Fans showing up to a sold-out United Center tonight for the Chicago Blackhawks’ training camp festival will be paying more for craft beers than they did last year.
Mixed in with a wide range of new locally themed food and drink options unveiled last week at the arena was a 50-cent increase on all imported and craft beers this season at Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls games.
Goose Island and Stella Artois beers at general concessions will cost $9.50 at the venue this fall, a result of growing demand for microbrews. Sales of craft beer nationwide rose 22 percent last year to $19.6 million, 11 percent of all U.S. beer sales, according to Boulder, Colo.-based craft beer trade group the Brewers Association.
Domestic beers from United Center beer partner Anheuser Busch InBev cost $8.50 apiece.
Prices of several other general concessions items are flat year-over-year, including hot dogs, pretzels and pizza, while nachos ($6.75), popcorn ($5.75) and select soft drinks increased by 25 cents each.
UPSCALE FARE, UPSCALE PRICES
Those price tweaks, however, may not be as noticeable as the number of Chicago restaurants and bars that have invaded the Near West Side venue.
More than 90 new menu options from nearly a dozen local hot spots were introduced to the 100- and 200-level concourses over the summer, collectively branded as “Chicago’s Plate” by the arena and concessionaire Levy Restaurants.
The impressive mix of local tastes is a major upgrade for the United Center, although prices on the upscale fare—while mostly consistent with what you’d pay at the restaurants themselves—are higher than the cost of general concessions.
Three tacos from Wicker Park taqueria Big Star cost $12 in a large renovated area in the United Center’s southwest corner that previously housed craft beer carts. Big Star is also offering a new item, Queso Fundido Nachos, for $11.50. West Town restaurant Leghorn Chicken now has a stand behind section 115 offering chicken sandwiches for $9.
At the 200-level, Lillie’s Q will sell its tri-tip sandwich for $10, in addition to offering pulled pork sandwiches and a walking taco with pimento cheese chips. Desserts in the club level include cupcakes from Sweet Mandy B’s in Lincoln Park for $4.75 apiece, as well as $5.50 candy bars from Amy’s Candy Bar in Ravenswood.
MORE UPGRADES, TECH
All concession stands at the arena also got significant face-lifts over the summer. Beverage dispensers were removed from the front of the stands to clear clutter, and digital video boards display the food offerings on either side of the concession stand walls.
Digital menu boards at each stand were also a key upgrade for the United Center. The video displays will allow the teams to tweak food and drink offerings in real time based on demand and how purchases correlate with things like game time and score.
Those video boards add to the 64 new 42-inch screens placed throughout the main concourse, as well as other new video screens just inside the gates on both Madison and Monroe streets.
Also new at the entrances are metal detectors, which replace security officials using wands to check people coming into games.