When I found out I’d have the chance to try Chicago’s new Saved by the Bell pop-up diner Saved by the Max ahead of its June 1 opening, let’s just say I was so excited, so excited — and definitely not scared. Buzz has been building since the project was announced in April, and I’m happy to tell diehard SBTB fans the spot totally lives up to every ’90s fantasy you had of joining Zack Morris & co. for a milkshake and fries at their favorite hangout.
Inside, the space looks just like the beloved Bayside haunt, complete with the red vinyl booths, bright ’90s colors, a payphone, video games and vintage chairs (and yes, sitting backward like A.C. Slater is totally encouraged). One big difference: a wraparound bar that serves up Goose Island brews and cocktails named for even the most random trivia like The Eric (a Manhattan), Stacey Carosi’s Sofie Mimosie and Jessie’s Joan of Arc (a Negroni) — definitely more appropriate for Mr. Belding than the rest of the crew.
Speaking of Mr. Belding, a few lucky fans can dine in a replica of his office, which features his diplomas, signature wood paneling and a ‘Go Bayside’ pennant. There’s also a makeshift KKTY radio booth and a glass case filled with real props from the series (NBC cooperated with creator Derek Berry on the project). A jukebox just like the one from the set sits in the middle of the restaurant, though those looking to play Kelly and Zack’s beloved A-12 can hold onto their quarters, as the in-house music plays a loop of classic songs like Zack Attack’s “Friends Forever” and Hot Sundae’s “Go for It!” Seriously, it’s nostalgia overload in the best way possible. Check out our photo gallery of the diner here.
Unlike The Max, which we imagine wasn’t on any Top 10 culinary lists, Saved by the Max boasts food from Michelin star-winning chef Brian Fisher, who serves up high-end diner bites. We tried AC Sliders (pulled pork sandwiches topped with Lillie’s Q Good Barbecue Sauce), Tori’s Fried Chicken (coated in an Asian-inspired sauce and served atop a waffle) and The Kelly Kapowski (a Monte Cristo made with prosciutto, gruyère and spicy brown mustard). All were super-delicious, if not incredibly rich (come hungry!). The oh-so-cheesy Mac & Screech appetizer was the standout, though, and if I’d had room, I totally would’ve tried a Lisa Turtle Milkshake for dessert.
Berry is an admitted superfan of the show, and with only three weeks to build the space and knowing how passionate SBTB fans are about the minutia, wanted to make sure every aspect of the experience was perfect: He even made the waitstaff pass a SBTB trivia test, knowing they might get random questions about the series from patrons.
He’s also been reaching out to cast and crew, and has Max himself, Ed Alonzo, coming to perform magic tricks this week, followed by an appearance or two from detention-loving teacher Mr. Dewey (real name: Patrick Thomas O’Brien) next week. A Zack Attack cover band is going to rock out one night a week, as well.
Saved by the Max is open through August, though the prix fixe dinner reservations are sold out (and the wait list is as long as the reservations list, Berry says). Walk-ins will be accepted for late-night dining and weekend brunch, and if you can’t get in, it’s all right — you’ll potentially be saved if Berry decides to extend the diner’s run or take it on the road.