Today’s Special: Geekery
With the popularity of superhero films and resurgence of tabletop games, it’s a great time to be a geek – and perhaps an even better time to own a geek-themed bar. From an elaborately decorated Game of Thrones pub complete with an iron throne to an unauthorized Stranger Things project that unleashed a totally rad letter from Netflix’s senior counsel, pop-up bars have spawned hours-long waits from hungry fans eager to enjoy the experience before it disappears.
Although themed pop-up bars are meant to be temporary, more ambitious operators have opened permanent installations that offer their communities places to gather and geek out about movies and games – not unlike the way sports fans flock to bars on weekends to cheer on their favorite teams.
A Sports Bar for Geeks
Storm Crow Tavern bills itself as Vancouver’s original nerd bar, a concept that’s summed up in the bar’s manifesto.
“In 2011 the concept was met with skepticism or outright disbelief… a place where board, card and role-playing games were not just tolerated, but encouraged, where everything from the decor on the walls to the design of the menus referenced fantasy, science fiction and horror films, comics, and books.”
-The Storm Crow Manifesto
After opening in 2011, owner Jason Kapalka and the Storm Crow team realized they wouldn’t have to put sports on the tavern’s TVs to attract customers. In fact, with long lines out the door at night, they saw enough success to open a second location in February 2016 dubbed Storm Crow Alehouse, which is “a significantly larger bar than the Tavern.” Kapalka says each of the Storm Crow spaces offers a unique vibe for geeks hoping to gather for food, drinks, and games.
“It gave us more room to really play around with fantasy and sci-fi props, like our ceiling-mounted Millennium Falcon and life-size Han Solo in carbonite,” explains Kapalka. “We tried to make everything a bit more grandiose than we’d been able to at the Tavern. To be honest there are people who prefer the coziness of the original, and those who prefer the roominess of the Alehouse.”
If the décor at Storm Crow Tavern and Alehouse doesn’t let guests know they’re in a geek bar, the menus are sure to clue them in. In addition to items like Romulan Wings of Vengeance and Teenage Mutant Deep Fried Pickles, diners can choose to roll the dice on a customized burger – where toppings can be selected by literally rolling a 20-sided die, known by tabletop gaming enthusiasts as a d20.
“The random stuff is very popular, especially the d20 shots,” Kapalka says, referring to the list of 20 random shots that are also selected by rolling a 20-sided die. “We keep our own d20s at hand, but people are welcome to bring their own. We definitely take a strict stance on keeping your roll, no matter how nasty you think the shot is, unless you have an allergy or similar.”
According to Kapalka, decorating the space with memorabilia and designing themed menus was the easy part. The business side of the concept, as any operator knows, isn’t so painless.
“Just running a restaurant or bar well is a ton of work,” says Kapalka. “A lot of people who want to start a bar or restaurant, let alone a nerd bar, have no idea how much tough work is required to start and continue. There are a thousand things every day that need to be handled, from inventory to payroll to ordering.”
Recently, Battle & Brew in Sandy Springs, Ga., and Byte in Minneapolis announced their closures, though Battle & Brew was subsequently sold to a new owner and reopened. A third geek bar, Vigilante in Austin, Tex., announced on its website it would be forced to close in the near future if traffic and revenue don’t pick up.
These instances illustrate that being passionate about a unique concept doesn’t guarantee its survival. That likely won’t deter geek bar hopefuls from launching new locations, especially since many of them want to serve their communities by creating welcoming spaces for fans who feel out of place at sports bars and other typical business models.
“The community is the thing that’s been the best about the Storm Crow; it’s an important spot for people to gather,” says Kapalka. To foster that sense of community, Storm Crow’s two locations host different events each week, such as team trivia, game nights, and workshops to knit Hogwarts house scarves or build piñatas.
“I still don’t think there are many bars attempting to do what the Storm Crow focuses on – that is, less focus on games per se and more on being a science fiction/fantasy-themed bar that happens to have some board games in stock,” Kapalka says. “It does seem like there’s an appetite for things like this, though, so it’s encouraging to see more board game bars and cafés and the like popping up.”