It’s an off-night in the off-season, so you venture inside the always-packed Chicago-style pizzeria that has the good fortune to be located just a bean’s throw from Millennium Park. Your waiter, a fit late fiftysomething fellow with a bushy gray mustache who looks like he just stepped off a firetruck, attacks the table with the brisk but friendly demeanor of a server who knows how to keep the folks happy and the tables turning. Your first time here, you ask him what he recommends and he tells you firmly the “Rudy’s Special.” You comply. At the end of your meal, when he’s checking back on you, you ask a small question about the place. And then it happens. Time stands still, or at least your waiter, who goes by “The Chach” does. He tells you everything you want to know and much more. You learn about his life. He learns about yours. He tells you the history of this restaurant, and the Rudy Malnati branch of the legendary pizza family, which owns this small chain. You realize that, for better or worse, you’ve never quite experienced a waiter like this. As you talk, he welcomes you into his “family” and tells you about the customers who always ask to sit in his section, some of whom come from far away to relive the experience. A half hour later, you’ve been “Chachified.”
Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta, 61 East Madison, (312)236-1777, pizanoschicago.com
Best of Chicago 2012
Photo: Kristine Sherred
Mary Bartelme Park/Adams-Sangamon Park
Many Chicago parks are merely utilitarian: flat rectangles of grass broken up by a few baseball fields and basketball courts. So it’s exciting when the Park District thinks outside the diamond and creates a unique green space. Opened last summer, Adams-Sangamon Park features a large, groovy playground with drawbridges and climbing nets, a dog run and man-made hills covered with native grasses. Boulders and seating cubes are strewn about in pleasingly random patterns. The coolest element? Huge silver gateways shaped like crooked picture frames, spraying refreshing mist in hot weather.
115 South Sangamon
Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe Street
Best of Chicago 2010
A bike racing track on Northerly Island
As “Cyclist-in-chief,” Daley’s legacy is a mixed bag. He gets credit for all the federally funded lanes, paths and racks that materialized during his tenure, the good work of his eponymous Bicycling Ambassadors, and more. But he refused to put cycling in the city budget, resulting in the fizzled Open Streets ciclovia, the anemic B-Cycle bike share network, the bike-parking famine that resulted after 30,000 meters were uprooted and other disappointments. Still, it seems like his heart was in the right place, so why not remember him with a velodrome on Chicago’s peninsula park.
The lakefront at Museum Campus
Others that were mentioned a few times, amused us or seemed especially weird: Parking meters (all of them), Northerly Island/Meigs Field, the entire city
Best of Chicago 2010
Free music at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion
With a plastic cup of wine in hand, Chicagoans spend their summer happy hours listening to almost-daily free concerts at the Pritzker Pavilion: classical music from the Grant Park Orchestra, the Made in Chicago jazz series, the acclaimed international Music Without Borders series. Beneath Frank Gehry’s awe-inspiring brushed stainless-steel web, audiences are cocooned in the Pritzker’s state-of-the-art LARES sound system, and the Great Lawn—which accommodates 7,000 people in addition to the 4,000 seats—usually has just enough room to squeeze in the masses who come to see occasional major acts like The Decemberists and Wilco.
Best audience comments:
“Clueless tourists. Endless amusement.”; ” No animals allowed”; “Well Cloudgate aside, I would say the best part of Millennium Park is the melodic medley of languages spoken when you walk through it with your headphones off.”; “How everyone ignores that it was years late, millions over-budget and anchored by a restaurant owned by a politically-connected family that pays no property taxes on it.”; “Kids that pee in the water in front of the photo fountain.”
Best of Chicago 2009
Oprah’s season premiere
If Oprah can sell books, why not the Olympics, too? Capitalizing on the success of the 2008 competition, Chicago’s sweetheart invited 176 of the best American contenders to her twenty-third season premiere at Millennium Park on September 4 where (surprise!) Mayor Daley had a front-row seat for his well-timed first visit to the show. And hey, if the park’s security can handle 2,000 crazed Oprah fans, there’s no reason why they couldn’t handle millions more in 2016, right?
Best of Chicago 2008
A glorious front yard for the city, Grant Park itself is working hard to measure up to its neighbors—the lakefront and the museums—and its residents—the music festivals, the fireworks, the free orchestra, the outdoor movies. Not to mention the never-ending postcard of our Versailles-inspired Buckingham Fountain and its light shows, late-night lovers and glow-light peddlers. Millennium Park may be the boondoggle of a generation, but here’s a suggestion that history will be kind to this ambitious civic space once the cranes and ribbon-cutters have stepped aside. Meanwhile, take a stroll through the gardens and admire the landscaping and flowers that have been carefully nurtured these recent years. Then sit on a bench and watch the sailboats, the sea gulls or simply the waves and get gloriously swept away.
Best of Chicago 2002