Best of the CRANDIC 2021: Little Village staff picks

John Martinek/Little Village

This fall, for the fourth year, Little Village readers voted in the Best of the CRANDIC survey, decorating dozens of local businesses, orgs, individuals and attractions in awards across six categories: Arts & Entertainment, Community, COVID-19, Food & Drink, Goods & Services and Health & Recreation.

Democracy may have selected the winners, but Little Village staff couldn’t let the citizenry have all the fun. Reflecting on our own 2021 experiences in the CRANDIC, staffers invented their own (occasionally odd) categories and crowned champions — and, like dozens of CRANDIC survey takers, took the time to justify our choices in writing. These staff picks may not earn fancy certificates, but they’re all winners in our eyes.

Best Place to Realize You’re Wasted

TCB’s bathroom

There’s a special elation in sitting in a quiet bathroom and realizing, suddenly, fatefully, sweetly surprised by your miraculous body’s true fallibility, that you are drunk off your ass. If you know what I’m talking about, then you know exactly how make-or-break a good bathroom experience can be for the vibe of the rest of your evening. May I suggest to you: the restroom at TCB. TCB’s WC always exceeds my expectations of bar bathroom cleanliness, even on a busy weekend night. Its fixtures are pleasing enough to make me feel relaxed, but not so fussy as to make me self-conscious about my state of inebriation. In fact, a certain local musician friend who shall remain nameless told me that a bracing poop at TCB is step one in his pre-show ritual. There’s no place I’d rather look at myself in the mirror and lol. —Celine Robins

Tastiest Simplicity

Nodo Downtown

Nodo’s Hemp Burger — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Looking to eat out, but not in the mood for a massive meal that’ll break the bank and leave you either rolling out the door or stuck carrying a doggy bag? Hie thee to the platonic ideal of sandwich shops: Nodo Downtown. Nothing there is what you’d expect. There’s no breakfast menu, per se, but they have the best egg sandwich in the region. There’s no fancy variety to their burgers — no extra patties offered or wild toppings that demand inventive names. But my teenager swears by them. Look, this place even offers a fried PB&J, people! Paired with incredible fries served with kickass aioli, you’ve got a delightful comfort meal that grounds you when times get crazy. —Genevieve Trainor

Best Arts Collective

Femme Decks

Nina Kintshurasvili (left) and Angelia Mahaney perform at Femme Decks, 2020. — Jack Howard

Formed by Angelia Mahaney and Nina Kintsurashvili in June of 2019, Femme Decks didn’t even get a year under its belt before the pandemic hit. But the DJ collective formed to uplift women in the profession (which has since expanded to highlight underrepresented races and gender nonconforming folks as well) is still going strong. Former University of Iowa grad student Kintsurashvili has since returned home to Tbilisi, Georgia—but Mahaney has made a name for herself locally fighting for representation and safety for both DJs and dancers in all spaces Femme Decks utilizes and throughout the community. —Genevieve Trainor

Best Reading Series

508 Press Poem Zine Reading Series

Mackie Garrett has been creating small press zines out of the Iowa City Press Co-op as 508 Press, and with his reading series, he’s got a great distro model: Get a gorgeous, lovingly created, single-poem zine and hear the poet read that work and others with phenomenal noodling by Garrett and others as Antifahorn, Garrett’s band with John and Adam Engelbrecht, play in the background. Sitting in the Public Space One art garden experiencing this is like steeping in the water of life. It feels like the essence of what Iowa City has always claimed to be. I’m deeply uninterested in a future for this city that doesn’t include these delightful inter-art happenings. —Genevieve Trainor

Best Cover Band

Slim Chance and the Can’t Hardly Playboys

When I heard Brian Johannesen go from his Waylon Jennings voice to his mind-blowing Willie Nelson impression, I nearly fell off my folding chair. The bedenimed Slim Chance puts on a truly magnificent performance of outlaw country numbers with a fantastic band of locals. If you get a chance to catch them out at Wildwood, don’t miss it, and try to get there on time so you don’t miss “Snake Farm.” —Jordan Sellergren

Best Place to Have an ASMR Shopping Experience


Put your bag in the box by the register and get ready to have an immersive sensory experience at Om (105 S Linn St, Iowa City). What’s your pleasure? The gentle, melodic song of fine-tuned wind chimes? Or the fluctuating and hypnotic sounds of a series of singing bowls? Maybe you’d simply like to gaze into crystals while you huff nag champa. In any case, when you start to feel the holiday shopping frenzies get you down, consider making your way in here and, like, just relax, man. —Jordan Sellergren

Best Place to get an Armload of Fabric for under $20

Create Exchange

Crafters rejoice! After the Create Exchange announced a few months ago that they would be closing their location in Czech Village, it was appropriately mourned — after all, where else in Cedar Rapids can you get a collection of festive buttons, yard-long lengths of fabric just perfect for your next DIY or just some weird doll heads, all for incredible prices? Fortunately, they’re now re-opened and ready for business on Center Point Rd. Head on down — maybe there’s a swatch of silk just calling your name. —Malcolm MacDougall

The Plague Can’t Keep ’Em Down Award

Sam Locke Ward

OK, it’s long been well-known in this town that Association of Alternative Newsmedia Award-winning Little Village cartoonist SLW is a prolific musician. But gotdayum, son! In 2021 alone he’s released two recordings with Mike Watt as SLW cc Watt, one with Joe Jack Talcum and the Bassturd as Boundless Relaxation and three under his own moniker. And that doesn’t count the visual work we’ve freelanced from him and the comics he’s self-published. And the year’s not over! Oof. If you were ever made to feel inferior by those assholes who taught themselves to bake bread during the height of the pandemic, just introduce them to the wonder that is SLW, so they can feel inferior, too. He’s been out there straight making magic happen. —Genevieve Trainor

Best New Queer Space

Iowa LGBTQ Archives & Library

Despite the perception of cultural openness in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, LGBTQ+ (i.e. Queer) spaces have a fraught history here. Just as some find community in sports bars, coffee shops, reading groups and artistic venues, there is value in spaces which primarily serve the Queer community in intentional and inclusive ways. And while there is something to be said for building community, there is just as much power in recording the community as it was and how it is today. The Iowa LGBTQ Archives & Library built a community space to research, gather, house and give voice to the stories of the Queer experience across Iowa — a critical gap in Queer community services, and one which I hope to see thrive in the months and years ahead. Whether you or someone you know has items to contribute to the archive, time to volunteer to support their work, or is interested in perusing their (relatively extensive) library collection, the archive’s work and the support they’ve seen give me hope for the future of the Queer community in the CRANDIC. —Nolan Petersen

Best Tool Library

Matthew 25

Matthew 25’s Tool Library, 201 3rd Ave SW, Cedar Rapids. — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

There’s nothing worse than finally getting a weekend to do a home project and realizing, to your horror, that you don’t have the circular saw/pneumatic stapler/niche screwdriver to actually complete it. Worry not! Where once you might have had to resort to hacking through those baseboards with your old Boy Scout Swiss Army knife or trying to caulk your tub with a pastry bag, Matthew 25’s tool library has an online inventory filled with every tool you’d need for a weekend project. —Malcolm MacDougall

Illest Arcade Game

Vice Iowa City

Vice’s Key Master machine sits empty after Vice’s move down Prentiss Street, awaiting new swag. — Sid Peterson/Little Village

There are plenty of places to play Pac Man, pinball and plush-filled crane machines in eastern Iowa, but only one (to my knowledge) that pays out Supreme sneakers and wads of cash. Vice — which moved into a new, larger space at 312 E Prentiss St in November — is the town’s first buy/sell/trade shop for vintage shoes and streetwear. Amid racks of rare Nikes, old band T-shirts and even the occasional pair of JNCO jeans is a Sega Key Master machine, stocked with merchandise and, sometimes, $500 cash bundles. Is it rigged? Could be, but that hasn’t stopped 50 customers from taking home the high-value prizes since Vice debuted the machine in May 2019. At $1 per play, it’s a chance worth taking. —Emma McClatchey

Best Swimming Pool

City Park Pool, Iowa City

A sunny day at City Park Pool, Iowa City. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

In my day, you didn’t need fountains and sculptures and slides to have a good time. You had a concrete rectangle filled with water, and that was plenty! The fact that City Park Pool has eluded updates most in our area have undergone seems like a miracle. Its timelessness feels almost ephemeral; you want to hold your breath so that you don’t disturb it, like a cloud animal dissipating in a summer sky, gone with the next Parks and Rec master plan. —Jordan Sellergren

Best City for Pool Access

Cedar Rapids

All that said, when it comes to plain and simple pool access, Cedar Rapids as a municipality wins, where there are five outdoor public swimming pools (Bever, Cherry Hill, Ellis, Jones and Noelridge), an indoor (Bender) as well as one in every public high school. (And a nod to Ellis Park Pool, holding strong on the classy rectangle.) I ask you this, readers: what is a city worth if only its most affluent residents can wander dreamily for a cool dip on a summer’s day? Why, by the time you get to City Park from the south side of town, they’ll be closed due to understaffing. —Jordan Sellergren

Best Boulder

Waldo’s Rock

Waldo’s Rock in 2015 — City of Marion Parks and Recreation

There are some legendary stone art pieces in the CRANDIC, from Iowa City’s Sitting Man (a.k.a. The Buddha) and Ridge and Farrow (a.k.a. The Brain on the Cleary Walkway) to the many stone lions in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village. But the best rock around was carved by Mother Nature: Waldo’s Rock is a gargantuan granite boulder that rode a glacier down from central Minnesota to present-day Marion during the Ice Age. Worshipful humans in the year 2017 A.D. built a park up around it on land donated by developer Waldo Morris, featuring a fishing pond, prairie and path connecting to the Grant Wood Trail system. You just gotta see this rock! —Emma McClatchey

Best Place to Feel the Days Turn Into Months Turn Into Years

Iowa City Community Gardens

Chadek Green Park, 1920 Friendship St, one of several community garden plots in Iowa City. — City of Iowa City Parks and Recreation

Quality time in nature and physical activity have been a mood booster for lots of cooped-up folks during the pandemic, and I’m one of them! My desire to get a lil’ fresh air every day I can has manifested in a new interest in gardening. Iowa City’s plentiful and beautiful community gardens—managed by the Iowa City Parks and Rec Department and lovingly tended by a fleet of amateur horticulturists—are a frequent stopover for me on morning walks when I need a little inspiration. Watching the sunflowers grow, the tomatoes fatten and ripen and disappear, the rare unhusbanded plots grow over with weeds, is a bittersweet marker of the passing of “unprecedented time.” —Celine Robins

Many of these entries were originally published in Little Village issue 301.

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