In Chicago, craft beer has an incredible presence, it’s hard not to find something “crafty” on tap when you walk into a bar. Since the explosion of craft beer in Chicago, its becoming increasingly important to offer more than just good craft beer to get people to crowd into a bar. Whether it’s a bunch of TV screens so people can watch the game, some great food, or even some arcade games.
I went to the arcade pretty often growing up. Many of those arcades were attached to a bowling alley where my parents were bowling with their league. The arcades of yesteryear don’t really exist anymore. The arcades of my youth were isolated areas, noisy, dark, no booze, or food (maybe some vending machines) and a place where parents just dropped their kids or teens off. I don’t recall seeing anyone drinking in the arcade, I guess everyone was underage or I was too busy trying to beat that Terminator game to notice. These days if I went to the arcade and they didn’t serve beer, I’d be greatly disappointed. What do you do when you’re waiting for your turn? Or when you’re watching someone else get a high score?
Until this year, it was hard to find a place in Chicago to grab a beer and play some video games. Portland has Ground Kontrol, Barcade is in Brooklyn, Seattle has Shorty’s and almost every other major city has a great video game bar or barcade with a nice selection of beer and pinball machines.
I believe Chicago lagged behind other cities in having this type of establishment due to certain gaming and liquor licenses you need in Chicago and getting those from what I’ve been told can be difficult. Video games also take up a lot of room, room that could be full of people eating or drinking. Also, Pinball machines are expensive, they REQUIRE regular maintenance so they run properly. These days the kids and teens stay home and play each other online so the people who are interested in going to an arcade are for the most part over the drinking age. So it makes sense to have beer in an arcade or an arcade in a bar.
The tides changed and now we have several options for drinking craft beer and playing games. Right now there are a couple solid barcades in Chicago; Headquarters and Emporium Arcade Bar. Emporium is right around the corner from my place, so I’m there fairly often. When you walk into Emporium you’re treated with a draft list of 20 plus beers and ciders, the only thing more impressive then the draft list is the classic arcade machines lining the walls. With a quick glance around you’ll notice Dig Dug, Paperboy, Tapper, Marvel vs. Capcom, Donkey Kong and the list goes on…
I’m not there just for the beer because I can get many of the same beers at a number of other bars, I’m also not there just for the video games because I could play many of them on my iPhone if I really wanted to. Nah, I’m mostly there for the Pinball. I can’t play pinball at home, I doubt my wife would want a machine in our small condo.
Pinball is something you really can’t do on your phone and its something most people don’t own in their homes. Pinball is a real machine with moving parts that changes depending on how well kept the machine is or if it’s leaning a bit. Its often more of a challenge than video games because every time you play the game its a bit different, the chances of you scoring the same each time is almost impossible.
You can nerd out and become extremely knowledgeable about beer and pinball to the point that’s maybe a bit extreme for some people, but you can also enjoy either very casually. Which is something that makes both craft beer and pinball fun, you can appreciate them alone or with others. Focusing on learning the pinball rules and how to play or slowly sipping on a craft beer and taking notes on what you smell and taste. When you are out with friends you can all chat about the beer, or start a multiplayer game and see who can get the high score.
Chicago has long been the capital of pinball manufacturing and it makes sense to see it picking up steam here again. Stern Pinball, Inc. is located in the suburbs and is the last of the old-school pinball machine manufacturers. In fact many of the first arcade and pinball makers were founded in Chicago. You also may have noticed the crazy amount of breweries that have opened up in the area in the last several years and there are plenty more in the works. Which is nice to see since Chicago has a long history with brewing including being the home of the Siebel Institute of Technology, the brewing school that was founded in 1868. Both pinball and beer have an extensive history in Chicago and both are experiencing a renewed popularity.
There is a bit of nostalgia, in regards to pinball and arcades. People who grew up during a time where arcades and pinball were popular, can hold an affinity for those games. Playing those games again can allow them to relive a part of their youth. So there is certainly a novelty about going to an arcade but I think the simplicity of most of the games speaks to people right now. Something more tactile and genuine since almost everything else in our lives is online. I rarely turn on my PS3 and there are millions of games to choose from but I don’t want to spend 40+ hours playing a game alone at home. I want something social, I want to go out to the bar, grab a drink with friends and playing some games isn’t a bad way to spend an evening.
As the 30 and 40 somethings come to grips with how hectic their lives are today they’re looking for something simple and uncomplicated at it’s heart. That’s pinball, that’s the arcade. And at the same time people are looking for artisan foods and artisan drinks. Products made by hand and made with more natural ingredients. Less manufactured, less mass marketed. They appreciate craft beer that’s made locally by brewers in their community. I think a lot of people are seeking out something real. Sometimes what feels most real exists in the past. Its easy to see why Chicago Craft Beer and pinball are both getting a lot of love in Chicago these days.