Story and photos by Daniel Lee Perea
October 19th, Barley’s Brewing Company Ale House #1 will celebrate being a restaurant fixture of Columbus’ Short North downtown area for over a quarter century.
But Barley’s Brewcadia, their arcade bar expansion upstairs, is less than two years old. Arcade Bar Scene sat down with the general manager, Jason Fabian to find out what made this downtown staple want to get into the arcade game.
ARCADEBARS.COM: In truth, I’ve eaten downstairs at Barley’s Brewing Co. a few times before – but this bar upstairs is new to me. What was up here before?
Jason Fabian: This space was just a big empty junk room. We had old restaurant equipment and stuff that had accumulated for 20 years. When we started thinking about remodeling the space and utilizing it in a fun way into something different from downstairs, I brought up the idea of mixing in vintage arcade games and 40 beers on tap. Something to eat too, so you’re not going hungry. And everybody seemed to be on board with it.
AB: I don’t have to tell you that Columbus already had a ridiculous number of arcade bars before you opened. What made Barley’s jump in the game?
JF: When we came into the market, our philosophy was – we’re the downtown version of it. Our thing was, we have 40 beers on tap. Nobody else has that many. We are a brewpub, so we have exclusive brews on tap you can’t get anywhere else. We serve our own food, so you can get a bite to eat while you’re here. We also incorporated a cabinet full of board games in case you’re not into retro arcade games, you can break out Clue or Catan and keep the social aspect of the bar atmosphere going that way as well.
AB: Why do you think the arcade bar as a concept is exploding all over the nation?
JF: What I’m seeing a lot of now is people don’t want to go out and stare at the TV and drink beer with friends. Or stare at each others phones and wait for something interesting. They now want something interesting to be entertained by WHILE they socialize and drink. And it comes in many forms like board games and arcade games.
Why people like these bars is that they don’t necessarily HAVE to play a game or games. But they can come in and socialize with the OPTION to play games.
AB: How is marketing an arcade bar different than marketing a brew pub and restaurant?
JF: With arcade bars, most of your business is after your traditional restaurant demographic has eaten dinner and maybe gone home. So from 8 to midnight. Even more so on the weekends. When you market that, you gotta think about who’s actually gonna be up that late during the week. It’s not gonna be your professionals who have to be up at 6 in the morning – or maybe people who are into a different business profile without a strict schedule.
Our demographic is primarily your 23-35 year old crowd. But during the week, we get all the way up to 40-50 year olds from the neighboring hotels and Convention Center across the street. So you’ll get some guys in town for business who come over and have fun reliving all the older games and say “Hey that’s really cool!”
AB: Games are getting harder to find. With numerous arcades already around this town, how did you source your games?
JF: We did the majority of our original purpose from a third party company. Since then, we’ve kept an eye on craigslist, and also met a couple guys that really like to bring old games back to life that we source from. We have a company that comes in for maintenance that also owns the pinball machines. Everything is set to free play cause we own the machines. Why not? We figured, people are already enjoying our 40 beers and food. If they want to have fun, they shouldn’t have to pay to have fun.
AB: Notably, you’re downtown, and while there’s a lot going on here now, but 25 years ago when the brewpub started, people weren’t really living in downtown CBUS. What’s changed?
JF: If you were downtown 25 years ago, you generally worked here. Over the last 5-7 years there’s been a huge resurgence of taking these old buildings and renovated into apartments and mixed use spaces, to revitalize the downtown nightlife.
AB: October is National Pizza Month, and I would be remiss not to touch on the pies on your menu. How would you describe your pizza style?
JF: It’s kind of a midwest flat crust. It’s not New York, definitely not Chicago. It’s not super deep. What makes our pizza a little different is that we take some of the spent grains from the brewing process, we dry them out a little bit, and we mix them into the pizza dough. It gives it more chewiness than a normal midwest style cracker crust, and we’re happy with the result. Our most popular is a traditional Margherita with some oven blistered tomatoes. They all have 80’s and game-themed names, but you’ll find all your favorites: a meat, a veggie….the Kang and Kodos is my favorite with the banana peppers and pepperoni on it.
AB: How about your in-house beers?
JF: We brew from 25-30 different main styles of beers throughout the year. At any given time, we have 10-12 in house beers on tap. The “Bloodthirst Wheat” is hands down our best seller. It’s a belgian wheat, and we use blood oranges in the brewing process. Unlike some wheat beers, it’s balanced and not overly sweet. Everyone seems to enjoy it.
AB: Are you a joystick jockey yourself? Or more of a culinary wizard than a pinball wizard?
JF: I came up with the old home consoles like Sega, Nintendo, all the way back to Pong in the 70’s. As far as arcade games go, I tend to like the fighting games and sports games because I like the competition aspect. As far as being a chef, I came up through the restaurant business at a young age. I gravitated toward the kitchen. I liked the creativity. I was originally hired by Barley’s to be the executive chef, and served in that position for about five years. Then the ownership asked me to step out and lead the total operations, and I’ve been doing that for the last ten years.
AB: The skeeball machine seems really popular. Was was the idea behind that?
JF: When we were planning this arcade, one of the employees highly recommended we get a Skeeball. I was a little confused because I associated it with a kids game with ticket redemption. But it immediately became our most popular game. People would do creative things like roll for high score and bet the next round. Plus it hearkens back to your childhood when just rolling a ball into a cup and getting some points would make you happy.
AB: Plus you get a little variety, movement, and a break from the physical monotony of mashing buttons.
AB: So you’ve been here for a decade and a half, but in the hospitality industry almost all your life. What is your proudest accomplishment in that time?
JF: I would say my proudest accomplishment is being part of a business that devotes itself to making a guest feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. There’s a wedding going on tonight in the private event space downstairs. Every day, I see many people and families enjoying food together. People hanging out, enjoying themselves. We become part of their lives, and most of all, get to be part of a community. That’s really important.
Brewcadia is located at 467 N High St, Columbus, OH 43215. www.brewcadia.com