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Chris Canas plays during the Chicago Blues Tour on Saturday.

News flash: You don't have to wait for the Chicago Blues Festival to enjoy three straight days of blues-related fun. Chicago Blues Weekend is now upon us, and while it may cost a lot more than the annual free event in Grant Park, it's still worth a gander. Here's the schedule for the next few days:

Friday: Chicago Blues Express. You'll visit three South Side clubs (Lee's Unleaded Blues, For the Good Times Lounge, Taste Entertainment Center) during this five-hour tour. A $75 ticket price includes two drinks and a download card for Chainsaw DuPont's "The Real Guitar Hero," plus shuttle transportation from Lizzie McNeill's (400 N. McClurg).

Saturday: Chicago Blues Tour. The 20th annual event includes 10 clubs and 11 performers, including Michael Coleman, Super Percy and Chainsaw DuPont, all for just $45. Lizzie McNeill's is the hub, with buses departing every 10-20 minutes from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Sunday: Maxwell Market Shuttle Tour and Blues Jam. Take a shuttle down to the famed Maxwell Street District and enjoy a 50-minute historical walking tour, shopping at the Market, a live blues jam and more during this $10 event. Downtown pickups are at Lizzie McNeill's and the Jazz Record Mart (27 E. Illinois), with departures at 9:30, 10:15 and 11 a.m.

Here are some recent Chicago restaurant (and bar) openings and closings.

OPEN:
Manee Thai -- The popular Thai spot rises from the ashes, returning to Avondale after a fire.
The Vault -- This "upperground lounge" above Vivo offers cocktails, personal pizzas and more in an old bank vault.
Blue Frog 22 -- Kick back and have some fun at this River North spinoff of the popular Blue Frog Bar & Grill that looks more like a basement rec room. Board games and karaoke rule this bar.
Sushi Para M -- The Sushi Para all-you-can-eat sushi empire moves into Bucktown with this new BYOB location on Milwaukee.
Deca Restaurant + Bar -- The Ritz-Carlton opened this new restaurant with brasserie-inspired cuisine.
Cloud 9 -- This Taiwanese "snow ice" spot in Lakeview serves what can be described as a mix between ice cream and shaved ice, with fresh fruit and fruit purees.

CLOSING:
Tizi Melloul -- You've only got another week to get Middle Eastern fare in a modern environment, as this River North staple closes May 15.

CLOSED:
Follia -- West Loop Italian spot had great food, but not enough crowds.
Bar Louie (Little Italy) -- Don't worry, there are plenty of other locations to visit in the area.
Paris Cafe -- The short-lived River North spot was replaced by the generically named Chicago Bar & Grill.

Check back here every week for more openings and closings, and be sure to check out Centerstage Chicago's lists of new restaurants and bars.

If you haven't already registered for this week's Craft Brewers Conference (April 7-10 at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers), you're pretty much out of luck, although a few events do remain open according to the website.

But who needs to sit through a bunch of boring meetings when you can enjoy the craft where it counts -- in a bar! Several of the city's favorite brewpubs and restaurants are offering special deals this week in honor of so many beer enthusiasts being in town. Here's what we've found so far:

Avec will be taking reservations for Tuesday's five-course beer dinner including selections from Brasserie Dubuisson and Vanberg & Dewulf (dining begins at 3:30 p.m.; $50 for food, $25 for pairings).

Longman & Eagle hosts a five-course dinner with pairings from Stone Brewing Co. on Tuesday, with brewery CEO Greg Koch on hand from 5-6:30 p.m. to answer questions. The $55 pairing menu will be available alongside the regular menu all night long.

The Publican celebrates with a week full of events, including a four-course Two Brothers beer dinner (5:30-10:30 p.m. tonight); late-night (10:30 p.m.-1 a.m.) beer specials on Wednesday (Dogfish Head, Stone, Three Floyds) and Thursday (Allagash, Avery, The Lost Abbey); and a beer dinner with pairings from New Holland and New Belgium from 5:30-10:30 p.m. on Friday.

Quenchers Saloon will offer brews from Shelton Brothers (6 p.m. Tuesday), Urthel (7 p.m. Wednesday) and Lion, Plank, Belgoo and Cucapa (4-7 p.m. Friday).

The Map Room has a full week of tasting events featuring Duvel (tonight, 5 p.m.), New Belgium (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.), Capital Brewery (Wednesday, 5 p.m.), Flossmoor Station (Thursday, 5 p.m.) and Great Lakes Brewing Co. (Friday, 5 p.m.). Brewmasters will be attending many of the events.

Jake Melnick’s offers Lagunitas' Chicago Fusion brew from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, and all Metropolitan beers on Friday from 6-9 p.m.

Small Bar's Division Street location will host a rare beer tasting event beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday; brews include Boulder Oak Aged Mojo IPA, Bear Republic Porter, Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti and more. Or head to the newer Fullerton location for a similar event including Moylan's Old Blarney Barleywine, Two Brothers Oak Aged Bare Tree and more. Lagunitas Fusion Ale will also be available during the conference.

Deleece Grill Pub hosts a four-course dinner ($50) with beer pairings from Hoppin' Frog Brewery on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Brasserie Jo's four-course menu (4-9 p.m. Thursday; $49) includes beers from Ommegang and Duvel.

Rodan pairs with Surly Brewing Co. for a four-course dinner on Thursday (7 p.m.; $50).

Hopleaf hosts Fritz Maytag from Anchor Brewing Co. on Friday at 6 p.m. The free event includes tastings of beer, cheese, spirits and wine.

Two Brothers notes all its various events here

The Moth StorySlam: Busted
8 p.m. at Martyrs'; $7
Ever been caught with your pants down, your hand in the cookie jar, or both at once? Why not relive the humiliating experience in front of an audience of hundreds? This monthly series features true tales told live by anyone brave enough to take the stage. March's theme is "Busted," so get your story straight, put your name in the hat, and pull up your damn pants.

Blackhawks Road Watch
7 p.m. at Lottie's Pub; free
If you can't travel to St. Louis to watch Patrick Kane and co. take on the Blues, this Bucktown party is the next best thing. Hawks announcer Gene Honda and the Ice Girls (good band name?) will be on hand, offering prizes like jerseys, 100-level tickets and signed memorabilia. You can also score $3.50 domestic pints all night.

Italian Passover Seder
5:30 and 8:30 p.m. seatings at Piccolo Sogno; $75/person
We're not sure how an Italian Passover feast will work when you can't have pasta, but you can find out at this unique dinner in River West tonight. Expect a traditional service to start, and kosher wine to flow throughout the evening.

Here are some recent restaurant/bar openings and closings.

OPEN:
M Burger - This burger-and-shake joint shares a kitchen with Tru in Streeterville.
Aldino's - The people behind Mia Francesca and The Purple Pig bring this Italian cafe/market to Little Italy.
Club Blujazz - Finally, a jazz lounge in Wicker Park -- with nightly performances!

CLOSED:
Horan's Snug -- One of Forest Park's most comfortable pubs has turned into a place called Duck Fat Tavern & Grill.

Check back here every week for more openings and closings, and be sure to check out Centerstage Chicago's lists of new restaurants and bars.

Here are some recent restaurant/bar openings and closings.

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OPEN:
Gilt Bar - The Aigre Doux space is busy once again with this gastropub from an all-star lineup.
Second City Subs - This quick-serve sandwich spot near DePaul already feels like it's been around for years.
Ameer Kabob - Call 'em up and order inexpensive Arabian favorites for less than Sultan's Market.
Klopa Grill & Cafe - Serbian BBQ cafe serves up "good food," according to its name.
No Man's Land Pizza & Grill - Wilmette pizzeria offers New York-style slices and grilled sandwiches.

OPENING SOON:
Francesca's on Chestnut - The Italian empire expands with this Gold Coast location (in the Seneca Hotel), open any day now.

CLOSING:
Your Kitchen - You've only got a few more days to get prepared comfort food from this Albany Park spot, which closes March 1.

CLOSED:
Angelo's Taverna (we think) - Papered-over windows, disconnected phone don't bode well, but we're not totally giving up hope for this Old Town Greek eatery.
Marco Polo - Sorry, Skokie, looks like you'll have to get your fried-rice fix elsewhere.

Check back here every week for more openings and closings, and be sure to check out Centerstage Chicago's lists of new restaurants and bars.

3 Things To Do Today

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Shani Davis Watch Party
5:30 p.m. at ESPN Zone
No, you won't just be sitting and staring at the South Side native and speed-skating champ (and inspiration for Frozone from "The Incredibles," apparently). You'll be cheering him on with friends and family as he goes for his second straight gold medal in the 1,000-meter race (which begins at 6 p.m.). Davis' former coach, Sanders "Sam" Hicks will be there, as will Jim Nubani, coach of Evanston Speed Skating Club (where Davis began his career as a six year old).

"Revolving Door" Reading Series
7-10 p.m. at Red Kiva; no cover
The West Loop lounge kicks off its new monthly event (which will take place on the third Wednesday of every month) with an evening of poetry readings from Luis Humberto, Sid Yiddish, Allison Gruber and Debra Pecore, an open mic session and music spun by DJ Bornswift. The first installment includes a silent auction benefiting earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

All-You-Can-Eat Ribs
11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. at Smoke Daddy; $22.95
What's to explain? Stop into this Wicker Park favorite for a plate or three of your choice of ribs (baby back, spare ribs or rib tips) plus fries and choice of a second side (sweet potato fries, smoked pit beans, coleslaw, cornbread, homemade barbecue chips, mac 'n' cheese, veggies). Your heart will quit before the waiters do.

Here are some recent restaurant/bar openings and closings.

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OPEN:
Prairie Fire - This new West Loop restaurant comes from the owners of Northbrook's Prairie Grass Cafe.
Leo's Coney Island - The lines out the door should tell you something about how much a true Coney emporium has been needed in these parts.
The Money Shot - Try to overlook the, um, descriptive name of the place and focus on the sleek look of this Rogers Park restaurant/lounge.
Rice N Roll - Get your favorite Thai, Chinese and sushi dishes at this Albany Park restaurant. As part of its grand opening, the place is offering an entree with soup and an appetizer for $5.95.
Eggsperience Cafe - This 24-hour cafe offers a full range of egg dishes, whenever you want 'em, in River North.
Rockin' Taco - Try the "Friday Night Fight": 10 tacos drowning in hot sauce, which come free if you eat the whole plate with just one drink and one napkin ($16.66 if you don't).
Rehab - The old martini lounge connected to Circuit in Boystown re-opens with a fresh new look and cocktail-heavy menu.

OPENING SOON:
Gilt Bar - Brendan Sodikoff's simple, fun restaurant in the old Aigre Doux space in River North will open later this month.

CLOSED:
Fuego Mexican Grill (Arlington Heights) - If you want your fix of margaritas and tableside guacamole, you may have to go to its Logan Square location.


Check back here every week for more openings and closings, and be sure to check out Centerstage Chicago's list of new restaurants and bars.

Here are some recent restaurant/bar openings and closings.

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OPEN:
Lockdown Bar & Grill - Rockin' burgers in a prison-themed space - what more do you need?
Filter - The popular Wicker Park coffeehouse gets a new lease on life, just down the street.
Karyn's on Green - Karyn Calabrese's meatless empire gains another outpost.
Life on Mars - Vegan takeout, just what Logan Square needs.
Prairie Fire - The folks behind Northbrook's Prairie Grass Cafe expand into the West Loop.
The Southern - Comfort food from a Georgia native in the former Chaise Lounge space in Bucktown.
Revolution Brewing - The owner of Handlebar Bar and Grill just opened this Logan Square brewpub.
Longman & Eagle - It's a place to drink craft beer, nosh on gourmet food and, soon, sleep.
Small Bar (Lincoln Park) - Fullerton folks, hope you're ready for soccer and good beer.
The Exchange - You won't miss Lava Lounge when you get a taste of the cocktails at this re-imagined spot.


OPENING SOON:
Leo's Coney Island - Come Monday, true Detroit Coneys will finally be available in Chicago. (We investigated the current options and came away unimpressed).
Forty Carrots - Bloomingdale's shoppers, your light lunch spot arrives this month.


CLOSED:
Costa's - A fire has destroyed this Greektown favorite...for now.
Chaise Lounge - There was only room for one restaurant in this Bucktown space.
Asmara Cafe - Rogers Park Eritrean spot is now a place to get your taxes done.
Accent Cafe - Mt. Prospect residents will have to find another place for Eastern European fare.

Check back here every week for more openings and closings, and be sure to check out Centerstage Chicago's list of new restaurants and bars.

In case you didn't see DeRo's note earlier this morning, the Pitchfork Music Festival announced its first batch of acts today. Pavement, Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, Raekwon, Lightning Bolt, Cass McCombs, Sleigh Bells and Here We Go Magic will be among the performers July 16-18 in Union Park. Tickets ($40 per day, $90 for a three-day pass) go on sale at noon today.

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What's changed in the last 20 years? Find out at Friday's Fresh Fest.

Fresh Fest
8 p.m. Friday at Arie Crown Theater; $40-$72.50
If you came of age in the '90s, this is pretty much a dream concert bill. Salt 'n' Pepa, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh and Whodini will bring it back to the glory days of rap in a marathon show.

The word "philanthropist" usually conjures up images of old, accomplished men and women who pay people to decide how to spend their money. But that's not always the case, as the Steppenwolf Auxiliary Council's annual Red or White Ball shows. Young professionals and budding donors gather each year to eat, drink, dance and raise money for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, the theater's arts education program.

For $125, you can join these young movers and shakers at Salvage One at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 9. You'll mingle, you'll bid in the silent auction, and who knows...you might even meet a potential benefactor to take home (that's a "sugar daddy," for you uncultured types). Buy tickets and learn more on the official website.

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Highlights from Centerstage Chicago's latest Crumb newsletter:

Just (Re-)Opened: Macello Ristorante
Just like old times at this West Loop Italian restaurant.

Off the Beaten Path: Rincon de Tabasco
It's always fiesta time at this Northwest Side spot.

Weekly Treat: Two tickets to Nneka
Do you really want to miss out on the Nigerian Lauryn Hill?

Man We're Crazy About: Tiny Lounge
The Lincoln Square incarnation is a little bigger and a lot swankier than the original.

For more Chicago bar and restaurant news, sign up for the Crumb newsletter.

3 Things To Do Today

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Toast on the Magnificent Mile
This month-long celebration of the finer things in life gets started today at several Mag Mile-area businesses, which offer deals like a $45 three-tier dessert tray for two (Lawry's), $13 splits Moet & Chandon Imperial champagne (Signature Room) and more. See the website for full details.

Rhythms, Rhymes and Reflections
5-7 p.m. at UIC Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted; free
Celebrate the beginning of Black History Month with performances from spoken-word artist Kevin Coval, dance group Stick & Move and UIC's Black Literary Guild and Gospel Chorus.

La Roux
8 p.m. at Lincoln Hall; $18 (sold out)
If you hadn't heard, the '80s are back in a big way. This duo (Elly Jackson's the only member who performs live) brings the best of that synth-laden era to its very soulful performances. If you can somehow snag a ticket tonight, this show is sure to be a party. Yes Giantess and Moneypenny open.

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Tracy Morgan
Friday-Sunday at The Improv; $37; buy tickets
The "30 Rock" and former Saturday Night Live star comes to Schaumburg for a weekend engagement full of the unfiltered commentary that's made him a household name. Don't forget to bring him the french fries he did not ask for.

3 Things To Do Today

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Universal Ninjas
9 p.m. at darkroom; $7
This humorous hip-hop/soul duo (which formed at Evanston Township High School) continues to introduce itself to the scene in a supporting performance along with DJ Alo & Ill Legit (The Gent$), Project Fr3sh, Iowa Rockwell and Lyric Versatile. Check out Centerstage's interview (with song samples) here. Also tonight: Daphne Willis at Lincoln Hall.
Find more Wednesday music shows.

Honky Tonk Wednesdays
7 p.m. at The Pony; free
Local country act Slamabama drops by for a live performance at this Lakeview bar, where tonight you can get half-price burgers, $3 SoCo Lime, $3 Beam Black and $3 16-ounce Coors Silver Bullet cans. If you still need more to drink, head around the corner to Fizz Bar & Grill, which celebrates its 12th Anniversary tonight with $1 well drinks, $2 bottles of Bud and Bud Light, $3 champagne cocktails and free passed hors d'oeuvres.
Find more Wednesday drink deals.

Port Tasting Seminar
6:30-8 p.m. at Randolph Wine Cellars; free
If you've always been curious about port, but too bashful (or broke) to try it out, stop by this West Loop wine shop to taste a number of varieties for free. In keeping with the demystification of the drink, this informal seminar does not require you to show up on time.

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Winter Block Party for Chicago's Hip-Hop Arts
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater; free during the day, $10-$15 evening
This second-annual event features a free daytime session with visual art and graffiti from emerging local artists, a B-Boy/B-Girl breakdancing battle, an open-mic showcase, DJs and a lot more. In the evening, check out "The New Style: Hip-Hop Aesthetics Across Genres," an exhibition of "style, mash-ups, collage, and conversation" hosted by Kevin Coval and featuring Waka (of the Brickheadz crew), WBEZ South Side Bureau reporter Natalie Moore, South Side Community Arts Center executive director/curator Faheem Majeedis and others.

Dude, we're so pumped. According to the Tribune's About Last Night blog, on January 15, Pauly D and Mike "The Situation" of MTV's love it/hate it reality show "Jersey Shore" will be at Lumen for a party that will include hair-gelling by Marianne Strokirk Salons and gift certificates to LA Tan. (So you can look just like Michael Cera!)

Update: According to Chicagoist, The Situation and Pauly D (who will spin!) will return to Chicago on February 19 with J-WOWW in tow at Joe's Bar (9 p.m., $20).

You can pretend you didn't just get excited and email your friends...but just know that we know.

Seems like everyone's doing those end-of-year and end-of-decade lists right about now, and we're nothing if not bandwagon-jumpers. But instead of telling you what we think were the coolest bars, clubs and restaurants of 2009 (or making you cast your vote), we're going to let the numbers do the talking. Before the new decade begins, we'll be giving you the lowdown on what venues Centerstage users viewed the most during the past year, along with our ideas about why each was so popular. Did your favorite make the list?

First up: Bars.

1. Redmond’s
At first, the interest in this veteran of the Wrigleyville scene seemed like a surprise. Then we realized it: Cubs fans had to do a lot of drinking this year.

2. Blue Frog Bar & Grill
Who doesn't love karaoke? Or the chance to see a drunk Ed Swiderski sing "Big Pimpin'"?

3. Bull & Bear
Three words: Personal beer taps. One more word: Celebrities.

4. Social Twenty-Five
No cover charge to sip on top wines and dance to respected DJs...it's no mystery why this new spot garnered buzz.

5. Market Bar and Restaurant
White Sox GM Kenny Williams is a part owner of this West Loop lounge, which explains the many local sports stars spotted here. Still - a drink called the "Darryl Strawberry" is just asking for trouble.

6. C-View
High-altitude bars were all the rage in '09, and this 29th floor lounge has a cocktail list that befits its high-falutin' location.

7. Manhandler Saloon
It's the friendliest place you'll find to grab a drink - and a new leather-daddy.

8. Tumbao
The rhythm is definitely gonna get you at this diverse Logan Square club/restaurant. Check your stereotypes at the door.

9. Harry Caray's Tavern
The success of this announcer-themed bar in the shadow of Wrigley Field was as foreseeable as Milton Bradley's inevitable flop.

10. Goose Island Brewery
A revamped menu and an always-exciting beer list kept this stalwart afloat despite economic troubles in '09 - here's hoping for another 20 years.


For more on these top bars and other local venues, visit centerstagechicago.com/bars.

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We have to give you credit, CTA. After all the ways you’ve screwed us over in 2009 (full buses passing us by, trains running express when we least expect it, the persistent odor of bodily fluids), you think you can make us forget all of it by offering penny rides on New Year’s Eve. And you know what? It just might work. Because instead of writing up a list of grievances, we’ve been busy brainstorming how to spend those cents between 8 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday. Here’s what we’ve come up with (not including all the New Year’s Eve events on the slate):

  • Hop on the Red Line and spend some time at the Jackson stop, where you’ll surely find a music performance in progress, whether it’s classical violin or jazz on electric guitar. Increase your enjoyment by stopping by Ceres Café for a drink with the traders first.
  • Take a ride over to the Chicago Blue Line stop to view the new installation from local artist Peter N. Gray. While you’re there, head above ground for a cocktail at the Matchbox and maybe a heart attack (the Three Little Piggies Sandwich) at the nearby Silver Palm.
  • Plan a Pink Line journey to 18th St, where the decorated station will have you in awe. Not only that, but perennial favorite Nuevo Leon is just a short walk away (and if you’re taking a ride on the tail end of the deal, Panaderia Nuevo Leon opens at 5:30 a.m.)
  • Pre-party with the Wildcat faithful at Tommy Nevin’s Pub in Evanston, off the Purple Line’s Dempster stop – the diehards have plenty to prepare for, as Northwestern plays its biggest football game in several years on New Year’s Day, against Auburn in the Outback Bowl at 11 a.m. (if you can’t bear to leave the city, try Lion Head Pub – by the Fullerton stop – or the brand-new Purple Haze, steps away from Belmont).
  • Ride the Brown Line out to Francisco, just so you can confirm it exists (seriously, it’s gotta be the least referenced stop on the North Side). The welcoming Montrose Saloon is a short jaunt south.
  • Go for a late, late dinner (or an early breakfast) at the 24-hour Huck Finn Donuts near the Pulaski stop on the Orange Line. We recommend the Donut Delight (topped with whipped cream and ice cream).
  • Brave the cold and take a walk to Promontory Point, near the Garfield Green Line stop in Hyde Park. It’s the perfect place to toast to 2010 (with non-alcoholic beverages, of course).


Got better ideas for how to take advantage of cheap public transit on New Year’s Eve? Let everyone know in the comments. And remember to check out Centerstage’s Virtual L to find the best spots near train stops year-round.

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