Credit: Daniel X. O'Neil

Novelty Golf & Games

3650 W. Devon

This is a pretty thin excuse to write about a mini-golf place, especially given that more spectacular courses exist in Chicago and environs, but Novelty Golf & Games—sometimes informally called “the Bunny Hutch” after the adjoining burger-and-ice-cream place—has a charm all its own. Since opening in 1949 the course has endured so much abuse, both from the elements and from rambunctious patrons, that no amount of upkeep would make it seriously playable—that is, it’s possible to play competitively, but not advisable. Worn concrete, warped wood, and bent metal will foil you every time. It’s as though the grounds themselves are saying, “Listen, it’s mini golf. If you’re here to win instead of have fun, something went horribly wrong earlier in your life.” The course is playful in the best old-school style, covered with crude animatronic obstacles, piddly fountains, and kitschy statues and monuments: a mermaid, an elephant, a knight in armor, a totem pole, a weirdly fat and stubby Sears Tower (sorry, I mean “Wesley Willis Tower”), a grandfather clock with an unsteadily swinging pendulum, a Frankenstein head looming from atop a purple-trimmed castle. The deranged, rapey-looking Humpty Dumpty that I remember from my earliest visits is long gone, but there remains a large cartoony neon-green sauropod of some kind—let’s call it a “brontosaurus,” since that’s not a real dinosaur anyway—with a look on its face that says it’s had just about enough of your shit. That look alone might be enough to earn Novelty Golf & Games a spot on our Best of Chicago list, but they’ve also got batting cages (I’m a terrible hitter, but I find the pinging patter of softballs on aluminum bats oddly soothing), picnic tables, and a modest arcade whose attractions include Big Buck Hunter, Dance Dance Revolution, the Attack From Mars pinball game, and an air-hockey table. —Philip Montoro