Getting on the Same Level: a review of the Emporium Arcade Bar


It was one hell of an evening at Emporium Arcade Bar Tuesday night. Tucked away in a Wicker Park storefront was a rather eclectic gathering of people and it was so packed you’d think you were at the Winchester trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Now, my only encounter with an animal of this magnitude was back in October when I went out to Denver. They have this placed called 1UP, which is also an arcade bar—let’s just call it a “barcade” for short. In comparison to 1UP, the Emporium is way smaller, but that’s cause being in Denver allots for more space and Chicago ain’t got time for that. The only set-back a small space does for a barcade is game selection and traffic flow, but to be fair, the game line-up at Emporium is pretty solid and the traffic flow was just hella crazy because of the opening night event.

I rode my bike up to the venue, so my first order of business when I posted up in the Emporium was to acquire myself a beer: “I’ll have a PBR, please,” I say to the bar maiden.

She replies with a very stern, “We’re OUT.”

Let’s just dash my brains on the floor already. This is not something someone wants to hear. Period. How the hell do you run out of PBR? I study the menu board for a while and finally decided on a North Coast Pranqster as my back up plan. It was a Belgian-style ale brewed out of Fort Bragg, California and it was definitely tastier than any old PBR. Now that my beverage is taken care of, time for the games!

For those who are n00bs to the Emporium Arcade Bar, DO NOT make the amateur mistake of shoving quarters into the machines, you must acquire tokens from the dispensary near the edge of the bar. Luckily, I chatted up a few bar patrons to get the scoop, but there definitely needs to be a sign posted throughout the establishment, since there is only one token machine in the whole damn joint.

I had my eye on Street Fighter the moment I saw it chilling in the far back corner of the bar, but so was everyone else and people were getting really feisty about cutting in line for that game. First of all, there is no room for a line, so you’re basically just camping out and waiting for a sucker to dip out. Secondly, everyone in there is getting drunk, so pissing off an impatient bystander is not gonna be a hard thing to accomplish. You must tread very carefully.

Because it’s been awhile since I actually stepped foot into an arcade, my gamer etiquette is nonexistent. I have no idea how I should tackle this situation other than say, “Hey buddy, too damn bad” and carry on with my business. However, after meeting a few old school arcade guys, they didn’t hesitate to tell me what’s up. Basically, what you need to do to claim your spot on a game is to “Put yo’ money up!” By this, my friends mean that you need to throw your tokens up on the machine to signify that you mean business! (See photo for a better explanation of this practice.) This simple practice will save you the headache of punching out the next person who tries jacking your spot in line. Just sit back, watch the game, and wait for your turn.

Like I said earlier, it’s been ages since I’ve been in an arcade, which means my “moves list dictionary” definitely needs some TLC. Please excuse me and hold your judgmental cringes when I say that I button mashed the hell out of that game. Playing as Chun-Li doesn’t hurt either ‘cause she’s the shit. I ended up playing a handful of people throughout the entire evening, and if it weren’t for the conveniently placed beer tables between the games, I probably would have destroyed the damn machine. Be prepared for weak wrists at the end of the evening.

Other than a few minor things, my stay at the Emporium Arcade Bar was hands down one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in Wicker Park in a long time. For the most part, the people were friendly and the atmosphere was just perfect. In fact, I never felt the urge to tear myself out of the bar for my usual drunken cigarette. I might finally be able to quit for real this time. The Emporium is definitely the spot to be and I will continue to frequent this place this summer. I accept any new challengers at a round of button mashing. Street Fighter style! Bring your tokens.

As a side note, if ever you find yourself with a case of the wanderlust this summer and feel like checking out other barcades around the country, I have compiled a small list of places to check out with the appropriate links below. Happy hunting and do tell me how your adventures went in the comments below!

(Photo credit: Blakish)