Sam Elias knows that being cooped up during long winter days can make people stir-crazy. So in 1993, after moving from Florida, land of palm trees and beaches, to Chicago, land of frigid winds and gray slush, he founded WhirlyBall as a way for people to release pent-up energy even as snow was falling outside. During each competitive WhirlyBall game, which combines aspects of basketball, hockey, and jai alai, players zoom across an indoor 50'x80' court in motorized cars called WhirlyBugs. They wield plastic scoops to toss a wiffle ball back and forth to their teammates before throwing the ball through an elevated goal. Refs keep watch during the games, eliminating score arguments that would otherwise end in sunrise duels. To fuel up for a bout, players nibble teriyaki chicken satay, gourmet pizzas, and prime rib, and swig draft beers, which vary by location.
All three WhirlyBall spots boast off-court diversions such as video games, pool tables, foosball, and air hockey. The Vernon Hills location hosts an indoor rock-climbing wall, and both the Chicago and Vernon Hills locations invite guests into multilevel Lasertron laser-tag arenas, which fill with fog and flashing lights as combatants duck, aim, and invoke Geneva Convention protocols regarding armed conflict.
Two full-service bars, 16 TVs showcasing Chicago sports, and a comfy seating area form the backbone of Output Lounge & Sports Bar, where classic American pub fare and a dizzying assortment of adult beverages greet diners and revelers alike. The menu flourishes with timeless morsels such as piping-hot wings in a choice of mild to piquant sauces, specialty fries, and burgers. The beer list gathers patrons around and croons sea shanties of the more than 60 libations, some hailing from Windy City breweries such as Goose Island and Half Acre. Nightly events range from salsa lessons to DJ-spun and live music. Clients can shimmy on the hardwood dance floor, sit down to eat, or reserve the Zodiac Room, a private lounge equipped with bottle service.
On one side, orange-and-blue-shirted fans cheer on their team, drowning out their green-and-gold-clad counterparts. In another corner, a group wearing red-and-black jerseys cling beer-filled mugs and high-five each other in victory. At Chicago Sports Hub, flat-screen televisions flicker with multiple matches, creating a gathering space for diverse sports disciples. Here, patrons gather around wood-topped tables, ordering from a menu of pub fare served late into the night. Thin-crust pizzas are made from a family recipe, and cheese stuffs the half-pound burger billed the Juicy Lucy, served on a brioche or pretzel bun. Post meal, diners sink balls during free games of pool played beneath the image of the Chicago skyline lining the walls, and on Saturday nights local DJs spin dance music, spurring reenactments of the day’s best touchdown dances.
Located in a historic brick building in Little Italy, Hawkeye's Bar & Grill is a casual locale where neighborhood folks and UIC pupils gather to wet their whistles, nosh on a menu of comfort fare, and absorb local spectator sports in high definition. Diners sup on Black Angus burgers, chicken pot pie, and signature meatloaf while gazing at more than 20 HDTVs that broadcast Bears, Hawks, and Bulls games, as well as UFC fights and competitive hopscotch matches. Hawkeye's event shuttle ferries fans to select home games and concerts for a modest fee, and the bar's free parking lot spares personal vehicles from facing arena traffic. DJs fill ears with music and inspire legs to dance, and the outdoor sidewalk café serves warm sunshine chasers in the summer months.
More than 20 plasma-screen TVs cast a flickering glow over Theory, an upscale sports lounge owned by a seasoned DJ that intertwines American comfort food with Mexican and southern twists. The eatery's muted spotlights single out undiscovered scalp models and house specialties, such as baby back ribs in signature sauce and pulled-pork sandwiches made from house-smoked meat. Tiny heart icons indicate cardio-friendly eats on the menu, through which gentle breezes riffle on the outdoor patio. Theory also houses a private party room modeled after a home theater that showcases three TVs clinging to exposed brick, low tables, and cushy chairs. Within the dining room, courteous servers skirt a marble-topped bar and don invisibility cloaks to avoid obscuring television screens showing NFL or NCAA games.
Sometimes, it can be a scramble to find a bar to watch the big game. What if there aren't any tables open? What if you can't see the TV? That's hardly a problem at State Restaurant—not only is it massive, but every seat in the house has a view thanks to the 124 HDTVs. And it's easy to pass two halves, three periods, four quarters, or nine innings here, as their beer list includes nearly 100 taps and more than a dozen bottled brews. There's plenty of tempting options from the food menu as well, thanks to upscale dishes such as tuna tartare, quinoa salad, and truffle burgers. But State is far from stuffy—they also serve wings, nachos, and white cheddar curds, in honor of their beloved Wisconsin Badgers and probably Little Miss Muffet.