Four years after becoming a viral sensation in Brooklyn and introducing shuffleboard to a new generation, Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club opens its second location today in Chicago. Owners Jonathan Schnapp and Ashley Albert set it apart from other gaming bars and restaurants due to the uniqueness of shuffleboard, the genuine passion they have for the game, the come-as-you-vibe first in NYC and now Bucktown, and their reverence and aspiration to be like restaurant hospitality legends.
“[We’re inspired by] the idea that people can be as passionate about fun as about food or drinks,” Schnapp says.
To prime Chicagoans for their first shuffleboard club, here are 11 things to know about Royal Palms.
- Royal Palms is inspired by a “magical” party Schnapp and Albert attended six years ago at a century-old shuffleboard club in St. Petersburg, Florida. They originally were “mostly kidding” about opening their own club in NYC and went into it with no hospitality experience, no business plan, and no capital.
- They started to think about a second location two years ago and looked at spaces in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Austin before settling in Chicago. Albert’s band The Jimmies played Lollapalooza and she fell in love with the city before urging Schnapp to visit too. “I could see the Royal Palms here,” Albert says. “These people’s version of fun is our version of fun,” Schnapp adds. “I know these people, I get these people, these people are like us.”
- They implemented bar aspects to their clubs because they envisioned it to be a viable hospitality business rather than the “municipal park” they experienced in Florida. “It was always pretty clear that shuffleboard alone was not going to be able to pay for New York real estate unless we were going to charge $300 an hour to play shuffleboard,” Schnapp says.
- They have food trucks dock at their clubs — rather than housing a full kitchen and running their own food program. They wanted to have food but hospitality experts told them that serving their own is the most difficult aspect. Their love of food trucks allows them have ever-changing food available and they keep prices down at the club by not having to pay kitchen staff. “More than anything our reverence for the people who are able to do [restaurants] well made us not want a place with shitty $14 mozzarella sticks,” Schnapp says. “And the idea of driving [food trucks] right into the building was a dream for us and something nobody had been able to do before.” Food trucks hold weekly residences at Royal Palms.
- Schnapp and Albert are more inspired by restaurant legends than by gaming bars. “I think that we look like a gaming place, but what we want to be is a hospitality place and those are our idols,” Schnapp says. “We want to be Big Star, we want to be Parson’s, we want to be Piece Pizza, we want to be the places that everybody loves whether they’re in this neighborhood or are coming from other neighborhoods.”
- Their greatest passion is shuffleboard, and they’re both world-ranked shuffleboard players who are serious about introducing the game to new audiences. “We always wanted [Royal Palms] to be something that would be more like an institution,” Albert says. “And I think part of that is that we approach shuffleboard from a really earnest and authentic place. We really take care to make sure that everybody gets a lesson when they get on the court.”
- Saturday Night Live cast member Kyle Mooney alluded to Royal Palms Brooklyn on Weekend Update in 2015 while playing The Pope in a sketch about his visit to NYC. “He didn’t mention Royal Palms by name, but I can tell you there’s nowhere else to play shuffleboard in Brooklyn, so he was talking about us,” Schnapp says.
- Don’t be surprised if more shuffleboard clubs pop up in the future. Experiential hospitality — call it “eatertainment” or “gamespitality” — is a big trend, and shuffleboard clubs are already starting to pop up in other cities. “We’re seeing a lot of copycats now,” Albert says, “and it’ll be interesting to see if just throwing down shuffleboard courts is enough to make [other] people a lot of money.”
- The Bucktown space is nearly identical in size (16,500 square feet) and design to the Brooklyn original. They both have 10 courts indoors and are very popular with leagues as well as casual and first-time players. But the Chicago space has a larger main bar plus a rooftop deck with another court and bar, which is nearly underneath the CTA Blue Line tracks. Expect it to open later in the spring when the weather warms.
- As it’s inspired by a club in St. Petersburg, Royal Palms has a Floridian/Caribbean vibe, except it’s (mostly) indoors. It’s whitewashed with cabanas, ocean-colored courts, deck chairs, tropical drinks, and even flamingo wallpaper in the bathrooms.
- The beverage program is tight and affordable. The menu offers eight tropical cocktails named for shuffleboard legends for $11 each, eight draft lines where most beers cost $6, plus one white wine, one red wine, one rose for $8 each, and one cider for $7. The full menu is here. “We always say that we don’t want our guests to think too hard because when you’re on vacation you don’t want to think too hard,” Albert says.
Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club Chicago, 1750 N. Milwaukee Avenue, open 5 p.m. until 12 a.m. on Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Friday, 12 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Saturday, and 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Sunday.