WICKER PARK — Long ago, when wild woolly mammoths roamed North Avenue and it was still possible to rent a Bucktown two-bedroom for mid-to-high three figures, actual video stores thrived around Wicker Park and West Town.
There were mom-and-pops plastered with sun-bleached movie posters. Indie rentals with opinionated clerks and deep catalogs of cult movies. And, of course, the big national chains, with their long shelves stocked with infinite copies of “Meet the Parents.”
Back 2 The Video Store, 1365 N. Milwaukee Ave. — a new pop-up speakeasy just half a block from the onetime location of the North Side’s last Blockbuster store — is ready to recreate that experience.
The arrival of streaming services eventually led to the demise of the classic video store. The area’s last indie video rental, Odd Obsession, closed in the early months of the COVID pandemic before Graveface Records across the street took in its thousands of titles when it opened in 2022. But while the video rental may be dead as a business model, it lives on as a powerful object of nostalgia in Back 2 The Video Store.
Open 6-11 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, the pop-up offers an Instagrammable, anachronistic mishmash of ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s clutter and kitsch meant to evoke “the video store era.”
It’s the latest local venture from Bucket Listers, the event-promotion business behind recent themed pop-ups inspired by The Golden Girls, Saved by the Bell and Malibu Barbie. (Not coincidentally, Bucket Listers also partnered on a more elaborate Blockbuster-themed pop-up in Los Angeles last year.)
At Back 2 The Video Store’s recent preview opening, guests were greeted by movie posters, a couple of arcade machines, a mock bedroom with an “X-Files” poster and a Yahtzee box, an old computer monitor sitting in a corner and a whole lot of rainbow Slinkys. “2 Legit 2 Quit” blared over the speakers, while the TVs played “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III ”— the one where they travel back in time to 17th-century Japan.
The centerpiece and main gimmick of Back 2 The Video Store is the wall of big, white, new-release-style shelves that serves as the drink menu. Every $20 ticket to the pop-up comes with a 90-minute reservation and a membership card, which can be redeemed with a chunky Blockbuster-style VHS case from the shelf. Each case represents one of several movie-themed cocktails.
The Big Lebowski cocktail is, naturally, a fancified White Russian. Toy Story is a concoction of mint vodka, watermelon syrup and lime. The Jaws is tequila and blue curacao served in a fishbowl glass with a couple of gummy sharks. There is also a menu of similarly pop-culture-themed grub: Royale with Cheese Burger, Truffle Shuffle Fries, Mighty Ducks Mozz Sticks.
According to Bucket Listers, all of the cocktails can also be ordered as mocktails — though one of the pop-up bar’s friendly bartenders (or “videotenders,” as the press release calls them) told Block Club the Big Lebowski and Happy Gilmore cocktails probably contain too many boozy ingredients to be worth ordering in non-alcoholic form.
There’s also a Throwback Movie Club on the Wicker Park rooftop screening movie hits from the era, with ’80s-appropriate neon couches for seating.
Back 2 The Video Store is open through Sept. 30. Tickets are available online. General admission starts at $20, which includes one movie-themed drink.
The Throwback Movie Club starts at $25 per person, including popcorn and a welcome drink. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and showings start at 8 p.m., with the following ’80s and ’90s-themed schedule:
- Friday: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
- Saturday: “Remember The Titans”
- Sept. 15: “Good Burger”
- Sept. 16: “Step Brothers”
- Sept. 22: “The Hot Chick”
- Sept. 23: “Clueless”
- Sept. 29: “Ghost”
- Sept. 30: “Weird Science”
Back 2 The Video Store is open to guests 21 and over.
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