BEST LOCAL FAMILY FUN SPOT
Knight’s Action Park
1700 Knights Recreation Dr., 546-8881
Knight’s Action Park is a child’s wonderland. There’s the water park, with its seven twisty slides and a giant wave pool. You and the munchkins could easily spend all day on the go-cart track, 18-hole mini-golf course and arcade. If you’ve left the kids at home, try the driving range, which is even open in the winter. You can also grab a bite to eat at the restaurant, Barnacle Bill’s, or get a pint at Trade Winds Pub. As night falls, head next door to the Route 66 Drive-In Theater for a double feature of the latest movies. There really is something for everyone. Just remember the sunscreen, because you won’t want to leave.
Finalists: Southwind Park, Washington Park, Scheels, Springfield Art Association
BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE
2115 S. MacArthur Blvd., 726-1001
Hate waiting in line at the checkout? At Hy-Vee, there’s a person watching the checkout lines, ready to call for reinforcements and open a new register at a moment’s notice. Want your fresh-baked bread sliced all fancy? The Hy-Vee bakery will do it with a smile. Want an informed opinion on what wine should go with that block of aged cheese you just picked up? There’s somebody at the cheese counter to help you. Want a different combination of sushi, sashimi or nigiri than what’s on display? No problem. From the meat counter to the floral department to the booze section, it seems like everywhere you look at Hy-Vee, a smiling employee is ready to help you find something or pick something. It makes for a pleasant experience, and you’ll definitely want to go back.
Finalists: United Community Bank, Troxell Insurance, Abe’s Takeout, Plato’s Closet
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD FOR 20-SOMETHINGS
Even though we cringe at the term “Millennials” to describe today’s young folks, we have to admit that the people who study these supposedly perplexing creatures have found out quite a few interesting insights. One of them is that Millennials want an urban environment with convenient access to food, housing and fun. (That probably describes a lot more than just young people.) Downtown Springfield is earning a reputation for having the things young people want, and at a fraction of the cost and hassle of living in a bigger city. It seems like the tide is turning in favor of downtown, and we’re excited to see what the next few years bring.
Finalists: Historic West Side, Southern View, Sherwood, Enos Park, South Town
BEST STATE FAIR FOOD
It’s not really the state fair until we’ve had a corn dog or six, and Vose’s Korn Dogs, right across from the Grandstand entrance, is the place to get them. They’re slightly sweet, crispy on the outside and have a bigger-than-usual hotdog in the middle. Bob Vose began selling his corn dogs at the fair about 40 years ago, and they’re so popular now that the line often stretches past the other vendors. You simply can’t say you’ve had the full fair experience if you haven’t had one.
Finalists: Culler’s French Fries, Pork Chop on a Stick, Cheese on a Stick, Hy-Vee Food Truck
BEST FALL FAMILY ATTRACTION
2290 E. Walnut St., Chatham, 483-6236
One of the best things about fall – besides relief from summer’s humidity and heat – is the cornucopia of apple sweets from Apple Barn. With acres of apple orchards featuring several apple varieties, this roadside shop in Chatham makes delicious apple pies and fritters, cider donuts, cider slushies, apple butter, and so on. That’s to say nothing of their flavorful fudges, seasonal pumpkin bars, fresh jams, cookies and more. Outside, you’ll find all manner of décor for your home, including pumpkins and gourds, hearty mums and lawn ornaments. In short, when you go to Apple Barn, save room both in your tummy and in your car.
Finalists: Bomke’s Patch, Lincoln Memorial Gardens Indian Summer Festival, Washington Park, Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site
BEST THING MAYOR LANGFELDER HAS DONE
Cleaning up abandoned properties
It’s a slow process, but Springfield mayor Jim Langfelder seems to be making headway in the fight against abandoned properties in Springfield. Just this summer, the city purchased 71 blighted properties from the county at a tax sale, allowing the city to demolish the buildings and resell the empty lots. Tearing down a dilapidated structure can be a legal mire if an absentee landlord doesn’t cooperate, but buying up the properties mostly eliminates the issue. The program actually started in 2012 under previous mayor Mike Houston, and Langfelder has kept it going. There’s still much to be done, but voters were pleased with the progress so far.
Finalists: street and sidewalk repair, residency requirement, saved the Bel-Aire seal, pushed ahead with Hunter Lake/Lake II, downtown TIF extension, ward meetings
BEST PICKUP BAR
The Curve Inn
3219 S 6th St. Road, 529-5806
The Curve Inn proudly calls itself a dive bar, and where else to go for a hookup than a dive bar? We wouldn’t know anything about that, of course, but we do know the Curve has cheap drinks, great food and live music in the stellar beer garden pretty much all the time. It’s also a 3 a.m. bar, and all of those things combined make for a kicking party atmosphere, so the pickup thing makes sense. On less rowdy nights, there’s usually a darts tournaments going or a football game on the TVs. Who knows? You may just find your soulmate sitting at the bar next to you, chowing down on the Friday night fish special, which just happens to be one of our favorites. See you at the Curve.
Finalists: Floyd’s Thirst Parlor, The Corner Pub and Grill, Club Station House, Weebles Bar and Grill, The Gin Mill
BEST LOCAL SPORTS TEAM
1415 North Grand Ave. East, 679-3511
One of Springfield’s most underrated summertime pleasures is going to a Springfield Sliders baseball game and drinking a cheap beer as the sun goes down behind Robin Roberts Stadium. Although it’s great when the Sliders win, the outcome doesn’t really matter when you’re just enjoying America’s favorite pastime. That said, the Sliders had a stellar regular season this year, ranking first in their division with 39 wins and 20 losses. It’s worth noting that the Sliders have produced some major league draft picks in past years, so if you’re into baseball, these local games may be a chance to see the next star.
Finalists: Springfield Jr. Blues, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School Football, Rochester High School Football, Glenwood High School Titans Football
BEST GROWN-UP DAYTRIP / WEEKEND GETAWAY
Sometimes you just need to get out of town. St. Louis is just far enough away to seem like an escape, but not so far away that you spend all day traveling. Do yourself a favor: buy a round-trip Amtrak ticket to St. Louis for a measly $15 and make a day of it. Of course, there’s the usual favorite of a Cardinals game, but we’re just as happy hitting the incredibly fun City Museum, where you can climb and explore like you’re a kid again. If you’re not the jungle gym type, head over to the Schlafly Tap Room for some delicious beer and pub grub, or maybe to Nara Cafe and Hookah Lounge for a relaxing smoke. If you’re there in June, check out Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, located in beautiful Forest Park. Get there early, though, or spend an hour looking for a spot to park. Needless to say, there’s plenty more in St. Louis for you to explore and enjoy.
Finalists: Grafton, Chicago, Peoria, Petersburg, Decatur
BEST HISTORIC PLACE IN SPRINGFIELD NOT RELATED TO ABRAHAM LINCOLN
301 E. Lawerence Ave., 782-6776
The Dana-Thomas House is truly a treasure. It’s one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most iconic homes, and it contains the largest collection of original art glass and furniture designed by the world-famous architect. Originally an Italianate mansion owned by a well-to-do Springfield family, the Dana-Thomas House gave Wright a “blank check” in 1902 to do what he did best, resulting in one of the finest existing examples of his “Prairie School” architectural style. Even after all these years, the house appears modern and timeless, and the fact that it’s nestled in an unassuming residential neighborhood just adds to its elegant, effortless charm.
Finalists: Cozy Dog Drive In, Washington Park, Edwards Place, Vachel Lindsay Home
BEST USE OF PUBLIC MONEY
Road and sidewalk improvements
Nobody likes road construction, but everybody likes smooth roads. Springfield is recovering from a pretty bad case of road acne, thanks to a multi-year infrastructure rebuilding effort funded by bonds. There’s still a lot to be done, but you’ve probably noticed a few missing potholes or new sidewalks that no longer crunch as you tread on them. That’s your local tax dollars at work, in case you’re tempted to moan about the dang do-nothing government. You’re still welcome to moan about the new bike lanes you’ve been seeing around town; we just can’t promise anyone will listen.
Finalists: Demolition of dilapidated properties, Police body cams, Sewer repair, Public arts projects, Carpenter Street underpass
BEST FARMERS MARKET VENDOR
Incredibly Delicious Bakery and Cafe
There are plenty of reasons to go to the Old State Capitol Farmers Market in downtown Springfield: the colorful fresh produce, the fun crafts and handyworks, even that metropolitan feeling you get as you join your fellow city-dwellers in the open-air market. But none of those other reasons are so delightful as Incredibly Delicious. When we see their tables full of fresh-baked bread, pies, cookies and more on display, we suddenly forget about everything else. For a delectable treat, we recommend one of their chocolate croissants, with its delicate, flaky crust and chunks of rich chocolate hidden inside. If you ever needed a reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning, this is it.
Finalists: Suttill’s Gardens, Custom Cup Coffee, Cooper’s StrEATside Bistro, Small Axe Farms, The Copper Pot
BEST CHARITY EVENT
BEST LOCAL FOOT RACE
Fat Ass 5k and Street Party for Charity
What makes the Fat Ass 5k so great? For starters, there are food stops every few steps, including beer, ice cream, barbecue, corn dogs, donuts and more. There’s also the incredible amount of money it raises for charity – reaching a cumulative total of $860,000 last year since it started in 2008. What we like the most, however, is that it gives slowpokes like us a chance to do what we’re good at: jog just a few feet and eat something sugary or salty. The race takes place in downtown Springfield in May, and this year, the organizers are hoping to break the $1 million mark for funds raised cumulatively over the years. Even if you don’t run at all – even for donuts – there’s a party the night before, with more food, cigars, beer and live music. As far as we’re concerned, May can’t come soon enough.
Best Charity Event Finalists: SOHO Music Festival, Paint the Street, Fight for Air Climb, Ink4Autism
Best Local Foot Race Finalists: Girls on the Run 5k, Abe’s Amble, Insane Inflatable 5k, Jingle Bell Run/Walk
BEST ABRAHAM LINCOLN HISTORIC LOCATION
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
112 & 212 N. Sixth St., 558-8844
Even though it’s not historic itself, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum manages to stand out in a town that’s full of historic Lincoln spots. At the museum, learn about every stage of Lincoln’s life, his career and his untimely death, with plenty of historical context to bring out the depth of the 16th president’s character. Across Jefferson Street sits the library, containing priceless letters, manuscripts and other documents penned in Lincoln’s own hand, along with dozens of items owned by the Lincolns and thousands upon thousands of books and works of art regarding them. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, although much of the library’s coolest stuff requires an appointment to view. Be sure to check out the museum’s Rare and Rarely Seen exhibit until Jan. 29, featuring some of the most interesting non-Lincoln items in the collection.
Finalists: Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb, Old State Capitol
BEST PLACE TO WORK
HSHS St. John’s Hospital
800 E. Carpenter St., 544-6464
St. John’s Hospital has four core values: respect, care, competence and joy. It’s that last one – joy – which Allison Paul, chief nursing officer for St. John’s, cites as the main reason she joined the hospital’s staff about a year and a half ago. “It was something I felt when I interviewed here,” Paul says. “It’s something that my colleagues feel when they come to work, and our patients and families feel that when they’re here.” Paul loves her job, and she says many of her coworkers have been there for several years – long enough in some cases to treat multiple generations of the same families. Paul says she enjoys being part of a collaborative team which is committed to high-quality care. “I think it really speaks to our mission and our values,” she says.
Finalists: United Community Bank, Lincoln Land Community College, Sangamon Avenue Veterinary Clinic, Troxell Insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield
BEST MORNING RADIO SHOW
Dave and Dina - 101.9 FM the Wolf
Dina Michaels and Dave Daniels have the kind of easygoing friendship that makes you genuinely glad to be a part of the show, even if you’re just listening in. They first started on-air together in 2002 and, other than a short hiatus, they’ve been going strong ever since. Dina says the key to their relationship is keeping things fun. “Nobody takes anything personally,” she says. “Our relationship is easy, and when it’s not easy, we communicate.” That translates into a show that’s good-natured, with just the right amount of ribbing. Dave says he and Dina focus on the connection between them and the listener, as if everyone is in the studio together. “It’s fun for us to run into listeners who say, ‘I feel like we’ve known each other for a long time,’ ” Dave says. “That’s what we’re aiming for. We’re just one big happy family.”
Finalists: The Morning Grind with Bondsy and Sarah - 99.7 KISS FM; Morning Edition - NPR Illinois 91.9 FM; Sam Madonia - WFMB AM Sports Radio 1450; Lynch and Liz - 100.5 FM WYMG; Chris and Deb in the Morning - 98.7 FM WNNS
BEST STATE FAIR ATTRACTION
For more than half a century, the Illinois State Fair Grandstand has brought national performing acts like Louis Armstrong, the Three Stooges, Willie Nelson and countless others to the capital city. Name a musical artist from a bygone era, and there’s a good chance they came to Springfield to put on a show at the Grandstand: Johnny Cash and June Carter, B.B. King, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ray Charles – the list goes on and on to an impressive and almost unbelievable length. The big acts keep coming, year after year, giving central Illinois access to shows we might never see otherwise. You can keep the rides, the demonstrations and all the weird fried foods; the Grandstand always has been and hopefully always will be the crowning jewel of the Illinois State Fair.
Finalists: Butter cow, Conservation World, Giant slide, Sky Glide
BEST WEDDING VENUE - INDOOR
4965 S. Second St., 585-2941
If you’re looking to tie the knot, Erin’s Pavilion offers a versatile and surprisingly affordable venue. At 5,000 square feet, it’s big enough for a crowd, but it can also be divided up for smaller receptions. There’s a house audio system you can rent, too, so your DJ doesn’t have to lug in a bunch of equipment. Don’t forget about the ample parking, free Wi-Fi, food prep area, rental projection screens, changing rooms, on-site staff and help cleaning up after the party. Even though this is the indoor venue category, Erin’s Pavilion has a beautiful attached terrace overlooking a lake, which gives your guests room to step away from the party and catch their breath after all the dancing. What more could you ask for?
Finalists: The Inn at 835, Poe’s Catering on the Hill, Arlington’s, The Crowne Plaza, Northfield Inn and Suites
BEST PLACE FOR A FIRST DATE
BEST PLACE TO GO FOR A BUSINESS LUNCH
Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery
500 S. Sixth St., 670-0627
First impressions are everything. Whether it’s a hot date or a hot business deal, you want to make a good impression without making it look like you’re trying too hard. That’s where Obed and Isaac’s comes in. The atmosphere is classy enough to be elegant but laid-back enough to be comfortable. Then there’s the food and drink. The beer is fantastic, brewed on site and priced just right. The food is gourmet but not fussy, hearty but not heavy. For date night, we recommend a dark beer like the Long Nine Black IPA, paired with the savory lamb burger. When it’s nice out, head to the beer garden for a friendly game of bocce, or sit around the bonfire with your date and talk the night away. If you’re entertaining a client instead, go for a less chunky beer like the Ditzy Blonde ale. Try that with the Strawberry Dreams salad so you don’t feel like falling asleep later in the afternoon. Whether it’s a potential business partner or a potential romantic partner, you can’t go wrong at Obed’s.
Best Place for a First Date Finalists: Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Washington Park, Pao Bistro, American Harvest Eatery, Driftwood Cocktail and Eatery, Maldaner’s Restaurant
Best Place to Go for a Business Lunch Finalists: Cafe Moxo, Augie’s Front Burner, Maldaner’s Restaurant, Sangamo Club
BEST PLACE TO WALK YOUR DOG
BEST SUNDAY FUNDAY SPOT
BEST WEDDING VENUE – OUTDOOR
BEST PLACE TO CATCH POKÉMON
1501 South Grand West
Take a stroll through Washington Park, and it quickly becomes obvious why this is one of Springfield’s favorite places. Dotted with majestic old trees and surrounded by stately homes, the 150-acre Washington Park is simply beautiful. There’s plenty of different terrain to explore, room to play tag, and shade to lounge around by the lagoon. (Mind the goose poop, though.) Whether you’re walking the dog, looking for a Snorlax or having an idyllic Sunday afternoon picnic, you’ll find Washington Park an inviting retreat from everyday life. Sure, the park can get a bit crowded on the first few warm days in spring, but the throng usually dissipates before long. As a wedding venue, Washington Park offers – among other things – a picturesque band pavilion that’s a popular spot for outdoor nuptials and a gorgeous, well-tended botanical garden with lots of space and numerous species of plants. Suffice to say, if there was a “best everything” category, we’re pretty confident Washington Park would win it.
Best Place to Walk Your Dog Finalists: Southwind Park, Stuart Dog Park, Lost Bridge Trail, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Best Sunday Funday Spot Finalists: Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery, Danenberger Family Vineyards, Sheedy Shores Winery, The Corner Pub and Grill, Weebles Bar and Grill
Best Wedding Venue – Outdoor Finalists: Erin’s Pavilion, Long Bridge Golf Course, The Farm in Petersburg, The Rail in Sherman, Clayville Historic Site
Best Place to Catch Pokémon Finalists: Downtown Springfield, Southwind Park, Marine Point, Lincoln Memorial Gardens and Nature Center, Robin Roberts Stadium
BEST PLACE TO GO FOR A LAST-MINUTE GIFT
2939 Montvale Dr., 679-0174
It seems like the more you care about a person, the more you want to get just the right gift for them. Gypsy Soul is full of unique clothes, jewelry and other accessories for women, making it easier to find something special for your special someone. Owner Sue Schwartz opened the shop more than four years ago and describes Gypsy Soul as free-spirited. “We just wanted some things that were different,” she says, “things that aren’t cookie cutter like a lot of boutiques.” The vibe manages to feel young and vintage at the same time, with plenty of shabby-chic style. Basically, if you like Pinterest, you’ll like Gypsy Soul.
Finalists: The Cardologist, J. Parkes Ltd., Simply Fair, Studio on 6th
BEST REASON TO GO DOWNTOWN
Old Capitol Farmers Market
There’s something timeless about a public market full of merchants plying their wares and citizens fulfilling one of their most basic needs. It hearkens back to a simpler time, when the idea of “fresh, local food” was redundant. The Old Capitol Farmers Market, which runs from mid-May through the end of October each year, evokes feelings of authenticity and connection with the land that you can’t really get any other way, short of taking up farming yourself. Add to that the joy of experiencing new flavors and the fun of hanging out with like-minded people, and that’s a pretty compelling reason to head downtown.
Finalists: Dining, Bars and nightclubs, Arts and culture, Pokemon hunting
MORE LOCAL LIFE WINNERS NOT MENTIONED IN OUR PRINT EDITION
BEST LOCAL SCANDAL
Chatham water quality issue
Finalists: Jeff Parsons; Hunter Lake; Police steroid use