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Best place for bird watching

Audience Choice, Lincoln Park, Sports & Recreation No Comments »

Lincoln Park

In the city proper, Lincoln Park wins hands-down. That includes the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (including the Magic Hedge), the Bill Jarvis Bird Sanctuary, North Pond, and South Pond (which is now called “Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo). Wooded Island in Jackson Park is also phenomenal and, like North Pond, has organized bird walks almost every week. Calumet Park on the far South Side, and the two new city parks at the old steel plant property (87th and Lake Shore Drive) are great, but under-birded. And LaBagh Woods at Foster and Cicero on the city’s Northwest Side can be really good, especially in the spring. And the big “central parks”—Douglas, Columbus and Humboldt—are good during migration.

Audience Choice: Montrose Point, Northerly Island

Best of Chicago 2014

Best suggestion for a more appropriate location for the controversial TRUMP sign

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »

Along the river near the Chicago Skyway

When the turgid, silver-sheened twenty-foot-tall ego-alephs rose up along the mirrored surfaces of the Trump Tower like a logo from 1980s straight-to-VHS monster movies, the slow reveal seemed like a joke from another Michael Bay Chicago-River-side blow-‘em-down, especially the days that “TRUM” stood without quite attaining completion. “T-Rum”? Would this be the new rap name of the trigger-fingered twitterer and perennial candidate-not-candidate for president? But once the last letter landed, the “short-fingered vulgarian,” to use the celebrithet coined by Spy magazine in the 1990s, was quickly, if ineffectually barked out as “architecturally tasteless” by our missing-middle-fingered mayor. While it would be beguiling to see those letters thrusting up from the foul black piles of life-endangering petroleum waste dumped along the Calumet River, like a befouled rendition of glasses on the billboard in “The Great Gatsby”—The Donald’s I’s instead of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s—there’s a wrack of ruin that suits the mogul’s latest self-erection better. Think of the Calumet River near the Chicago River, the acres-upon-acres of rusticated buildings, bulwarks of decline that will stand for decades longer, even after Trump’s hair no longer blows in any given wind. The silver word would grow increasingly mysterious, iconic, reduced to its sounds, like the byways of Chicago named for mayors whose names no one has recognized for decades.

Audience Choice: At the bottom of the Chicago River

Best of Chicago 2014

Best place to see art films

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

 The Music Box

Stellar programming of as many as a dozen attractions a week under the star-filled night-canopy ceiling of the Music Box, a newly refurbished second theater with comfy seats, an expanded lobby with improved lineups and a full bar with programming-themed tipples? It only gets better, and it’s a challenge for each and every space small and large to up the local exhibition game.

3733 N. Southport, 773.871.6607,

Audience Choice: Music Box Theatre

Best of Chicago 2014

Best burgers

Audience Choice, Food & Drink No Comments »


We’ve enjoyed foie gras-laced burgers at Daniel Boulud’s db Brasserie in Vegas, but simplicity is surely the best way to highlight a hamburger’s high-quality ingredients. Eddie Lakin of Edzo’s has been kicking it old school since 2010, and though we’re almost abashed to ladle another plaudit upon him, his hamburger leverages house-ground beef (locally sourced, grass-fed, hormone-free, of course) to strike a satisfying balance between fine-dining finesse and drive-thru minimalism. If this powerfully primal sandwich is not fancy enough for you, upgrade with an order of truffle fries.

2218 N. Lincoln, 773.697.9909 and 1571 Sherman, Evanston, 847.864.3396,

Audience Choice: Au Cheval, 800 W. Randolph, 312.929.4580,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best candidate for mayor, whether declared or not

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »

Jerry Springer

Long-battling talk-show host Jerry Springer, the longtime-if-no-longer Chicago job-creator for all the years of his confrontational bark-show, a lover of civic combat and of Chicago itself, might never have become so well known if, while a Cincinnati city councilman in 1974, he hadn’t paid for personal services with a personal check. The seventy-year-old Democrat has attained a certain gravitas over time, exploiting while not truly condescending to his subjects. (He was also reelected and later mayor of that river city.) Sounds like mayor material to us, and imagine the press conferences! Imagine the personal appearances! We can. Chicago, Chicago! That tabloid town! C’mon back from Connecticut, Jerry, we need you!

Audience Choice: Toni Preckwinkle

Best of Chicago 2014

Best new book by a Chicago author in the last year or so

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

“Paper Lantern: Love Stories,” Stuart Dybek

It was a great year for Chicago writing, with notable new books from Cristina Henriquez, Rick Perlstein, Rebecca Makkai and many many others. Unfortunately for them (at least in terms of this particular conversation), it was also one of those rare years in which Stuart Dybek published a book. (Two books, actually, as he simultaneously came out with another collection of stories, “Ecstatic Cahoots,” thereby increasing his published books of fiction by two-thirds in a single year of a seventy-plus-year lifetime.) Dybek has become the dean of Chicago authors, a writer’s writer, who’s as well liked in person as he is loved on the page. And loved he is: you cannot find a writer who won’t bring up his name in admiration when Chicago’s literary existence is invoked. Speaking of love, “Paper Lantern” is a collection of love stories, in which Dybek seizes back the greatest concern in the history of mankind from the bodice rippers too often married in the mind with romance. Of course, Dybek’s stories don’t necessarily conjure up romance, either, nor certainly happy endings. In Dybek’s world, in fact, the perishability of love, and life itself, means almost certainly unhappy endings. Dybek’s stories here are compelling meanderings, in a way he masters like no other as he gracefully shifts and pivots narrative around in such a manner that his reader ends up in a destination seemingly unimaginable at the outset of the voyage. And yet, deeply satisfied by the journey.

Audience Choice: Where To? Dmitry Samarov

Best of Chicago 2014

Best antique shop or market

Audience Choice, Goods & Services No Comments »

Lincoln Antique Mall

Lincoln Antique Mall gets hyped for a reason: to behold its variegated sales floor is to be transported into a storybook, a magical space populated by every kind of exotic creature. Specializing in furniture and decorative objects, the 7,000-square-foot space is brimming with finds, from sleek Danish modern credenzas to plush, ornate sofas that look like set pieces from “Moulin Rouge.” And though Nate Berkus and other professionals frequent the store, you need not be a design expert to enter. Lincoln’s friendly staff won’t judge you, even if you do walk out with that pair of curvaceous Lucite nightstands.

3115 W. Irving Park, 773.604.4700,

Audience Choice: Two-Sided, 2958 N. Clark, 773.244.6431,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best idea for the next civic spectacle, after this year’s Great Chicago Fire Festival triumph

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »


If Chicago wishes to treat visitors to a spectacle, it ought to put them on one of the CTA’s longer bus routes. On the 29, which travels along State Street, spectators can enjoy an immersive experience for the price of a single-ride ticket. The southbound leg will take them from the splendor of Gold Coast mansions to the Loop’s retail blocks and then to neighborhoods that demonstrate the shocking disparity of this city with a clarity that no pyrotechnics can match. And perhaps the revenues from the added bus fares, coupled with savings realized from scrapping pricey theatrics, can make the spectacle seem a little less sad.

Audience Choice: Re-creation of the World’s Fair

Other audience comments that caught our attention: “A replication of the Great Chicago Flood of 1992”; “Actually re-enacting the great Chicago fire”; “The Great Parking Meter Lease Festival”; “Disco Demolition reunion”; “Founding Mothers of Chicago. Presenting 150 years of forgotten/ignored history crediting the women who built Chicago”; and “The return of July 3 at Grant Park. The city is not the same without the crowds gathering for the taste and fireworks!”

Best of Chicago 2014

Best new bar or club (opened in the last year or so)

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Hyde Park No Comments »

The Promontory

Hyde Park has been a music desert since 1950s urban renewal decimated the center of jazz in the Midwest. The team from Empty Bottle, Space, Longman & Eagle and Thalia Hall/Dusek’s are bringing the neighborhood back to its roots and relevance. A pristine-sounding music room also has stunning visuals of dark wood and chandeliers. Bookings have been eclectic—jazz (Pharoah Sanders!/Ramsey Lewis), rhythm and blues (NRBQ) and occasionally rock ‘n’ roll or dance party. The warm and friendly downstairs gastrobar/restaurant merits its own trip.

5311 S. Lake Park, 312.801.2100,

Audience Choice: Logan Hardware Arcade, 2410 W. Fullerton, 872.206.2859,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best thing you’ve eaten recently that made you stop and think, “This might be the best I’ve ever eaten”

Audience Choice, Food & Drink No Comments »

To’ak chocolate

To’ak chocolate is made by former Chicagoan Jerry Toth, who left his job as a Wall Street investment banker to cultivate cacao and process chocolate in Ecuador, where the earliest cacao plants grew. Using very old plants that yield the best beans in very small quantities, Toth’s product is priced, predictably, astronomically: $260 for an approximately forty-six-gram bar. Containing eighty-one-percent cacao and nineteen-percent sugar, To’ak has a purity of flavor unlike any chocolate we’d ever tasted. Each bar comes in a handcrafted box of Spanish elm with a specially designed device for tasting the chocolate without touching it with fingers. Distributed in only four cities in the U.S., To’ak can now be purchased in Chicago at Lush Wine & Spirits.

1412 W. Chicago, 312.666.6900,

Audience Choice: Hundreds of suggestions, all unique

Best of Chicago 2014