Stepping into the Riot Feast pop-up restaurant in Chicago was an incredibly disorienting experience. The first sight to greet my eyes is an old-school carnival ticketing booth, where a hostess greeted me and took my name. Entering the dining room itself, I was overwhelmed by the gothic carnie atmosphere; the big red and white tent, the Ferris Wheel chair by the bar, the large wax candles simmering at ever table. I also noticed the music, a brutal mélange of Replacements favorites, Superchunk classics, and Stiff Little Fingers deep cuts. It was unlike any other dining experience in the world, which suits the man responsible for it all just fine.
“I knew what I didn’t want,” festival founder “Riot” Mike Petryshyn said. “I didn’t want it to be a Hard Rock Café, where there’s like guitars on the wall and posters or whatever. It’s just not who we are. It’s bland and I think Riot Fest is unique.”
While Riot Fest is one of the more offbeat and expansive multi-day music festivals out there, it never occurred to them before this year to open up their own restaurant. It was only after a Saved By The Bell-themed pop-up picked up stakes and left for Los Angeles that the opportunity arose. “They kind of came to us,” Mike explained. “They had the Saved By The Max concept last year that was only supposed to run a couple months… from my understanding, they had the lease on that space and wanted to do something new. Somehow they came up with, ‘Let’s talk to Riot and see what they say.’”
Even with an incredibly short time frame to put something together, the Riot Fest promotors gave the green light, and not long after the last patron departed from the simulated confines of Bayside, California, contractors went into the space and began tearing it down. “The good thing is they retained a lot of their staff from the Max to run Riot Feast so the transition was as smooth as it can get. As soon as the Max closed — I think the final day was May 31st or something — we were inside building it out by June 9th. They knew what they were doing.”
For the look of the pop-up, the organizers wanted to bring in the signature aesthetic of the annual festival, along with elements of the actual, festival experience to create something unlike anything anyone’s done before. “We tap into the carnival element, adding to it every year, but we want that 1920’s-ish carnival feel,” Mike said. “That’s fed into what [the pop-up] is now, what it turned into with the tenting, the communal table, even the menu. You’re sitting next to people like you would be standing at a festival. It’s a communal experience.”