A new Barcade, the fifth, recently opened on St. Marks Place in the East Village. When I meet here with Paul Kermizian, one of four owners of the aptly named quintet of (Bar + Arcade)s, though, my questions mostly pertain to their original location in Williamsburg.
Opened in 2004, Brooklyn’s is still my favorite of the five Barcades, where my love for Tapper began, and where I finally stopped attempting to play Paperboy, because I suck at Paperboy. It’s also still, despite increased competition, one of the borough’s beer powerhouses.
I chatted with Kermizian about Barcade’s decade-long existence and success, and its upcoming anniversary event on October 23. The menu is can’t-miss, an outstanding mix of vintages (including a keg of North Coast’s Old Rasputin aged since 2004) and exclusives (Climax Brewing made a Belgian-style dubbel specifically for the birf). This was our conversation.
What’s your first memory of playing arcade games?
Probably at ShowBiz Pizza, which was like Chuck E. Cheese with that creepy animatronic band. They had a huge arcade. There was also a bowling alley and pizzeria around the corner where I lived in Central Jersey with a lot of games. Even a gas station by us had the original Mario Bros. I remember I went to run an errand for my parents and I stopped there and ended up playing for 45 minutes. My dad had to come find me. That must have been like 1982.
What did you like playing?
I was a big Mappy fan. That was the first cabinet I bought when I started collecting. Also Q*Bert, Pepper II, and Burgertime were other favorites. I’ve always liked playing and collecting more of the character-based games rather than space or shooting games.
How’d you start collecting them?
Well, I got older and just lost interest in games. I got into sports. I came back and got a Sega Genesis, but then I missed everything after Sega. I got a Playstation 2, but all I bought were the collections of old classic games. When I was 27, I realized I could buy the arcade cabinets for a few hundred bucks so I bought a Mappy for $200 that was listed in a classified ad. Then, in about a year I had four games: that, Zaxxon, Tetris, and Ms. Pac-Man.
At that point, there wasn’t a plan to open a bar, right?
No plans. Nope, I was just collecting games where I lived in Williamsburg. So we’d have parties ,and the games were the most popular thing. When we decided to open a bar to just to have a steady gig—we all freelanced with other things—the theme of video games and craft beer fit. My partners and I were from all from the same era of gaming in the early ’80s. I mean we’re not the first to put video games in a bar, but we hadn’t seen someone put 35 classic games in a bar with the feel of a bar. That’s what we wanted.
Talk to me about opening in Williamsburg in 2004.
We opened on the second stop on the L train in Williamsburg, and it’s only because we lived around there at the time. We saw the neighbhorhood from the Bedford stop was pushing our way, and it was a good cheap place to open. It was really cheap. But sketchy.
We were doubling as bouncers every night, kicking out all kinds of junkies and crazies. Every other building on Union Avenue at that time was an empty warehouse, or at least they were empty at night. So it was kinda creepy. I remember Beer Advocate did a writeup for our beer selection and compared the vibe around us to a scene from The Warriors.
That’s actually my favorite movie. Before you opened, you did all the renovations yourself, right?
Yes, we did pretty much all of the work apart from the plumbing and electrical. We were open in about nine months. We bought most of the games from eBay and Craigslist then. We tried to come up with a list of games that was well-balanced between maze games, space games, two players, driving, and so on.
What was the initial reaction?
We were really well-received. A lot of people had started to move to Williamsburg at that time, but there wasn’t a lot of nightlife. I think because of that, we knew we’d get people in the door. We’re more surprised now, though, that we’ve sustained it after the first year. That’s been the biggest surprise—we got more popular over time. I still don’t know how.
Well, personally, I’ve always liked that you’ve pushed great beers. With the video games, you really didn’t need to. You could have just gotten by with whatever.
Yeah. We’re very serious about beer. I’d say the beer and video games are on an equal platform to us.
Who’s the biggest beer geek out of you guys?
I’d say we all had an appreciation for craft beer, but I was more of the beer geek. I mentioned we were all doing different freelance things. I was a filmmaker. I had directed film on the craft beer industry called American Beer. We knew from the start that we were going to do a craft beer bar.
Talk to me about the new place on St. Marks. You basically opened them back-to-back.
Yeah. The one in Chelsea took so long and cost so much money. We were looking for a space for about a year, then it took about another year to open. We had been thinking of doing one more in Manhattan, but only if we could find a smaller place that we could open fast. It always seems like we take a big project because we need a lot of space. There’s always a change of function, a change of certificate of occupancy. But we found a perfect place. We love St. Marks.
What made you guys open two locations in Manhattan?
We wanted to do a location with a ’90s and fighting-game focus, rather than just put fighting games into each of our locations. So, it made sense to do it in Manhattan so it can be centrally located.
Are you guys done opening new spots?
For now. We’d love to do something in L.A. and in New England but we’ll probably take a short break. We’re a small company and its been a long two years of construction.
Let’s shift to the anniversary party. The beer list is stacked.
Yeah. We have one keg that we’ve been cellaring since the first year: North Coast’s Old Rasputin. About three years ago we realized we had it. We just decided we should keep this for the anniversary. I really hope that it tastes good. You never know. Aging beer is always a crap shoot.
A lot of bars are doing it now.
It’s interesting. As craft breweries have gotten bigger, I’ve noticed more hesitation from them, they’re less comfortable with bars cellaring certain beers. But no one cared at first. I remember once we put a five-year-old Allagash Grand Cru on. It had gone crazy.
Crazy bad or crazy good?
Just totally different and sour. And we had it on for an Allagash event and Rob Tod was there and I was like Sorry, we’ll take it off. And he was like, No, I like it. So we just changed the beer description to what it tasted like then.
What are you excited about on the anniversary list?
God, everything. We’re gonna have Hair of the Dog’s Doggie Claws, which I’m really hyped about. They stopped sending regular draft to New York about seven or eight years ago. It’s sporadic to nonexistent now, just bottles. We reached out almost a year ago and said, you know, we poured you guys on opening night and it’d be cool if… And they sent us a keg of Doggie Claws.
Awesome. I saw Bolshoi from Sixpoint on the list, too. That’s from the project you both did, right?
Yeah. They rereleased 10 retired beers that we used to pour, exclusively for us. We opened around the same time—we were actually their second account after Spuyten Duyvil. So we came up with that idea together.
Nice. I’ve never had Bolshoi before.
We’re actually going to have two versions of it. We’ll have the one that they rereleased for us last year, but they also dug around and found one keg of the original from 2006. So we’ll have them side by side.