Chicago video game restaurants go beyond food and play
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Food-driven, arcade-gaming venues are becoming the new social playgrounds for Gen-Xers and Millennials.
For the Win (FTW), which opened June 5 at in the complex of AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois, is the newest concept from Lucky Strike Entertainment, the company that re-imagined bowling from blue-collar pastime to boutique social event.
“For the Win was designed to be a one-stop socializing experience, even for date night,” said Jim Bennington, games and redemption manager for Lucky Strike Entertainment. The venue turns into a nightspot for a 21-and-over crowd after 8 p.m.
Gaming is at the venue’s epicenter, but it isn’t the only focus. Unlike other bar-driven gaming hubs, such as Logan Hardware, Emporium Arcade Bar and Headquarters Beercade, FTW emphasizes the importance of chef-created food. It’s part of a trend cross-pollinating gaming and dining at what some are calling “gastrocades.”
“I haven’t heard that term yet,” said Steven Foster, CEO of Lucky Strike Entertainment, “but it fits. We wanted to create a feel-good experience that anyone can appreciate, one spotlighting both gaming and food. Because at the end of the day it’s about delivering our guests a good time.”
Popular FTW menu items include poutines, a signature meatball sandwich, handmade potato chips, 32 varieties of beer and Victorian-inspired cocktails.
Staying away from a specific theme, FTW borrowed from science fiction’s steampunk subgenre to transcend time. The homogenized design includes Victorian, Art Deco and Modernism elements, anchored by pop art, urban graffiti and futuristic renderings, with a live DJ providing disco vibes.
A city-centric theme is also present with a six-hole miniature golf course spotlighting Chicago landmarks that includes a replica of one of the famous Art Institute lions (currently wearing a Hawks jersey).
“It’s a mini city tour,” Bennington said.
The showstoppers among the 130 games on the floor is the one-of-a-kind, 6,500-pound, four-player Sega Showdown racing console, which had to be airlifted and brought in through the window. Death Escape, the first 4D platform, introduces a physiological dimension, monitoring heart rates for its fear factor. Prize-yielding Color Match features high-end items from Burberry, Coach, Apple and Xbox.
Even the redemption center resonates with upscale appeal offering redeemable purchases such as a one-of-a-kind designer leather top hat, along with nostalgic-steeped items such as a Radio Flyer wagon.
“We wanted a ‘wow’ factor in every aspect,” Bennington said. “A mix of new and nostalgia that would appeal to all ages.” www.ftwchicago.com
In keeping with the trending social vibe, NAMCO, creator of Pac-Man, opened Level 257 in May at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. It’s named for the infamous Pac-Man kill screen that ends the game.
“Socializing is a big trend among today’s young people,” said David Bishop, executive vice president of NAMCO USA. “Most conversations revolve around where they’ve been or where they’re going, making venues like ours tailor-made platforms.
“Our food menu and wine list is not to be dismissed,” Bishop noted, adding “we have a chef-driven menu and a wine list featuring more than 100 selections.” www.level257.com
Not yet in the Chicago area is Eddie’s Social Committee, offering an even broader aspect of social interaction with its 30-by-10-foot multiplayer gaming units. It’s currently testing in three Buffalo Wing Restaurants including one in Brookfield, Wis., just outside Milwaukee. www.eddiessocial.com