Time Out Chicago: Irreverent, Cool and Educational

Posted: October 2, 2010 in Grade: A, Magazine: Lifestyle, Magazine: Regional, Reviews
Tags: , ,

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Time Out Chicago (www.timeoutchicago.com)

Issue reviewed: September 9-15, 2010, Issue 289

  • Published in Chicago, Ill., by Time Out Chicago Partners LLP
  • Circulation: 51,699


  • median age: 33
  • average HHI: $95,400
  • 70% are single
  • 60% are female
  • goes out three or more times per week

Overall Editorial

Time Out Chicago calls itself an “irreverent, intelligent, insightful roadmap” to Chicago, and its editors say that if you can’t find anything to do in Chicago, it’s not their fault! And I believe them. This magazine blew me away when I flipped through it the first time because of the enormous amount of stuff to do that this magazine listed. And it’s weekly! That means they compile this huge list every single week. I’m amazed by this, mostly because each listing isn’t just a place, address and admission price. Each one is written — real insight, real attitude, real stories. One, for instance, is for Raunchy Bingo: “This isn’t your grandmother’s bingo — unless Granny was a bit smutty.” Another for Dollar Drink Night: “You can … get hammered at this night of karaoke … and cheap-ass cocktails.” Doesn’t Chicago sound fun?

Overall Design

Similar to my feelings about Baltimore Magazine, I am wowed by how Time Out Chicago can cram so much information into these pages and still make it look good. It doesn’t look like the classifieds section of a paper like you might expect. Color and illustrations and graphics and ads are spread out through all the listings so no page is too boring. The editors are even kind enough to put a big “FREE” next to every free admission event. The contents page is attractive and to the point, and the page right after it has more copy than maybe any page I’ve ever seen in my life — but it still looks good. Especially if you don’t mind smallish type. Throughout, Time Out Chicago has several simple but nice design elements, such as highlights, speech balloons and tiny sidebars with photos. On the features, the design is overboard. In the features Major Score and Concerto Inferno, the opening photos are weird, busy and distracting. The remaining pages of those features are much more pleasing than the first page.

Cover Design and Blurbs

A smashed violin graces the cover and is definitely intriguing, especially with the huge words Smash Hits. The cover photo is good, but for people like me who get this magazine in the mail (and most people, really, because this magazine is almost entirely subscription), the bottom third of the violin isn’t visible because of the label area. It feels like I’m missing something as the reader, especially because most of the damage to the violin would be in the impact area — at the bottom that is covered. The cover blurbs are good (“Gin Yummy” and “Bear Down”).

Editor’s Note

Aw, no editor’s note! What a shame. I would have loved to hear from Frank Sennett. Instead, he packs the magazine with tons of Chicago voices, from weird comments on the street to reader letters to Chicagoan interviews. That’s all great, but hearing one strong voice from a magazine, even amid dozens of others, sets a tone for the magazine that is invaluable.

Departments and Columns

The best department in this magazine appears on the first few pages: It’s the front section that’s made up of Public Eye (an interview with a random Chicagoan), Speak Up (letters and chats with readers), Heard on the Street (awful little things that people hear on the street, full of irony, humor, perversion and the F word!),The Bean Poll (reader survey, with the Chicago Bean statue as the graphic) and What’s Up With That? (a useful but insane question; in this case, it’s “can I get a DUI for drinking and bicycling?”). It’s all short, snappy, funny and shocking. The rest of the magazine is divided into Eat Out, Shopping & Style and Around Town, with the latter being the bulk of the magazine — 60 pages of stuff to do in Chicago. Everything is a quick read, including numerous reviews of books, movies, clothes and restaurants.


There’s only one feature, made up of two stories and two sidebars about music. The first story, Major Score, is a straight-up Q&A interview with the incoming Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director, and the other, Concerto Inferno, is an article about “new classical” music. Concerto Inferno benefits from good writing, but it is difficult to read because the writing is smushed into two pages so the opening page can be taken up with a really ugly burning white wig. Disappointing, considering the cover — bearing the smashed violin — was directing readers to this story, and they probably passed right by it. The photo is weird, it takes too long to figure out, and it likely sounded much better in the board room than it was executed on paper. Plus, it doesn’t relate to the cover. And the design of Major Score leaves tons of blue chicken-scratch background behind the text, making it difficult to read and almost not worth the effort. It would have been much better on both stories to dedicate more white space to the design and invite the readers in instead of telling them “Never mind, just go on to the next page.”

Use of Photography

Photos are everywhere, all with varying levels of strength and interest. The food photos are generally appetizing throughout. Especially interesting were the plate photographs from the restaurants the writers reviewed. They’re mostly straight-down shots, which is generally not recommended for food photography, but in this case, the photos look more like a series of how-to photos, which let the reader see exactly what an order at these restaurants would look like.

Use of Illustrations

Barring a couple of illustrated treatments to photos, I don’t see any illustrations in this magazine. Photos take care of the business needed.

Relevance to Intended Audience

The snarky tone, super-honest-to-the-point-of-red-face answers to sex questions, and the drinking/dining/shopping focus are perfect for party-hearty 30-somethings in the Chicago area. The magazine offers such a variety of go-and-do possibilities that, seriously, it really isn’t their fault if you can’t find anything to do there.

Integration with Website

The website is just as informative as the magazine. Possibly — just maybe — even more so. The website is arranged by type of entertainment, and then by date. It has several blogs and opinions that don’t appear in the magazine that add value. The magazine sends readers to the website in several sidebars and “for more info” boxes, and plus, it puts the web address at the bottom of every single page.

Flow, Story Hierarchy

The flow is good. Starts small, builds up, then brings the reader back down into a sexual then super-geeky finish. These guys have enough content, though, that I think it would be better to produce a larger feature well. Not being a fan of classical music myself, I was totally bored during the features in the beginning. So I started on a high with the crazy quotes and insane questions, then I had to force myself to read the unattractive features before I got into the interesting stuff again.

Paper Quality

The paper is fine, especially for a weekly. It doesn’t wrinkle much and is easily foldable for if you’re on the go to any of the recommended places. It’s 104 pages plus covers.

Overall Opinion

I teetered on the edge of a B for Time Out Chicago for the lackluster features for the music, but in the end, I decided that Time Out Chicago does enough good to outweigh those few oversights. The tone of the magazine is consistent throughout — irreverent and cool — something that’s hard to achieve with this much content. Time Out Chicago does an excellent job of educating and exciting its audience about what’s going on in the area, and it entertains them while they’re making their plans. For these reasons, I give Time Out Chicago an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

  1. flyinggma says:

    I think the magazine it looked busy. But I’m older than their target audience. The page that had the “in the loop, out of the loop and loopy ” looked interesting. I’m constantly looking at stuff in magazines to determine just how out of step I am or if I finally get something. That page looked like the place I might find that information in Time Out Chicago but couldn’t read it in your post, too small. Keep up the good work.. so many magazines…so little time.

    • The pages are definitely busy — there’s no white space in this magazine! But it conveyed a sense of “there’s a whole lot of ‘busy’ in Chicago!” and seemed like the overall “look how much there is to do!” tone of the magazine. The Loop stuff: They are quick tidbits that don’t fit anywhere else, such as Roger Ebert releasing a cookbook, a guy restarting his blog, and a mention of a stage show for news.

      • flyinggma says:

        Let me guess. Roger Ebert releasing a cookbook in the Loopy section?? Or is releasing a celebrity cookbook in the loop these days. I’ve driven through Chicago in rush hour traffic and there is definitely a whole lot of busy going on. I do love Chicago for its endless variety of food available. I don’t love being lost in Chicago at 2am but that is another story…

  2. Sheryl in Virginia says:

    Sounds like a really interesting mag. I would pick up a copy and check out the website before traveling to Chicago.

    (PS: What’s wrong with Classical Music?)

  3. Justin says:

    Time Out Chicago is the best publication in Chicago by far! The Red Eye isn’t even close to being on TOC’s level. Unless you love TMZ, and dumb gossip repeated over and over. And also get your fingers dirty from the crappy newspaper style. No editorial thought is really put into R E either.

    It’s a shame that more people don’t know more about this awesome magazine! I seriously can’t wait till every Wednesday when I get home from work and open my mailbox : – )

    Nice article Tyler! You were pretty dead on….


    • Thanks, Justin! I’m glad you like the magazine so much. I’ve been to Chicago twice and loved it both times — next time I’ll enjoy it more because of this resource!

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  4. […] people, including Herzig, Florida Trend’s Mark Howard, and editors at Baltimore Magazine, Time Out Chicago and The […]

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