Pac-Man-themed restaurant opens at Woodfield
On the verge of his 35th birthday, Pac-Man has a new home at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.
Level 257, Wood Dale-based Namco Entertainment Inc.'s prototype restaurant and entertainment center themed after the iconic video game has finally opened after months of anticipation.
Reservations are strongly encouraged for the first few weeks. Though opening night was busy, it was probably just the tip of the iceberg before the first full weekend on Feb. 28 and March 1, Marketing Manager Natalie Couzens said.
"It was great!" she said. "As soon as anything went out (publicizing the opening), the phones went nuts!"
This winter's soft opening will be followed by a grand opening in April and a celebration of Pac-Man's 35th anniversary on Friday, May 22, and throughout that weekend.
Intent on making a good first impression with the first-of-its-kind restaurant, its operators have been working steadily behind closed doors for weeks beyond its originally planned opening date.
But that work was obviously reaching its conclusion during a Daily Herald preview tour.
Awaiting players are 16 bowling lanes, various table tennis and table hockey games and more than 80 classic video games and pinball machines, all restored.
"It's all about socialization, the games that we've chosen," said Level 257's Entertainment Operator Alan Sabol.
He said the restaurant aims to evoke memories of the 1980s, when video games were played in public places rather than at home.
Sabol pointed to a table version of Frogger as an example of what made that era so appealing.
"The graphics are very basic, but it's still very enjoyable ... and very hard!" he said.
In a central position is a Pac-Man game souped up to start at the extremely difficult level 255, paving the way for an in-house explanation of the restaurant's name. Successful completion of level 255 allows players to reach the special, hidden level 256. The name Level 257 refers to being able to go a step above even that.
Around a fireplace are a number of shelves holding books and popular board games that the entertainment center's intended adult audience should remember affectionately from their childhoods.
"The whole vision behind Level 257 is that we're making it easy to socialize and be social together," Couzens said.
Even before patrons reach the gaming and dining areas of the 40,000-square-foot space, located next to and above Sears, they'll pass a gift shop packed with items that are both one-of-a-kind and related to the video game theme.
"There are hundreds of items that are exclusively made for Level 257," Couzens said. "Literally all of the clothing has been made for us."
In addition to T-shirts and other merchandise emblazoned with the restaurant's "Eat Life Up" slogan, are toys, shot glasses, cutlery sets, golf balls, candy, home video games and watches.
Yet to arrive is a unique Pac-Man watch valued at thousands of dollars. Made by the company Romain Jerome, the watch contains elements in its casing from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. It will be displayed in its own glass case.
The bowling lanes continue the establishment's retro look by featuring mirror tiles and mirror balls, as well as black bowling balls engraved with the Level 257 logo. The bowling balls were not easy to come by, Couzens said, as no manufacturer regularly makes plain black bowling balls anymore.
Though based around gaming, Level 257 will have a pay system intended to emphasize the fun and social aspects of playing, rather than encouraging rampant competitiveness. Bowlers, for instance, will play by the hour and novice video game players won't have to worry about their playing time being limited by their skill.
"The whole deal with the games is they're all on timed play," Couzens said. "We hope people who don't normally play games will play games."
Other cool aspects of the restaurant include two large windows that can be opened like garage doors on warm days or nights, and a large event room that can divided into five smaller spaces. Those areas feature stadium seating that can be pulled up from the floor to face large video screens.
The total capacity of the restaurant is about 1,000 people and it will employee 160 staff members.
As much of an appeal as the gaming theme is expected to have, Couzens believes people will learn to appreciate it first and foremost as a restaurant.
"I think people will be surprised by the quality of the food here," she said. "We want people to come for the food and then there's all these other options. You can stay as long as you like."
Once they believe the concept has been perfected, Namco Entertainment will be looking for other locations throughout the country for Level 257 restaurants. But even the original Woodfield Mall site will be constantly evolving.
"I think every time someone comes in here they're going to see something different," Couzens said.
For reservations, call the booking line at (847) 805-0257.