I was in London the other week for work, and after reading about a bar called ‘Loading’ in Dalston on Kotaku UK, I was keen to see the place for myself. Ian (of 101 Films You Should Have Seen fame) and I headed along one Thursday evening to check it out.
When we walked in, it was fairly quiet, but there were a few tables occupied by dedicated board game players who were engrossed in their gaming, and the bar gradually filled up as the evening wore on. The bar has an impressive selection of up-to-date board games, including the newly released X-COM board game, which I’ve been dying to play. As dedicated X-COM fans, we were tempted to play it there and then, but really it’s a game that requires a team of people. Maybe next time.
The cocktail list was pretty hilarious. Apparently they sometimes take commissions from publishers to make new cocktails based on upcoming games, which seems like an ingenious marketing ploy. We opted for ale in the end, but I couldn’t help but admire some of the brilliant punnery on the menu. Earthworm Gin has to be my favourite.
Downstairs is where the real action happens. Not only have they got an Xbox One and PS4 with a tonne of games, there’s a Super NES tucked in the corner with a collection of fantastic cartridges that made our eyes bulge. We spent a goodly chunk of time playing Micro Machines, but I was amazed by the broad selection of games available, including a few absolute classics that I’d almost forgotten about, like Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters.
It was quite odd to be playing the SNES again. There’s a satisfying mechanical quality to it that is entirely missing from modern gaming machines. The spring-loaded pop as you press the cartridge eject button has no equivalent on the latest consoles – as we head further and further into the digital future, this kind of satisfying physicality is becoming all but lost. It was also gratifying to play games that loaded almost instantly – no waiting around for OS systems to boot up or patches to download, just straight into the gaming.
Probably the highlight, however, was an arcade cabinet that had dozens and dozens of classic 1980s games, all set on free play. After dabbling with Ms Pac Man and 1942, we ended up getting settled into an intense high score contest on Galaga that must have gone on for at least 3 hours. It was a sharp reminder of just how addictive and brilliant that game is, and how online leaderboards are really no substitute for standing next to a mate and jeering/applauding their high score attempts.
It was interesting to see the broad range of people that were in the bar. There were some seriously geeky-looking chaps on the ground floor who were very much into whatever game they were playing on their laptops (I think it was Hearthstone), but elsewhere there was a mix of pretty normal-looking young men and women, mostly playing card games like Fluxx. Interestingly, there were also some laddish types in suits who spent most of the evening playing FIFA on the Xbox – a good indication of how games appeal across a broad spectrum these days.
All in all it was a fantastic place to go for a drink, and I’m hoping the idea of gaming bars catches on across the country – I wish there had been places like this when I was at university. The only trouble I could see was that we spent so much time playing the games that drinking was almost an afterthought – I think we only had about three pints in the whole evening. Perhaps that’s the trouble with running a gaming bar, everyone’s just having too much fun…