World Of Barcraft: A look inside 42 Lounge, Milwaukee’s first “nerd bar”
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Bars and Milwaukee go together like chocolate and booze. In addition to your friendly neighborhood corner dive, entire neighborhoods are known for their drinking vibe. Bay View boasts bars for people who want to impress each other with their obscure beer snobbery; Walker’s Point has raucous clubs built around a strong LGBT community; Water Street provides a mix of venues that thrive on student loans. Where, then, is a good fit for a bar that caters to nerds? The ascension of the nerd community has thrown off the crusty basement dweller stereotype of the past, and plenty of social, attractive people watch Doctor Who and play Minecraft these days. Why can’t fans go somewhere to passionately argue about Skyrim characters like other bar patrons argue about Brewers players?
42 Lounge hopes to be such a place. Owners Tony and Lynn Nilles envision 42 Lounge as a place where nerds of all stripes can come, relax, and debate the finer points of The Walking Dead. Tony comes from an IT background and is a lifelong video gamer. Lynn took whatever bartending jobs she could find to learn the business from the ground up. Other names suggested for the place included Mom’s Basement, AFK, and 8-Bit Bar. “We didn’t use the basement,” Lynn says, “because we didn’t want people to think this was a place with some folding tables and broken controllers. We want a classy experience for our demographic.”
The idea for the bar came about from the couple’s trips to Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle. “There was just this overwhelming sense of community,” Tony says. “You could go into the lobby of the hotel and walk up to people playing a game and join them. You could pull out your [Nintendo] DS in a restaurant and play Mario Kart with complete strangers.”
The couple wanted to bring a space like that to the area. They initially targeted Waukesha, with bigger spaces and lower rents, but couldn’t find a venue that worked. They had all but given up on the project when the space next to Karl Ratzsch’s German Restaurant fell into their laps. “We walked in and just knew it was the place,” Lynn says.
The couple even found unexpected allies at their liquor license meeting. Two people came to oppose the club opening because the previous tenants rattled their condo windows with all-night bass. But, once the owners presented their case, both ended up flip-flopping their opinion, with one, an engineer, expressing a desire to check the place out some night. “We’re the only bar in Milwaukee with two people on the public record who came out in support of our license,” Tony says.
The lounge is a small club—a capacity of 125, down from the Axe Body Spray-scented writhing mass of 150 when it was the dance club Sublime. There are two multi-player gaming stations in the front of the club that will be free to the public. There are several large widescreen TVs that will air everything from Doctor Who premieres to BarCraft events where games of StarCraft are covered like sports events, complete with commentary and hanging out with other game fans. The back of the club offers some tabletop gaming space, including a raised VIP gaming table. The opening will focus on video games, including a robust WiFi connection for those who want to bring their DS and throw down some Pokeballs while doing shots.
The owners hope to appeal to several different palates with their drinks. Themed drinks are a big appeal, with names like the Sonic Screwdriver, the Domfather, and the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. The bar also features a decent craft beer selection, with nerdier selections like Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale and Dragon’s Milk mixed in with the usual suspects. For those designated to drive (or for those far too focused on pwnage), the bar offers soda, at least one alcohol-free mocktail from the themed drinks menu, and hardcore gamer favorite/sentient dick joke Bawls. The owners have long-term plans to eventually start serving food, as well as “Easter Egg” drinks you can only order in certain ways or at certain points of the evening.
Video games are a good start, but Tony and Lynn hope to expand to other events soon. “My favorite reactions are from the people who said the idea wouldn’t work,” Lynn says, “but then come back to us after they’ve mentioned it to other friends who get really excited about it.” ’80s Rock Band nights, cosplay proms, Game Of Thrones viewing parties, and more have been discussed. One of the goals is to appeal to nerds from across the spectrum and break down the barriers of nerd tribalism. Ambitious ideas include shuttles to nerd events like conventions and big movie openings. Around the holidays, the owners want to run an event to benefit Child’s Play, a charity that provides video games to children’s hospitals.
The word has already started to spread about 42 Lounge. A soft opening happened on the weekend of April 19, and a grand opening is scheduled for the weekend of May 3. The club hopes to have its primo gaming furniture installed for the grand opening, featuring reclining seats and cup holders. “We’ve had people press their faces to the glass and excitedly ask, ‘Hey, is this the nerd bar?’” Tony says. “We hope we live up to people’s expectations and don’t screw it up.”