Chicagoland | Bleader | Chicago Reader


Monday, July 23, 2018

Chicago’s first-ever cat convention was like catnip to fans of felines

Posted By on 07.23.18 at 04:33 PM

Baby siblings Whiskey and Rye with Windy Kitty Cat Cafe owner Jenny Tiner at the Meow Meetup. - KAYLA MOLANDER
  • Kayla Molander
  • Baby siblings Whiskey and Rye with Windy Kitty Cat Cafe owner Jenny Tiner at the Meow Meetup.

The first rule of Meow Meetup: When other attendees ask about your Instagram, it's a trick question. What they're inquiring about isn't you—sorry, human—it's your cat's social media presence.

It's a pretty good time to be alive if you're a Felis catus. Or so it seemed at Chicago's first-ever cat convention. An estimated 3,000 people gathered at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont over the weekend in devotion to their chosen house pets. Some adopted adorable strays, listened to lectures like "How to #LoveCatsMore" that doubled as pro-cat agitprop, shopped for political cat toys (the Donald Trump one sold out in under an hour), attended a feline film festival, visited a cat-themed cafe, participated in cat yoga and bingo, and, yes, exchanged Instagram handles.

"Cats are taking over the world," pronounced Jessica Spaid, a manager of Windy Kitty, a Cat Cafe in Bucktown, as she held a pair of mewling kittens at the meetup.
But what kind of emperors will these tiny carnivorous mammals make? I must admit that, as a brand-new owner of a kitten, I left the meet-up feeling a bit insecure. Remember when ownership was mostly a matter of taking care of your cat's sustenance, shelter, litter box, and health care in exchange for—if you're lucky—some affection?

No longer. Feline-obsessed grassroots communities born on the Internet have grown and spawned celebrity cats with millions of followers who get book and movie deals and appearance fees at the cat-themed conventions, which keep springing up around North America since the debut of CatCon in Los Angeles in 2015. To keep up, cat enthusiasts must now serve as their creatures' PR person, social media manager, and marketing executive.

That might sound exhausting, but living in an era of cat supremacy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Take Lauren Mieli, Meow Meetup's founder. She got laid off from her Chicago-area marketing job in the last year and is turning her six-year-old cat blog, The Catnip Times, into a full-time job. After amassing almost 900,000 followers on Facebook and 50,000 on Instagram, she decided to organize a convention to bring cat lovers together in real life.

"Unlike, say, dog owners, cat people meet online because there is no such thing as a cat park in Chicago," said Mieli. "So I decided to go big or go home and said, let's do this. Let's have fun and bring together this huge Instagram community and influencers and friends of felines."

Mieli hopes that the Meow Meetup (which she'd like to turn into an annual event) can help normalize cat fandom to some extent—enough of the crazy cat lady cliche. "I was once in the closet about my love for cats, and then I came out, so to speak, when I started my blog," she says.

The biggest draw of cat cons still seems to be the promise of mingling with Instagram-famous felines at meet-and-greets. At the top of Saturday's bill was Lil' Bub, the odd but endearing saucer-eyed mutant cat from Bloomington, Indiana, who has her own media empire that includes a webseries, a book, a documentary, and most recently a video game. Attendees paid $100 each to briefly bask in the presence of 'Lil Bub and waited in lines to pet or get selfies with a handful of other, more minor, cat celebs.

I strolled over to celebrity cat's Chuck the Duck's booth to meet the Lakeview-based Instagram star, but the 11-year old orange tabby was on break in his hotel room, said his owner Cody VandeZande. Four years ago, VandeZande, a professional hairdresser, started to dress up his cat in elaborate costumes and post pictures of them online. One in particular, of Chuck wearing hair extensions in imitation of Beyoncé went viral, and he now has 11,500 Instagram followers. Not bad for a former barn cat from rural Wisconsin.

"It's been great so far," says VandeZande about his first cat con. "A bunch of Chuck's fans were so excited to see him. Everyone in this community is so supportive."

Even with Chuck taking a breather, VandeZande was busy promoting his cat's merch: stickers, pins, and a forthcoming ABC primer, The Chuck Book, an illustrated children's book featuring dozens of other Instagram-celebrity pets in alphabetical order.

"I never thought I'd be a crazy cat person," he confesses. "But it definitely did happen."

  • Kayla Molander

Four booths down from Chuck, I spied a different species of celebrity in the cat world. It's the booth of Jeanette Skaluba of Decatur, who in 2015 decided to try bringing cats from a nearby shelter to her yoga class? "Yoga and cats is a natural combination that no one thought of before," says Skaluba.

She taped the resulting event on a GoPro camera, and the video of a black-and-white colored kitty named Oreo slinking around or on top of Skaluba and other women as they made catlike poses earned 13 million views on YouTube and inspired what's become a nationwide phenomenon: Cat Yoga. "I still get contacted from media outlets about it," said Skaluba. "Recently it was BBC Russia."

Cat yoga's success has meant good things for Skaluba. Her Yoga4Cats became a both nonprofit and a licensed rescue organization last year, and she hosts special events such as an upcoming night session that pairs cat yoga with beer. Silly? Sure, but for a good cause. "Doing yoga with [the cats is] supposed to be a way to give them new exposure so they can get adopted," she says.

Don't be surprised if Lululemon has a Meow Meetup booth next year.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, June 25, 2018

Troll the Chicago hot dog fascists with this T-shirt

Posted By on 06.25.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Derek Erdman
Apart from open defiance, the second-best way to resist Chicagoans' pointless prohibition of ketchup on a hot dog is with mockery.

Artist and ninja-level japester Derek Erdman, who recently returned to town after an extended residency at the Stranger in Seattle, posted a good one on Facebook the other day:

Last night on an airplane to Chicago I overheard some guy talking about how much he loved Chicago-style hotdogs. When there was a lull in his dogsplaining I piped up, "They're great with ketchup!" and he gave me dagger eyes. I wrote down his address from his luggage tag because I'm a total psycho and I'm going to send him one of these very pedestrian joked t-shirts.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Mellowest Bike Tour and more of the best bike-related events in Chicago

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 01:31 PM

  • Tomasz Zajda -

Bike to Work Challenge
The annual Bike to Work event now spans two weeks, rewarding commuters for putting down the Ventra card or the car keys and picking up a helmet and U-lock. Prizes will be awarded; more information can be found at Through-Fri 6/29, kick-off rally (date to be rescheduled) Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-346-3278, free. 

Chicago's Mellowest Bike Tour Learn more about our bike map from its creator, John Greenfield—who guides cyclists through some of his preferred routes. Wed 6/27, 6 PM, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-560-3966, Active Transportation Alliance

Critical Mass At this monthly group ride, bikes of all shapes and sizes join forces and stop traffic via . . . critical mass. Camaraderie is encouraged; old-timey bikes are a given. Fri 6/29, 6-11 PM, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-346-3278,, free.


Dare2tri Tandem Bike Training Grab a buddy and hop on a bicycle built for two. Dare2tri, an organization that organizes outings for folks with physical disabilities, offers training on how to ride tandem, plus information about volunteering. Arrive promptly at 10 AM. Sat 6/30, 10 AM-noon, Wilson at Lake Shore Dr, free.

Illinois Beach State Park Bike Adventure Experience an overnight stay at the Illinois Beach State Park, located north of the city along Lake Michigan near Zion. Of course, you'll arrive via bike, and along the way guides will point out the sights and scenery of northeast Illinois. Participants return by train, and there's an option to spring for a hotel if sleeping in nature isn't your thing. Campfire included. Sat 6/30, 7 AM-Sun 7/1, 6:11 PM, Buckingham Fountain, 500 S. Columbus, 312-555-1212, $80.

Louis Sullivan Architecture Tour This guided bike tour heads from the north side down to the Loop, with many stops along the way to admire Louis Sullivan's work. RSVP is required; visit to sign up and learn the starting location. Sun 6/24, 9 AM-2 PM, location TBA, free.

Pothole Art Bike Tour Cruise around Edgewater scoping out potholes that have been decorated by artist Jim Bachor—described by the website the Chainlink as "stunning and sometimes snarky mosaic works." The entry fee includes a sticker designed by Bachor. Sun 7/1, 9 AM-5 PM, Broadway and Thorndale, $25.

Tour de Fat Prepare your bike for a parade! The annual Tour de Fat offers beers, live music by Best Coast, and camaraderie among fellow bike enthusiasts. Beer proceeds benefit West Town Bikes. Sat 6/30, 10 AM-5 PM, ride begins at 11 AM, Humboldt Park, 1440 N. Sacramento, 312-742-7549,, $15.

Women and Trans Night BYO bike project to West Town Bikes Wednesday nights, when only women and trans individuals are allowed. Instructors are on hand to assist with everything from brake adjustments to larger-scale repairs. Attendees are encouraged to bring snacks and drinks. Wednesdays 7-10 PM, West Town Bikes, 2459 W. Division,, $10 an hour.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, January 20, 2017

In Chicago, Obama’s legacy is visible

Posted By on 01.20.17 at 10:54 PM

A mural at Glenwood and Lunt in Rogers Park commemorates the kick off of Obama's U.S. Senate campaign at the adjacent Heartland Cafe. - DANIELLE A. SCRUGGS
  • Danielle A. Scruggs
  • A mural at Glenwood and Lunt in Rogers Park commemorates the kick off of Obama's U.S. Senate campaign at the adjacent Heartland Cafe.

As the world watched Donald Trump take the oath as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, I traveled across the city where the 44th, Barack Obama, left his mark—literally and figuratively. Photos, murals, and other images of Barack, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha linger in storefronts in Hyde Park and pop up on buildings and viaducts in Bronzeville, Garfield Park, and Rogers Park.

For me, Obama's legacy is complicated and not flawless. But I also understand the gravity and thrill of being able to recognize myself and my own relatives in the family that, for the past eight years, occupied the nation's highest seat of power. What for so long seemed impossible became reality—and almost, but never quite, mundane. 

While the Trump administration seems intent on quickly reversing much of the progress of the Obama years, one thing is clear: in Chicago, at least, America's first black president endures.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Signs of the time: Chicago protests president-elect Trump

Posted By on 11.10.16 at 01:07 PM

Nearly 2,000 demonstrators gathered in front of Trump Tower Wednesday night to protest president-elect Donald Trump. The protest lasted nearly nine hours, ending around 1:30 AM Thursday morning.

Reader freelance photographer Carly Ries was on hand, and she captured the best handmade signs expressing the protesters' dissatisfaction.


Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Flying the W: Scenes from Wrigleyville during the Cubs' World Series home games

Posted By on 11.01.16 at 05:12 PM

  • Paul Boucher

Freelance photographer Paul Boucher has been on hand to capture the exuberant energy of Cubs fans—and vendors looking to cash in on that energy—outside Wrigley Field as the Cubs competed in the World Series for the first time in more than 71 years.

Before you tune into game six, check out his photos from Friday's home game against the Cleveland Indians.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chicago has its own chanterelle mushroom

Posted By on 09.21.16 at 10:37 AM

The Chicago chanterelle: Cantharellus chicagoensis - COURTESY OF THE FIELD MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of the Field Museum
  • The Chicago chanterelle: Cantharellus chicagoensis

The Field Museum just announced that local scientists have named the chanterelle mushroom most commonly found in the Chicago area after the city of Chicago; henceforth it will be known as Cantharellus chicagoensis. According to the release, scientists once thought chanterelles were a single species but have discovered over the past few decades that there are more than 100 species worldwide. This naming is a rare honor: the Field Museum writes that the mushroom "will join a short lineup of species named after Chicago, including a moth and an extinct mollusk."

How can you recognize it? From the Field Museum: 

The Chicago chanterelle is a mushroom found throughout northeast Illinois and nearby regions. Although similar in appearance to other chanterelles, it varies slightly in color, with a greenish-yellow tinge when it’s young. It is characterized as mild in flavor and aroma, compared to other species, which have been likened to apricots. However, the description of this species extends beyond its immediately-apparent characteristics.

Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Hideout family celebrate 20 years on Saturday with a relaxed, neighborly reunion party

Posted By on 09.07.16 at 06:30 PM

The Hideout's owners celebrate the bar's 15th anniversary in 2011. Brothers Jim and Mike Hinschliff (far left, far right) and married couple Katie and Tim Tuten (center left, center right) bought the bar in 1996. - RICHARD A. CHAPMAN/SUN-TIMES
  • Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
  • The Hideout's owners celebrate the bar's 15th anniversary in 2011. Brothers Jim and Mike Hinschliff (far left, far right) and married couple Katie and Tim Tuten (center left, center right) bought the bar in 1996.

The Hideout is holding a reunion celebration this Saturday, but you won't need to trim your hair or suck in your gut to impress people you haven't seen in decades—the party promises to be a laid-back affair, fit for friends and families. This anniversary marks 20 years that the Hideout, tucked away just off Clybourn on Wabansia by a Department of Streets & Sanitation fueling station, has been owned by brothers Jim and Mike Hinchsliff and married couple Tim and Katie Tuten.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 26, 2016

John Legend, Tika Sumpter, and Parker Sawyers reflect on Southside With You

Posted By on 08.26.16 at 03:30 PM

Southside with You
  • Southside with You

In the late summer of 1989, Barack Obama drove from Hyde Park to South Shore in his rickety yellow Datsun hatchback to pick up Michelle Robinson, his colleague and adviser at the Loop law firm Sidley Austin, for what would become a historic first date. The short drive is the setting of the opening-credits sequence of Southside With You, an endearing dramatization of the First Couple's initial romantic outing that stretches, like Before Sunrise, across an eventful day and night.

Written and directed by Richard Tanne, the low-budget indie—filmed in and around Chicago last summer and opening today—counts musician John Legend as an executive producer and composer; his song, "Start," plays over the end credits. Actors Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter (who's also a producer on the film) portray 28-year-old Barack and 25-year-old Michelle, respectively.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Cook County Land Bank is chipping away at abandoned properties one house at a time

Posted By on 08.12.16 at 11:22 AM

A abandoned house in Englewood photographed in 2013 - JESSICA KOSCIELNIAK / CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Jessica Koscielniak / Chicago Sun-Times
  • A abandoned house in Englewood photographed in 2013

Imagine a county agency that doesn't rely on taxpayer dollars to operate. And not only that, but it also generates wealth and helps revitalize struggling neighborhoods.

It's not a fairytale, but how boosters describe the successes of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, now in its third year of operating.

The land bank's purpose is twofold: to buy and resell abandoned property for rehab or redevelopment, and to clear land of blighted structures and revert it to redevelopment or community uses like parks and gardens. And since it's inception in 2013, the land bank has acquired 335 properties in Chicago and suburban Cook County—mostly blighted, abandoned homes, but also vacant lots, commercial buildings, and industrial sites—in an effort to reverse the devastation of the foreclosure crisis and resulting population loss.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories