- Courtesy WhirlyBall
- Going for apps? Get the bright tuna poke plate.
Somewhat in the spirit of Dave & Buster’s, and more so than a throwback arcade bar like SuperNova, WhirlyBall gives grown-ups an opportunity to play like a kid while enjoying elevated fare. As a wider 30,000-square-foot facility, that means in addition to the eponymous sport (and sans any arcade screens, though there’s ample TVs for sports), there’s bowling, with stylish balls colored like pool balls. But WhirlyBall the game is the real draw, a fusion of basketball, lacrosse and hockey with bumper cars. It’s less confusing than it sounds and stupid hella-fun, if pricey by the minute ($15 per player, four minimum, for half an hour.)
The quick history, condensed for me by WhirlyBall V.P. of Strategic Planning Adam Elias: Decades ago a Salt Lake City family was goofing around with golf carts and hockey sticks, hitting a tin can into a garbage bin. Ideas happened, as did evolution indoors, and the Elias family acquired national rights as the sole licensee for what we now play, opening in Chicago in 1993. This is the first location outside of three Illinois spots, which do half their business in big-event bookings like corporate team-building exercises and holiday parties, he says, noting an expansive catering menu.
Before we delve into the à la carte menu, let’s acknowledge the circumstance of WhirlyBall’s late-June opening, wherein on July 13 a defective sprinkler head caused extensive water damage, forcing closure until Sept. 9. No evidence of that disaster could be seen upon reopening, other than the impressively swank space was mostly empty (yet to be discovered) on our two visits.
The bar achieves craft standards, as in ample quality brews from in-state (Avery, Funkwerks, Odd 13, etc.) and notable national breweries (Ballast Point, Goose Island, etc.). Great Divide’s strawberry rhubarb sour impresses with a true nose and flavor, as does a Hop Cocoa Porter from Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing. Cocktails too are smart, evidenced by a competent mule and margarita, as well as a Honey Badger-like whiskey-basil-mint-lemon-bitters-ginger beer Jumpin’ Jack Smash. Daisy Duke’s Sweet Tea hits with new-to-us peach-caramel moonshine, which comes through strong (with a Werther’s hint) but balanced in the finish.
Former chef at Google’s Chicago office, John Cosnotti, has designed all WhirlyBall’s affordable menus (this one executed by local chef Charlie Roberts), but customized ours with Colorado-specifics like a $12, lavish Wagyu beef, Pueblo green chile slopper topped with smoked pork belly, cooked past the gooeyness we prefer, but still a solid burger. Lamb/beef gyro sliders with feta tzatziki equally please with richness, and a shrimp scampi flatbread’s good and garlic buttery but small for $10. Candied bacon leads a chopped salad, and potent dressing a lovely kale Caesar. Pork rinds with Tajin and cheddar powder kick ass, but while we want to like Reuben eggrolls with house corned beef and kraut, we can’t get past a dense oiliness and off finish.
Our favorite item’s a sesame-oil-laced tuna poke on a wonton crisp, sharp with onion bite and searing with both Sriracha and togarashi (Japanese chili condiment). It’s light, elegant, and not too shy to burn a little — bold in its location, like WhirlyBall in an underdeveloped strip mall. I’ve been craving another game since our final buzzer sounded, and I’m glad to know a good menu plays along.