There’s something sad to be said for the decline of entertainment venues that dominated the cultural landscape just a decade or two ago. Much of our collective nostalgia for the heyday of arcades and lively pub games are colored by fond memories of gathering up friends for a night out on the town or even meeting new acquaintances through the mutual enjoyment of throwing sharpened objects at distant targets. A touch medieval, but that appeal is still long-lived enough that entrepreneurs and tech savvy folk are trying to bring that landscape into the 21st century.
The United States recently received a taste of UK darts enthusiasm through the opening of Flight Club in Chicago, Illinois, a bar and eatery with a surprising food selection that also serves as a tribute to one of the most popular bar games with overseas popularity that never quite reached the United States in the same capacity. For many business owners, this sort of endeavor likely wouldn’t see the light of day.
Flight Club sought to update the image of smoke-filled bars with a tiny corner dedicated to a dartboard and move into the proper future of digital-friendly game experiences. While a classic game of darts in a pub involves various levels of inebriation and the careful handling of pro set steel darts, Flight Club chose slightly less pointy projectiles for a digital board with a sensor perimeter and various cameras that accurately mark points of impact without the need for traditional scoring.
This sort of approach can appeal to both the casual onlooker and a lifelong fan of nearly any style of game by simplifying the learning curve and opening up a hobby to more onlookers. Bars are often highly social establishments to begin with, making them ideal for setting up multiplayer games that can act as icebreakers and fun diversions, but the game of darts is just one of several ways pubs are keeping traditional games alive.
Much of the popularity of preserving arcade culture comes thanks to bar and game establishments stepping in to cater to a market that once appealed primarily to children. While modern games have shifted to console and PC releases that run the gamut as far as the average user goes, playing arcade classics is a hobby that appeals mostly to those who enjoyed the arcade experience before they began shutting down en-masse during the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, those people are often now old enough to drink.
Arcades have now shifted to a more adult-oriented market with massive chains and single establishments both trying their best to help patrons recapture what it felt like to stack quarters on an arcade screen while waiting for their turn to come up. Even the pub part of the equation is optional for many enthusiasts; Some prefer to stay stone sober while immersing themselves.
Yet it’s not always a transition made easily, nor should every restaurant serving alcohol think they can simply hook up a few arcade machines and sell themselves as a gaming establishment. There’s a very real time and money investment required to host even a handful of arcade machines when taking upkeep and maintenance into mind. Trying to step into modern gaming is more a game of finding the right clientele and ensuring one has the know-how to successfully promote and run competitive events.
Not every business is trying to step into the most mainstream games, however, with more bars in the United States hosting niche events while trying to blaze a trail towards new games and hobbies. One bar’s owner is dead set on seeing competitive axe throwing accepted as a mainstream sport, much akin to the popularity of bowling in the 20th century.
Reviving a subculture that existed due to the expense of the hobby is always going to be a niche endeavor, but there’s still something downright beautiful about trying to preserve an establishment that has little place in the modern world. We’re no longer bound to staring at softly-glowing CRT screens over the shoulders of strangers while waiting to try Midway’s latest hits, but that hasn’t stopped us from sharing that experience with others who may have been too young to enjoy it.