New Adventures in Old Peoria

by Alexis Maloof

A trio of unique ventures expands the horizons of entertainment in this historic river town.

An old-fashioned speakeasy. A trampoline park. An immersive game-room experience. While such destinations might sound like the kind of exciting entertainment options you would find in a big city, they actually describe three new businesses that call Peoria home. Whether you’re on the hunt for a family-friendly activity to keep your kids off their devices, or looking for a hip new spot to take some out-of-town guests, each of them proves there are still new adventures to be had in Peoria.

Speak Easy in the Whiskey City
You’ll find Tannins & Hops at 619 SW Water Street downtown near the riverfront, but with no obvious signage, you’ll have to look for it. Owner Bryan Harlan thought a lot about the building’s rich history as he scouted locations for the newly-opened speakeasy—which was several years in the making. He knew he wanted a historically significant site to house his 1920s-themed bar, and he certainly found it. “The actual spot I’m in [was] used to smuggle in whiskey from New Jersey for Al Capone from 1926 to 1932,” he explains.

This fun fact of history meshes perfectly with Harlan’s speakeasy concept. Speakeasies were illicit establishments that sold alcohol during Prohibition; in order to gain entrance, patrons had to give a password at the door. This scenario is replicated at Tannins & Hops—if you don’t know the password, you may find yourself spending some time in the “jail” cell, located just inside the door, before you can order your drinks. (Hint: the password refers to a famous phrase about Peoria.)

Tannins & Hops
From its Devin McGlone mural and reclaimed furniture to the old-time jail cell and staff in period attire, the 1920s-themed bar places a premium on local history.

With more than 500 bars across the metro area, Harlan knew “you need to do something to stand out”—and he has customized the experience at Tannins & Hops to do just that. From its three large communal tables—crafted out of old bowling lanes from Town & Country Bowl—to the beautiful bar top made from reclaimed wood from Hiram Walker Distillery, it’s a place that truly values local history. The servers and staff don period attire, while Harlan has collected furniture that once filled the Black Bear Lounge at Jumer’s Castle Lodge, an iconic Peoria institution. He also commissioned local artist Devin McGlone to paint a mural showcasing scenes of the Whiskey City from the Prohibition era.

The unique atmosphere is just one of the selling points for Peoria’s new speakeasy: the food and drinks are also top-notch. You can look online for the menu, but know that it changes from day to day. Cheeses and charcuteries are the house specialties—with dozens of delectable varieties on hand, there’s sure to be something to suit anyone’s palate. Shareable plates (like the crab/gouda stuffed mushrooms and bison bites, drizzled with a caramelized onion/gorgonzola sauce) and grilled cheese sandwiches (invented in the 1920s!) take center stage, while a rotating catalog of tap handles and wines have been carefully curated, with suggestions for pairing right on the menu.

There’s a true community feeling at Tannins & Hops—something Harlan set out to do very intentionally. No televisions loom over the bar; the communal tables are meant to encourage patrons to hang out, enjoy conversation and share plates. The establishment also features live musicians and hosts community events like this summer’s Harvest Café pop-up dinner, or the Sake Night held in October. The relaxed, light-hearted vibe carries over to its Facebook page, where they post specials and tempting photos of food and drinks. It’s the perfect destination for your next night out—and a great place to show off to friends and family what Peoria has to offer.

Jump, Climb, Joust, Play
“If you can walk, you can jump!” It’s an apt motto for Elevate Trampoline Park, located at 8800 North Allen Road in north Peoria, which proclaims itself the largest trampoline park in the nation. From foam pits, jump boxes and pivoting monkey bars to a rock wall, cliff hang and slack wall, the recreation center boasts over 30,000 square feet of indoor activities for all ages and fitness levels. Elizabeth Wilson opened Elevate in July, inspired after trying out a similar trampoline park with her family in Arizona. She knew right away it would be a great fit for Peoria, and with more than 20 years of recreational experience, she was able to make it happen.

Today, Elevate is a new go-to option for families and other area groups looking for adventure, physical fun and some good old-fashioned jumping. The venue has started up afterschool dodgeball leagues and hosted superhero-themed nights for kids, along with special events for teens and other age-specific activities. There’s a kids’ zone just for the little ones, as well as a “ninja training course” where you can test and perfect your ninja warrior skills. A concession stand with snacks and drinks ensures that you stay hydrated and full of energy while jumping, climbing or jousting with friends.

Elevate sells jump time by the hour; you can purchase this in advance on the website or in person. In addition, the trampoline park works year-round booking groups for field trips, end-of-season sports celebrations, youth group outings, birthdays and other festivities. People of all ages love to jump, so it’s a great spot to host a group event where everyone can have fun, even the chaperones.

Wilson believes that giving kids (and adults) a focused opportunity to run, jump and play is invaluable—especially considering the time we spend on our screens today. Elevate is a place for the whole community to exercise and play—another option alongside traditional parks, gyms and recreation centers. With so many customers having thanked her for bringing this unique service to the area, it’s clear that Elevate will be a huge draw, not only in Peoria, but in the surrounding communities as well.

Immersed in a Puzzle
After exercising your body at Elevate, you can jump on the interstate and head downtown to exercise your brain. Located at 1028 Southwest Adams in Peoria’s Warehouse District (the first-floor retail space at Persimmon Lofts), Gone in 60 Escape Games offers an immersive game-room experience. Here’s the concept: you are locked in a room with only your teammates, your wits and 60 minutes to help you find clues, unravel the mystery and figure out how to escape.

Gone in 60 Escape Games is run by industry veterans Sara Fickes and Matt Ruder, who took notice of escape games taking off around the country. After doing some research and visiting a number of similar establishments nearby, the couple ultimately felt that something was missing. Applying their background in creating haunted houses to the game room concept, they have provided Peoria with “that decorated, immersive feeling” they love to create.

This feeling is palpable in both of the game rooms at Gone in 60, each with its own theme. The Coven offers a spooky, supernatural feel amidst its dimly-lit Victorian furnishings, while the Contagion has all the clinical ambiance of a mad scientist’s laboratory, with an equally creepy vibe. Both rooms feature a unique storyline and puzzle that participants must solve in order to “escape” the room before time runs out. Fickes describes the process of putting Gone in 60 Escape Games together as “creating a world” for players to step into.

The game is designed so that people of various ages can play; those under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult, and kids as young as six have joined in with their families. To play the game, you must book one of the rooms, which are available Tuesdays through Sundays. It’s a fun way to connect with family and friends, and a great option for date nights, business outings, team-building activities, birthdays, bachelor/ette parties and more.

You need not be a brainiac to solve the mystery of each room, Fickes assures, but “being observant, investigative and imaginative really helps.” The “escape rate,” she adds, hovers somewhere around 65 percent, so while the odds may be in your favor, you can be certain of a true challenge. And, escape or not, you’re bound to have fun in the process.

Connecting to Community
This trio of unique attractions now lighting up Peoria are a great antidote to those “so, what are we doing tonight?” conversations—while parents have some new options for those dreaded “Mom, Dad, I’m bored” complaints. They also provide some great, new possibilities for treating out-of-town guests, or when family is visiting for the holidays: have fun and support the local economy, while showing off all that Peoria has to offer.

One of the reasons he loves his business, says Matt Ruder of Gone in 60, is that it forces people to put away their electronics for an hour or so. It’s clear that the Peorians behind these new ventures are truly focused on getting people out into their community and connecting with one another—whether it’s through exercise, using your brain to solve a puzzle, or relaxing at a communal table with a lager and a cheese plate. Be sure to take note and check out these new spots that are expanding the horizons of Peoria’s entertainment scene. a&s

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