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4 lessons from an arcade bar

When Capacity Bar Group thought about opening a second unit of its ’80s-themed arcade bar, co-owner Brian Galati considered much more than pinball and Pacman. A first glance at Headquarters Beercade reveals an obvious attention to the games in relation to the overall design, layout and even the craft cocktail and food menu. But a deeper look uncovers some stealable operational ideas that are viable beyond a Chicago arcade.

1. No emcee necessary

One of the group's goals was to have an operation where customers didn’t have to work hard to have a good time. Galati describes Headquarters as a “come-as-you-are” bar and restaurant, where outing planners and group organizers don’t have to be the host of the party—the space, games, design elements, menu, etc. take care of that. This, he hopes, will make the space especially appealing for corporate parties and events.

2. Living the theme

Instead of relying solely on the design to transport guests back to the ’80s, Headquarters asks the customers to help out. To put guests back in the mindset of the pre-smartphone age, Headquarters is converting a vintage card catalogue into a cellphone check-in. For guests willing to part with their phones, the 60-drawer filing system will serve as a charging station. Plus, users get a free cocktail for turning phones over.  A flashback to’80s-style communications is also provided at the bar near the check-in station. The draft handles are vintage telephones and the shelves behind the bar are old payphone shelves.

3. What a surprise

“We’re not a cookie cutter,” says Galati. The two Headquarters units look different from each other, because, says Galati, he wants guests to be wowed with design elements they’ve never seen before—at a Headquarters or anywhere else. As a self-proclaimed salvage artist and reclaimer, he works with fabricators to make this possible. He even keeps a storage facility full of salvaged material to later convert into light fixtures, installations and more.

4. Transforming a legacy

Many Chicago buildings are associated with the operation they housed the longest, says Galati. Because a nightclub formerly occupied Headquarters’ location, he set out  to change customers’ perceptions of the space. The first step was to add more light, both through fixtures and more windows, to distance the place from its dark nightclub past. Next was to create a music program (Headquarters features indie rock) that differed from the previous iteration. Most important, Galati says, was to condition the service side of the business, not only training staff on the menu but also on how to navigate the space.

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