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Inside Headquarters Beercade

A Chicago bar takes gamers back to the ’80s.

Arcade bars are popping up in cities all over, but at Headquarters, co-owner Brian Galati says the games are secondary, with the 12,000-square-foot concept’s menu and eclectic vibe leading the charge. “People think this is an easy trend to exploit,” he says. “But it takes a lot to really care about it.” His big-picture view has  proven successful; traffic is up 20 percent five weeks in, with the 3,500-plus  weekly covers expected to continue to rise. 

1. Retro resonates

With vintage yearbooks as menus, rotary-phone bar taps and neon signs, nostalgia is everywhere. While guests over 30 may “remember when,” 20-somethings respond to the relaxed mood, says Galati.

2. Maintaining the games

Galati’s team took a systematic, research-based approach when selecting the 80-plus arcade games. To keep them in working order, he employs on-site techs and has staffers testing games all week long.

3. Spotlight on lighting

So as not to detract from the backlit arcade screens, light fixtures are mounted away from games. “We don’t want lights someone else could possibly purchase,” says Galati. Instead he built his own from nontraditional bases such as fire extinguishers, meat grinders and an old wire spool. 

4. Playing up food

At this, the second location of Headquarters, Galati added a chef-driven food menu to cater to the after-work crowd as well as appeal as a corporate-event space. The menu complements the craft beer and cocktail program. Some 30 to 40 percent of guests don’t even play games, he says. 

5. Old TVs to “modern” art

After months of curating vintage TVs from eBay, Craigslist and customers, Galati reconfigured  several into an installation behind a bar. Six play static; another four are outfitted with flash drives running videos of brainstorming sessions  the owners’ held when developing the restaurant.

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