Best new high-touch design venue

Chicago Design Museum

At its very heart, design is utile, intended to serve a function and interact with the world. Yet, most Chicago venues for presentation of design don’t treat it this way. At the Art Institute, design is displayed like art: look, but don’t touch. At the Chicago Architecture Foundation, design is perhaps too approachable: too touchy-feely. At Wright auction house, design is up for sale: you touch it, you buy it. The new Chicago Design Museum inside Block Thirty Seven seems to be getting things right in its first year. Between the exhibitions, talks, events, collaborations and a little shop, the museum is creating enough opportunities to engage with design on its own terms. Small details—like handsome custom seating and vitrines—along with occasional interactive displays remind visitors that design belongs in the hands of the people.

108 N. State, chidm.com

Best of Chicago 2014

Best album covers by a local label

Aerophonic Records, designed by Johnathan Crawford

Founded and run by Dave Rempis, a Chicago-based world-class saxophonist, Aerophonic produces not only notable records, but also some of the coolest album covers around. Designed by Johnathan Crawford, they’re highly collectible; each cover may feel different, but they all maintain a consistent aesthetic, featuring elegant and organic abstract shapes that almost seem to have a life of their own. An ideal complement for the free-flowing tunes presented by the label, performed by household names such as Frank Rosaly, Joshua Abrams, Avreeayl Ra and Dave Rempis himself.

aerophonicrecords.com

Best of Chicago 2014

Best way to fight winter depression

King Spa

One strategy for staying sane through Chicago’s long deep-freeze is to temporarily pretend that it’s not winter at all, with a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory or Hala Kahiki tiki bar. Add to that list King Spa, a Korean-style resort in the ‘burbs that feels like a tropical getaway. Lounge nude in one of several hot tubs or a steamy sauna. Then don a pajama-like uniform and hang out in one of several kiva-like hot rooms. The walls are lined with minerals like salt, charcoal, amethyst and gold, said to have mystical healing properties. Spring for a massage or a King Scrub—being exfoliated with scruffies while you lie naked on a table. Afterwards, you can refuel with tasty Korean chow at their café, or catch a flick in the mini movie theater. The entry fee is only about $20 with a Groupon or Living Social coupon—a small price to pay for beating the winter blues.

809 Civic Center, Niles, 847.972.2540, kingspa.com

Best of Chicago 2014

Best place to run where you aren’t supposed to run

Rosehill Cemetery

Here’s what you do when the funeral home director catches you (all pulsing earbuds and flying feet). Cry. Immediately. This is the price of admission: tears poised like actors awaiting their cue. Say: “I come here to be close to my father.” No matter your father was cremated. No matter the director is already shaking his head. This is no Lakefront Trail with its double strollers and kamikaze cyclists. This is 350 acres of existential fodder: lonely angels and etched surnames; angry geese and fallen trees amidst aisles of silent stone. You run here because segregating the dead does nothing to honor them. Because respecting a rule’s spirit doesn’t mean you have to obey.

5800 N. Ravenswood

Best of Chicago 2014

Best story… period

JRW

An all-black, fundraising-burdened baseball team from outside of Roseland makes it to the Little League World Series. And just when the city rallied behind them just for making it there, the team decided to inspire Chicagoland even more by proving that there’s more to winning than just winning. If any one thing could begin to redirect the national perception about Chicago, the Jackie Robinson West team—and story—was it.

Best of Chicago 2014