Collier’s Weekly: The Rise of the Activity Bar

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S.All of a sudden, I’m thinking about duckpin bowling.

In addition to the venues we covered in this space a few weeks ago, we’ve noticed another kind of nightlife popping up around these places. We call them “Activity Bars”. It’s usually a big, noisy place where you don’t just stare at the TV and down your beer.

The activity bar has one or more of the following: pinball machine. Vintage arcade machine. duck pin bowling; massive shuffleboard; A selection of board games. Variation of cornhole. Or an outdoor seating area that surrounds just the fire feature. Both are oversized jenga sets. (Seriously: last one. Big Jenga.)

I’ve been to quite a few activity bars lately. They appear to be doubling down, and this is clearly the effect of the post-pandemic push to push people out of their homes. In general, I like them. I am all for adding fun and flair to the tried and true sports bar model.

But as is my tendency, I have an opinion. My advice is simple. Go wherever you like and have a good time. Rather, these are for their owners. As the markets for these spots start to get crowded, some activity bar or another bar emerges as the best in town.

1. Host a main event.

Many activity bars have so many things to mess with, from the inevitable Jenga game to vintage “Space Invaders” cabinets. Options are good. However, it should be made clear what the facility’s focus is. Can I buy a salad from Dave & Buster’s and watch a football game? But it’s clear that everyone is playing arcade games. If it’s a duckpin bowling alley along with others, great. If you go inside and wonder what exactly you’re doing, the place is out of focus.

2. Lower the volume.

To be fair, I’m approaching an age where this is a requirement I have in most places I visit. If you’re already competing with the clatter of bowling pins, the clatter of pinball machines, or the wooden bang of an ax thrower, you’ll find it hard to talk to your friends. You don’t have to struggle to hear pop hits from the early 2000s. This is not a nightclub. (We know that in his teens activities he tried a bar/nightclub hybrid—remember Robinson’s big ones? They’re all gone. There’s a reason.)

3. Drinks and food must be delicious, but affordable.

As far as I know, there is no activity bar without an activity costing something. All premium games and activities are payable, although there are certain types of fun that are offered for free. No matter what you get extra, you shouldn’t experience sticker shock when you see the menu. You can expect to drop $30 from A $6 beer and a $10 sandwich, please. This shouldn’t be my most expensive outing of the month.

4. Whatever the capacity, lower it.

I’ve been to activity bars during peak hours and it’s not a pleasant experience.If I have to wait hours to go to a bar and play a game, I go home. I can’t limit the ability of local establishments to make as much money as possible, but I would rather 80% of people have a good time than risk feeling vaguely annoyed by 100% of people. It’s better to let it pass.

5. Must be a good bar.

Duckpin Bowling, cornhole, and big jenga are great, but if all the regular bars aren’t doing it right, we won’t be back. Hire and train staff and pay them well to help me with my silly bowling questions or point me to some delicious cocktails. Note the beer list. I feel like I’m saving money (even if it’s $1 or $2) because there are specials. Create a safe and welcoming environment. In general, don’t rely on games or gimmicks to hide other sins. Even if you’re not into bells and whistles, it’s worth your time, after all, there are suddenly a surprising number of places where you can throw your bowling ball or play pinball.

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