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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 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 pinball game in Logan Square

Logan Square, Sports & Recreation No Comments »

Twilight Zone at Logan Arcade

The Twilight Zone pinball game, released by Midway/Bally in 1993, is an absolute highlight to Logan Arcade, an amazing space that’s chock full of tons of pinball and arcade games both new and old. With a challenging skill shot, ramps, and missions such as collecting Hitchhikers and battling “The Power,” this game never gets tiresome (actually, it’s addictive). As an added bonus, Rod Serling narrates amidst a great soundtrack of sounds with a genuinely tough, but engaging, multi-ball.

2410 W. Fullerton, 872.206.2859,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best summer neighborhood arts fest

Culture & Nightlife, Rogers Park No Comments »

Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest

During the summer months, there are too many neighborhood street festivals across the city to count. But the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest in the city’s Rogers Park neighborhood just seems to belong in a way that others don’t. Given the neighborhood’s demographic’s social-justice mindedness, the notion of a festival to show off and help support the neighborhood’s local artisans and small businesses is one welcomed by the area’s residents. Few fests pack in the foot traffic or aura of mutual support as Glenwood, centered around neighborhood institutions including the Heartland Café and Red Line Tap. It offers the best of the area’s usual with a chance to discover even more.

Best of Chicago 2014

Best Evanston-based arts advocate

Culture & Nightlife, Evanston No Comments »

Lisa Corrin, director of the Block Museum

In the two years since Lisa Corrin was appointed the new director of the Block Museum on Northwestern’s campus, she has already raised the institution’s profile with major exhibitions of artists like Terry Adkins and the current survey of Wangechi Mutu. She’s overseen a smartly designed facelift to the Block’s first floor that seeks to make the museum an inviting space for its audiences and the university’s student population. Her passion is palpable in every project she oversees and conversation she strikes up.

40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, 847.491.4000,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best pinball game in Wicker Park

Sports & Recreation, Wicker Park No Comments »

Metallica at Emporium Arcade Bar

Emporium Arcade Bar is home to one of Stern’s newer releases: the Metallica pinball game, equipped with the voices of the band’s members cheering on players. Classic hits from the band also accompany the fast-paced gameplay with the ramps being a highlight. There is a silliness to the game, too, as players earn multi-ball by striking the kid in the electric chair who is egging you on to do just that. With several versions of multi-ball achieved with varying degrees of difficulty, there is always a challenge, making this one of the more appealing and solid games from this Chicago-area manufacturer.

1366 N. Milwaukee, 773.697.7922,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best shopping street or intersection

Andersonville, Audience Choice, Goods & Services, Wicker Park No Comments »

Damen, Milwaukee & North

The “six corners” intersection in Wicker Park has long ceased being an oasis of retail independence in a desert of chain-store strips. These days, major brands like Levi’s and Lululemon share the strip with the local chain Akira and boutiques like Apartment Number 9 and RSVP Gallery. Though the balance may be tenuous, the intersection has managed to retain much of its charm, partly because the urban mix is just diverse enough, with plenty of salons, galleries, cafes and other services interspersed among the clothing purveyors. It also helps that, despite the nearly complete gentrification, markers of the nabe’s grittier past remain: a few vintage storefronts, a record shop and convenience stores are helping, as it were, to keep Wicker Park weird.

Audience Choice: Clark Street in Andersonville

Best panna cotta

Food & Drink, Logan Square No Comments »

Osteria Langhe

Panna cotta has long been a staple dessert on Italian menus around town, but is too often a half-hearted, gelatinous attempt by a kitchen without a pastry chef. Not so at Osteria Langhe. This new Piedmont-inspired Logan Square restaurant is the most authentic interpretation in the city for its smooth silky texture, closer to Chinese silken tofu than pudding, and sumptuous vanilla flavor. The accompaniments change each day, but on a recent visit, passion fruit coulis, fresh golden raspberries and Ossi di Morti chocolate hazelnut cookies elevated a humble Italian classic to new heights.

2824 W. Armitage, 773.661.1582,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best kept bartender secret

Food & Drink, South Loop No Comments »

Arunas Bruzas at Acadia

Only real drinkers and bartenders understand this unwritten, bespoken rule of imbibing: Just as important as how a drink tastes is often how it is made. The “artist” executing the Michael Simon-designed cocktail program at Acadia is worth the price of admission if there was a fee to enter. Watching this cocktail sensei make a “Posh Paloma” or a signature “Speechless” is like watching Joakim Noah ball. The beauty is all in the passion. And the drinks taste amazing too.

1639 S. Wabash, 312.360.9500,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best boozy dessert

Food & Drink, South Loop No Comments »

French apple at Acadia
Calvados roasted Granny Smith apple still has a subtle crunch, nestled in a cool and creamy cinnamon custard, with a quenelle of canelé ice cream. The dish is topped with arcs of caramelized puff pastry reminiscent of flaky croissant crumbs. The booze factor steps up with a side shot of apple cider and Armagnac in pastry chef Thomas Raquel’s version of a hot toddy. All the familiar fall flavors are here, yet this dessert is unique, more alluring than any apple pie, crisp or apfelstrudel you’ve tasted.
1639 South Wabash, (312)360-9500,

Best of Chicago 2013