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Best exhibition design in the last year

Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Art Institute of Chicago

The reigning champion of exhibition design—last year, its Magritte show took this title—returned with another year of bold moves in interior art-display design. For its exhibition on the Belgian eccentric James Ensor, the Art Institute matched its wall colors with the brilliant turquoise and gaudy orange of his disturbed palette. For a solo show of the American sculptor Charles Ray, they opened up the second floor of the Modern Wing to exhibit a sparse showcase of monumental works set against unobstructed views of Millennium Park.

111 S. Michigan, 312.443.3600,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best place to pregame for a Stravinsky concert

Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park
It’s been 100 years since the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece, the “Rite of Spring,” which notoriously ended in riots. As such, 2013 has seen a marked Stravinsky resurgence, though perhaps none as sweet and strangely appropriate as seeing that piece at Grant Park Music Festival’s Summer Concert Series. The stage decorated with shattered photographs of Joanna Wozniak dancing the lead in the Joffrey performance, the crowd that evening was wonderfully diverse; young and old, tourist and native, classical nerds and curious. A forceful but sublime performance (with no recorded riots afterwards), one gets the notion that Stravinsky, enfant terrible, would approve.
201 East Randolph,

Best of Chicago 2013

Best place to people watch

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »

Quantity? Check. With about 100,000 attendees per day, it is surely one of the most densely populated weekends in the city. Mobility? Check. People have to keep treading over 115 acres to see the 130-plus featured artists. Quality? Check. You need to be truly committed to attend Lollapalooza, and that kind of effort goes into dressing as well. Variety? Check. Coming from all corners of the world and ranging from the fashionable to the bizarre, most try to bring their best (casual) game. Plus there’s the extremely cute Kidzapalooza crowd.

AUDIENCE CHOICE: Millennium Park, 201 East Randolph, between Michigan and Columbus

Best of Chicago 2013

Best waiter in a pizzeria

Food & Drink, Loop 1 Comment »

The Chach
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,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best public park

Audience Choice, Category, Loop, Near West Side, Sports & Recreation No Comments »


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

Audience choice:
Millennium Park
Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe Street

Best of Chicago 2010

Best thing to name after Richard M. Daley

Audience Choice, Category, City Life, Near South Side No Comments »

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

Audience choice:
Millennium Park
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

Best thing about Millennium Park besides the Bean

Audience Choice, City Life, Loop No Comments »

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.

Audience choice:
Pritzker Pavilion

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

Best desperate attempt to land the 2016 Olympics

City Life No Comments »

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

Best of the Best: Grant Park

City Life, Loop No Comments »

Grant Park
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