Best of Chicago 2008: Sports & Recreation 

SPORTS & RECREATION

Best Pro Team

Reader's Choice: Cubs

Chicago's best pro team is—dare I even suggest it, much less insist upon it?—the Cubs. By process of elimination alone, they're instant contenders. The White Sox have frayed since their 2005 World Series victory, and the Bears have collapsed since making the Super Bowl a year ago, when they weren't that good to begin with. The Blackhawks are full of promise with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews leaving their teenage years, but still a few seasons from peaking. The same goes for the Bulls, no matter whom they use their top draft pick to choose. Meanwhile the Cubs have led the majors in scoring for most of the season, their pitching is good enough, and the statheads at Baseball Prospectus recently proclaimed them the best defensive team in the National League. Will it be enough to end a century-long championship drought? It's the sports question of the year. a cubs.mlb.com. —Ted Cox

Readers' Choice: Cubs

Best College Team

Reader's Choice: Northwestern women's lacrosse

DePaul might bring Big East basketball to the Allstate Arena, and Northwestern does indeed play Big Ten football and basketball in Evanston, but rarely if ever have the teams they field been the best in their conferences, much less the nation. Both schools have turned into women's softball powerhouses, but even they're also-rans in this competition. No, one local college team stands above all the rest: Northwestern's women's lacrosse, which recently won its fourth straight national title under coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, is a hidden sports dynasty on the Evanston campus. anusports.cstv.com/sports/w-lacros/nw-w-lacros-body.html. —Ted Cox

Readers' Choice: Northwestern football

Best High School Team

Reader's Choice: Simeon boys' basketball

For entertainment value and sheer competition at the high school level, there's no beating Public League hoops. At that point the debate begins; it's why they play the games, after all. The city championship remains a highly coveted title, even though it no longer produces an instant slot in the Elite Eight of the state tournament. Yet the Public League has turned that to its advantage, as this year two Chicago teams, Marshall and Simeon, met in the state final, with Marshall prevailing. Historically, though, Simeon has been the dominant dynasty in recent years, with Derrick Rose leading back-to-back state title teams the previous two seasons. Going back to Marcus Liberty and beyond, Simeon has been the Public League's most consistent top contender. asimeonca.org. —Ted Cox

Readers' Choice: Loyola Academy baseball, Leyden swim team, and Rolling Meadows Mustangs boys' basketball (three-way tie)

Best Place to Watch a Game on TV

Reader's Choice: Crew

To borrow an intimidating one-word preamble from Lou Piniella, look: Most fans have a favorite place to watch their favorite teams. There are Cubs bars and White Sox bars on both ends of town, and almost every Chicago bar becomes a Bears bar on Sundays in the fall. That's not what this is about. But if you have as much of an aversion to macho sports posturing as I do, the best place to watch a game is Crew, the Uptown gay sports bar. It has excellent sight lines to view the numerous wide-screen, high-def TVs, which are usually tuned to an array of events, not all on one station, there are 68 beers on offer, and the playfully named food (two-fisted burger, threesome grilled cheese) is better than your average sports-bar fare. Best of all, there's a distinct lack of louts exchanging chest bumps. As Sarah Connor said of the Terminator as a father figure in T2, in an insane world, it is the sanest choice. a 4804 N. Broadway, 773-784-2739, worldsgreatestbar.com. —Ted Cox

Readers' Choice: Joe's Sports Bar and the Globe Pub (tie)

a 940 W. Weed, 312-337-3486, joesbar.com; 1934 W. Irving Park, 773-871-3757, theglobepub.com.

Best Bowling Alley

Reader's Choice: Timber Lanes

Timber Lanes is a funky, dimly lit blast from the past, but it's got everything you could need or want in a bowling alley: eight lanes, a bar, a jukebox with a seemingly unlimited selection, and some of the best rates in town (starting at $2 a game). Also, there's no computerized scoring, so you don't get charged every time you roll a ball. It's hard to get a lane on weeknights between 7 and 10 because of the leagues, but there's open bowl every night after that, until 2 AM. Owner Bob Kuhn, a gracious host and great storyteller, rents out the alley for parties and fund-raisers. Call him at 773-549-9770—but don't call until after 11 AM. a 1851 W. Irving Park. —Ben Joravsky

Readers' Choice: Lincoln Square Lanes

a 4874 N. Lincoln, 773-561-8191.

Best Bike Shop

Readers' Choice: Kozy's

a 3255 N. Milwaukee, 773-282-0202; 219 W. Erie, 312-266-1700; 3712 N. Halsted, 773-281-2263; 811 S. DesPlaines, 312-360-0020; kozy.com.

Best Scenic Bike Ride

Reader's Choice: Burnham Greenway

Burnham Greenway, a ten-year-old rail-to-trails conversion in the Cook County Forest Preserve system, alternates between industrial and pastoral scenery. It starts under I-90 just west of Calumet Park at 100th Street and continues two and a half miles past backyards, through prairie, under power lines, and alongside the Eggers Grove Forest Preserve, until you hit a former Nike missile site—now a park—beside Wolf Lake, itself the beneficiary of a $7.25 million ecosystem restoration project that ended last fall. It picks up again a couple miles south of there, near Burnham Prairie at Green Bay and State, for another two-and-a-half-mile stretch, mostly through prairie, winding up at the Green Lake Woods Forest Preserve in Calumet City (and not far from the 235-acre Sand Ridge Nature Center). And the whole thing runs right by the Indiana border, so it's easy to make a detour across State Line Road—which gives you the right to casually mention at work on Monday that you biked to Indiana over the weekend. a fpdcc.com/downloads/bg_trailmap.pdf (not entirely up-to-date, but good enough). —Julia Thiel

Readers' Choice: Lakefront bike path

Best Scenic El Route

Reader's Choice: Brown Line

Considering it's one of the shorter el routes, the Brown Line does a better job than any other of covering the city's wide variety. Ride it around the Loop and it offers a close-up second-story architecture tour. Yet, after it swerves its way through the north side, briefly joining the Red Line, it eventually goes off on its own and drops down as it crosses the North Branch of the river just beyond Western and ends its run quaintly at street level, complete with cars stopped at crossings. It's the CTA's best expression of Chicago's Latin motto, urbs in horto. a transitchicago.com. —Ted Cox

Readers' Choice: Brown Line

Best City Swimming Pool

Reader's Choice: Gill Park

A lot of other die-hard swimmers favor the big one at Portage Park, which admittedly is sweet—50 meters, and you can swim in the very spot where Mark Spitz set world records in the 1972 U.S. Olympic trials. But like lots of other fine public pools in Chicago, that one's outdoors, and for me the best swimming hole in warm weather is clearly the lake (my favorite spots being Rainbow Beach, Promontory Point, off the breakers south of North Avenue, and the little beaches way up north). The other nine months of the year, I'll take Gill Park. The water temp in the 25-yard pool is generally just right, and at certain times of day the sun streaming through the high windows lights the water, prompting fantasies that you're diving for sunken treasure in the Caribbean. Best of all is the culture of the place—the regulars, an ethnically diverse group, range from floaters to former college swimming stars, and everybody there, including the staff, loves and respects swimming. a 833 West Sheridan, 312-742-5807, chicagoparkdistrict.com. —Mick Dumke

Readers' Choice: Portage Park

a 4100 N. Long, 773-685-7235, chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Best Amateur Sports Club

Readers' Choice: Windy City Rollers

a windycityrollers.com.

Best Dog Park

Reader's Choice: Prairie Wolf Dog Exercise Area

If you really want the mutt to run himself silly but you don't need a hatchback full of sand from the Montrose dog beach, you'll have to get out of town. Lake County's Prairie Wolf Dog Exercise Area, just off 41 a little past the Chicago Botanic Garden, is 44 acres of unpaved off-leash dog heaven. Amenities include mowed paths for meandering through restored prairie, an expansive meadow (with room for several private games of fetch alongside a massive game of chase), a pond for swimming, complimentary poop bags, clean restrooms for the two-legged, and the all-important hose station. Beyond a gate near the pond is the rest of the 431-acre Prairie Wolf Forest Preserve, where you and your leashed friend can hike through more woodsy environs. The catch: dog heaven ain't free, and Cook County riffraff pays double. aParking lot is on Waukegan (Route 22) just north of Half Day Road (Route 43), 847-367-6640, lcfpd.org, out-of-county day permit $10 per dog, annual permit (expires 12/31) $120, $56 per additional dog. —Kiki Yablon

Readers' Choice: Wiggly Field

a Noethling Playlot Park, 2645 N. Sheffield, 312-742-7816, chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Best Skate Park

Readers' Choice: Wilson Skate Park

a Wilson and Lake Shore Drive.

Best Pool Hall

Readers' Choice: Southport Lanes & Billiards

a 3325 N. Southport, 773-472-6600.

Best Place to Take a Date

Readers' Choice: The lakefront

Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner

Reader's Choice: A long ride on the Pink Line

If your out-of-town guests aren't the type to be impressed by the Signature Room or the Bean, take them to do something you've probably never done yourself: ride the Pink Line from the Loop to the end of the line. Just past Ashland your train will veer off Lake Street and head into terra incognita—the link between the Blue and Green lines that probably wasn't open yet the last time your guests were in town. Your train rumbles past the United Center, where it's absurd there isn't a station already, crosses the Blue Line at Rush University Medical Center, and heads into Chicago's most colorful Mexican neighborhood. The Pink Line track has all been rebuilt, so you're traveling fast, and as the rehabbed stations of Pilsen boast dazzling murals by top local artists, you might want to get off and have a slower look. By the end of the line you're rattling along at ground level, and when you get off at 54th and Cermak you're in Prague. Well, Berwyn. a transitchicago.com. —Michael Miner

Readers' Choice: Millennium Park

a Michigan and Randolph, 312-742-1168, millenniumpark.org.

EDUCATION

Best Language School

Reader's Choice: Alliance Française de Chicago

David Sedaris may've had an infamously bad experience at the Alliance Française school in Paris, but throughout the many classes I've taken at the Chicago branch of the French language and culture center, I have never had an instructor jab a pencil in my eye. I have, however, improved or refreshed my French through a hodgepodge of very specific French grammar courses and more general conversational classes, and made great use of the Alliance's library and mediatheque, the largest such French-language library in the midwest. The Alliance has classes for all levels and all ages and runs several free conversation clubs for members to discuss French philosophy, literature, and theater. It also hosts a variety of cultural events and lectures, and even a French-language storytelling hour for the kiddies (though not in summer). All in all, it's the Frenchiest good time you can have in Chicago. a810 N. Dearborn, 312-337-1070, af-chicago.org. —Kathie Bergquist

Readers' Choice: Alliance Française de Chicago

Best Continuing Ed Program

Readers' Choice: Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies

a 312-503-6950, scs.northwestern.edu.

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Music
Lyric Opera's Carmen Civic Opera House
February 11
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February 02

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