Best of Sarasota 2014: Arts and Entertainment

By Megan McDonald April 30, 2014

Best New Arts Leader: Anu Tali

The talk of the town this season was new Sarasota Orchestra music director Anu Tali, whose passion for her art and musicians was evident, especially when she conducted them in concerts including works by fellow Estonian Heino Eller and Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. She may be blonde, beautiful and fluent in six languages, but what's wowed us all is her musical command. 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 953-3434,

Best New "Note-able" Public Art: Downtown pianos

Those painted pianos that popped up around downtown thanks to the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County were not only eye candy, but music to the ears as well, as passers-by tickled the ivories with a range of styles and—ahem—skills. If you haven't trotted out your Chopin yet, you still can through May along the sidewalks of Main, Pineapple and Palm.

Best New Art Gallery: The IceHouse on 10th

The IceHouse on 10th converted a former—yes—ice house into an expansive (8,900 square feet) gallery with plentiful wall space, high ceilings, its own mini-theater, lecture space and gift shop. And its first season presented an intriguing blend of artists both local and international and welcomed partnerships with several nonprofits for opening night galas. A truly "cool" destination. 1314 10th St., Sarasota, (941) 366-6400,

Best New Place to Take Kids: Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden

Rising 27 feet into the treetops to give little ones a bird's-eye perspective on nature, Selby Gardens' Children's Rainforest Garden has plenty of safe thrills: a banyan boardwalk, 16-foot waterfall, epiphyte caverns, a swinging canopy bridge and chickee huts filled with hands-on activities. Since opening in November, it's been drawing families in droves. 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5731,

Best New Place to Watch the Sunset: Van Wezel Sunset Terrace

Whoever thought of covering the Van Wezel bayside terrace with handsome shade "sails" and adding chic outdoor lounge furniture and a fire pit gets our Genius Award for Best Way to Take Advantage of Spectacular Views. Now open for pre-show drinks and dinner, it will eventually offer lunch and cocktails on nonshow days, too. 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 953-3368,

Best New Reason to go to the Beach: The new beach pavilions

Good for Sarasota County for flaunting our rich architectural heritage with striking modern beach pavilions at Caspersen, Manasota, North Jetty and South Lido parks. The eye- catching buildings were designed by Sweet Sparkman Architects to reference the swaying sea oats that thrive along the shoreline. The Caspersen Beach pavilion won a Design Excellence Award from the Florida/Caribbean AIA.

Best New Health Care Expansion: Sarasota Memorial's Courtyard Tower

We'll get well quicker thanks to Sarasota Memorial's beautiful new Courtyard Tower, a nine-story, 172-room state-of-the-art facility offering orthopedic, cardio-vascular, childbirth and neonatal care. Each bed has, among other technologies, a laptop computer for real-time chart access. Don't you feel better already? 1700 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 917-9000,

Best New Fun: The new McCurdy's Comedy Theatre

For 13 years, McCurdy's has featured top talent in an old theater on the North Tamiami Trail. Now we all have something new to smile about: The new McCurdy's, a completely redone, 200-seat space in the heart of downtown Sarasota, should give comedy's big names and Sarasota fans the stylish setting they deserve. 1923 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 925-3869,

Readers' Picks

Best Festival or Special Event

Sarasota Chalk Festival

Sarasota Film Festival, Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition


Best Fund-raising Gala

Wine, Women & Shoes

Goodwill's Mardi Gras, Center for Building Hope's Night of Hope


Best Performing Arts Group

Sarasota Ballet

Asolo Repertory Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre


Best Place to Hear Local Bands

Cock and Bull Pub

Five O'Clock Club, Mattison's City Grille


Best Place to Meet Singles

Miller's Sarasota Ale House

Libby's Café + Bar, Social on First


Best Controversy


Downtown development, noise ordinance


Best Tourist Attraction

The beach

Mote Marine Aquarium, The Ringling Museum of Art


Best Local TV Personality

Scott Dennis

Bob Harrigan, John Scalzi


Click here to see more readers' and editors' picks in the Best of Sarasota 2014. >>

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