I think it is safe to say that one time in our life, while enjoying a beer or five or maybe just grubbing on some pepperoni rolls or what not at Old Chicago, we have thought it was strange that there isn’t one in Chicago.
One day last week while working at New Belgium Brewery, I was wearing one of my Old Chicago World Beer Tour t-shirts and one of the guys from STATCO who was doing welding work for us came up and started talking about how his dad use to take him there when he was a kid and how much he loved it and would continuously get back on the same rides. I was like uh, this is a restaurant and he quickly apologized saying he should have read the shirt more clearly but the name ‘Old Chicago’ just instantly brought back childhood memories. So I started up a conversation about it since that just seemed like a really cool coincidence…..
A brief history of Old Chicago (the restaurant): A pizza joint that opened up in 1976 in Boulder, CO. Famously known for their World Beer Tour (WBT) which challenges patrons to consume 110 different beers (not in one night as there is a limit of 4 per day that can be added to your card. The limit was higher back in the day, so I’ve heard from stories) and be rewarded various things such as credit towards future visits, merchandise or exclusive parties. There are a handful of locations in Illinois but not in Chicago and currently operate in 23 states.
Old Chicago opened on June 17, 1975 and was billed “The World’s First Indoor Amusement Park.” He explained it as a combination shopping mall and amusement park and was located in Bolingbrook, IL (a Chicago suburb). It was in an enormous building and contained a roller coaster and ferris wheel. It was only around for 5 years due to financial troubles and a competing amusement park (Six Flags) opening in the same area.
Looking into the history of the amusement park a little more I found the designer was inspired after a visit to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA and came up with the concept of featuring small local shops and boutiques rather than the traditional department stores. Also the mall had an early 20th century decor.
So Old Chicago was regarded as a colossal flop but the concept of an indoor amusement park would prove workable years later of course with West Edmonton Mall in Canada and Mall of America in Minnesota, the two largest malls in the world respectively. The location of Old Chicago is now used for the largely outdoor Arena Auto Auction and, as the only reference to the former park, with the address 200 Old Chicago Drive.