by Joe Lewis
Getting out the house is a big ask in a British January, especially when there are galaxies to be saved and kingdoms to be conquered from a sofa or desk chair. Most of the time, I don’t really want to put on trousers, let alone the layers of winter clothing needed to keep the icy chills at bay.
But gamers are a social bunch who share little in common with their reclusive Wotsit-stained representations in the mainstream media. So here are three places to grab a pint in London where games are a part of the experience. Two birds, and all.
The newest venue on the list, Peckham’s Four Quarters popped up in the first half of 2014 with a singular vision: a handful of craft beers, fifteen(ish) classic arcade cabinets, and a range of sandwich toaster based delicacies to be eaten one-handed. There are few better places to get all nostalgic over the arcades of yore, while spamming Ken’s dragon punch in Street Fighter II until everyone hates you.
The owners – many of whom spring from indie video game shop Retro Game Base – have gone to considerable lengths to keep their arcade machines not only in working order, but completely intact, removing any and all modifications and sourcing original parts where necessary. It’s an authentic, reasonably inexpensive way to experience classics like King of Fighters, Pac-man and Space Invaders, and there are plenty of options without joysticks and coin slots too.
If the downstairs bar takes its cues from the golden age of arcades, the upstairs strives to recreate teenagers’ bedrooms from two decades ago or more. Think low ceilings, flickering CRT televisions and Playstation, N64, NES, SNES and Sega consoles ready to play favourites from the first few generations of home video games. Goldeneye, Smash Bros, Mario Kart and others are available on original hardware, although this space isn’t always open to the public.
Seating is limited, with only a handful of chairs and tables on the lower level, so as a place to sit, drink and chat, it’s not always ideal. But if you’re willing to brave the increasingly gentrified streets of Peckham, and get involved with some of the games, events and tournaments on offer, it’s a great way to spend an evening with Pac-Man and (your) friends.
‘Loading’ at Scenario
Despite a second change of location– from Falmouth to Soho and now to Stoke Newington – Loading Bar remains the most popular and least intimidating gaming bar in Greater London. From the cocktails based on favourite gaming franchises to the great stacks of board games available to all, Loading is a venue that wears its gaming heart on its sleeve.
The games lounge is bang up to date with the full spectrum of current gen platforms, and a SNES to squeeze in the odd game of Micro Machines while you’re at it. There’s also a list of tabletop games which is quite frankly intimidating, with an excellent mix of classics like The Settlers of Catan and newer video game and TV spin offs.
The bar is stocked with the usual collection of lagers and craft ales alongside a menu of pun-based cocktails including “Deus Ex on the Beach”, “ The Evil With Gin”, and my favourite: “thomas was patron”. It’s a fun, interesting and totally unique drink list, and it’s just one of the many ways Loading shows off its love of booze and gaming to the world.
There’s no food to speak of, but the management are more than happy for customers to order a pizza, bring a packed lunch, or offer round a homemade paella. It’s a pretty relaxed environment which makes for an ideal atmosphere for gaming.
Fancy bringing your own board game? No problem. Worried little Dogmeat will chew the sofa cushions while you’re away? Bring him with you. The bar’s only real stipulation is that you keep some kind of drink in your hand and are generally respectful of staff and other customers, which really isn’t asking that much.
Finally, Loading has picked up a few regular events in its time, including weekly board game night “Tabletop Tuesdays”, One Life Left’s hilarious video game themed singalong “Marioke,” and regular Netrunner and poker tournaments. It’s also a favoured venue for launch parties/game jams and it’s open for developers during the week to meet up and work on projects. They really pack it in at Loading Bar.
A short walk from Caledonian Road station in north London sits Meltdown, a bar with a competitive edge. Dubbed the UK’s first eSports bar and a part of the ever expanding Meltdown franchise, it’s devoted to the kind of games that require strategic minds or lightning reflexes to compete.
Most tournaments and friendly games are played across a bank of XMG gaming laptops, while Xboxes and a Wii fill in the gaps in the gaming arsenal. Dota 2, Starcraft, League of Legends and a handful of console favourites are usually the picks of the day, and games are generally free to play. Just don’t expect to walk in and grab a keyboard in the middle of tense Hearthstone tournament.
eSports isn’t all about the taking part, however, and just like the football pubs that are now too numerous to count in the capital, Meltdown streams the biggest worldwide eSports competitions to a large projector in the middle of the bar.
It looks like a football pub too: While similar pubs and bars may take a video game based aesthetic, Meltdown is a pub with a capital P, maintaining many of the traditional wooden furnishings (except for the glowing League of Legends sign behind the bar, of course).
The drinks on offer are a fairly typical selection of good quality ciders and lagers and the prices are surprisingly reasonable for a London pub. The drinks list is bolstered again by a good selection of gaming cocktails including a neon green and bright orange concoction named simply ‘Blanka.’
The huge numbers of online eSports fans might not have converted into a billion dollar industry in the UK quite yet, but as prize money and attendee numbers continue to rise, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before eSports hit the UK mainstream. Meltdown is playing the long game, supporting a growing community from the outset.
There we are: three bars in London that should cater to just about any of your social/gaming needs. We hope to cover more UK based bars, arcades and other game themed venues in the future, so if you know of any, or think your city has the very best places to play, let us know in the comments. Oh, and here’s the obligatory shout-out for our Kotaku UK Game Nights, which run every month, alternating between Brighton and London.