You've probably been to a dive bar with a single pinball table, but some of Chicago's most exciting bars house entire arcades. Since appearing in trendy neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Logan Square, arcade bars have become a citywide phenomenon. Whether you want to set a new Donkey Kong high score or hang out while drinking craft beer, you can waste quarters on something other than laundry at one of Chicago's top arcade bars.
RECOMMENDED: Our guide to the best bars in Chicago
The best arcade bars in Chicago
Chicago's first arcade bar is still one of the best, with classic offerings like NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat and Q*Bert. The bar serves 24 draft beers, and customers are welcome to bring in food from area restaurants. Emporium's narrow layout can get cramped at night, but if you show up in the daytime, you'll blow through a handful of tokens in no time.
Emporium's Logan Square outpost puts an emphasis on table games like pool, air hockey and shuffleboard—truly old-school stuff. All of the beer comes in cans and bottles, but there's plenty to choose from, including local and regional favorites. Plus, there's a "food truck" permanently parked in the space that is usually serving fare from one of the city's many mobile eateries.
Branding itself as a steampunk-inspired arcade, FTW is packed with classic games like skee-ball, pop-a-shot and air hockey alongside modern racing games and shooters. There's also a six-hole indoor mini golf course where you can practice your putt while drinking one of the 32 craft beers on tap. It's like Chuck E. Cheese's for adults: Unlike other arcade bars in the city, FTW has prizes.
Formerly the original location of Headquarters, this early arcade bar became the third outpost of Replay in late 2016 after a split between HQ’s partners. The bar program is more focused on the extensive, high-end beer list than Replay’s other bourbon-centric locations, and the games (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tron, NBA Jam) are all still free to play. We could quibble with calling this “Lincoln Park,” but the name distinguishes it from the Boystown original.
Now Headquarters’ only Chicago location (for the moment, at least—the owners are promising a new Lakeview outpost later in 2017) brings the vintage arcade fun to River North, offering a similarly large collection of games and more than 70 craft beers. This location also serves up some non-typical bar food, including buffalo cauliflower and gumbo. All the games are free to play, so you may have to jockey for a turn in front of the Ms. Pac-Man cabinet.
The Andersonville outpost of the Boystown beer-and-bourbon arcade bar adds food to the mix, with burgers, brunch and more to fuel your retro gaming. The bar runs down the center of the space, though it's just one-sided—the other side of its rear wall is lined with video game consoles. The extensive beer list (26 rotating drafts listed on giant chalkboards over the bar) and even bigger collection of bourbons are the reasons to visit, other than getting it on like Donkey Kong, of course. Service was a little terse on a recent visit, but the space is inviting and the games are free.
Arcade bars have made it to the suburbs. Located in Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall, Pac-Man memorabilia adorns the walls of Level 257. The space is set up like the ultimate rec room, packed with vintage arcade cabinets, board games and 16 bowling lanes. Once you're done playing, sit down for a meal of burgers, pizzas, steak or pasta and recharge your health meter with the signature chocolate "power pellets" dessert.
Logan Arcade used to be the home of Logan Hardware, a record store that has since moved down the street. The space now houses one of the larger collections of lovingly restored vintage arcade games in the city. The back room is filled with pinball tables (which account for roughly half of the available games), so flipper fanatics will be able to waste away hours setting new high scores. Bring your piggy bank—this is one of the few arcade bars that takes quarters.
Opening in 2013, the first Replay took the place of Buck's Saloon, bringing nostalgic video game fun to Boystown. The selection of games isn't as extensive as other arcade bars in town, but Replay's focus on craft beers and bourbon is a welcome addition to a strip where sugary-sweet mixed drinks and mass-market brews are the norm. If it's too stuffy inside, simply escape to the adjacent spruced-up patio.