They had these giant windows that were open to the street. I took a glance inside, and I liked what I saw. I was starting to get a feeling that this was going to be a good night of pinball.
The first real indicator that HQ Beercade was a quality place was these two dudes: Mark and Frank. I guess they were technically bouncers, but really they were more like super friendly dudes who got us pumped about pinball while they checked our IDs. "So how does this place work?" I asked. "All the machines are on free play," they said. I reached for my wallet, figuring that the cover price would be somewhere in the $10-$15 range, like many of the pinball museums and arcades around the country that use the free-play model. They laughed at me, waved away my wallet and said "There's no cover charge. Just go have fun!" !!!???!?!?!!!
Head-spinning, I went inside and right off the bat I saw the second indicator that this was a quality pinhall. BOOM! Dedicated tech guy. Not an overworked operator with a route all over the city. One guy, who's job it is to keep these machines in good working order. I can't remember any tech problems the whole night, so this guy obviously knows what he is doing!
The night we were there, they had an Avengers, and Avengers Pro, Baywatch, Attack From Mars, Indiana Jones (Williams), X-Men, Corvette, Star Wars: Episode One (!), Popeye Saves the World, Addams Family, Tales From the Crypt, Avatar, Playboy (Stern), Arabian Nights, Jurassic Park, T2, Guns N' Roses and the brand new Metallica game, which I hadn't even seen yet, so we played that first:
Honestly, the way most Stern games are priced out in the wild these days ($1 per credit, $2 for 3 credits) I can't get too deep into the gameplay because it's just too expensive, so this night I really focused on playing Avengers, X-Men and Metallica, because it didn't cost me a cent. At some point Beth arrived with some other CCS alumni, including Dakota McFadzean (pictured below with Beth) and Melanie Gillman. I feel obligated to point out that Beth, Melanie and Dakota are all past April Fog Memorial Scholarship recipients!!!
At one point I looked up from a game of Avengers, and realized that I recognized the guy playing pinball next to me. At first I couldn't place him, and then I realized he works at Stern Pinball! I remembered him from all those videos they have been posting about the making of the recent games, his name was Mike Kyzivat. I told him that I was one of the Drop Target guys, we shook hands and then got back to playing pinball.
The only real downside to the night was that it was during the Stanley Cup finals, so they had the game on SUPER LOUD, which made it impossible to talk, or hear any of the music or sounds coming from the games. I know the idea of this free-pinball business model is that I'd choose to come to this bar over the other ones because it has free pinball (and video games in the back - snore). Then, while I played pinball, I'd drink a bunch of beer, and my hefty tab would outweigh the cost of the machines and their upkeep. I hope that actually works, because it's a great bar, but personally I spent about three hours in there and didn't buy a single beer. I don't think they were hurting though, because by the time we left the place was PACKED. If I lived in Chicago I would visit this bar all the time, but early in the evening before things got too crazy.
Oh hey, I also got got a 184 Million on their SW:E1 machine, snagging the #1 high score. Hopefully it will not be the last time I enter my initials at this bar. Next time I visit Chicago, you'll know where to find me!