News News/Local Wicker Park

Review: Emporium Arcade Bar

Emporium Arcade Bar

1366 N. Milwaukee Ave. No phone yet

Rating: 3 (out of four) Off to a good start

Let's get one thing straight: Emporium Arcade Bar doesn't need any press coverage to survive in Chicago. The concept—a throwback arcade that also serves good beer and whiskey—was enough to draw huge crowds when it opened earlier this week. After grabbing some tacos nearby, a few friends and I settled in with our pockets full of tokens to see if the Wicker Park bar would live up to the nerd hype.

Let's get the basics out of the way: If you were compelled to read this because of your undying love of NBA Jam, you probably just want to know the following: Emporium is opening at 5 p.m. on weekdays (for now). All the games (more than 30 video games and three pinball machines; see a full list at emporiumchicago.com/games) take customized tokens, which are four for $1 at an exchange machine near the bar. No, you can't tip with them/exchange tokens for beer. And yes, those metal shelves next to the consoles are for your glass.

Holy dude paradise, Batman: It's not that there weren't any gals in attendance when we stopped in. There were. It's just that there were so many guys. Scraggly haired metal guys. Holstered smartphone-wearing corporate guys. Socially awkward cargo-shorted guys. Behind the bar, at the bar, three deep at the Street Fighter II machine. Stereotype-fulfilling or not, those are the facts. But the ladies in attendance didn't look out of place—no one really seemed to care if the person manning Donkey Kong next to them was in a skirt or not. I expect the ratio to balance slightly as more mixed groups start hitting the spot over the weekend. And if it doesn't? Well, at least there won't be a wait for the ladies' room.

There's always drinking: The games aren't the only draw to Emporium. The bar also features a healthy selection of craft beer on draft, including brews from Bell's, Goose Island, Great Lakes, Left Hand, North Coast and Metropolitan, with prices hovering around $5. Plenty of whiskey is also on display if you feel the need to switch to the hard stuff. But is this the kind of place to just relax with a pint? Not right now. When it's as packed as it was opening night (a crowd you can expect to hold steady into the weekend and possibly beyond), the noise and energy level is just too high for much conversation. Everyone is milling around, chatting over the music and bouncing from game to game. Past 7 p.m., there was a constant wait at the bar, which made snagging a barstool nearly impossible. If the crowds slow down, the abundant seating near the front of the bar would be perfect for a round or two if you're in the neighborhood, but if it's packed and you don't intend on playing anything, don't bother. It's called an arcade bar for a reason.

Where'd you get that popcorn? Brilliantly situated Antique Taco is going to see major business from gamers with the munchies. Since the bar doesn't serve food, you can BYO and this neighboring restaurant's menu is a perfect match. Think crispy fish tacos, guac and chips and the aforementioned popcorn, flavored with habanero, cilantro and cheddar.

Bottom line: If you got excited the minute you heard an arcade bar was coming to Chicago, then Emporium won't disappoint. There's a good variety of games for nostalgia lovers and newbies alike (everyone likes Tetris, right?) and the beer list is solid. If you just want to drink all night, you can take a pass, but if you're looking to grab a fistful of tokens and go to town, be sure to put Emporium on your must-try list.

Reporters visit bars and restaurants unannounced and drinks are paid for by Redeye. evanzandt@tribune.com | @redeyedrinks

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 'Welcome to Me' is highly gawkable
    'Welcome to Me' is highly gawkable

    “Why doesn’t it look like ‘Oprah’?” Alice (Kristen Wiig) asks about the production value of her recently launched, guest-free talk show. Responds one of the many employees who can’t believe this series is happening: “Because you ate a cake made out of hamburger and started crying.”

  • Even the outtakes are predictable in 'Hot Pursuit'
    Even the outtakes are predictable in 'Hot Pursuit'

    In February 2013, Melissa McCarthy starred in an unfunny, aggressive road movie (“Identity Thief”). Four months later, she was the wild card to Sandra Bullock’s straight arrow in an incredibly generic buddy cop comedy (“The Heat”). Opening June 5, McCarthy stars in the very funny “Spy” as Susan...

  • Jack Black immediately derails 'The D Train'
    Jack Black immediately derails 'The D Train'

    Hidden in the nagging onslaught of suck that is “The D Train” is a really good scene: Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the former high school stud who moved from Pittsburgh to L.A. to become an actor, approaches Dermot Mulroney (playing himself), who’s in a bar and being treated like royalty in...

  • Rauner to aldermen: 'For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs'
    Rauner to aldermen: 'For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs'

    In an unusual and perhaps unprecedented speech, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday dropped in at City Hall and offered a time-tested political horse trade: support his controversial pro-business, anti-union agenda, and he'll help Chicago out of its financial free fall.

  • Is Riot Fest dividing the community?

    The questionable return of Riot Fest to Humboldt Park has polarized the community with the local alderman unwaivering in his opposition and the festival organizers launching a full-court press to bring the three-day music festival back.

  • Mayor: Approval of Burge victims fund a step toward 'removing a stain'
    Mayor: Approval of Burge victims fund a step toward 'removing a stain'

    In a dramatic moment Wednesday, the Chicago City Council rose to acknowledge victims of torture at the hands of former police Cmdr. Jon Burge before approving a $5.5 million reparations package that Mayor Rahm Emanuel said shows Chicago is willing to deal with the dark chapter in its history.

Comments
Loading