Nerd Culture

Mesa Game Bar The Grid Needs Your Help to Avoid Closure

The exterior of The Grid in Mesa.
The exterior of The Grid in Mesa. Benjamin Leatherman
Owners of beloved Mesa game pub The Grid are facing a challenge more daunting than the Turbo Tunnel in Battletoads: raising enough cash over the next few days to make next month's rent.

According to co-owner Dillin Smith, they need to come up with $6,500 by Sunday, July 31, to help stabilize the financial situation at the 4,100-square-foot bar and geek hangout at 525 South Gilbert Road in Mesa, which features arcade games, pinball, and console systems, as well as DJs and live music.

The Grid’s owners are short on rent because of various financial woes, some of which are the result of the pandemic. Like most local bars, the business shut down in March 2020 for an extended period. It remained dark for more than a year, reopening in April 2021.

“Because we were closed for an entire year, there was no income and a lot of debt accumulated,” Smith says. “In the months since we've reopened, the money we've been putting toward [paying off those debts] hasn't been enough.”

Their financial woes have also been compounded in recent months from repaying loans and dealing with certain bills they couldn’t put off any further, as well as having to handle other business expenses.

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A row of pinball games inside The Grid in Mesa.
Benjamin Leatherman
The Grid, which is co-owned by Smith and Valley resident Matthew Robbins, won’t be facing this challenge alone, though. Members of the “Save The Grid” committee, which is made up of various patrons, local promoters, event hosts, performers, and others associated with the bar, are trying to help save the bar. Earlier this month, they launched an Indiegogo campaign that’s raised more than $2,200 so far.

Dylan Turnage, a longtime patron of The Grid who’s a member of the committee, told Phoenix New Times it's been “a collaborative effort” to try and save the bar, which has become an important place to them and others in the Valley’s geek and music scenes.

“The Grid, in its own way, is essential in giving an open and comfortable space to as many people as possible, not only from geek backgrounds but also from the rave and EDM scenes,” Turnage says. “Realistically, anyone can walk in here and find something they enjoy.”

The Grid was opened in 2015 by Robbins and former co-owners Bryan Young and Michael Goosens. Besides its selection of gaming options, the bar has hosted a variety of geek events, ranging from Rock Band nights and Dungeons & Dragons sessions to cosplay parties, as well as electronic dance music nights, raves, and shows by local and touring bands.

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A donation jar at Mesa game pub The Grid.
Benjamin Leatherman
In addition to attracting gamers and ravers, The Grid has also been a destination place where people who feel they don’t fit in anywhere else can hang out, Turnage says.

“The Grid is valuable to anyone who looks for a place where they can come out and be themselves,” he says. “Speaking for myself, I didn’t use to a lot of social things, but in order to do so, I started going to The Grid. This place made me feel comfortable, not only with being myself but with being in a [social] setting. And it gave me a sense of hope. I come here to see friends, to feel welcome.”

Brooke Watson, the social media and event booking manager for The Grid, says the place is also a safe space for her.

“As a girl, this is the only venue I feel comfortable going to alone and dancing alone,” Watson says. “When there's a DJ playing, there are times I just go up there and dance by myself. I don't feel comfortable doing that anywhere else.”

Turnage says it's one of the many reasons why they’re “doing everything we can to save The Grid.”

That includes a pair of benefit events on Sunday to help meet their fundraising goal. The first, a “Hero's Feast Luncheon,” will take place from noon to 3 p.m. and will offer a Skyrim-themed meal for $50 per person. That evening, the "Stranger Synths" fundraiser from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. will feature music from a dozen local DJs and a karaoke session from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Smith says he’s appreciative of the committee’s assistance. If they’re successful in raising the $6,500, he expects the situation with The Grid will improve.

“Starting next month, we should be okay,” he says. “It's just that so many things were getting tacked on and the extra payments we had to pay, with the loan numbers we were having, it was making it hard to save up for rent. Next month, we shouldn't have anything major come through that's going to be hurting us.”

Stranger Synths: Save The Grid Fundraiser. 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 31, at The Grid, 525 South Gilbert Road, Mesa. Admission is $5.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.