The Nerdy Bars of Cleveland: A Review

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Lakewood’s been having a weird trend lately: nerd bars.  Or at least two nerd bars, one dedicated to board games and the other to classic arcade gaming, have opened up in the past two weeks.  And since my good friend and TOTES NERDCORE RAP SUPERFAN Angie was visiting, we decided to head out and see how this whole nerdy thing worked.
Our first stop was the Barcade, which was a brilliant concept: why not put a bunch of arcade machines in a place where people serve drinks?  Oh, wait, Dave and Buster’s did that, busted.  Except Barcade has what one newspaper called the “reverse casino” model: all the games are free, but you pay for the drinks.
Okay, that’s not technically true.  The selection of pinball machines (which include the Best Pinball Game of All Time, Attack from Mars) cost fifty cents, presumably because repairing pinball machines costs lots of money for spare parts.  But you walk in, buy a drink, and get to play classic videogames all night.
This sounds great, and largely it is, but Barcade was so packed this early on that we literally had to elbow people aside to move.  You know that rocking convention party where people are jammed in a room hip-to-hip and if you take a step back without warning you’ll knock someone over?  Yeah, that crowded.  So actually getting to the games was a problem.  But the interior was pleasantly designed and clean, with lots of fun drinks – I had the Kevin Bacon, a bourbon-and-candied-bacon drink that was quite tasty, and Angie had the Punky Brewster, which was like cotton candy in a glass.
We would have more and larger drinks, but a) the bar had sadly sold out of their oversized novelty glasses already, and b) it was such a struggle getting to the bar that ordering one drink was enough.  (Though the bartenders were a selection of hipster eye candy of both sexes.)
The bar had a really superb selection of classic videogames from the 80s and 90s, and they held Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat tournaments during the week.  We watched a guy pile up a million-point score on Robotron 2084.  We played Frogger, where Angie schooled me.  We played Gyruss, where I schooled Angie.
But the issue was the crowds, which made it hard to play – you had to push through narrow corridors packed with people to get to your machine, and then wait a while for your turn, though thankfully most people were good about the “you lose, you walk” and not abusing the infinite credits.  The main exception was a group of superbly annoying Woo Girls who’d camped out by the fucking Ms. Pac-Man machine, which inexplicably allowed continues, so they squealed and stayed for literally an hour as they were all like, “We’re up to 500,000 points now!  Look how many screens we’ve gotten!” And everyone else went, “Yes, you fucking morons, you can get to 500,000 if you put infinite quarters in a badly-configured machine.”  Why the hell would any free arcade allow continues on a Ms. Pac-Man?
Yet there was something happily convivial about getting snookered and playing the games of our youth.  People were happily giving advice, if you needed it, and it would be pretty easy to strike up a conversation if you both found yourself waiting in line for the Street Fighter machine.  So the crowds were both a plus and a minus, and I think when the blush is off the rose and there’s enough space to at least walk down the aisles without having to hip-check people out of the way, this will be truly awesome.
I do worry about the hammering, though, as three games were out of commission by the time we got there at 9:30 on a Saturday, and the Centipede machine’s fire button was well on its way to breaking.  A bunch of drunks playing arcade machines are an unforgiving bunch, and I hope they have a repairman on call full-time, or soon this place will be a bunch of snapped joysticks.
(One other fascinating bit: there were several really attractive women in total club garb, standing about and looking confused.  I think they were just hitting all the clubs in Lakewood and this was an obligatory stop – and while there were no shortage of women piling onto the NBA Jam and Simpsons machines, the club girls kept craning their necks about as if trying to see the appeal of this place.)
Then Angie and I walked down to the Side Quest Bar, which was about twenty minutes away on foot.  The Side Quest Bar is devoted to board games – they have a selection that you can pay $1 to rent, and you’re encouraged to bring your own.  They were in a soft open, with no food and limited beer selection (though honestly, their limited selection was pretty comprehensive).
Alas, the Side Quest bar was pretty much a solid dive bar with themed drinks, Dr. Who on the overhead screens, and a lot of games.  The games were good, but part of the bar is the social aspect, and there weren’t really enough tables to play games on – only two or three big tables that I saw, whereas most of the space was taken up by the bar itself.  So when we got there at around 11:00, I wouldn’t have found a place to join in.  And I think this bar will succeed on whether it can get strangers to mix, i.e., finding multiple gamers willing to go to a bar to find a pickup game of Dominion or Cards Against Humanity, and I didn’t necessarily see that mixing – mostly groups keeping to themselves.  (Though who knows, maybe those groups got there early as mixed people and had formed solid friendships by the time I’d arrived.)
But the atmosphere doesn’t really say “nerd,” unlike Barcade’s cool black themed bar and uniformed servers – it says “bar” with stuff thrown in.  But the drinks were nice – I had a butterbeer that was surprisingly cinnamony (which is a nice change of pace from all the butterscotch-o-rama butterbeers I’ve had, if not necessarily superior), and Angie had a Sonic Screwdriver that I would have had more of were it not brimming with Red Bull.
I’ll probably go back to Barcade, as I’ll always play videogames.  The Side Quest I may check out later on, to see how it’s evolved after the initial rush of curiosity is over – I suspect that will stand or fall on how creative the owners are at making events that get people in there to play games together.  I’d play a Magic tournament there, if there were enough tables, and that spot would be perfect for a good round of pub trivia.  So let’s hope.

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