Best of Springfield 2017
BEST TENACIOUS UPSTARTS
The Southtown scene
At the corner of 11th Street and S. Grand stands a veritable Mecca of youthful D.I.Y. culture, including all-ages music venue Black Sheep, Dumb Records, Southtown Sound Recording Studio, Boof City Skate Shop and a skateboard ramp. That ramp, Skank Skates, is now celebrating its 30th year and remains the cornerstone of a group of like-minded businesses which have put Springfield on the map nationally and internationally, with independent musicians from all over traveling to play the Black Sheep’s stage and then marveling at the surrounding environs. Ironically, waxing and waning local support can make daily survival a perpetual struggle but that makes the dogged dedication of the young owners and operators of these businesses even more heroic.
BEST KEPT ART SECRET
Like the Southtown scene, DEMO Project – a cottage located on the campus of the Springfield Art Association and temporarily donated by the SAA in 2013 to serve as independently programmed gallery space for innovative, contemporary artwork – seems to have earned more attention and appreciation outside of Springfield than it has ever managed locally. For just over four years, monthly exhibitions by artists from across the state, the region and the larger world have run the gamut, leaning toward conceptual and often challenging work of a type otherwise rarely seen in town. There will only be a few more chances to check out DEMO, though: true to its name, the building will be demolished in early 2018 to make way for the SAA’s long-planned new glassblowing and ceramic facilities.
BEST FILM SERIES
Molly Schlich Independent-International Film Series
For a quarter-century, the post-Christmas season has contained a gift for Springfield area-cinephiles in the form of the Molly Schlich Independent-International Film Series. Presented by the Springfield Art Association and lovingly curated by SAA executive director Betsy Dollar, the series provides an opportunity to view acclaimed, contemporary foreign and “art house” films of the sort rarely booked by the local mutliplexes. Even in a cultural landscape where film buffs have the virtual history of cinema at their digital fingertips, there is no replacement for the sense of communion and shared experience in a theater when the lights go down and something truly unique and surprising plays across the screen.
BEST HOMEGROWN SCHOLAR
Springfield poet Ian Winterbauer, 27, can come across as both laconic and curmudgeonly. However, get him on the topic of another Springfield poet, Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), and he almost literally lights up. Winterbauer leads official tours of the Lindsay home (603 S. Fifth St.) when he can, and these tours are anything but generic, sometimes lasting for hours depending on the level of information desired. Winterbauer – whose debut volume of poetry, Scream as you leave was published this past February by California-based A Jabber Publication – has met and keeps in touch with some of Lindsay’s living relatives and, with no apparent effort, can spout fascinating details large and small about the late writer’s life and work. One gets the impression that anything Winterbauer doesn’t know about Lindsay (“the rock star poet of his time”) isn’t worth knowing.
BEST PLACE TO AVOID KALE AND TOFU
The Old Luxemburg Inn
1900 S. 15th St.
You either get the Old Lux (no one calls it by its proper name) or you don’t. It isn’t fair to say that the place hasn’t changed since it opened 76 years ago. No. It looks like a restaurant straight from the 1970s as opposed to a steakhouse that opened before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it remains a quintessential piece of oldtime Springfield. With regulars getting on in years mixing with younger folks with a taste for nostalgia, the Old Lux is still a player in the local restaurant scene, and thank goodness. Where else are you going to find French fried lobster tail? Who else spoons cheese sauce over baked potatoes in lieu of sour cream? The most modern thing on the menu is teriyaki sauce that comes on salmon or chicken. That counts for daring at this gem that rarely changes, and for good reason. Nothing is broken.
BEST USE FOR THE Y BLOCK
For years, the city of Springfield allowed the YWCA building across Jackson Street from the governor’s mansion to crumble. In 2014, the wizards at city hall plunked down more than $1.54 million to buy the building, plus adjacent vacant land from the state of Illinois, saying it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a bunch of other things typically said by real-estate agents hoping to cajole neophytes into decisions they’ll forever regret. Deed in hand, the city scraped the building and is now trying to figure out what to do with land nobody else wanted. A movie theater. A park with splash pads. Apartments. Giant movie screens that – we kid you not – could show the General Assembly in action. All of these ideas, and more, have been pitched when the solution seems obvious: Let it be. Every city should have a central green. Even now, the site has attracted pickup soccer games from downtown denizens who have no other place to play. With no buildings in the way, it would be a perfect spot for outdoor markets and concerts. Just plant grass and keep it watered. If something better comes along, we can talk then. But for now, keep doing what we’ve always done there, which is nothing. It’s worked so far.
BEST MODERN VERSION OF THE WALTONS
Remember The Waltons, that saccharine-sweet TV show from the 1970s set in a pre-war fictional small town where everyone knew everyone, and everyone gathered at the general store run by Ike and his wife Corabeth to shop and gossip? There is no better place in Springfield to get all Waltoned-up than Dollar Tree in the down-on-its-luck Town and Country shopping center. Prices are Depression-era low. It’s a true dollar store, meaning that everything costs exactly a dollar, which is as things should be. No matter your intent, however, you can’t spend just a dollar, not with such steals as quarts of San Pellegrino water and jars of jalapenos and batteries and six-packs of coat hangers on the shelves. Pop in for a colander or cheese grater and you’ll leave with stuff you never knew you needed. Lines can get long, but no matter. The clerks are friendly. They know their customers and ask about kids and whether so-and-so will be home next weekend. Neighbors bump into each other and chat: “Is that your new car outside? It’s beautiful!” And everyone is happy, because everyone’s finding bargains. John-Boy never had it so good.
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