A bar lounge with tons of light wood.
Big Mini Putt Club is finally opening. | Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Big Mini Putt Club opens Friday along Milwaukee Avenue with COVID-19 precautions

As Chicagoans feel safer to leave their homes after more than a year cooped up thanks to the pandemic, Big Mini Putt Club aims to provide an outlet. The nine-hole miniature golf course with a full bar officially opens Friday in Wicker Park. It’s a family-friendly affair during the day and adults only at night. And, as March Madness basketball is underway, there are four TVs.

Co-owners Nicholas Jenkins and Austin DeLonge spent hours in the space’s basement fabricating each hole to challenge players. There’s a fun DIY-aesthetic with a mural painted by Columbia College art students full of Chicago Easter Eggs like Chance the Snapper, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, and Sue from the Field Museum of Natural History.

“We are so grateful to be open at all,” Jenkins says.

A sign that reads “big mini”
Big Mini takes over the former Silver Room space.
A golf cart indoors.
This golf cart does not have an engine.
A fishbowl full of colorful golf balls.

The wood is from a local woodworker who also was involved in the design at Ever, a fancy restaurant in Fulton Market.

They’ve given much thought to the design of the course and delays from the pandemic gave Jenkins and DeLonge more time to ponder details. Beyond the look for the 5,000-square-foot space, safety needed to be addressed. There’s a new HVAC system and the front windows slide completely open, accordion style. Jenkins says he’s abiding by the same rules as restaurants — people need to keep their masks on while playing and the space will operate with a maximum of 50 inside.

On the course, groups are capped at four and staggered 15 minutes apart to avoid clusters. There’s also a seven-stroke maximum before players need to pick up their ball and move to the next hole. A staffer, called a course marshal, will oversee operations in case a ball finds its way to the bar area. Players are told to keep a club’s length away from other parties to provide healthy separation. The course should take players 45 minutes to complete.

As bars need a food partner to stay open during the pandemic, Big Mini is collaborating with Big & Little’s for food. The restaurant is down the street, it’s so close that Big Mini’s staff can wirelessly connect to the restaurant’s point-of-service system to order directly. They’ll offer a truncated menu with burgers and tacos. Customers can pick up their orders at the bar.

Owners say the natural division between bar and golf course prevents comingling.
Someone is a “Star Trek” fan — beam me up, Yoda.

There are eight signature cocktails with golf-themed names like “Peachy Palmer” (Tito’s vodka, peach Schnapps, lemonade, iced tea), “Foreplay” (Jim Beam rye, amaretto, orange juice, egg whites, sour mix, bitters), and “Match Play Margarita” (Arette tequila, triple sec, lime juice, sour mix). Jenkins says that they’ll eventually bring in a slushy machine by the summer and will offer two frozen drinks for the warmer weather. There’s also 10 draft beers available with a focus on local brewers. For the opening, they’re bringing over two kegs of Off Color Brewing’s newly released Beer For Golf, a brew made especially for hanging out on the links.

It’s not the opening that ownership hoped for, but with a vaccine increasingly available, it felt like this was the right time to debut. Reservations for opening day Friday are nearly gone, but Big Mini’s owners hope there are plenty of good times for the future. Take a look at the space in the photos below.

Big Mini Putt Club, 1302 N. Milwaukee Avenue, open 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday; 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday; 10 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. Children and others under 21 admitted until 5 p.m. with parent or guardian. Reservations for parties of less than six in the lounge; maximum of four while playing the course.

There’s a shuffleboard-like game on the right, and the theatre seats come from a South Side synagogue.

The LED lights really help the greens pop.
The hole in the corner is called “Secret Garden” because it used to lead to a staircase underneath.
The barrels come from Off Color Brewing.
Columbia College students painted this mural full of Chicago references — there’s also a coyote on the left in honor of the sightings all over the area.

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