Dont Be Late For Chicago’s ‘Save By The Bell’ Pop-Up!

IMG_2252JPGOk, so have you ever heard the theory that everything in the classic 90’s sitcom, Saved By The Bell, is just a dream in Zach Morris’ head?

It’s true! (Or at least as true as anything that can be found on the internet.)

Here’s the deal: Before SBTB, there was a show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss. Perky blonde 90’s kid Zach Morris was still the hero and hung out with characters like Screech, Lisa and Mr. Belding. However, his school is in Indiana, he’s not popular, his parents are divorced and life is tough.

Then, next season airs the classic Saved By The Bell, where Zach is now in beautiful California, he’s the most popular kid in school, talented at everything, has crazy time-stop powers and gets into wacky hijinks. So, some believe that everything on SBTB is simply a fantasy in his head.

If that’s the case, then dammit, I just walked into Zach Morris’ dream. And I’m here to tell you, it was delightful.

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SAVED BY THE MAX

IMG_2259JPGThe Max, as you may or may not remember, was the popular diner where the Bayside gang would hang out. It’s neon-colored with comfortable sparkly red booths, glass-tiled windows, those sky-blue loading-beams with circular cutouts, a jukebox in the corner and of course, a payphone by the wall in case your giant cell phone couldn’t get reception.

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IMG_2282JPGThe whole space has been painstaking and beautifully recreated as a pop-up in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. It’s like a timewarp back to the 90’s, only everything is candy-colored and filtered through the lens of television. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to live in a TV sitcom for an hour or two?

Buy your ticket, which is $35 a person and will get you an appetizer, entrée and dessert and prepare to step back in time… as long as the bus doesn’t fly by after the ‘larm gives out it’s warning and you won’t make it on time, of course.

THE ATMOSPHERE

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Welcome to high school, preppy!

I can’t say this enough: this place is going to make you happy. You’ll be happy as you try to take it all in and then you’ll be happier as you notice the little things around the place, like the classic red lockers as you come through the door, with easy clues to figure out which one belongs to who, like the one with love-note pictures of Slater all over it.

The pop-up is basically giant spot for amazing photos, up to and including the giant cutout heads of the Bayside class.

It wasn’t just the space that was a throwback, I saw people throughout the diner in 90’s oversized-clothing, big hair and a few even dressed-up as the gang. I wasn’t even aware you could buy a specific Zach Morris wig but these are the things you learn when you come to Bayside.

IMG_2270JPGThey also occasionally have a night with a cast member, so you could end up sipping a milkshake with the real Mr. Belding.

And of course, the entire soundtrack is 90’s jams. Did we have a little dance party in our seats to TLC? You bet your ass we did.

Throughout the space, TVs are showing different episodes of SBTB (and it was always fun when you’d catch a glimpse of The Max on the screen and realize just how insanely accurate this recreation is). There is also apparently a semi-secret table located inside Mr. Belding’s office, but I sadly learned about it too late or would have gone looking for it. Next time!

THE FOOD

The menu was created by Brian Fisher (former chef of Schwa) and it’s a mix of Americans diner-fair: burgers, fries, sandwiches, milkshakes, etc.

Plus, you’ve got to respect those puns: AC Sliders, Mac & Screech, Snack Attack, Poutine Engel, it goes on.

I got the Tori’s Fried Chicken, which is a Korean fried chicken on a delicious waffle made, that had a really unique Goose Island 312 and coconut milk batter – seriously delicious and the standout dish for sure. Although the starter of mac and cheese gave it a run for its money, as it was piping hot and dripping with delicious cheese. Woah. Sadly, my milkshake was not everything I wanted it to be (too much milk in the milk-to-ice-cream ratio) and the poutine was OK – hearty portion and, again, great cheese, but could have used a little more punch flavor-wise with the gravy. We threw on some hot sauce though and devoured it like high schools after the big game.

You don’t have to know what you want before you come, but you do have to know everything you want to eat when you order. The waiter will take down your full meal, starter to dessert, and it comes out when it comes out. No deciding if you want something sweet at the end – you want something sweet. When you buy your ticket, you buy a three-course meal that doesn’t include drinks, so you already know you’re in for the adventure. And dammit, what an adventure.

THE SERVICE

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There’s always going to be a line here, and as we came in, people waited just to check their name off their reservation. You could try to be seated without one, but you may be turned away. We happily stood for about ten minutes (snapping countless photos) and then we’re sat at our table.

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As previously mentioned, you’re not going to order until you have your entire order ready and they keep things fast here. I’m sure they want turnover to be high so the food does come quickly, and as soon as we were done eating (and sometimes, a little before) they were coming around to see if it could be cleared. I get it, it’s a crazy-popular spot, but doing our three-course meal did felt both long and rushed at the same time.

However, they really aren’t going to kick you out until you’re good and ready. And they were incredibly attentive for whatever we needed, uber-friendly – TV-people-level-friendly – and fast. We were well looked after for sure the entire night.

OVERALL

When I first learned about this place, well, my range of emotions felt a little like this:

Would it be great? Would it be cheesy? Would it make me miss the simpler times of jeans-denim jackets and slap bracelets?

Nothing to be scared of at all, Alex, it was perfect. If you’re at all crushing for a little bit of that better times nostalgia feeling (and I can’t think of a single reason why you would be, but just in case), then book a ticket for The Max. You’ll be happy you did.


THE GOOD: If you’re looking for a solid dose of 90’s nostalgia, there is literally no better place in Chicago than this. Most of the items we tried were delicious and it’s such a fun, happy space. Plus $35 for a three-course meal in a spot like this is seriously solidly priced.

THE BAD: The service can feel a little rushed and not all the food on the menu is a winner, but these are very small complaints for such a fantastic experience.

Saved By The Max is located at 1941 W North Ave in Chicago. A $35 advance ticket will get you an appetizer, entrée and dessert, drinks not included. The pop-up has been extended to run through May and then will tour around the country (although no location has been named.) Get your Chicago tickets here before school’s out for good! 

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