The Rise of the Barcade

Posted by Josh 16 FEBRUARY 2018

If you are not familiar with the term 'barcade', you are about to be. It's a combination of bar and arcade - the name explains it all. From its humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, the Brooklyn Barcade was the first of its kind; the Brainchild of four friends: Paul Kermizian, Pete Langway, and brothers Kevin and Scott Beard. 
Paul was in the film industry at the time and had just completed the road trip documentary ‘American Beer’, profiling the American craft beer industry. The friends travelled across America, drinking beer and playing 80s and 90s arcades. It was while on this journey that the friends realised that the bar industry as a whole had stagnated.

Millennials want something more than just an old boozer, with the same old lager and a couple of fruit machines in the corner. They want the social aspect but with a competitive edge; they want something different and unique. 
Kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s in the boom of the arcade and home computer console are now in their 20s, 30s and 40s and want nothing more than to reminisce with old friends over a craft beer and a game on their favourite machine. 

And so both barcades and competitive socialising were born. The key components for both are craft beer, cocktails, great food, live music and some form of competitive activity, all enclosed in a funky, industrial-styled venue.

For Brooklyn Barcade, they stuck with what they knew: classic arcade machines and pinball. With a rotating lineup of over 50 machines, they saw such demand and success that they have now just opened their sixth venue, following in the footsteps of numerous other barcades that have popped up - including 82 in Los Angeles and a host in Chicago.

It was around this time (2015) that my boss and I were also looking at the UK pub and bar scene and thinking that it needed something new. So, we thought it would be a good idea to do some market research - and where better to go than Chicago? 
We hopped on a plane and spent the next 10 days ‘researching’ the most popular barcades in Chicago. You can read a full, in-depth look at our adventure here. To say we were blown away was an understatement, from the stripped down enthusiast barcades like Logan’s to the extremely polished Headquarters and Emporium barcades.

Since the launch of the original Brooklyn’s Barcade back in 2004 it was really interesting to see how the concept had evolved. 

Of the six barcades we visited, Headquarters (1) on North Sheffield Av really blew me away. The attention to detail was really unparalleled. It shared the same industrial design as most barcades with exposed brickwork, neon signs and overhead pipes but took it to a whole new level. It had 90s gameshows running on TVs dotted around, and a whole feature wall tiled in original NES cartridges. They perfectly captured the authenticity of the genre while creating a very polished, fresh and breathtaking venue. It was just a nice place to be, and this showed - we went there three times on our visit and over time there was a queue that grew down the street.  
They had not only amazing games to play but also fantastic craft beers, cocktails and really nice food.

It wasn't just the décor of the venues that had evolved, it was also the games on offer. It really showed that competitive socialising was key, as the barcades were filled with not just pinballs and arcades but also shuffleboards, tournament-grade American pool tables, Skee-ball machines and more.

Our big takeaway from the trip was that the UK was missing a trick, and that there was a massive gap in the market for competitive socialising and for shuffleboard!

We decided to do some more research on shuffleboard, so we went to both Norway and Sweden where there has been a shuffleboard explosion over the last five years, with over 400 shuffleboards being installed in Oslo bars alone! Again, the bars in Scandinavia followed the same blueprint as in America, focusing on great drinks, food and competitive socialising.
Back in Blighty, we thought we would see if anybody was also following this blueprint of success, and sure enough there was.

It was mostly independent venues that did the concept extremely well, with places like Kong's in Bristol - a super cool barcade with classic arcade machines - offering great beer and food along with live music and other social events like local art meet-ups. They have seen great success and last year opened their second venue in the heart of Cardiff. 
There are also places like Swingers - a crazy golf bar situated right outside the Gherkin in London. Co-founders Jeremy and Matt have done an unbelievable job of flipping crazy golf on its head with their attention to detail, from the décor and the staff uniforms to the USB charging ports under every chair and table. They have also followed the trend of mixing up the food offerings, with food concessions from local eateries such as Pizza Pilgrims.
Spearheading the shuffleboard movement in the UK was The London Shuffle Club created by Graeme Hawkins and his team, which started with a pop-up in the ultra-cool heart of Shoreditch in 2016 and has spread to his permanent venue on Worship Street. 
There's also Tank & Paddle in Minster Court offering amazing pizzas and free shuffleboard! They have expanded the brand on the back of their success, with a second venue recently opened and more in the pipeline.
Following on from their success, numerous independent places have popped up all over the country as well as the big boys getting in on the action, with Stonegate, Revolutions Novus and Mitchells & Butler all rolling out shuffleboards in their venues. 
Revolutions have really taken the bull by the horns with an unbelievable refit of their Cardiff venue, complete with shuffleboards, arcades, pinballs, foosball and table tennis all on free-play! 

With over 50 shuffleboards installed so far this year - along with countless arcade and pinball machines - we are seeing more and more bars adopting the competitive socialising aspect in their venues and it really does appear that the barcade revolution has hit the UK and is here to stay.

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