What’s new at United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls
Last year, the Chicago Bulls failed to reach the playoffs, which kept them from playing in front of fans at United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks also missed the playoffs, but the NHL team was allowed to play season-ending games in front of a 25 percent packed arena in May.
When the United Center hosted Chicago media on Monday afternoon, it was the first time since the pandemic that one of the city’s sports arenas has hosted a food preview. This is a positive sign after the last 20 months. The Blackhawks opened their home schedule on Tuesday. The Bulls will do the same tonight. In a post-vaccine world, the risk of spread is reduced and the United Center is preparing for a full season at 100% capacity. There are still some rules for fans:
COVID-19 vaccine or negative test required for ages 12 and over
- Masks mandatory unless eating or drinking “actively”; yes – even seated
- No paper tickets; mobile only for entry
- Cashless payments only
- No bags – even handbags – other than medical or diaper bags (there are bag checks on site). The maximum size of a wallet is 4 inches by 6 inches by 1 inch.
With the extra precautions due to COVID-19, it shouldn’t be too shocking that there aren’t any new food stalls this season. The work situation, which sees restaurants struggling to fill staff positions, is a factor. Another is that few chefs can afford to leave their restaurants and spend time at the United Center, teaching arena workers how to cook their food well. They are needed in their own restaurants to keep their ships afloat.
But that doesn’t mean the stadium dining experience won’t be any different. Check out what’s new at the home of the Bulls and Blackhawks.
A struggle over the past seasons, United Center has stepped up its game with a – according to management – a secure way to order food through a cell phone. Fans don’t want to miss the game while waiting for an order, and the United Center doesn’t want to see big lineups during a pandemic. Customers can order from their seat and pick up their food on dedicated mobile order lines. As far from the arena, fans have grown accustomed to reading menus on their phones with QR codes. United Center management believe mobile orders will rise this season, above 20 percent of food orders last season. Fans should download the United Center app. Also, watch out for QR codes scattered around the arena that will display menus via smartphones. Be sure to call up the menu that corresponds to the appropriate section.
This year, United Center is making greater use of cashless payments. While some will point out the inequalities associated with withdrawing cash, there is also a fear of the spread of COVID-19 through money management. Then there’s the aforementioned labor shortage – why hire a human to count money when a card reader can provide a higher ROI?
With that, welcome to Market 1800, located near the Jordan Statue in the East Atrium as you enter the arena. Fans can also access it through section 107.
Customers can enter the market by swiping their credit card to open the doors. Then they can have Garrett’s popcorn, candy, kettle chips, salads, ice cream novelties and – yes, even Bud Light or Goose Island cans and wine (two drinks per ID; yes , they always check customers if they are of drinking age). The marketplace, powered by Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, keeps track of what customers pick up (shelves are weighted), and when they go out, they’re automatically billed for what they take. Fans can get in and out in less than a minute, management says. Similar markets can be found at TD Garden in Boston and Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.
More vegetarian and vegan options
Legacy Burger (Sections 108, 213, 313), United Center’s broken burger stalls, is going vegetarian this year with patties from Lightlife. Meanwhile, Chicago Dish (Sections 104, 222, 305, 322) will be serving a vegetarian version of a Chicago-style hot dog with Field Roast sausages.
Meanwhile, the most popular dish on the United Center media tour was Light Life Plant Based Tender; the hungry press corps has swallowed up the whole lot on the tasting table. Hopefully whoever works the fryer on game day is careful and doesn’t overcook them or too low – these fillets are perfect when paired with a ranch or barbecue.
New dishes in old places
Chicago’s Plate, the program to attract restaurant chefs to the United Center, continues, but there are no new hires for the reasons outlined above. Instead, UC chose to encourage old vendors to weave new items into their menus.
- This little goat has gone to the taqueria (sections 114, 230), Iron Chef Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat, Cabra) returns with a new tasty short rib taco and the “Nacho Average Nachos” (Hong Grated Kong, Pickled Red Onion, Pickled Peppers, Queso Fresco) that will rival the stadium helmet nachos (Earlier in October, Bulls announcer Adam Amin praised the identical version of White Sox Park as ‘he was on the air alongside St. Louis Cardinal’s pitcher Adam Wainwright). In a curious marketing stunt, the Blackhawks are pushing fans to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos on October 27 with tacos and Izard drinks from Don Julio and Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind. Hockey, gringo tacos, and vodka make sense to this crowd.
- Lillie’s Q (Section 119), Pitmaster Charlie McKenna has been with the United Center for years, and he returns with the LQ Sampler Platter (pulled pork, brisket, hot links, fries, pickles, onions), a chili dog and a very impressive platter of loaded breast fries.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken (Section 115), HBFC’s food is consistent and they finally bring real honey butter with them to the stage with corn muffins.
Queenie’s Supper Club
Now fully under Levy after the release of Heisler Hospitality (Queen Mary, Sportsman’s Club, Pub Royale), Queenie’s, the full-service restaurant above the East Atrium has a new chef: Aaron Browning (Tortoise Supper Club). The menu includes “Queenie’s Lazy Susan” (in the tradition of the Wisconsin Supper Club relish platters), seared scallops, chops and cocktails. Read the full menu below.