Chicago’s Emporium Arcade Bar is everything you want it to be (and probably even more too).
12-year-old me spent his time playing NBA Jam, Contra and Mortal Kombat, Now at 32 years old, I spent last night playing NBA Jam, Contra and Mortal Kombat, but this time, I had a really good craft beer in my hand. What’s the difference twenty years makes? Not much, actually. Not much at all.
I still love these games. Sure, I don’t spend my time practicing Sub Zero’s freeze spell (which I recalled to my credit). I spend my time fixing spreadsheets and helping out co- workers more than not. But once the work week is over, is there anything better than drinking a great new craft beer with a buddy over an arcade game? No. No there is not.
The Emporium in Wicker Park was an excellent experience last night. But what made it so memorable was not that I went 2-0 as Blanka in Street Fighter 2 (button mashing ftw!), it was that the business itself was run so smoothly. First, the Emporium was clean. The tables and countertops were always cleaned and hawked over by the staff. The arcade games were clean. Even the bathroom was basically immaculate. C’mon – that’s impressive.
Also, the staff were helpful and quick to take care of me. I didn’t have my hand up at the end of the bar for fifteen minutes (which can be a norm with busy Chicago night life). The staff knew the different types of beer, and I want you to focus on the subject of this sentence: the staff. Not just one person, each bartender that served me. These are real people with real life problems like rent and possibly student loans, and they weren’t treating me like I was making their job harder by “ordering a drink.” The staff was great. Period.
And the craft beer selection was impressive. The Emporium easily had twenty-five craft beers on tap. Sure, they had the local Chicago favorites like Half-Acre and Revolution, but they had some beers in there you don’t see everywhere, like Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust. So, you walk in, see all these great games to play, and think, “This is going to be great.” Then you see the craft beer list (they have hard alcohol too), and think, “This is going to be even better than I thought.” That’s a fun mental progression.
Is the Emporium made of rainbows where everyone ever loves the place? Probably not. But I went in without expectations, and I was blown – period – away – period. The Emporium made my weekend, and I bet it’ll make yours too.
And they have Moonwalker!