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

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, promontorychicago.com

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

Best of Chicago 2014

Best new venue for experimental arts

The Gray Center Lab
The former studio of powerhouse Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft has been converted into the Gray Center Lab on the campus of the University of Chicago. The venue is a think tank for artists and scholars to produce small exhibitions or performances. It is like a studio for collaborations. So far, many of the programs have focused on Chicago-specific topics, making the Gray Center Lab a much-needed incubator of the local creative culture.
929 East 60th, (773)834-1936, graycenter.uchicago.edu

Best of Chicago 2013

Best college campus art gallery or museum

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business
The Harper Center houses the U of C’s Booth business schools and a trove of international contemporary art. The building is open to the public, and the collection, on all six floors, grows constantly in the hands of a committee of curators, art collectors and an economics professor. The Booth School is like a secret art museum.
5807 South Woodlawn, (773)702-7743

AUDIENCE CHOICE: Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago, 600 South Michigan, (312)663-5554, mocp.org

Best of Chicago 2013

Best place for a quiet bike ride

Behind the Museum of Science and Industry near Jackson Park
The lakeshore path can be an uneasy split between serious, spandexed cyclists and sauntering families. For a leisurely bike ride that feels almost like one in a suburban forest preserve, hop off the path and head behind the Museum of Science and Industry. The route in’s tricky, the pavement cracked in spots, but that means there’s less people pedaling past gnarled fallen trees, a sedate golf course, and a slice of native prairie. Lock the bike and stroll through the immaculately kept Osaka Japanese Garden, or regard the back end of the Museum, a gorgeous secret view pregnant with Chicago’s past.

5800 South Lake Shore

Best of Chicago 2013

Best water fountain

“Uppers and Downers” by Chris Vorhees and Simparch
For the entire year of 2012 an indoor rainbow fountain dripped in the lobby of the Smart Museum. It was made of kitchen cabinets with doors flung open wide against gravity in an arcing rainbow of shelves, over a counter whose sink—the fountain—flooded a floor. What a clever dream.

Smart Museum of Art, 5550 South Greenwood, (773)702-0200, smartmuseum.uchicago.edu

Best of Chicago 2012