Out with the kids | ESPN Zone is boy heaven

ESPN Zone’s Chicago location is now closed.

If you ask my sons their most perfect combination of activities, it goes something like this: sports, food and video games. Chicago’s ESPN Zone provides all three, making kids happy while still maintaining a grown-up vibe, which keeps parents happy. We spent a recent Sunday evening playing games and enjoying football, hockey and golf before finishing the night with a good meal.

Not knowing what to expect, my 7-year-old thought he’d gone to heaven when he climbed the stairs to find himself immersed in the video-arcade mecca that is ESPN Zone’s Sports Arena. All of the games operate with game cards instead of tokens. You can buy cards at various price levels, allowing kids to go from game to game without spilling tokens everywhere. For $25 each, my sons had enough points to play anything they wanted for almost 90 minutes.

All of the games are sports-themed, from traditional pop-a-shot basketball to motion-activated motorbike races. My 9-year-old could have spent all night beating up on the life-size moving hockey goalie in the puck shooting game. Some of the games, especially car racing, were too difficult for young kids to operate, but after a couple false starts, my boys figured out their favorites.

The game room has a full-service bar so kids and grown-ups can grab a drink while they play. You can even order food from the bar, but we opted for dinner in the restaurant. My kids loved the giant screen and personal monitors at each table that allowed them to control the video and sound feed to our booth. Touch-screen technology has come a long way and my kids took full advantage.

The activity-based kids’ menu has a good selection of pint-sized pub foods, each accompanied by a choice of fries, apples with caramel or veggies and dip. The dinner menu also offers delicious fresh salads. Don’t miss the cheese fries, which, my son says, “are the best cheese fries I’ve had in my entire life.”

The restaurant gets very crowded for “big” games, so you may want to consider that when deciding what time to sit down.

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