If you're on a quest for geek stuff, you won't have to search for long—Chicago is a nerd paradise. Love to drink beer and waste quarters at arcade bars? The city boasts plenty of them. Prefer to gain knowledge at some of Chicago's best museums? Just pick an institution and check out an exhibition or a special event. Whether you want to browse comic book stores or play video games, we've tracked down the best places to nerd out in Chicago.
Geek stuff in Chicago
For graphic novel readers, tabletop gamers or collectible fanatics, comic book stores are the cornerstone of Chicago's geekiest communities. No matter what neighborhood you live in, you're probably near a shop that stocks the latest titles and some intriguing back issues. Dig through trades at Chicago Comics, engage in a discussion at Challengers or browse a selection DIY zines at Quimby's—wherever you go, you're sure to find some new reading material.
Fandom is alive and well in Chicago, and you'll see it in action at some of the city's top conventions. Meet actors from The Walking Dead at Walker Stalker Con, admire the intricate cosplayers at C2E2 or embrace your inner otaku at Anime Central. No matter which convention hall you queue up in, you'll find mountains of merchandise, interesting panels, some free swag and probably a few new friends who share your interests.
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 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.
A gigantic arcade cabinet in the back of this Logan Square barcade turns the idea of a solitary video game experience on its head, requiring not two, not four, but 10 players. Killer Queen pits two teams of five against one another in a bee colony–themed duel of resource collection, combat and snail riding (seriously). Show up on Wednesday for the weekly league night to observe some of the game’s best players and search for a team to join.
The Adler Planetarium knows how to convince geeks to visit Museum Campus; on the third Thursday of every month, the museum throws a 21-plus theme party that draws on pop culture. Previous events have featured activities and programming inspired by nerd-approved movies and TV shows such as Star Wars, Star Trek and Firefly. With a beverage in your hand, learn a bit more about the galaxy we call home, as well as the ones far, far away.
Escape rooms are essentially real-world video games, where you're presented with a set of challenges and given the tools to figure out a solution—this is the kind of stuff geeks live for. This River North complex offers up four different themed rooms where you can blast off of Mars, break out of prison, foil an art heist or locate some precious gold. Working with teams of up to six people, you'll have an hour to cooperate (if you dare!), crack the codes and add another notch to your nerd belt.
Filled with shelf after shelf of sculpted plastic paraphernalia imported from Japan, this Logan Square shop is a destination for any anime fan, video gamer or manga maniac. Each week brings a new shipment of character statues, capsule toys and Gundam model kits, including merch from popular franchises like Attack on Titan and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Don’t have room for any more collectors’ items? Stock up on sweets from overseas, including Pocky, green tea–flavored Japanese Kit Kats and other sugary treats.
Want to finally realize your dream of being turned into a collectible? This River North print shop can create a bust of your head or help you physically design a custom iPhone case through the magic of 3D printing. This is a technology that you've read about in sci-fi novels for years, so you owe it to yourself to check it out now that it's joined the realm of reality (though we're still waiting on 3D printers that create delicious pizzas).
If you find yourself pining for the days when video games came on cartridges and multiplayer was a split-screen experience, you’ll be more excited than Pac-Man at a power-pellet buffet when visiting this retro Lakeview store. From mainstream consoles (PlayStation 2, Super Nintendo) to obscure platforms (Virtual Boy, Neo Geo), these games, accessories and ephemera at People Play Games span the history of digital entertainment. Go ahead and buy that Nintendo Power Glove you’ve always wanted.
We're pretty sure that every science fiction geek dreams of building his or her own R2-D2 or WALL-E—this Lakeview shop can help you get started. Robot City Workshop makes the world of robotics accessible to people of all ages, helping kids put together robot kits or teaching more advanced students about microcontrollers. Before you start sorting through servos and optical sensors, take a few classes here to explore the possibilities of modern robotics.
Your chances of gaining the ability to fly from a radioactive experiment are slim to none, but you can easily experience the sensation of floating through the air with an indoor skydiving lesson at iFly. After heroically signing a waiver, you can slip into a flight suit and go for an assisted soar in Rosemont’s only vertical wind tunnel. While you’re not likely to be mistaken for a bird or plane, you’ll certainly feel like Superman.
If you're a design nerd with a passion for the graphic arts, look no further than Galerie F. The Logan Square shop specializes in gig posters and fine art prints, including some art that pays tribute to classic franchises such as Star Wars, Back to the Future and Twin Peaks. If you need to add a splash of pop culture to your walls, you'll probably be able to find something tasteful (and affordable) here.
When the folks behind the popular game Cards Against Humanity aren’t coming up with crass new cards, they sometimes host performances in their office’s theater. Typical performance include members of the CAH and local talent, such as geek-friendly improv troupe the Nerdologues. Sign up for the Some Office newsletter to be notified about the latest events.