Saturday, January 2, 2010

l'étoile's Best of 2009

2009 was one hell of a year. Dare we say, a breakout year for the Twin Cities? Yes, we're calling it. The end of the decade marks a new beginning for our local brethren. From musical luminaries garnering major national press to local fashion designers kicking ass and taking names on hit reality show, Project Runway, 2009 was a wonderful, exciting whirlwind. It's been hard for us to narrow down our favorites due to the sheer volume of brilliant talent in these here parts, and we wish this list could go on and on and on. The reality, however, is that we can only gush so long before you get bored and go back to Googling yourself. A fitting end to our favorite year thus far, our Best of 2009 list is an homage to all our favorite creatives and entrepreneurs. Happy New Year and kudos to everyone who made this past year so very amazing!


Best Moment
Project Runway Premiere Party

How proud were we to produce the Project Runway Red Carpet Premiere Party in Saint Paul this past August? So proud in fact, that we're sort of putting ourselves on our 'best of 2009' list. Back-patting aside, this event certainly wasn't about us, it was about hometown boys Ra'mon-Lawrence Coleman and Christopher Straub who beat out countless other fashion designers from around the country to score coveted spots on the hit reality TV show. An invite-only media/fashion industry screening was held at the Saint Paul Hotel's Grand Ballroom, with an additional public viewing at the nearby Landmark Center. Over 700 of the Twin Cities fashion elite showed up en masse to party alongside the two rising stars who debuted their latest creations via a fashion show and trunk show at the hotel. The best part? Hearing the crowd go completely ballistic when Christopher was declared the winner of the first challenge, with Ra'mon coming in a close second! The two sat in the front row at the St. Paul Hotel alongside their friends, family and the Mayor of St. Paul, leaping up as Christopher was announced the winner, and hugging it out in front of the projector as the crowd went wild. Needless to say, it was a beautiful moment in Twin Cities fashion, and one we'll never forget. Despite the fact both of our boys got booted from the show eventually, they've both been workin' it hard and have big tricks up their sleeves for 2010!

Best Performance Event
Dessa 'Spiral Bound' Book Release

Of all the stellar performances this past year (and trust us, there were a slew) the one that made the biggest impact on us was the book release party for Dessa's Spiral Bound. The singer, rapper, writer, educator and all-around talented lady is best known for her musical feats and for her association with the critically acclaimed hip hop crew, Doomtree. Her first foray into printed media -- a slim chapbook of poems and short stories -- was met with mad praise from the press, hip hop heads and literary nerds alike. The cherry on top? The book release party at the Guthrie's Dowling Studio. Charismatic MSP Mag writer Steve Marsh led the way as an apt master of ceremonies, introducing a brilliantly talented lineup of Dessa's friends and collaborators peppered with highly entertaining (if not painfully awkward) interview portions between Dessa and Marsh. Between readings of her poems and short stories, the stage blazed with performances from the likes of Jeremy Messersmith, slam poet Shane Hawley, writer John Jodzio and Dessa herself, who was periodically joined by cohorts such as Aby Wolf, Cecil Otter and more. We left the event astounded, inspired, and seriously contemplating getting MPLS tattooed on our knuckles.

Best DJ Night

In the sea of uber-hip dance parties that have surfaced over the past couple years, one stands out as an eclectic cornucopia of Twin Cities DJ talent: Bomp! Debuting in early 2009 at the Bedlam Theatre, creators Wes Winship and Shannon Blowtorch have curated a most delightful rotating door event that brings together the best beat-slingers in the Twin Cities every month. To name a mere few: The Moongoons, Plain Ole Bill, Tendercakes, Attitude City, Paper Tiger, Millions Billions, Soviet Panda, DJ Bach, DJ Espada, Bitch Ass Darius and many more. Held within the cozy counter-culture confines of the West Bank's Bedlam Theatre -- a space known for its off-beat theater and musical performances -- Bomp routinely brings out a bevy of the Twin Cities' most dedicated party hounds. An interesting blend of neon-clad hipsters, artists, punkers, musicians and West Bank characters round of one of the craziest, sweatiest dance parties that the Twin Cities has to offer. People watching at its finest. Dancing at its wildest. And music that will be stuck in your head for days. This is Bomp.

Best After Hours
Anthem Heart: Worn to be Wild Series

In an arts warehouse in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis lies the inner sanctuary of stylish screenprint collective, Anthem Heart. Every couple of months, the group throws an under the radar bash on the second floor of this building (whose location shall remain nameless), bringing out the who's who in the Minneapolis party scene for an all-night dance off. Artists, hipsters, and even a few local celebs mix and mingle after bar close, often snapping up limited edition screen printed t-shirts made by Anthem Heart on the spot in their studio. This is most definitely where the cool kids convene, so keep your ear to the ground and maybe you'll be lucky enough to catch wind of the next hush-hush bash!

Best Party
Attitude City Yacht Party

All aboard! Hands down, the best bash of the year will always and forever be the annual Attitude City Yacht Party. Debonair disco jocks Jeff Dubois and Karl Frankowski lure the fashionable masses to their swanky soiree with promises of dancing, debauchery and high fashion on the high, river. Definitely more sexy people in one place than is fathomable, this yacht-rockin' dance jam brings out a grip of nautically-clad fashionistas and the ultra-hip of the Twin Cities' party circuit. A sell-out every year, the exclusive late night cruise on the mighty Mississippi is definitely the place to see and be seen (and photographed) amongst the stylistically elite...and get your dance on.

Best Fashion Show (Solo)
Laura Fulk:

If there ever was a local fashion designer to combine her aesthetic with visual art, it’s Laura Fulk. Her conceptual fashions, often inspired by a feminist perspective, clearly incorporate the MCAD grad’s fine arts background, specifically in sculpture. Fortunately, Emma Berg and Kristoffer Knutson of noted this and joined with her to produce the best solo fashion show of the year at the Lab Theater. The black box-style theater was the perfect backdrop for Fulk’s ground-breaking Spring 2009 collection, which incorporated screened fabrics by artists Melissa Breitenfeldt and and Jay Langer, and sculptural collars (meant to represent the feeling of suffocation). With fierce models from Vision Model Management and styling designed by lead stylists Eclecticoiffeur, it was one of the most well-produced and original shows the Twin Cities has seen in some time.

Best Fashion Show (Group)
Voltage: Fashion Amplified

It almost doesn’t need to be said, but we’ll say it anyway. The belle of the local fashion ball every year, without contest, is Voltage: Fashion Amplified. The powers that be (meaning Voltage producer Anna Lee and her committee of fashion influencers) select ten local fashion designers to produce a line to grace the First Avenue Mainroom runway, while five of the hottest local bands rock out. Last year’s show-stopping finale featured one of our all-time favorite designers Max Lohrbach, styled by lead stylists Eclecticoiffeur and Zach Pearl, who smashed paintings (featuring illustrations by Lohrbach himself) over the models' heads for dramatic effect. (photo by Stacianne photography)

Best New Gallery
Pink Hobo

It's a sign of modern times when the hottest new gallery to hang a shingle in Minneapolis is run by a crew of self-proclaimed geeks. With more and more of our culture melding art, design, media and even nostalgia together, it's no surprise that one of the most interesting and exciting exhibition schedules this past year included everything from purely digital art to pinewood derby cars. Shad Petosky and Vince Stall are the driving force behind Pink Hobo, the storefront gallery in NE Minneapolis that doubles as an entryway for their bubbling interactive media company, Puny Entertainment. With a client list ranging from Olde English Malt Liquor to General Mills to the Yo Gabba Gabba series, it's just another reminder that great creative minds can and do thrive here.

Best New Venue
501 Club

When Jon and Jarret Oulman opened a sister location to their Northeast hot spot, the 331 Club, we were a little concerned with the Downtown location. Would it turn into a Twins fan destination or a suburban staycationer hangout? Why we ever questioned it is beyond us, because less than a year later the 501 Club has become a happenin' hub for hip kids and music lovers alike. While the 331 is a small intimate joint, the 501 is an expansive, two-tiered bar, restaurant and music venue. A tasty menu of upscale bar food awaits, as does easy booze access via two fully loaded long bars, complete with bartenders that perfectly balance the rock n' roll sneer with amicable customer service. The real focus, however, is the music. Most days a week you'll be privy to live tunes from some of the hottest bands in town, pieced together in stellar lineups by the 501 Club's expert bookers. A venue that's big enough to not feel crowded (unless, of course, you're on the dance floor), the 501 is generally a pretty chill spot where you can mingle with the who's who of the Minneapolis music scene, grab a hot meal, a cold beer, and rock out with the best of them.

Total Babe

As much as 2009 wanted you to think that “ teen angst” was back in, local tweeny faves, Total Babe, brought back a sound so amicable and infectious that 'heartfelt' 86'ed 'heartless' and catchy became the new black. Led by lead vocalist/songwriter, Clara Salyer – a precocious 17 year-old who owns her own local record label, Personal Best – the local indie pop sensations dominated spots on 89.3 The Current's daily playlist with their effervescent track, “Bearbones,” and surprised every audience member with a polish well beyond their high school rankings. What did we call it before? Oh yeah – Air and Brigitte Bardot's musical threesome with Sunny Day Real Estate. Can we revise that statement to include an after-affair with pop duo, Mates of State? Dance on tiny children, dance on.

Lookbook: Wild at Heart

Let's face it, Lookbook was MPLS' Yeah Yeah Yeahs this year. Like it or not, there was absolutely no one - the l'etoile staff included – that could hide their adoration/admiration for the locally-based electro darlings. Whether it was due to a throwback to 80's synthesizers, Grant Cutler's patriarchal beat mastery, or Maggie Morrison's quavering vocals, the moment a newbie witnessed Lookbook's organic conception there was no disputing their talent. A incredibly danceable follow up to their ambient and melodic first album, 2009's Wild at Heart – apparently no relation to the David Lynch flick – debuted an impassioned and exciting electro album at the peak of the Twin Cities' dance-rock curiosity.

Lookbook/Bo Hakala

When talk of a Lookbook music video first circulated in the local music gossip scene, we'll admit D'Angelo similarities were raised. But luckily, director Bo Hakala – creative wonder and l'etoile fave – persuaded viewers to embrace an on-screen version of Lookbook that paralleled the on-stage presence they had delivered all year long: stripped down, raw and visceral. The lead singer – a wetted down Maggie Morrison – appeared emotionally exposed and dripping, literally, with sexual innuendo and intensity. With the video, Lookbook's notorious single, “Over and Over” received recognition not only for its catchy appeal and lyrical stratagem, but for its visual flair a la Hakala.

P.O.S.: Never Better

While riding in cars, some of us come unhinged, others inquire if we're “there yet,” but local rapper P.O.S. (aka Stefon Alexander) keeps his cool by writing raps. These car ride-created missives would eventually lead to the charismatic and darkly catchy full-length album, Never Better. Netting national praise from respected sources such as Spin, URB, Pitchfork, and even a shout out on Kanye West's blog, Never Better threw the modest Doomtree-aligned artist into the spotlight. Known for his intense and thoughtful brand of beat-fueled poetry, P.O.S. has flavor beyond his years and enough boundless creativity to back it up and then some. It's this artistic energy that hurdled Stef's rambunctious writing talent to well deserved popularity and burgeoning fame.

Vampire Hands: Hannah in the Mansion

While it seemed the nation went vampire crazy this year, “vampire” had a slightly different connotation to local modern rock lovers; i.e. the psych-rock four-piece, Vampire Hands. Breaking from a wilder garage rock sound, their latest album, Hannah in the Mansion, takes the band on a journey through the land of haze, hypnotism and tribal psychedelics. A possible explanation could be attributed to Neil Young – an artist the band was fixated on during most of the album's conception. Or perhaps the boys are just mellowing out with age. Never mind the reason, the band still proves they can be explosive on tracks like “Me and You Cherry Red,” yet darkly refined on “Eight Legs.” And isn't versatility is a fabulous sign of maturity?

Best New Boutique (Women's)
Shoppe Local

The Twin Cities have been rocking it hard for the past couple years, and in 2009 we saw our deep pool of local art, music and design talent growing exponentially. The entrepreneurial folks behind long-standing gift shop Patina smartly decided to capitalize on this with their latest endeavor, Shoppe Local. Its well-tailored selection includes some of our fave local fashion including designers Calpurnia Peach and Amanda Christine; jewelry designers Ferociter and Natalie Lucas; and music from Solid Gold, Jeremy Messersmith and more; plus framed poster art and other gift-ready items. One-stop shopping, anyone?

Best New Boutique (Men's)

When our pal Steve Kang opened BlackBlue this past fall in St. Paul, we have to admit we were taken by surprise. After all, it was the first retail venture for Kang and his partner in crime, Claudette Gacuti, and the economic conditions were somewhat sketchy. But the design-oriented duo successfully lent their keen eyes toward the much-neglected category of men’s fashion in the Twin Cities, and their smartly-edited selection has stylish men flocking to Selby and Dale for shoes from UK brand F-Troupe and home-grown Minnetonka Moccasins and Red Wing shoes, shirts by Fred Perry and Penguin, plus a just-added selection of vintage shirts, sweaters and ties. Ladies, don’t fret - Kang tells us they plan to start adding in women’s clothing in 2010.

Best New Restaurant
Anchor Fish & Chips

What can we say? We love us some Anchor Fish and Chips. This newly opened nook in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis is one of our serious guilty pleasures. Picture this: a fresh fillet of flakey cod dunked in an airy batter and deep fried to a perfect, bubbly, golden brown crisp. Then picture this: bluntly cut slabs of gloriously greasy fried potatoes doused in such delights as malt vinegar, curry sauce or a thick, savory gravy. Also picture, if you will, other fantastic menu items such as Shepard's Pie, hand-battered banger sausage, meaty grass-fed beef burgers and much more. Add in a bustling, yet tasteful atmosphere with dark wood paneling; local characters of all ages, shapes and sizes; a fiesty yet friendly staff, and there you have it, the amazing Anchor Fish & Chips. End scene.

Best Gay
Jaime Carrera

The bane of the performance critics' exisitance, Jaime Carrera has long been a staple on the local arts circuit, producing some of edgiest shows this side of NYC. When he's not busy being a muse for local rockstar art photographer Xavier Tavera or performing with local punk band, Faggot, Jaime is constantly working on and dreaming up new collaborations and "distasteful" performance art pieces to share with the Twin Cities. Most recently, Carrera created Station, a short film with frequent co-conspirator and filmmaker Tyler Jensen which was loosely influnced by everything from "Mexican soap operas to Tanztheater to Fritz Lang" (if that tells you anything). This Mexican-born, self-taught artist is one of the prolific few that is constantly pushing boundaries, reinventing himself, and creating the art he wants to create without regret (or a sensor button). We can't wait to see what he does next!

Best Bartender
Paul Teravskis

We sincerely appreciate the fact that there's a bartender in town that won't give us the stink-eye when we ask for a drink that tastes like "rainbows" or "the way puppies look." Clubhouse Jager's Paul Teravskis is that bartender. Any regular at the North Loop staple can tell you that Paul T. slings a mean specialty cocktail and is never above taking outlandish requests. When we asked him to make us a drink that tasted like (l'etoile staff writer and sci-fi author) Rob Callahan, he happily indulged us with a concoction made of Jameson, almond liqueur, lemon and bitters that he said tasted "like books." The Rob Callahan became so popular among patrons that it has made its way onto Jager's winter drink menu, a delightful list created by Teravskis and Jager Queen Bee, Angie Heitz. Stop into the bar on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday nights from 9pm to 2am or Saturdays from 5pm to 9pm and have Paulie whip you up something special!

Best Artist
Matt Bakkom

The art scene of Minneapolis has grown up alongside Matt Bakkom. Even though this multi-disciplinary artist has come and gone from the Twin Cities throughout the years, each time to find developers having razed another block of our history, somehow he has always been present. From his early screenings of films salvaged from the University's archives to curating the Under Gallery in the basement of an Uptown apartment building, Bakkom has spent his artistic career steadily marching down Hennepin Avenue. In a fitting recognition of his hard work and talent, this year his solo exhibition Strange Victory was presented at the Chambers Burnet Art Gallery. And finally, as Hennepin returned to two-way traffic, Bakkom organized a group show at the former Shinder's Comics storefront at 8th and Hennepin that was perhaps one last gun being fired downtown in memory of the long deceased Rifle Sport Gallery.

Most Eligible Bachelor
Steve Marsh

We're pretty sure the term “man about town” was invented just so it could be attached to Steve Marsh’s name. As a seasoned Twin Cities journalist for Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Steve can be spotted making the scene at posh parties and brushing shoulders with Minneapolis’ sophisticates. He can also be seen frequenting local hot spots, checking out performances and partying with the best of 'em. Really, we think the only time he's NOT out painting the town red is when he's off interviewing big names such as Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock, Michele Bachman and Jimmy Fallon. Yes, Steve has stories to tell. Just ask him how he managed to piss off Jennifer Garner! He's also incredibly smart and completely hilarious (please refer to his Twitter feed). If by some chance you don’t know who he is, well, he’s the man with the black beret. It must be noted that Steve probably knows more about fashion than you do, although, let's be honest, sometimes he doesn't look it. If the beret makes a comeback in ’10, however, he will be solely responsible. Want to date Steve? Better back it up with some pretty sharp wit...and possibly a matching beret!

Most Eligible Bachelorette
Hilary Davis

Oh pretty, pretty Hilary. l'etoile has had a girl-crush on you for so long! The bubbly and talented red headed beauty is not only an established local musician and event producer, but is a seasoned art director working in the advertising industry. Fancy, eh? As violinist for the ethereal, dreamy electro-rock group, Bella Koshka, Davis commands her audiences' attention with fast fingers and a statuesque, striking stage presence that cannot be matched. Hils' is also the mind behind some of the snazziest events in town, such as the recent Rock n' Roll Circus at the Music Box Theater and the memorable Thunderball party from last year's MNFashion Week. As sweet as she is talented, this feisty dame is always the first to exuberantly greet her friends and fans alike, and easily livens up a room with her sassiness and good looks. If we could shrink one person down to carry around in our pocket as a good luck charm, Hilary Davis would be it. Whoever manages to win this one's heart is a special man indeed -- one who is not intimidated by greatness, that is!

Best Couple
Jeremy & Vanessa Messersmith

There are a lot of awesome couples around here, so it was pretty hard narrow it down to just one. But singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith and his chic wife Vanessa practically define the term “power couple.” Jeremy has been known to sell out the First Avenue Mainroom and has crafted two exquisite albums that landed on the best-of-the-year lists of the city’s most respected music critics; he's also scored a covet spot on the official list for SXSW 2010. Meanwhile, his wife Vanessa opened Blacklist Vintage with her business partner Jennifer Sapiro in fall 2008, right when the recession hit. Somehow, they’ve managed to turn it into a success story, thanks to their hand-picked selection of vintage men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. And of course it doesn’t hurt that Jeremy and Vanessa are two of the most stylish and sweet people it town!

Best New Fashion Designer
Kevin Kramp

As much as we love our regular gaggle of local fashion designers, we especially love it when a new fashion designer pops up on our radar and impresses the pants off us. And this year, boy were our pants - er, hats - off to men’s knitwear designer Kevin Kramp, who has mesmerized us with his uniquely oversized, nomadic warrior-inspired knits. The native Minnesotan returned this year after spending several years studying apparel design in London, where he earned a degree from Central St. Martins College of Art and Design and worked with some big names, including Victoria Beckham. His designs are sold in boutiques in London and Paris, he has about a dozen different Italian yarn sponsors, has been published in international publications from Vienna, Italy, New York, France, and Sweden, and he recently won a Jerome Foundation project grant for Fiber Artists from the Textile Center. Whew! Let’s just say we’re lucky to have him. Look for a major Twin Cities debut from Kramp on the Voltage 2010 runway.

Biggest Breakout (Guys)
Ra'mon-Lawrence Coleman & Christopher Straub

Suffice to say, it’s been quite the year for local fashion. Two of our very own - Ra’mon-Lawrence Coleman and Christopher Straub - did Minnesota proud when they appeared on the sixth season of Project Runway and placed second and first, respectively, during the premiere episode. While Christopher made it nearly all the way to Bryant Park, Ra’mon wasn’t too shabby himself, making a fan of Nina Garcia on the way. Since the show, both have gone on to find additional success. Christopher’s accessories line was recently picked up by ShopNBC, and he’s become a regular fixture at just about every noteworthy fashion event in town. As for Ra’mon, he showed at New York Fashion Week, and 2010 looks to be an even bigger year for our longtime pal and collaborator. He couldn't give us full disclosure, but he did reveal to us that he'll be “involved with two other reality-based programs in 2010," one of which is of The Real Housewives franchise, as well as news that his namesake ra'mon-lawrence line will be carried at a “major U.S.retailer." CLICK HERE for a brand-new, exclusive létoile interview with Ra’mon!

Biggest Breakout (Girls)
Coco & Breezy

Ooh, dem girls. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, 19-year-old identical twins Coco & Breezy hit the national fashion scene in a big way in 2009 after launching a line of bold, studded eyewear under the moniker Gemela Amor (Twin Love) and moving to New York. The Minnesota natives first made their mark on the on the Voltage runway in 2008 and caught our eye with their signature in-your-face style. Now they’ve taken NYC by storm, getting their sunglasses featured in Essence, Source, and W Magazine’s Editor Blog, and photographed on the likes of Kelly Osbourne and Ashanti. We see very good things for these two in 2010.

Best Facebook Status Updates
Janey Winterbauer

Nothing makes us LOL quite as hard as Janey Winterbauer's status updates. So much so, we've taken to keeping an ongoing list of our favorites on file. The sassy songstress, wife and mother of two has a sharp edge that is delightfully sarcastic, self-deprecating and hilarious. On people: "people who think they are intellectually superior because they don't resort to insults and name calling can go piss up a rope." On music: "Broke 2 nails and made a huge mess of an upstairs closet looking for my Bongwater CDs this morning. I never thought I'd get so bent out of shape about Bongwater, but there you have it." On children: "I'd totally buy Vinny a 'kid leash' if it was socially acceptable. Unfortunately I'm more concerned about being judged than fucking up his self esteem. He has too much of it anyway." On religion: "If Jesus Christ could come back today and see the things that are done in his name, he would never stop throwing up." Friend Janey on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Best Twitter

A wise sage once told us that the most engaging Twitter users combine personal anecdotes, humor, and truly interesting news items/links. ArtsOrbit seems to have nailed that formula effortlessly. Run by Twin Cities Daily Planet Arts Editor, Jay Gabler, the Arts Orbit Twitter is not only a great bet for artsy news and cool events going on, but when Gabler hits the town, it's comedy gold. On shopping: "Last-minute shopping for 50s party. Fortunately, finding a porkpie hat in Uptown is like shooting a fish in a barrel of fish with no water." On parking: "Whenever I park in the pay lot by Mixed Blood, I feel like the early-morning expiration time on the dashboard receipt is a dare." On the Theater/Theatre: "Amused by the fact that the Guthrie is a "theater" while the garage behind the Steeple People Thrift Store is a "theatre." Follow Jay/Arts Orbit on Twitter.

Best Blog
Stuff About Minneapolis

Did you know that bloggers post 900,000 articles every day, which is enough posts to fill the New York Times for 19 years? How do you pick the one you like the best? It was a toughie, but our pick for best local blog iiiiis: Stuff About Minneapolis. The blog has a simple concept: aggregate the best of the local web. The concept is not new, but what makes this blog different is that its administrator, Paul Merrill, not only collects fun and interesting tidbits that are current, but also shares amazing vintage photos of Minneapolis. Don't get us wrong, we're all about the 21st century and stuff, but sometimes there are things out there that just make us want to go back in time. This photo (pictured), for example, was a favorite that we came across on the local internetz in 2009. Does this make you want to teleport yourself to 1963 or what? Well, minus the jail time.

Best of 2009 contributors: Kate Iverson, Jahna Peloquin, Juleana Enright, Marina Maric, Kristoffer Knutson, Robyn Lewis

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