Mission Control Arcade Ball at Rogers Park is open
All summer long, residents of Rogers Park have pressed their noses to the front windows of the cavernous old bar next to CTA’s Morse “L” station, speechless at the selection of vintage arcade cabinets. and knocking on the door to ask when Mission Control Arcade bar – a venue offering beer, cocktails, and pub food from the former owner of Uptown Arcade – will open. Now they have their answer: Mission Control is cleared for take off this weekend.
While it ostensibly has a spatial theme, the real guiding spirit of Mission Control is nostalgia. The collection of over 50 vintage video games – plus a dozen more pinball machines, including modern titles like the Mandalorian, on loan from Star Worlds Arcade to DeKalb – is guaranteed to remind visitors of some of the best wasted hours of their youth: Mrs. Pac-Man, co-owner Katie McDonald’s introduction to video games and an integral part of her seventh-year science fair project, takes pride of place. There’s also a collection of ’80s horror movies on VHS, a stack of well-worn board games for those who don’t like beeps and boops, and a turntable set up to play vintage LPs.
Nostalgia extends to food. Since the space has a full kitchen, McDonald’s and co-owner Aaron Allen have teamed up with the Bare-Naked Pole pop-up, which serves pierogis inspired by co-owner Nick Druzbamski’s childhood in the care of his family. Polish grandmother. Druzbamski and his partner Carisa Gonzalez, both actors, started making pierogis during the pandemic and grew into a virtual restaurant and catering business. When Druzbamski and Gonzalez are busy with performances of Kinky Boots at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, McDonald’s and Allen will be serving hot dogs and pizza, a menu designed to remind patrons of the ice rink’s snack bars. Eventually, they also plan to open early Saturday mornings for cartoons accompanied by cereal and French toast sticks.
The walls are mostly bare now, but McDonald and Allen plan to decorate with the work of local artists. At the end of the month, they’ll start hosting comic book release parties and pop-up galleries, and they hope to collaborate on events with other businesses in the neighborhood, including Malliway Bros., the magic and witchcraft store of across the street. (The owners of both stores discovered they had a large customer overlap.)
“We want to partner with as many people as possible,” says McDonald. “And in January, when it’s cold, we want people to feel like they have a sunny spot where they can play video games.
Allen was forced to close Uptown Arcade to customers during the pandemic. After the lease ended, he and McDonald put the games in storage – they filled seven storage units – and set out to find another place that felt more inviting and less, in McDonald’s words, ” a big black hole ”. The empty Morse Avenue storefront attracted them: the 2,000 square foot area had proven to be deadly for a series of former bar and restaurant tenants, but it seemed perfect for arcade games. The carved wooden bar, made in 1936 in Durango, Colorado, was a good setting for beer and cocktails. The kitchen, they realized, was unusual for an arcade, but they enjoyed the challenge. And they especially liked the windows, which both let in light and allow passers-by to see inside.
Allen and McDonald spent the summer cleaning and repairing the space. One of the biggest challenges was getting around all of the video games, which weigh between 350 and 400 pounds each. But they found the neighborhood was ready for an arcade – many of their former customers actually live there and had commuted to Uptown.
This is good news for Allen and McDonald’s. “We are eager to open up and resume with the community that we have built,” says McDonald. “We are here to be successful. I never want to move these games again.
Take a closer look at the space in the photos below.
Mission control arcade bar, 1408 W. Morse Avenue, scheduled to open on September 17th.