I want to do a little something different this week. Yes, I’m obviously still writing and getting some articles out this week but it’s actually been quite a while since I’ve written anything for the sheer joy of just writing and that’s something I need to change. And I spent some of today writing about ISIS so I kinda need something a little more fun. For the past year, I’ve been so wrapped up in getting articles out for the websites I work for (obviously a necessity…..you know, I like the roof over my head and being able to feed my kids and all), but I haven’t been writing just to write. Whenever I would start something that I wasn’t getting paid for, I’d find myself feeling guilty for it, which I know sounds a little ridiculous but I just couldn’t help myself from feeling that way. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I love being able to do what I do. I get to spend more time with my daughters and I have the freedom to write on just about anything I want and get a check for it. However, the drawback is that I’m constantly looking for the next story or researching the current one and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for other projects that I want to do. I’ll explain more in the upcoming “The State Of The Luke Norris Experience Address”, which is way past due anyway, but I’m planning on writing a lot more outside of actual “work”. I just don’t want my passion for writing to get lost. Yes, I can use whatever talent I do have to make a little money, but I just don’t want it to always seem like work. Writing is supposed to be fun and that’s something I’ve forgotten a little bit, so I want to have a little fun today.
Now, one of the great things about my job is when a story I write reaches somebody that’s actually involved in it. It’s happened a few times in the past and it happened again recently. As I mentioned earlier, one of the perks of my job is the freedom to find an entertaining topic and run with it. So when I heard that a Saved By The Bell pop-up bar and diner was coming to Chicago, I jumped on it. Look, any kid that grew up in the 80s and 90s like I did knows the show. From original airings on Saturday mornings on NBC to reruns on TBS years later, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve seen every episode way too many times and can quote probably way too many lines. I mean, seriously, you can’t ever listen to the song “I’m So Excited” without thinking of Jesse’s “drug” problem, can you? Actually, I probably need to stop myself before I just start throwing quotes and storylines up here, so let’s get into it.
When I heard that “Saved By The Max”, which was going to be a replica of “The Max”, was seriously going to be an actual thing, I couldn’t help but get excited about it (see, you just thought I was making another “I’m So Excited” joke), so I found as much information as I could from the Facebook page and got it out there. The first one (which you can read HERE) did fairly well and I followed up with a second article when they announced the actual location. Outside of wanting to plan an actual trip to Chicago (only about a three-hour drive for those who don’t know me) to go, I really didn’t think too much more about it until @SavedByTheMax started following me on Twitter and I was soon after contacted by a man named Michael Corrigan, who’s running all the PR for the place. He thanked me for helping to spread the word, which only validated that my articles were reaching the people that they were intended to reach. Again, I didn’t think much of it, but we started chatting back and forth about me attending the grand opening on June 1, but a scheduling conflict with a doctor’s appointment for my daughters didn’t allow that to happen, but he told me that anytime that I wanted to come up to just contact him, even with them selling out the entire month of June on the very first day of ticket sales. The following weekend ended up working for me, so I e-mailed Michael and within just a few minutes, I had 9:00 reservations on a Friday night for the hottest place in Chicago. I called up an old friend of mine who I knew would appreciate this place as much as I would and we were all set.
I rolled out of Peoria at around 3:00 on Friday afternoon and arrived at my buddy’s place around six, which I’ll certainly take on a Friday in the Chicago area at rush hour. We left his place at around 7:15 just to make sure we had enough time to deal with Friday night traffic into the city and hopefully find a decent parking spot, which we actually did only two blocks away from our destination. We both had looked at pictures of “Saved By The Max” online and such, but on the way into the city, we each talked about what we might expect when we walked up, but we had absolutely no clue what we were in for….that is, until we saw it from across the street.
I openly admit that I got a little giddy when I saw it, but we still had about half an hour to spare and I knew we wouldn’t get in right away, so we went to a nearby bar for a warm-up beer before heading back. A line for walk-ins had formed outside (seriously, do your best to get a reservation if you plan on going as the walk-in spots are limited and the lines get long). As we walked in, we were immediately hit with awesomeness on the wall.
Trust me, I really wanted to change that to “Kelly loves Luke” but I was able to contain myself. Come on, you can’t tell me that Kelly Kapowski wasn’t one of your childhood crushes, am I right? It was either Kelly Kapowski, Kelly Taylor or Winnie Cooper for me (I just like ’em all, I guess), but I composed myself and moved to the amazing wall to the right of the lockers.
There were throwbacks to the Johnny Dakota episode…
…Screech’s robot Kevin from some early episodes…
…and of course. Look, it’s even got little caffeine pills.
As we made our way in, it was seriously like walking into a time warp. As we turned a slight corner to check out the main area, it was clear that the pictures hadn’t done the place justice. It was absolutely mesmerizing as we were seated at the counter/bar. There was a huge “Bayside Tigers” sign on the wall just above the DJ area (the place does turn into more of a bar after 11 and it’s a little easier to get in) that had the familiar KKTY Tiger Radio logo on it. Surely you remember how bad Slater’s sports commentary was, don’t you? I mean, he did save “The Max” later on in the episode though. Yep, I know way too much about the show.
I was astonished at the detail the owners had put into the place. From the familiar entrance (sorry folks, the door is just for show) to the arcade games in the corner to the jukebox that even had a reference to the sacred “A12”, it was all here. There was even one corner table made to look a bit like Mr. Belding’s office.
And much to my delight, there were plenty of people in costume. The group behind us went all out. The guy had a Slater wig on, one of the girls had a Bayside cheerleader outfit on and another had enough denim on for everyone in the joint…and probably enough hairspray as well going for the old school Kelly look and I’ll openly admit to crushing on her for a second or two. Another great thing is that while you’re sitting there, they’ve got plenty of music from the show going in the background. That DJ booth isn’t just for show and right there in the middle of the joint, they got up and gave us a great example of “The Sprain”. Awesome.
Now, as far as the food and drink are concerned, I couldn’t have cared less after just being in the place for two minutes. Just the nostalgia factor alone made the trip worth it, but the food is incredible. Every item on the menu has some hilarious tie to the show.
Personally, I went with the AC Sliders for my appetizer, the Bayside Burger with fries for my entree and had to go with the Hot Sundae for dessert. My buddy got the burger as well, but went with the Mac & Screech for an appetizer and Miss Bliss’ Candied Bacon for dessert. And no, I’ve got no problem admitting that he and I shared our food. I thought we might end up sharing a milkshake with two straws but that might have been a little too much.
But we did offer one another tastes of the delicious cocktails that our mixologist Gabby made up for us. I forgot to take a picture of the drink menu, but everything is right there at savedbythemax.com to take a look at. If memory serves correctly, we tried the “I’m So Excited”, the “Mark Paul 75”, the “Miss Simpson”, “The Eric”, “Jessie’s Joan of Arc”, the “Ginger Baldwin” and “The Last Dance” between the two of us. And every single one of them was fantastic. I do remember the “Miss Simpson” being my favorite, but I’d drink any one of them again in a heartbeat. And all the while, we’re talking to the staff, all of whom were wonderful people, and just soaking in the atmosphere. Pardon the awful pun that I’m about to make, but it really was a nice timeout from the grind of everyday life. Obviously, we didn’t spend the entire two and half to three hours that we were there talking all things Saved By The Bell, but we damn sure hit on it quite a bit. From our favorite episodes to characters to whatever, we seriously felt like we were actually sitting at “The Max”. And it certainly didn’t hurt when Gabby came up and told me that my bill had been taken care of. I can’t thank Michael Corrigan enough for hooking this up for me and I’ll probably be hitting him up again soon for another trip. “Saved By The Max” was originally only supposed to be open for the month of June, but the response was so overwhelming that they decided to extend it through August. And when those reservations got all filled up, they recently announced that they’re extending it until the end of the year.
As much as I want to, I can’t take credit for the best line of the night, which has to go to my buddy when he said that “we crossed off a bucket item list that we never knew we had”. And there’s really nothing that I can write that’s going to say it any better than that. Seriously, if you’re in the Chicago area, or even within a few hours of the city….GO. You will not regret it.
Now if I could only find a place like this resembling The Peach Pit. Maybe I’ll make that my next fun project.
As always, thanks for reading. For those of you who are new to the site, please feel free to take a look around and give me a follow if it suits you. You can also follow me on Twitter @THElukenorris and can also get updates on every new article I write on The Luke Norris Experience Facebook page. Enjoy the experience.