often feel like they are participating. Many find the hourlong show so thrilling that they end up going back to see it more than once.

Fuerzabruta’s return is long-awaited for its home audience with many weekend performance dates already sold out at AR $140 (around $26 USD) per ticket.

Catch Fuerzabruta through early August thanks to multiple performances on all Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets can be purchased online through Ticketek Argentina. For more information, visit Fuerzabruta’s official site.

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Bridging The Gap Between High Art and Haute Cuisine



Proving just how sophisticated Parisians like their evening venues is Faust, a new art and foodie hub opening in the city‘s 8th arrondissement (or “district”). The name Faust may seem familiar; it’s also the name of the protagonist of a German fable, in which Faust is a successful scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for absolute knowledge and unlimited worldly pleasures. While no explicit link to the legend has been evoked, Faust will definitely offer plenty in the way of worldly pleasure such as food, drink, art and music.

Faust is a joint venture between Adrien “Addy” Samsam Bakhtiari, the owner of other well-known Parisian establishments such as Showcase, Millionaire, Opéra Restaurant, Régine, La Belle Epoque and Miou Miou, and architect Didier Faustino, who has been challenged with whipping the 7,900-square-foot venue into a space fit for the Parisian in-crowd.

Adding to a rich (but not very diverse) nightlife scene, Faust will join existing favorites such as Le Baron, Beef Club Ballroom, Wanderlust, Prescription Cocktail Club and celebrity hangout Silencio, to name but a few of its popular neighbors. Faust will be located on the left bank of the Seine, in a recess under the pont (or “bridge”) Alexandre III, balancing out another venue, Showcase, under the bridge on the right bank. The project is part of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë’s development Voix sur Berges project for the Seine waterfront from pont Royal to pont de l’Alma, which should be completed in time for summer.

Although much of Faust is still shrouded in mystery, the word on the grapevine is that the venue will include a restaurant and several exhibition spaces; Japanese bento boxes will also be served throughout the day, and the venue will host all events ranging from fashion shows and workshops, to live music acts and film screenings. The new venue will have a slightly nautical atmosphere, thanks to 70-foot bay windows looking over the water right in the heart of the city.

Despite the secrecy of Faust’s grand opening, the venue has posted details for a three-day Brunch Bazar that will take place this weekend. Starting on Friday, June 28, the Brunch Bazar (a seasonal event founded by Nadége Winter, former marketing director of retail hotspot Colette and cutting-edge gallery Palais de Tokyo) will bring a whirlwind of activity to Faust.

For this 11th edition of the event, a play area for all sorts of games — from board games to Ping-Pong — will be set up for guests to enjoy. A pop-up fashion store, selling vintage wear as well as key items from the latest trends, will be another main attraction. For foodies, there will be la cuisine du Brunch Bazar, which will feature healthy organic fare influenced by Brooklyn and Portland’s best restaurants. Cookies and cupcakes will be the stars of the show, as well as barbecues on the back terrace. For parents needing a bit of a break from the children, an activity space will be set up for kids ages two through 10. And after a hard day at play, live DJs will take over the restaurant until the early hours of the morning on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for Brunch Bazar are available from the online ticketing agent, Digitick (8 euros adults, $10.50 USD; 4 euros children, $5.25 USD).

Photo Courtesy of Annemiek Veldman

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Hip Hong Kong’s Westward Expansion



Hip Hong Kong has been steadily moving west in recent years, from Central into Sheung Wan and the newly christened PoHo district (named for Po Hing Fong and Hollywood Road, the streets that mark the south and north boundaries of the neighborhood). It’s not a total surprise, then, that the newest trendy establishments are popping up even further west in Sai Wan and Sai Ying Pun.

Indeed, it seems like a new, cool enterprise opens in the area every week — whether it’s in the form of a hip restaurant, sleek bar or trendy gallery.

This great westward expansion was heralded by the immigration of Hong Kong’s perennially hip club, XXX Gallery (usually referred to in speech as “triple ex”), which broke paradigms from its first night in business.  XXX was founded in 2011 by San Franciscan import DJ Enso, who craved an antidote to the velvet-roped clubs of Wyndham Street and Lan Kwai Fong. The result was a gritty, (literally) underground haven for dance-happy locals and expats that quickly became known for its unmarked metal door on Wing Lok Street and its energetic rotating DJ nights. Alas, in December 2012, XXX was forced to close due to increased rent and noise complaints. Fortunately, the venue has relocated to Des Voeux Road West in Sai Wan. The site is still under construction, though in the meantime the venue has hosted impromptu art exhibitions. The club hopes to re-open in August.

In the meantime, the surrounding areas are exploding with new life. Among the more notable new restaurants in Sai Ying Pun is Metropolitan, a French bistro courtesy of the folks behind the perennially popular Pastis. Metropolitan is named and styled after Paris’s gorgeous art deco metro station, wrought iron curlicues and all. The food is standard French fare, including beef stew, rotisserie, tarte tatin, and a homemade foie gras with chutney and brioche.

Another welcome addition to Sai Ying Pun is Awakening, which aims to fill Hong Kong’s much grieved southern comfort hole. This eatery succeeds with a delicious menu featuring pan-ethnic American foods, including burgers, reubens, burritos, Korean beef, a not-to-miss macaroni and cheese and a great selection of American craft beers, including Kona Brewing Co. Wailua Ale and Lost Coast’s Indica IPA.

After dinner, the party goes on. Les Boules-Café Pétanque, true to its name, is a neighborhood bar where you can play a game of Pétanque, or “bowls,” on a sand court (in this game, which is similar to bocce ball, players throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet, or “piglet”). There’s more to the Sai Ying Pun bar than that, though, including inexpensive drinks and a dance floor that has been attracting pretty young people in droves. Les Boules recently partnered with cool-kid Sai Ying Pun gallery Above Second to throw an unofficial Art Basel party featuring British electro-pop princess Little Boots.

Surely, this is only the beginning. Sai Ying Pun, which once seemed like a long trek from more popular neighborhoods like Central, Admiralty and Wan Chai, is transforming into Central’s backyard. With the reappearance of XXX and the exodus of expats from Sheung Wan as rents rise — and with a new MTR station scheduled to open at Sai Ying Pun in 2015 — the western districts are set to become the polestars of Hong Kong’s trendsetters.

Photo Courtesy of iStock-rabbit75_ist

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How To Eat and Drink Like A San Francisco Giant



San Francisco isn’t known for its celebrity culture. However, there is one group of people that locals just can’t get enough of: the players on the city’s Major League Baseball team. The 2010 and 2012 World Series champion Giants are loved by fans throughout the Bay Area. A million people, dressed in their best orange and black Giants gear, showed up to get a glimpse of their sweet-swinging heroes at last fall’s title parade through downtown San Francisco.

While Alexander’s Steakhouse near the ballpark and the Marina’s Tipsy Pig and Delarosa are all well-known Giants-spotting hangouts, we spoke to first baseman Brandon Belt and relief pitcher George Kontos to find out where they like to eat, drink and hang out on their days away from AT&T Park.

Belt, who was hitting .268 with 10 home runs at press time, grew up in Texas and appreciates good meat. So, it only makes sense that two of his favorite places to dine in the area would be The House of Prime Rib and Epic Roasthouse. The House of Prime Rib is an old-school spot filled with dark wood and red semicircular booths. Of course, the specialty of the house is its namesake — the Midwestern corn-fed beef. The meat is prepared in rock salt, which seals in the juices and seasons the roast. When it’s ready, the beef is wheeled out to your table in a domed cart. Choose the cut you want, and the waiter will slice and plate it before you (for another fun tableside presentation, order the salad bowl).

Chef Jan Birnbaum (who also helmed Four-Star Campton Place) offers more of a modern-day steakhouse with Epic. The interior feels like a bachelor’s private hangout with tufted leather banquets, wood details, steel-framed windows and a massive wood-fired grill and wood-burning oven. The Big Leaguer-approved menu — outfielder Hunter Pence is also a fan of the eatery — consists of traditional steakhouse dishes, such as aged prime rib and black-peppercorn-rubbed New York strip as well as contemporary foodie favorites, such as roasted marrow bones and sea scallops with brown butter.

When he wants a quick and easy meal, Belt elects to dine at The Melt, a local grilled cheese chain that elevates the beloved sandwich. Try the Italian Job, fontina and provolone on housemade garlic bread.

Kontos has his own go-to San Francisco restaurants. For breakfast, the Illinois native loves the Dogpatch’s Just For You café, where he orders an omelet filled with cheddar and local ham, house-baked wheat toast and a large orange juice. On date night, the reliever with 43 strikeouts in just over 46 innings of work likes to go to the always-crowded Mexican eatery Mamacita in the Marina. And when it’s time for post-game cocktail with friends, he usually finds himself on the Embarcadero at Hard Water (Whiskey Bar). And after peering at the spot’s extensive cocktail menu (mint julep, Van Winkle whiskey flights) and nibble selections (New Orleans-style cuisine, such as seafood gumbo, fried chicken with pepper jelly), you understand why he considers the place a home run.

When asked what he loves most about San Francisco, Kontos says, “First, our fans. Secondly, the different styles of food and restaurants the city has to offer.”

Photos Courtesy of Mamacita and The San Francisco Giants

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