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Best place for kids to have fun with science

Goods & Services, Lincoln Park, South Loop No Comments »

Kids Science Labs

Kids Science Labs is an amazing resource for parents wanting their children to learn about science in a stimulating and creative environment, with classes after school, weekends and during the day for homeschoolers. The staff is second to none and the topics themselves are well organized, giving students enough time to examine scientific concepts in a number of ways.  My boys have come out of class rapping about elasticity, discussing friction, displacement, environmental science, and how a volcano erupts.  Whether the Lincoln Park or South Loop location, the classrooms are beautiful, sunny and airy places to learn. They also have WiFi for parents, and the Lincoln Park location is next to Whole Foods, which makes shopping easy while the kids are in class. The South Loop location is near a historic landmark area and beautiful park with a cafe on the first floor.  We have experienced the weekly classes, as well as the camps, at both locations, all well worth it. Driving to KSL, I often hear: “I cannot wait to find out what I will learn today!”

1500 N. Kingsbury, 312.846.1426 and 1801 S. Indiana, 312.225.4747,

—Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart, president, KOVAL Distillery (Big Heat)

Best of Chicago 2015

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

Best gin & tonic

Food & Drink, South Loop No Comments »

Gins/tonics/limes at Acadia
Chicago might not be at Spain’s level of gin & tonic sophistication, but many bartenders are starting to make their own tonics with quinine, usually in the form of powdered cinchona bark. Our favorite is Ar?nas Bružas’ lemongrass tonic with notes of lavender and pink peppercorn at Acadia, which he serves with Botanist gin. This nuanced summer cocktail slowly changes flavors as the kaffir lime and cucumber ice cubes melt, lending the drink a rejuvenating spa water quality.
1639 South Wabash, (312)360-9500,

Best of Chicago 2013

Best African music night

Culture & Nightlife, South Loop No Comments »

Sonic Diaspora
If you are in the mood for an “Afrodisiac” experience, check out the African music night at Coup d’etat at The Shrine. A popular destination for continental African musical currencies, it’s a favorite drop-in spot for the likes of Questlove on the turntables and Slick Rick, rolling out his rap-storytelling mastery. The Sonic Diaspora ( night every second Friday of the month hosts a roundhouse spectrum of “Kuduro, Kwaito, Soukous, Afrobeat, AfroLatin House, Nu Dancehall and Global Bass.” You’ll need to pay an admission, but it’s lower than what you’d expect of most club outings.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best merger of sports and art

Culture & Nightlife, South Loop No Comments »

“Spectator Sports” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography
The Museum of Contemporary Photography made a case for what sports and art share: an obsessive, frenzied fan-base. Contemporary artworks about what it means to be in an audience solidified why sports and art fans should care about each other.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best way to see new movies cheap, even on a Saturday night

Culture & Nightlife, South Loop 1 Comment »

Showplace ICON Extras
The newish movie theater complex just off Roosevelt Road boasts some of the priciest movies in town, with a VIP seating section that offers big plush seats and upscale food and bar privileges during the screening. But it also offers one of the best deals in town in the form of an affinity card that offers, among other things, a weekly slate of first-run films for six dollars a ticket. Though opening and second weekend films are excluded, most of the movies you want to see are included after a short spell in the theater. As long as you use the card, you can bring in multiple guests for that six-dollar price and there are no blackout dates, so it’s good even at peak times. There are some other perks too, but none compare to a nearly half-price discount at prime time. But make sure you keep an eye on the email newsletter for there is no mention anywhere in the theater as to which films are “on sale.”

Showplace ICON at Roosevelt Collection, 150 West Roosevelt at 1011 South Delano Court, (312)386-7440,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best new restaurant opened in the last year or so

Audience Choice, Food & Drink, Logan Square, South Loop No Comments »

It’s L20, Alinea or Tru quality at affordable a la carte prices. There’s pre-fixe too if you’re so inclined. Whichever way you go, chef Ryan McCaskey (formerly suburban Courtright’s) is a star and so is his faux risotto (where creamy bits of Yukon gold ape the usual Carnaroli or Arborio rice) and his foie gras custard.

Acadia, 1639 South Wabash, (312)360-9500,

Audience choice: Telegraph, 2601 North Milwaukee, (773)292-9463,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best Bears bar

South Loop, Sports & Recreation No Comments »

The Scout
If you haven’t scored tickets on the fifty-yard-line and are willing to forgo the comfort of your La-Z-Boy and your sixty-inch plasma on Sundays, then you want a level of excitement that compensates for the loss of comfort if you venture out to watch a game. The Scout which, to our chagrin frankly, replaced the dynamic designs of Jerry Kleiner’s Opera restaurant with, yawn, another sports bar, knows how to go big. It’s a colossal space with colossal TVs everywhere. On game day, show up without a Bears jersey on and you’ll be counted on a single hand in what seems like a roaring crowd of a thousand. This is not a place for gentle souls, but for F-A-N-S looking to shout along with a congregation of true believers like Tiffany, a friendly sort we encountered one Sunday whose custom made Bears bustier barely contained her own pair of, um, footballs. And if this doesn’t sound feverish enough, it’s just a few blocks from Soldier Field, affording easy passage to and from Tailgate Nation, as well as a surge of patrons making their way from the stands after the game ends.

The Scout, 1301 South Wabash, (312)705-0595,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best independent bookstore often overlooked

Goods & Services, South Loop No Comments »

Sandmeyer’s is the one small book spot in the city that you forget to go to but once you walk back in, you immediately ask yourself: Why did I stop coming here in the first place? From being one of the first stores to showcase Marcus Samuelsson’s “Yes, Chef” to having the comprehensive collection of Chicago photo-driven coffee table reads, Sandmeyer’s, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, has not lost any of its relevance.

Sandmeyer’s, 714 South Dearborn, (312)922-2104,

Best of Chicago 2012