A Pint Full of Beer and a Pocket Full of Quarters - Design Bureau

Copy of LRB_110329_0113

Ground Kontrol, Portland, OR


Headquarters Beercade, Chicago, IL



Barcade, Brooklyn, NY

A Pint Full of Beer and a Pocket Full of Quarters

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Ground Kontrol photos by Lincoln Barbour, other images courtesy of the companies featured.

Once upon a time, the arcades of our youth got together with the bars of our adult years, and something magical happened. Now that the trend has spread across the US, arcade bars are amping things up in the design department to stand out from the pack. Here are three of our favorites, from coast to coast.


CITY: Portland, OR

GAMES: 60 video games and 27 pinball machines

STYLE: Retro-futuristic Tron chic

Ground Kontrol launched way back in 1999 and stayed popular through switches in ownership and location, but a recent interior overhaul by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design and the addition of a sleek new lounge and kitchen really put Ground Kontrol on the, ahem, high-score board. Custom-built glowing resin tables, fiber-optic lighting along the curved archways and staircases, floors made from recycled tires, stackable blue seating cubes that recall Q*bert, and Pac-Man board mosaics in the restrooms (Mr. Pac-Man for the guys and Ms. for the ladies, of course) are just some of the new features that make this double-decker space one of the only arcades in history that one could describe as “sexy.”

“Our concept for the space was to blur reality and turn it into something a little less concrete, almost like stepping into a wireframe drawing of a space in a video game,” says Jessica Helgerson, who designed the space with Emily Knudsen Leland. “Once we started doing image research, we realized that the Tron aesthetic was exactly that.” As for the Tron Bit-inspired pendant lights hanging over the main gaming area? They were built by Clay Cowgill, one of the Ground Kontrol owners, and his dad.


CITY: Chicago, IL

GAMES: More than 35 arcade games and 20 pinball machines

STYLE: Rustic, edgy, and industrial with eccentric repurposed creations

The arcade-bar trend took some time to spread to the Windy City, but once it did, it caught fire. Locals rejoiced when—less than a year after opening— Headquarters Beercade expanded from a modest, garage-like storefront with 37 vintage arcade games into an 8,000-square-foot space that allowed the addition of three bars, a DJ booth, and more than 20 classic pinball games. With the breathing room to add some serious design to HQ, owner Brian Galati enlisted his twin brother Neil to design and contract the ex- pansion in less than a month.

Neil’s foundry Wreck Creation, newly minted after the veteran carpenter transitioned to designer and artist, creates pieces solely from reclaimed materials. And thus salvaged treasures abound at the new HQ. One bar is clad with Jameson barrels, and lights above it are made from the bar’s spent CO2 canisters. Cabinets along another bar are constructed from old ammo crates. One wall is made of metal drawers; one railing is made of huge metal screws. There’s a table lamp built from an old gas nozzle, another from an antique meat grinder. All of the design, the brothers say, is centered on the idea that “everything old is new again.” A lap through their space can be as rewarding as playing the games—which are free, by the way.


CITY: Brooklyn, NY

GAMES: 30 classics from Asteroids to Zoo Keeper

STYLE: Rugged, comfortable, and full of fuss-free character

In New York, there were arcades, and there were bars. Then there was Barcade. A decade old, the elder statesman of the arcade-bar scene still reigns over Brooklyn’s supercool Williamsburg neighborhood with its oft-imitated brand of ramshackle charm. Co- owner Paul Kermizian and his partners, who’ve since opened offshoots in Philly and Jersey City, took on almost all of the design work themselves. “Our original concept was just to keep it minimal and retain the character of the building and its prior use, which was a metal shop and before that a garage,” Kermizian says. “Thirty classic arcade games bring a lot of style and mood already, so we didn’t want to over-design the space.”

Mismatched chairs, a few well-worn tables, vintage concert posters, and a chalkboard wall for recording both high scores and the two dozen rotating local and regional craft beers on tap that night add to the scene. “We definitely didn’t want it to feel like an arcade or be arcade-themed,” Kermizian says. “I think keeping it simple and not too themey has been a big part of our success and has helped us stay busy even after ten years. We don’t do a lot of bells and whistles.”

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