After nearly two years, the pieces are starting to fall into place at the Big Mini Putt Club, a mini-golf bar in Wicker Park. If a coronavirus vaccine rollout is successful and indoor dining and drinking resumes, co-founders and college friends Austin DeLonge and Nick Jenkins are eyeing a spring launch in the former Silver Room pop-up space near Milwaukee and Ashland.
The extended opening timeline isn’t what Jenkins and DeLonge envisioned when they formally announced plans for their first bar in October 2019. At the time, the pair hoped to open in early 2020 with nine rearrangeable holes and plenty of drinks. When March arrived, their carefully-laid plans were upended thanks to the pandemic.
In the nine months since the outbreak began, the pair have continued to work on the space at 1302 N. Milwaukee Avenue. They’re bringing in the occasional crew for electrical work and plumbing, but are executing much of the buildout and design themselves. The pandemic’s impact can be seen in the 5,000 square-foot space: wall-to-wall accordion-style windows line the storefront to create an indoor-outdoor vibe.
The lag time has allowed for other changes too. DeLonge and Jenkins had initially planned to only offer bar snacks, as the site doesn’t contain a kitchen. During the pandemic, they’ve forged a relationship with owners at a nearby outpost of local mini-chain Big & Little’s. Big Mini customers will be able to order items like burgers and tacos that staff will run over from the restaurant. The name synergy between the businesses was a happy accident, DeLonge says.
While they hope a COVID-19 vaccine will help mitigate safety concerns, Jenkins and DeLonge also overhauled the ventilation system, plan to install protective plexiglass, and will space out tables. The pair contend that mini-golf comes with built-in social distancing, as groups of players largely stick together instead of mingling.
Despite the many hurdles they’ve encountered and an uncertain opening date, Jenkins and DeLonge are philosophical about the tumult of 2020. They’ve dreamed of opening a bar together for many years and they say that partnership has kept them from slipping into despair. “If it was just one of us doing it, this would be a much darker, more lonely road,” Jenkins says. “We’re here together so we can share laughs and commiserate... it makes it a whole lot easier to ride out the ups and downs.”
Gaming and arcade bars have faced unique challenges during the pandemic, as they’ve previously relied on customers who hang out for hours to play and socialize. Uptown Arcade this month closed its storefront location on Broadway and its owner told Block Club Chicago that he plans to reopen in a new space after the pandemic ends.
Stay tuned for updates on the mini-golf bar’s opening timeline.
The Big Mini Putt Club, 1302 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Slated to open in spring 2021.