Where the Man Behind the Best Bears Shirt Loves to Eat, Drink and Hang Out in Chicago

Artist Joe Mills's top picks for hot dogs, pizzerias, art galleries and local food deserving of "The Bear" treatment

September 15, 2023 6:45 am
Collection of art from Chicago artist Joe Mills
Artist Joe Mills takes us through his work — and his favorite places to eat and drink in the city
Joe Mills

Joe Mills loves Chicago. It’s evident in his art. 

Joe Mills does not love athletes who [have allegedly] defraud[ed] large swaths of people. It’s a sentiment evident in this t-shirt — the best t-shirt for Bears fans in 2023. (If you’re reading this as a Vikings, Eagles, Bills or other NFL fan/Favre adversary, don’t worry — Joe has a shirt for you, and $7.50 from the sale of each supports a Mississippi food bank. It just means a little extra for the Bears fans among us.) 

We asked the creator of the unofficial, not-exactly-Bears Bears shirt — a shirt that’s already raised over $1,200 for a Mississippi food bank — about its inspiration, the Chicago food that deserves wider recognition and where to take in some great art and great meals. 

InsideHook: Your new Brett Favre shirt is perfect for every fan base but especially the Bears. What was the impetus to do it now? 

Joe Mills: I have grown tired of seeing public figures blatantly do illegal, unethical things and then act like they have done nothing wrong. Favre is just one of the latest public figures to do this. Since he is a former Packer, it made sense to combine his wrongdoings with “Go Bears.” The slogan is funny to me. After posting it on social media, I realized I was not the only one.

I love your Chicago Hot Dogs piece. Which is your favorite stand? 

I’m actually not big into hot dogs. I mainly did it because of the connection to Chicago. I’d pick Jim’s Original, but I’m probably not getting a hot dog!

Ditto Chicago Pizzerias. Which is your favorite?

I know it is one of the famous tourist spots but I still like Lou Malnati’s.

Is there a hot dog stand or pizzeria you might want to add to either work? 

Since I used to work down the street from Pete’s Pizza, I would likely add that, even though I know it is not typically at the top of best pizza places.

Your neighborhood maps are extremely impressive and in-depth. Do you have to walk each block before your start? Are there any hidden gems that made it onto one of the maps?

I do a lot of research to create the maps. I am typically looking for landmarks that have and will stand the test of time, such as churches, schools and parks. I would expect most of the places on the maps are well-known. When I am ready to make the map, I walk some of the blocks to take pictures of architectural details, so I can fill in the blank spaces. If I have personal connections to a neighborhood, I do sneak in those details where I can.

Of all the works in your Entertainment Chicago and Chicago Movie Map pieces, which is the best representation of the city?

You really can’t go wrong with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. John Hughes even described it as a love letter to Chicago. As a recent viewer of The Bear, I have been impressed with the “Chicago Porn” they have put into the show. 

Your Chicago Food Map is overwhelming. Of the 100+ dishes and drinks represented, which deserves the Italian beef/The Bear treatment?

The jibarito. It is an underrated Chicago food invention that I would love to see get The Bear treatment.

If you’re taking a tourist to a restaurant and bar to sell them on the city, where are you taking them? What if they’re a Chicago lifer?

My wife and I have been fortunate to go to many fine dining places in Chicago, so I would probably take a tourist or lifer to one of those. Chicago has some excellent fine dining, and it really shows off the creativity of the food scene. Smyth, Oriole and Sepia immediately come to mind.

Are there any art galleries you love? 

I am a fan of the Museum of Contemporary Art. They have had some of the best exhibitions I have seen over the years. I also like the Smart Museum at the U of Chicago. I used to teach in Hyde Park and would take my students there a lot.

What’s the book that best represents the city? 

The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook or The Chicago 77‘. As you can imagine, I think it is important to look at the uniqueness of all the neighborhoods in Chicago.

What’s the most requested work of yours that doesn’t yet exist?

I often get requests for neighborhoods that I have not done yet. I also get requests for maps that show “old ” Chicago. Although, people seem to be looking for different time periods.

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