As a kid, arcades for me consisted primarily of X-Men combat and soda, aggressively played and consumed in tandem alongside my brother and cousins while skirting our family reunion activities. I fondly remember playing The Simpsons in North Conway, New Hampshire, by the pool at our favorite hotel; playing skeeball at the local gaming center; even whirling my way through Mario Kart at home. While my love for video games runs pretty deep, it's never been an activity I aligned with any sort of gastronomy. But thanks to the recent spate of arcade bars, we've all been gleefully drowning in nostalgia. One of the most exciting openings in this department of late is Headquarters Beercade, a spot that deftly raises the bar on the arcade bar concept with craft beer, cocktails, and food to dovetail with the video game experience.
(Cocktails and nostalgia at Headquarters Beercade)
Over the past few months, I've been dipping my toes into the arcade bar pool at spots like Emporium. But nothing quite prepared me for the awe of Headquarters' recent foray into River North. Following the Lakeview original, this one expands on the arcade game template exponentially, not merely via gaming options (free games galore!), but via menu items. Unlike beer-centric Lakeview, this spot features an expansive menu of alcoholic beverages, plus food. It's a dream assortment for fun-loving foodies and beer junkies.
The first thing you'll likely notice is the whimsical menu garb. Each drink list, menu, and even check book arrives in some sort of vintage throwback book. One drink list might arrive taped inside a nostalgic Superman picture book, while another could find its way into a random library book of yore. Now that you're charmed, it makes it that much more fun to peruse the impressive beer list and the less impressive cocktails. Most mixed drinks skew exceedingly sweet and cloying, so unless you want a cocktail that tastes like lunchbox juice, focus on beer. Headquarters does a nice job rotating craft beers on tap, plus canned and bottled options, all at affordable prices, especially by River North standards. Adding to the entertainment value, Headquarters features recurring DJs perched behind a throwback booth lined with vintage casettes. Considering the cheap price tags and the free games, Headquarters may very well be the best bet for fun and frivolity downtown.
(Turkey chili in action at Headquarters)
Unique to River North's location, Headquarters' food menu is more thoughtful than it probably needs to be. It gives you something legit to chow down on between pinball matches, and since you're already saving money elsewhere, you won't mind that the cost is a bit steep by bar food standards. But then again, this is so much better than standard bar fare. The turkey chili is redolent with spice, toothsome knobs of meat, and threads of earthy kale; the kimchee deviled eggs pack the perfect punch of heat amidst a smattering of buttery yolk; there's a mean Italian beef served in all its sloppy, juicy glory; and even the burger rises to new heights thanks to a dollop of balanced bacon jam. Service, while well-meaning and lively, is a little haphazard and confused. If you're looking to order food, the format isn't clearly organized. Rather, make your way to one of the high-top table by the bar and finagle a server.
Craft beers aplenty, thoughtful bar food, and gratis games galore. Headquarters Beercade is a winning combination.
- Matt Kirouac