In this week’s Seek Like a Local, award-winning cultural producer Kristen Kaza shares her favorite emerging and established LGBTQ+ and BIPOC creatives, unique Chicago activities, and the best place to enjoy a chill midweek lunch that also doubles as a popular brunch destination.
Explore Chicago Like Kristen Kaza
Kristen Kaza is on a mission to foster community connection and activate joy. As Creative Director of No Small Plans Productions, she has been the architect of hundreds of “parties with a purpose,” collaborating with communities, brands, and institutions on events designed within an intersectional framework including HBO, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Community Trust, Nike, United States Artists, Navy Pier, Pitchfork Music Festival, Howard Brown Health and more. She is also the Co-Founder for Reunion Chicago, a sliding scale event space and project incubator for women, non-binary, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC creatives, where hundreds of artists and organizations have been able to make and share work freely since 2016.
This year, the Co-founder of the longtime queer celebratory party series Slo ‘Mo: Slow Jams for Queer Fam will be celebrating ten years of making space for the queer community, connection, and joy. Join the in-person celebration on September 3rd at Smartbar. Connect with Kristen on Instagram or visit Slo ‘Mo to learn more.
tell us the about the best vintage and thrift shops in the city.
Pilsen has the best concentration of vintage: Knee Deep has the best collection of vintage in Chicago, and at such affordable prices. There’s also Pilsen Vintage and The Shudio and others. Pilsen is a great neighborhood to spend money in. Do your research and support Latinx-owned businesses!
What’s your favorite neighborhood restaurant in Chicago?
My favorite restaurant in Chicago is Lula Cafe, which is also right around the corner from where I live in Logan Square. It has been a staple in the neighborhood for over 20 years, and has been an incredible leader in the hospitality industry, especially during the pandemic. Lula’s minimum wage is $18/hour and they offer full benefits, time off and paid parental leave; this is major for a restaurant. The staff is amazing, the music is always good (so key for me) and the food never ever misses. My favorite is to sit at the bar and chat with the incredible bartenders. It gets slammed on the weekends and pretty much any time, but I personally love to go midweek, midday and enjoy a glass of wine and late lunch.
What community organizations are you proud to support?
Brave Space Alliance, the first Black trans lead organization located in Hyde Park, does such important work. They have a significant pantry program, drop-in group sessions, job training programs and just overall are amazing advocates for Black queer and trans people.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Chicago?
Some of my favorite Chicago moments include Garfield Park Conservatory, picnics in Humboldt Park and Lincoln Park, walks on the 606 to go get Ava’s Italian Ice, a visit to the beach and lakeside (Hollywood Beach for queer folks – it’s a party on the weekends), and a walk through Ping Tom Park in Chinatown (go get dim sum after!). If people are into nightlife, Smartbar is a house music institution and often has great lineups, and of course I’m biased but if you’re lucky enough to be in town when my queer celebratory party Slo ‘Mo is happening, don’t miss. Up north in Andersonville is newly opened Black queer women-owned cocktail bar Nobody’s Darling, and not too far away is Lost Larson which has some of the BEST pastries in the city. Down south, a visit to Hyde Park and Bronzeville is also a special experience: Don’t miss a trip to cultural icon The Silver Room for shopping and great vibes or a walk at Promontory Point. If you can make an appointment, visit the South Side Community Arts Center, the first Black art museum in the country.
Name a few Chicago artists that we should know and follow.
I’m an event producer and promoter so I’m always going to recommend music first and I’m queer so I’ll always rep the fam: Roy Kinsey is prolific. I really think he is a genius and everyone needs to hear his music. He’s a queer librarian rapper, so his lyrics are just so rich with history and his brilliance. I feel just as emphatic about Akeyna, a brilliant jazz and R&B composer/vocalist, pianist. As for visual art, Andy Bellomo has some of my favorite murals in the city, especially the stunning mural in Boystown at Howard Brown Health and her Ping Tom Park mural. If you’re looking to learn about local artists, curator Ciera McKissick, creator of AMFM, is a one-stop-shop of knowledge. She is always putting something great on and advocating for emerging Black and brown artists.
Seek Like A Local, and discover things to do, places to dine, and more of what the city of Chicago has to offer this week. Check out previous guides from influential Chicago locals here.