Pop-ups are now woven in as a holiday tradition in Chicago, but the city’s vibrant pop-culture pop-up bar scene has taken a hit during the pandemic; its watering holes and drinking spots are struggling to survive. Despite the challenges facing the city’s bars, some local spots are finding creative was to leverage pop-up prowess to have some seasonal fun. Among them is Replay Lincoln Park, an arcade bar that’s become one of the most prolific pop-up venues in town.
Replay is hosting two Christmas drive-in pop-ups, the Holly Jolly Drive-In in Lincoln Park and Miracle on West Madison in West Loop. Patrons, who spend the duration of the event secured inside their cars, are greeted by costumed characters like Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the Grinch, and watch a classic Christmas movie like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Customers can also order snacks and cocktails (for non-drivers) via 2ndKitchen, an ordering app popular at Chicago taprooms like Right Bee Cider in Hermosa. More details are available on the events’s respective websites.
Reply owner Mark Kwiatkowski says he was inspired by a drive-in haunted house in Tokyo — an approach that allows for an immersive yet socially distanced experience. He tested it out at Halloween in the alley behind the Lincoln Park bar, bringing in performers in scary costumes to terrorize car-bound customers for half an hour. Chicagoans embraced the unusual pop-up, which sold out the last three weeks of its run.
In addition to creating a much-needed revenue stream, Kwiatkowski says the events give his employees and team of pop-up artists a chance to pick up hours despite the pandemic restrictions. “We want to do anything we can in this difficult time to keep employees [working],” Kwiatkowski says. “We can hopefully stock away some money because I think we’re going to be very restricted for a few more months at least.”
Replay hasn’t been the only pop-up game in town during the pandemic: the Sixth in Lincoln Square launched a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-themed outdoor event in August with oversized props like six-foot tall toy dinosaurs to make patrons feel tiny. Director Kevin Smith and actor Jason Mewes, the team behind movies like Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, brought their Mooby’s pop-up to West Loop in November.
Chicago isn’t the only place that’s caught the holiday pop-up spirit. LA has appropriated Home Alone, a movie that takes place in Chicago’s North Shore. But without snow and real tavern-style pizza, the pop-up feels more of a tribute to Home Alone 3. That’s the first one without Macaulay Culkin. Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!
In other news...
— Wallace’s Catfish Corner, a soul food restaurant and one-time community anchor on Chicago’s West Side, has sat boarded up for about five years at 2800 W. Madison Street — a crumbling manifestation of ongoing disenfranchisement and divestment in the area. Probublica Illinois shares the restaurant’s messy history and the legacy of systemic failures that decimated a once-thriving business district.
— The family behind late-night burrito spot La Pasadita in West Town is selling its building because of financial pressures brought on by the pandemic, according to Block Club Chicago. The Ashland Avenue property is the last remaining establishment of the three restaurants they once operated near Ashland and Division. While a buyer would like build housing, ownership is hopeful the restaurant could remain.
— Modern Indian restaurant ROOH will donate 5 percent of net sales for its holiday dinners to Streetwise, a non-profit that emerged from a newspaper that offers employment opportunities to people experiencing homelessness and poverty.
— 2Twenty2 Tavern in the Loop is celebrating the Christmas season by collecting food for the Greater Chicago Food Depository and toys for Toys for Tots Chicago. Toy donations are down by nearly 50 percent, operators wrote on Twitter, and the holiday is fast-approaching. Drop off donations every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. through December 23 at 222 S. Wabash Avenue.