Video game heaven: Chicago’s new love affair with arcade bars
Arcade bars are popping up all over Chicago. It’s like when you were a kid, but with beer and whiskey
By Jim Luchetta
Emporium Arcade Bar
Location: 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave. www.EmporiumChicago.com
What we liked: The space is huge, with two separate rooms, both stuffed with games. Pinball machines and old arcade games are the entire focus of one of the areas, while the other has games and the bar.
The whole place has a retro feel to it. Between Rocky IV on the television and an arcade machine with a bunch of old Neo Geo games on it, the place is right out of the 1980s and early ’90s. The game selection is incredible: Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs. Capcom, Galaga and Space Invaders make up only a fraction of the machines you can enjoy while sipping on a nice whiskey or beer. And speaking of beer, Emporium boasts 24 impressive craft options on draft, which makes it an ideal place to kick back and watch a game as well.
Blast from the past: I love me some Space Invaders and Marvel vs. Capcom. One is an awesome relic from before my time, while the other saw its heyday while I was growing up.
What folks are saying: “Is that freaking Rocky IV?” — Brian Walsh, when catching a glimpse of the flick on the giant projector screen
Replay Beer & Bourbon
Location: 3439 N. Halsted. www.ReplayLakeview.com
What we liked: First of all, it’s a Boystown bar, so you know you’re going to have a fun time no matter your preference in life. While smaller than the others, Replay, formerly Bucks Saloon and owned by the same folks as Halsted’s, Elixir and Hydrate, is easily the most alcohol-first of the three, and that’s perfect. They have a huge selection of beer, whiskey, bourbon and mixed cocktails, and the games feel more like an added bonus to this.
That’s not to take away from the gaming aspect, however. You’ll still find Super Mario Bros., Pacman, pinball machines and plenty others here.
The ’80s seem to be a recurring theme of these bars, as Replay uses movie names like the “DeLorean” and the “Ecto Cooler” for their signature cocktails. I can safely say that while an Ecto Cooler might sound a little out there, Dr. Venkman from Ghostbusters would have no trouble ordering a round of them.
Blast from the past: The carefully crafted cocktails are flipping hilarious for those of us with some knowledge of ’80s pop culture. They’re a part of the reason I’ll be back, and part of the reason I need to get better at Dig Dug.
What folks are saying: “What is this, and how do I order eight?” — Bill Wantuck, when given a taste of an Ecto Cooler
Location: 2833 N. Sheffield. www.HQBeercade.com
What we liked: The atmosphere puts you right in the ’80s mood with constant replays of WrestleMania playing with that dimmed-light setting you’d find in a real arcade. The whole floor plan is split in two, with most of the arcade games in the back room and the pinball machines in the front. And as at Replay, all of the machines are free to play.
The place isn’t just about the games though; the craft beer selection is off the charts. Beers from all over the Chicago area to go along with the cocktails thought up by trained mixologists. A personal favorite, the White Rascal, was suggested to me by one of the bartenders after I told him of my love for Belgian-style beer.
Headquarters is the biggest of the three and offers both a gamer and bar scene — the back room is oriented more toward the gamers with stand-up arcade machines, while the front houses the bars and DJ dancing area set up for those who may not be into the arcade as much.
Blast from the past: Other than WrestleMania playing the whole time, Headquarters, like the others, is like stepping in a time machine. You’ll find the old classics here like Donky Kong, NBA Jam and Frogger, but perhaps the biggest surprise was an old hockey game where you control both the player and the goalie with the same joystick.
What folks are saying: “Their selection of beer is a nice change from most bars in the area. The Tokyo Black is my personal favorite. It’s a nice porter with a great flavor.” — Alex Kwain