Emeryville IKEA
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Love, Lust & Lingonberry: Date Night at the Emeryville IKEA

10 mins read
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The Bay Area was once full of amusement parks by the sea, and Emeryville was home to many of them, from the Blue Star Amusement Park that begat modern greyhound racing with it’s mechanized jackrabbits being chased by very real dogs, to the Emeryville Speedway with its motorcycles and speedcars.

As time progressed and oceanside real estate grew even more profitable, this sort of entertainment began to disappear one after another to be replaced by apartment complexes, big box stores, and a much more humane form of entertainment with no greyhound racing, Pixar.

Yet there lies a glimmer of the amusement parks of yore in one of these very same big box stores where games are to be had, rides to ride, souvenirs to be bought, and, if you look for it, gambling! Within IKEA’s bright blue walls lies amusements fit for Tivoli Garden, and what can be more romantic than a stroll through a world of entertainment and sensory delights!

Yes! IKEA is a date spot and I’m not saying this because I’m a lesbian but I understand that’s why you’d think that! A date at IKEA is much more fun and much nicer than you think, and deserves its place on anyone’s date night roster.

Emeryville IKEA

Pro Tip: Don’t be in a Rush

Although my partner and I allotted two hours for the full experience of dining and wandering, we found ourselves feeling that we had not had enough time to enjoy the store, wishing we had arrived an hour or even two earlier. Yes, I know our joy was created in part by the frightening tactics corporations use to make you feel cozy, happy, and secure so that you return again and again to buy. This, of course, is profoundly frightening in so many ways, but I had fun doing it and I’d do it with her again.

Throughout our trip, we found ourselves being like damn, late neoliberalism capitalism is alienating and ghoulish and we are all falling head first into its gruesome maw, but at least we have love and each other. Otherwise, we’re doomed. So, why not figure out a way to navigate this quaint little unrelenting hellscape of ours by using it as a little moment of togetherness between you and your partner, or partners because this is the Bay Area and I’m like that too sometimes.

The Bay Area’s first still the best?

I don’t know if it was opening day or the first week of operation, but I was there soon after the Emeryville IKEA opened its doors to the public in April of 2000, holding the distinction of being the first IKEA to grace the geopolitical region we know as Northern California.

Already fascinated by minimalist design, I found myself thoroughly impressed by the sleek and avant garde furniture, as well as the giant meaty femur of a candy cane and the shatteringly thin and crisp ginger cookies my family purchased in the grocery area. I in all my infinite ten year old wisdom declared IKEA to be the best place on Earth, and immediately developed an obsession with Dala Horses, which I collect to this day.

Emeryville IKEA
This SF Chronicle photo showed the fervor when IKEA opened their first Bay Area store in 2000.

Although now I know that there are better places than IKEA, I understand the powerful and enduring appeal that it still has. Everything there is so manipulatively and calculatingly perfect you don’t have to think, you just blob your way through like an slightly less sentient amoeba, bumping into little pieces of food that you absorb into your little amoeba body, only regaining consciousness to bicker ferociously, often with undertones laying your psyche bare, with a loved one or a roommate about which curtains to get or a piece of furniture that you hate. It’s fabulous.

On that note, if you want to keep the activities to wining and dining, instead of whinging and dying, this is when the amusement park approach emerges as a best practice approach. In order to avert any IKEA catalyzed arguing, I thus present this important, life changing, even more humanity redeeming intervention you are all welcome: don’t run errands at all and instead, act as if you are in an amusement park, where the theme is “minimalist Swedish house.”


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“ee-sq-ad”

You can play games, go on rides, even buy a souvenir! It is much more fun and keeps the verbal sparring at a minimum, if it occurs at all. Even if you don’t intentionally take the theme park approach, it naturally happens on its own, because, if you are relieved of the pressure of running errands, IKEA becomes an immersive playground where the sky’s the limit.

Cheap Bites & Incredible Views

After strolling around the first few faux apartments on the second level for a moment or two, my partner and I soon headed towards the IKEA Restaurant, as it was getting late and we had avoided lunch in preparation for what we were about to do to our poor bodies. The airy and sleekly modern dining room boasted high ceilings with huge windows, intending to show as much as it could of the view of the bay. You heard me. You can see the bay from IKEA, and there it was in all its glory! All the celebrities were there: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Marin Headlands! Sure, there was a double decker freeway in the way, but it made it feel like the future! What could be more modern and Scandinavian than that?

I have only good news about the food there: it’s really, really good. We were both legitimately surprised at how tasty and thoughtful everything was. Although admittedly, it all look a smidge depressing with the cold dishes ghostly in their heavy saran wrap shrouds, looking like they’re about to start an extremely off Broadway production of “Tevye’s Dream” from Fiddler on the Roof. The hot dishes were a little less sad, but you can’t help but admit there’s just something inherently melancholic about steamed peas aimlessly rolling around a stark white plate, but when you eat it you’re like my god a symphony! Why don’t I eat here all the time? I’ve been a fool! Even if you feel suspicious about the plate of plain grilled chicken breast that you can purchase separately to add to any of their salads, or desserts if you are absolutely repulsive, you eventually find yourself acknowledging that, despite its bleak appearance, oh hell even that’s delicious.


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“oaklandish-tees-square-ad”

After tearing into the plastic covered salads, we found the Stockholm salad to be an absolute triumph. If you like seafood, leave your house immediately and go get this masterpiece of marinated salmon, Swedish potato salad, and more dill than the eye can see. The greek salad was also a winner, it’s flavorful and well balanced dressing getting it goddamn RIGHT. As the Swedish saying goes, it was molto bene. If you do choose to add chicken to your greek salad, grab an extra container of their excellent greek dressing, which you can grab at their tiny little salad bar on your way to the register.

Of course, there were Swedish meatballs to be had, a delicacy that I have convinced myself does not contain pork because I found out too late and when I told my parents they said “God looks the other way,” so I figure if they’re over it I can be too. Hearty and haram, they did not disappoint, although the peas and mashed potatoes were completely lacking salt, but once corrected, bliss was to be had.

Save some room for a Hot Dog & Cinnamon Roll

After embarrassing ourselves with the amount of food we ate, we sacrificed the rest of our dignity for journalism’s sake and descended to the IKEA Bistro below, home of the famous gigantic cinnamon rolls. We of course had to also pay a visit to one of the bistro’s most famous items: the impossibly cheap hot dog ($1!). With that being said, the food at IKEA is so budget friendly that, as a date night activity, you can Frankenstein a bunch of different things together to recreate familiar dishes, or make up entirely new ones so good that you will single handedly improve the fate of mankind, because at least we have this now.

By bringing the aforementioned hot dog and some flat bread from the lower depths up to the dining room above, you and your loved one can recreate Sweden’s streamlined surf and turf, Tunnsbrödrulle. For a less traditionally Scandinavian and more forward thinking experience, my partner stumbled upon a brilliant combination: a scoop of strawberry-vanilla swirl soft serve on top of one of those hubcap sized cinnamon rolls. Humanity has been redeemed!

Emeryville IKEA

The Showroom Roleplaying

Bloated and licking the crumbs off our chops, we then decided to embark on our adventure of exploring the store. A good deal of fun can be found on the second level show room and it’s simulated room settings, where it’s just like visiting Mickey and Minnie Mouse’s house at Disneyland, except it’s the homes of imaginary Scandinavian people who are so good at embodying concepts, such as “ extremely organized lawyer” and “city girl on the go,” that you know EXACTLY who they are even when they’re not home.

Like in those cartoon mice infested abodes, you too can pretend to be the inhabitant themselves! Why not reenact how “accountant with a sexy secret” comes home, throws their jacket onto their PELLO arm chair, sighs, then drinks 5 fingers of scotch like it’s water while leaning against their STOCKHOLM credenza every night? Use the OMTÄNKSAM shoe horn of “ young child with attentive parents invested in who they are as a person” and see the word through their eyes!

Or, you don’t have to embody an embodiment, and just simply just be like this is my house. Imagine the dinner parties you’d throw, or waking up at 6 a.m with The Nanny still playing and realizing you fell asleep sitting up straight on the ÄPPLARYD sofa. But why stop there when you can be or do anything and everything! Impersonate Julia Childs in the faux kitchens, or, to avoid the lengthy defamation and libel trial, pretend to host your own cooking show, with your special guest, your partner! Process latent trauma by playing the “mom’s new boyfriend Kevin’s bachelor pad” game. I personally enjoyed pretending to be Sigmund Freud interrogating a hapless patient on the KIVIK chaise lounge.

There are, of course, amusement park delights to be had that do not rely on improv. Thrill seekers should steer themselves towards the office chairs, where racing and spin offs are to be had. Adventure awaits all with such activities as comparing sitting on the cheapest sofa to the most expensive one, pronounce the umlaut, and figuring out what mattress firmness works for you. Once you get into the swing of playing IKEA games, opportunity after opportunity presents themselves organically, and you’ll find yourself making the stuffed animals talk to each other for over 20 minutes before being informed by an employee that the store is closing.

But above all, there is the sport of kings: people watching. It is primo people watching time in IKEA, because, like the DMV, everyone ends up there against their will and good judgment. Why not sneak a peek at a bickering couple who did not use the patented FDA approved approach I have outlined in this very article! It’s like a soap opera! If you want, in a tribute to Emeryville’s past, you can use this as an opportunity to gamble! What could be more fun than betting a wager or two on whose choice in cutting boards is going to win?

But one of my favorite moments was just sitting across from each other in a faux living room and talking about everything and nothing with each other. Often, those emotionally intimate moments often spark an urge for more physical ones, such as a kiss or two. Of course, what is a theme park without a tunnel of love? IKEA itself has an aphrodisiac quality already from all the domesticity, why fight it? But, do try to fight it better than some customers because, dear readers, it got too real. Too damn real. While on the quest to find the most romantic fake apartment to steal a smooch in, we found one that was way more isolated than the norm. As we started joking out loud about how it was a little too discreet, we found, to put it delicately, signs that individuals had done a lot more than just kissing on that orange velvet couch!

Epilogue

Finally, instead of using the date looking for specific items on your to-do list, leave it up all to fate and chance, and treat all purchasable goods, from the linens to the groceries, as souvenirs! How can you quarrel about how god awful those throw pillows are if you choose something pure of heart and intention, that’s only intended to be a superficial ornament to your life, rather impact it irreversibly it for the rest of your mortal days. Another boon: it imbues your purchase with a sense of magic and excitement, and makes the serving spoon or house plant you grab feel special. It’s like how you used to be able to buy Eames chairs, Dansk plates, and frankly, the creme de la creme of modern mid century design at the gift store at Nut Tree in Vacaville! You can even go full theme park approach and get a stuffed animal! We were really charmed by the BLÅVINGAD stuffed blue whale, made even cuter with the addition of a zipper on its mouth.

As we were ushered out by the tenacious and exhausted employees, my partner and I found each other excitedly planning future IKEA dates as we hurried towards the exit. As we reached the parking structure, we realized that we hadn’t had a single squabble the entire time, unlike last time when words were exchanged when debating the merits of a casserole dish. The amusement park method had worked! If you still find yourself bickering at IKEA, I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m not licensed in any states to do anything, so don’t feel too bad, it could be happening for any reason.

But, asides from that, somehow it did feel like we just got off a tram after seeing the firework show. We had had an exuberant kind of fun that you so rarely experience outside of a vacation, something you don’t realize you crave until it’s fulfilled. It was nice. Nicer than I thought it would be. Sometimes, in this world we live in it helps to feel a little magic for a little while.

Molto Bene, IKEA. Molto bene indeed.

Donna Arkee

Freelance Contributor Donna Arkee is a Bay Area based artist, comedian, vintage sourcer and pigeon enthusiast. Iranian against their will and good judgement, they truly enjoy a cup of hot chai with a side of hot gossip. Despite having a Master’s in Women and Gender Studies from San Francisco State University, and two bachelor's degrees in Anthropology and Ethnic Studies from UC Riverside, they perpetually work retail and service jobs and can personally assure you that baristas do not care about what you order. They spend more of their free time spilling paint all over the couch and bothering their cat and wife.

3 Comments

  1. Have you heard of high school kids hiding in the furniture then running rampant thru the store at night?
    Meanwhile IKEA fed its’ hard working staff all thru Covid. Meatballs. So many meatballs.
    And those funny names for items actually are real places, such as islands in Sweden.
    Are you going to check out the new SF store on Market Street? See you in the hot dog and soft serve line. From a fellow Eville Eye contributor who has seen her last meatball.

  2. I read this story yesterday afternoon and shared it with my gf…before you know it we were eating meatballs and smooching in a 250 sq ft faux-apartment. Thanks for the great writeup!

  3. My wife and I felt exactly the same way about the Albany Target when it first opened. So clean, so bright, so crazy with its two levels and its escalator! We had many a friday date night there. Sadly the shine has kind of worn off, but it was fun while it lasted.

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