UPDATE, Friday, June 24: Bit Bar is now open seven days a week.
Should we add a couple new tallies for #TeamNorthShore? The team behind Boston’s Bit Fest pop-ups announced this week they’ve taken over the old Salem jail as their first permanent home, an old-school arcade and restaurant called Bit Bar. Licensing pending, the spot is on track to open in June with about 30 classic video games, including a handful of vintage pinball tables; plus an outdoor patio, an eclectic menu, and a full bar.
The gamers behind the new venture—Joshua Allen, Gideon Coltof, Rob Hall, Max Clark, and Andrew Wiley—launched Bit Fest at Aeronaut Brewing Company in December 2014. Since then, they’ve hosted several pop-up arcades there and at Night Shift Brewing, Trident Booksellers & Café, and even a hair salon in the South End during last year’s PAX East gaming convention. Before the team met via the Boston Retro Gamers Facebook group, they had individually imagined creating an arcade bar in the Boston area, Hall says.
“Bit Fest came first in terms of practicality,” he says. “The whole time, we were looking around to see where we could do something more permanent, and what would it look like.”
A Gloucester resident, Hall is the sole North Shore representative of the group. He frequented A&B Burgers, which occupied the old jail before moving across the river earlier this year.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a great spot, if we could find something like that it would be great,” he says. It was Coltof who initially saw the real estate listing for the space.
“[He] forwarded an email to a group, ‘What if we were in an old jail?,’ just as a joke. I was like, wait, no, this is actually a great space. We should go look at it. Everyone agreed, even though initially, we had been looking at being in Boston proper, or Cambridge-Somerville-Malden-metro Boston.”
That area won’t lack for its own arcade bar much longer, either: James DeSabatino of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and Michael Krupp of Area Four are teaming up on Roxy’s/A4cade in Cambridge this summer.
The building in Salem has everything the Bit Bar team was envisioning. “We had been looking for a historic, interesting space, that has high ceilings. There’s a cathedral ceiling in half the space. There’s historic brick, granite—it’s beautiful. You can’t make a space like that, you can only find them,” Hall says.
It was renovated as a restaurant about five years ago, and when A&B opened there in 2013, that company put work into it, too. The kitchen equipment is up-to-date, and the space has a liquor license tied to it, so Bit Bar is just dependent on the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission approving its transfer, Hall says.
The Bit Bar team is in talks with potential bar managers. The beverage program will focus on local beers and spirits, Hall says, thanks to the relationships they’ve made through Bit Fest with Aeronaut and other local companies. Currently, they are renting lab space in Everett, where they repair and store their vintage video games, near the budding booze industry in the neighborhood that includes Night Shift, Short Path Distillery, and the soon-to-open Bone Up Brewing. “Salem has Deacon Giles and Notch Brewery coming this summer. There’s a lot going on,” Hall says.
Eric Hammer is on board as chef. He was most recently executive chef for Tavern in the Square. The menu is still under development, but at a recent tasting, Hammer brought ideas like a walking taco; a chorizo corn dog with jicama slaw; and take-out style vegetable lo mein, in its own box. “We’re trying to have at least some items be somewhat portable, so if people want to walk around, play games, get up and down depending on what their friends are doing, they can,” Hall says.
Bit Bar will accommodate about 100 guests at a mix of tables, high-tops, and communal seating areas in two rooms. Outside, there will be space for 50 or so. “We plan on having some sort of game element out there, too. Obviously not video, but maybe an interesting take on cornhole that references classic arcade games. We just have to figure out what’s going to work in the neighborhood.”
To keep avid gamers interested, the approximately 30 video games will rotate from Bit Bar’s collection of 60-plus classics, including Ms. Pac Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Mortal Kombat II, and Ninja Turtles.
“Our main constituents are people looking to have fun,” Hall says.
Bit Bar, 50 St. Peter St., Salem, bit.bar.
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