Derek Berry has made a career in hosting throwback parties—his brainchild, a monthly dance night called Another ’90s Party, has been going strong at Beauty Bar for seven years. But he knew he had something big on his hands in early 2016. After his Facebook event for a Saved By The Bell-themed pop-up diner blew up seemingly overnight, it was time to sell tickets. “We went on sale, and within a minute we sold the whole first month out,” recalls Berry, the restaurant’s co-creator and operating manager. “And we were like, ‘This is wild. What’s going on here?’” Saved By The Max, a temporary restaurant that recreated the set of the beloved 1989 teen sitcom, would go on to sell out 12 months of ticketed dinners in its Wicker Park space.
Though the diner wasn’t the first themed pop-up to hit Chicago, Saved By The Max was like a cannonball at a pool party, and the nightlife world is still feeling its waves. Soon, pop-culture–themed restaurants and bars were sprouting up all over the city. In January 2017, Emporium Arcade Bar announced that the space next to its Logan Square location (which housed a beach-themed bar called Surf) would become a permanent pop-up venue, hosting rotating themed drinking experiences, including recreations of Stranger Things’ Upside Down, an Uprise skate shop and a holiday hip-hop club. Other Chicago bars have gotten in on the action, too, paying homage to everything from classic Christmas movies to The Simpsons to old-school natural historians.
Following its massive popularity in Chicago, Saved By The Max shipped out to L.A., where the diner is scheduled to serve ’90s nostalgia beginning on May 1. According to Berry, the best way to keep the project alive is to keep it moving around. “Something like this is definitely going to have a shelf life—no matter if it’s one year from now or 10 years from now,” says Berry. “We’re really aware of that.”