Smile Politely

BEST Culture 2014

SP News & Culture shares our take on the BEST Culture around Champaign-Urbana as we continue our BEST week.

BEST place to pretend to write

Cafe Kopi

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in possession of a deadline must be in want of procrastination. And while actual writing can happen in all sorts of excellent local coffee shops, including Kopi, pretending to write requires a delicate combination of the following features: warm lighting, moody music, endless caffeine, people-watching, tasty snacks, wifi for Tumblr binges in between staring at your cursor, and close proximity to bars that will inevitably tempt you into giving up. Kopi has perfected this alchemy.

BEST natural wonder 

Urbana Legacy Tree

The impressive hackberry tree that formerly graced High and Coler — Urbana’s one-time largest tree — is no more. Yet its memory remains in its status as Urbana’s first legacy tree and also in this large stump. Cue Celine Dion (but in a good way).

BEST place to buy heels in neon

Le Shoppe

This vintage clothing store has the perfect atmosphere for sartorial discovery and hands-down the best selection of all sorts of essentials, including rompers, leather dresses, sequins, vests, and, of course, heels in any shade that doesn’t occur in nature. Ever since working on our 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide, News & Culture has been watching Le Shoppe’s attention to seasonal accessories with interest, such as frumpy sweaters for Christmas, gold lame for New Year, American flag gear for the 4th of July.

BEST local storyteller 

Andy Dallas

Dallas & Company in Midtown offers much more than just quirky costumes for every occasion. And as News & Culture compiled media for Cope Cumpston’s first installment of her Abecedarian Amble through C-U, we learned that Dallas & Co. proprietor Andy Dallas — a magician, hypnotist, and escape artist — has got some of the craziest and most fascinating stories in town. When you have time, stop by and ask him about his vintage pinball machines. He might even let you take a peek at the treasures upstairs.



BEST alley art

Mural behind Colab by Langston Allston

C-U is no stranger to spectacular murals and graffiti, but the multi-paneled murla behind Colab in Urbana takes the cake, in part because it’s woven so seamlessly into the building’s structure, and in part because of these guys’ awesome duds and facial expressions. It pays homage to the long tradition of bicycle culture in C-U by showcasing a massive bike race with references to local history and buisnesses.

BEST place to menstruate in public


Nothing kills a night out like realizing you forgot to pack menstrual products, but Wedge’s bathroom amenities are sure to staunch the flow of your despair. Check out this all these tampons they have for you, for free, in this charming little container! And all those other goodies, in case you need a good sprucing up or scrubbing down! That’s taking the comfort of your patrons seriously.

[And also: it’s 2014. Why aren’t free tampons a mainstay of more businesses? It’s like they WANT you to go home and look at cat gifs until late into the night.]

BEST sweet ride

Chicken Car

What is the meaning of this car? Where does it come from? Where is it going? And why is it so frequently parked outside of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities building?

BEST post-apocalyptic scene

Near Windsor and Neil 

If you’d like a glimpse of what things might be like after the events in Revelations come to pass, check out this pile of rubble that’s located behind the Arby’s near Windsor and Neil. Just on the other side of the tracks you can see half-crushed cars and piles of broken concrete and metal. 

BEST bit of nature

Meadowbrook Park

Meadowbrook Park in Urbana is our favorite place to escape C-U’s micro-urban vibe and kick it prairie-style. The huge play structure near Vine and Windsor and the organic gardens at Race and Windsor are two highlights, but the trails winding through are pretty amazing as well, as are the wild blackberries, deer, beavers, and red-winged blackbirds you’re likely to spot, depending on the season. In true Midwestern fashion, folks around here tend to deprecate C-U’s lack of natural beauty, but listening to the prairie grasses as the breezes ruffle through them makes us at News & Culture think there’s a lot of local beauty.




BEST celebrity animals

Goats at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery

We always knew that the goats at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery are pretty fabulous, but we recently learned on the SPodcast that their shining faces (and those of Prairie Fruits farmers) are going to be part of a feature movie called Food. A lot of the filming is happening locally, so Prairie Fruits became not only the set, but the food source for the film crew, who apparently have been appreciating the local, farm-fresh food Prairie Fruits is sending their way. If you haven’t been out to Prairie Fruits recently, check out one of their breakfasts on the farm or open-house sales, and stay tuned for the outdoor wood-fired pizza space they’ll be developing with the help of a crowd-funded campaign.

BEST bike rental

Neutral Cycle

There’s a lot to love about Neutral Cycle, and being able to rent this flashy tandem, Big Yellow, is just one of them. Neutral Cycle is now open for all your bicycle-related needs at two locations, in Urbana and in Campustown. Check out our conversation with David Kamerelis on the SPodcast for more on Neutral Cycle’s philosophy and projects.

BEST public apology

First Christian Church 404 Message

I recently had cause to visit the massive, Jesus-y indoor playground at First Christian Church in Champaign, and I was going to try to throw down with the inimitable Caleb Daniel Curtiss by suggesting that it, too, might be a fine place to take your kids when you’re hungover. But when I Googled it to get more information, I got this instead, which might be even better.

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