If you've grown up or lived in the wonderful Midwestern city of Chicago for a while, you understand that there's been a dearth of good videogame-related activities to enjoy in the area. Sure, there's the occasional LAN competition at the yearly comic conventions, and once in a while a game advertisement will appear on a billboard by the El track, but that's about as good as it gets.
Well, good fellows, hold on to your butts, because all of that is about to change. This week, brothers Doug and Danny Marks opened their flagship alcohol and retro game establishment, the Emporium Arcade Bar. I was able to attend their soft opening last Saturday, and it was well worth the year(plus) wait!
Nestled quaintly between Antique Taco and countless furniture stores on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, Emporium has an unassuming neon sign that hangs in the middle of large, dark windows. Upon entering the bar, however, the atmosphere instantly shifts to one of nostalgic bliss as the bargoer is flooded with the sights and sounds of such arcade classics as Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and many, many more classic arcade games.
The bar has a simultaneously classic and brand-new feeling, with clean wooden floors, tables, chairs, as well as a polished and glimmering brown tin ceiling. The low-key muteness of the interior adds extra oomph to the whirling bright lights and tinkling noises of all of the arcade machines. The machines themselves, while bursting with low-fi glory, have been cleaned and fine-tuned for optimal gaming experiences. There are even little cup-holding rails next to each machine so that you don't have to sacrifice playing time if you want a beer.
Which brings me to the beer list! Emporium is employing a beer standard that's not seen in a lot of bars on Milwaukee Ave. Right now their alcohol menu only consists of American craft beers, and they have a special interest in supporting locally owned Midwestern breweries. This, for those uninitiated in the mystical ways of beer, is pretty awesome.
If you're not into beer though, you can still exchange your cash for gold-colored, specially made tokens for the arcade games! When Emporium had its soft opening (which despite only being announced on the bar's Facebook and Twitter accounts still drew an absolutely packed crowed), people were so excited to play the games. There's something about the full-body experience of standing in front of the arcade version of Super Mario or Mortal Kombat that is undeniably engaging. The game just envelops you into its fold and everything around you begins to fade, until it's just you and the game, and each jump, shot, button press, and joystick smack bring you and the machine more in unison... until you die and it's game over and you have no tokens left.
In which case, you get another beer.
Emporium also doesn't just have common household arcade names like Street Fighter and Asteroids, they also have a few more obscure machines like Smash TV and (personal favorite) Burger Time, as well as a few fun pinball machines like The Machine: Bride of Pin Bot and Michael Jordan Space Jam (Chicago pride, of course). All of these factors add up to a totally unique and refreshing gaming experience in the Windy City that is literally unlike anything we've had access to in the past twenty years.
Part of the greatness about this new destination for every self-respecting gamer in Chicagoland is that the nostalgia factor is through the roof. As an alcohol-serving establishment, Emporium is only 21 and over -- sorry kids! -- but because of that age limit, the only people who will be visiting the bar are going to be people who probably played some of these arcade games at some point in the past.
This aspect of Emporium is so important, because it's the tandem of the pleasure of playing these old games in conjunction with chilling out with some buds over a cold beer, or going on an awesome date with your significant other, that really brings home this double feeling of past good times and present good times, and that's precisely what makes Emporium such a unique and fun place to visit.
Long story short, Emporium Arcade Bar is a totally new and totally fun experience for Chicagoland videogame enthusiasts, and it is about to be your new jam.