Long-awaited arcade bar opens in Wicker Park
06/27/2012 10:00 PM
A loud, boisterous yell rose from Wicker Park last week when a little slice of arcade heaven finally opened for business. After a long gestation period, Emporium Arcade Bar is game ready.
The old-school video game arcade is a dying breed. The home gaming explosion crushed it, beginning in the late í70s with the unleashing of the Atari 2600 and Activision, ballooning in the í80s with CalecoVision and the rise Nintendo and Sega. Fast forward to the present, and arcades show down against a bajillion varieties of Xboxes and PlayStations.
The new mediums forced arcade patrons to consider an important question. Why throw down precious quarters to play games when those same games can be played ad nauseum from the comfort of home? The notion makes practical economic and time management sense for consumers, but not for arcade proprietors.
Playing Pong, Pac-Man or Halo with friends cramped together on couches in basement recreation rooms is fun, without question, but it canít compare to the thrill of experiencing them in a physical, brick-and-mortar arcade. Wild lights bounce off of games in the darkness. Cheesy sound effects and game soundtracks compete with each other for air space. Patrons huddle around games to watch prodigies destroy high scores. Itís a vibe that can be replicated at home.
The Marks brothers understand this.
Highland Park natives Danny and Doug Marks come from an entertainment clan. Running movie theaters, roller rinks and bars is in the family blood. Elder brother Danny spent a stint as the manager of popular Brooklyn spot, Barcade, which offered classic arcade games in a casual bar setting. He saw a void in the Chicago market for a similar venue.
After 11 months of preparation, Emporium opened its doors at 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave. last week. Itís an impressive place.
Loosely following Barcadeís layout, Emporium is a cavern bathed in dark woods. A large bar featuring a drinkerís paradise of craft beers on tap lines the left wall. Situated in the middle of the space, the bar is a short hop from the games, allowing easy access to libations for players deep in play.
The beers and laid back atmosphere will keep Emporium busy, but the games are its raison díetre.
Thirty-five video games (and three pinball machines) line the walls. The selections represent the entire spectrum of the arcade experience, from classics like Centipede, Q-Bert, Asteroids, Donkey-Kong and Ms. Pac-Man to late-period gems such as Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon, Space Jam pinball and more. New games are expected to be added and current ones rotated, keeping Emporium fresh.
Emporium is more than just a simple beers and arcade game joint, though. Itís a time machine.
Arcade games tap into the deep recesses of oneís memories. Games that havenít been played in twenty-plus years become familiar instantly. Joystick and button combos that bring down Piston Hurricane in Mike Tysonís Punch-Out and the locations of the magic mushrooms in Super Mario Brothers are recalled immediately. Itís an amazing sensation. Emporium allows patrons to revisit youth ó with an adult beverage in hand.