A night out in Wicker Park doesn’t have to be about just beer and tacos. Head to the corner of North and Western avenues and you could find a group of adults roasting coins over a Bunsen burner in hopes of being the first to turn their pennies into silver.
The experiment is part of “A Night at Hogwarts,” an evening of hands-on science mixed with trivia and competition that includes the challenge of bringing one’s patronus — or spirit animal — to life.
“We’ve been planning this for a long time, and it was fun to see it in front of an authentic audience. Our Harry Potter parties and camps for kids have always been really popular, and parents kept asking us to make an adult version because they wanted to try it out, too,” said Amy Kang, co-owner of The Laboratory, 2349 W. North Ave.
Amy and her husband, Ed Kang, opened The Laboratory in March 2015 and usually cater to kids 8 to 12 years old.
The just-added class for adults is designed to recreate the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a fictional boarding school made famous in author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
The 90-minute class, which serves up to 24 students, begins with participants getting sorted into one of four Hogwarts’ houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.
The immersive lessons use fire, chemicals and other potentially hazardous materials, so students must sign a safety waiver. Drinking alcohol is prohibited. (Wicker Park bars Handlebar and West on North aren’t quite as magical as The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, but are close enough to the Laboratory for after-school libations.)
Without creating too much of a spoiler, students discover their patronuses after answering a series of questions about themselves and then create a motorized paper rendition of their patronus.
From “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” a patronus is “a kind of anti-Dementor” that acts as a protective force and guardian.
An African Wild Dog, Wicker Park pigeon, Komodo dragon and giant panda were among the many patronuses observed whizzing around the four tables when the Sun-Times stopped in.
Ed Kang, who has a doctorate in neuroscience from Northwestern University, breaks up the lessons with a loud — but surprisingly contained — pumpkin explosion. Lynn Gilbertson, an English teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School, channels the energy of Hogwarts headmistress Minerva McGonagall and keeps the class on track.
Ed Kang left his job teaching science at Whitney Young High School last year to focus on running The Laboratory full time. Amy Kang, who teaches English at a South Side high school, writes the “back stories” and scripts for The Laboratory’s classes.
“I switched careers to see how we could bring science to more people and show how fun it can be,” Ed Kang said.
While fun, science, as it turns out, can also be competitive.
This night, Hufflepuff collected the most points by successfully answering trivia questions and catching on quickly with experiments. Gryffindor captured second place.
Watch the Hufflepuff crew revel in their victory:
In addition to A Night at Hogwarts, other upcoming events at the Laboratory include a New Year’s Eve party and a Valentine’s Day singles event and an all-ages, family-friendly birthday celebration for Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s best friend.
Since Weasley’s patronus is a dog, the birthday will include a special tie-in to support a local dog rescue, Amy Kang said.
“We were thinking of significant events in Harry Potter world, and one is for Ron Weasley’s 17th birthday where all these wild things happen,” Amy Kang said. “Ron Weasley’s patronus happens to be a dog, and we are very involved in dog rescue, so we thought it would be a fun way to tie in a fun event for a good cause.
Visit The Laboratory’s website or call (312) 953–2996 to learn more.