James Goshow and Jacob Rendel look like they could use a power up right about now. It’s late Wednesday night and the co-owners of Phoenix’s newest arcade bar, Bonus Round, have just finished wrapping up a “friends and family” preview night of their spot and are visibly exhausted. In fact, if they were video-game characters, their life bars would probably be running a little low right now.
It’s only natural, considering the pair have been averaging about three or four hours of sleep a night for the past week as they’ve geared up for Bonus Round’s grand opening on Friday.
And even though there’s plenty left to do – including hanging work from local geek-oriented artist Cole Peterson, installing speakers for the sound system, and procuring a ton of tabletop and role-playing games from Imperial Outpost in Glendale – the finish line is in sight.
Fourteen months after they first decided to open the Central Phoenix spot — which is equal parts arcade bar, gaming den, cocktail lounge, and eatery — Goshow and Rendel will finally debut their dream project to the public on Friday night.
“It still seems surreal,” Rendel says. “It hasn't really sunk in yet that we're opening on Friday. Even though we've had some people in here already, it's hard to imagine what its going to be like when we're finally open.”
Probably much like tonight’s preview, writ large, with an even bigger throng of geeks, gamers, RPG fans, artists, and cocktail enthusiasts crowding into the 2,250 square-foot spot on Camelback Road just west of Central Avenue to sample its repast of arcade titles, craft beers, signature cocktails inspired by nerd culture, tabletop games, and all-inclusive vibe.
Much like other gamer-friendly nightspots that have sprung up locally in recent years – including The Grid in Mesa, Roosevelt Row’s Cobra Arcade Bar, and Endgame in Tempe – Bonus Round features what Rendel calls a mix of "old-school classics and new-school classics," like NBA Jam and Galaga, as well as an enviable beer and booze selection.
That’s where the similarities end, however, Rendel explains.
“I think there's a difference between us and them,” he says. “Our arcade game [lineup] isn't nearly as decked out or as extensive as Cobra's. We don't have the killer music that The Grid has. That's just not our thing. But what we do have here are awesome tables for games, a sense of community, and a gathering spot for nerds.”
It’s what Goshow and Rendel, who are cousins and avowed geeks, envisioned when they first began their quest last spring to open Bonus Round. And like any other set of entrepreneurs, it began with them having an idea they wanted to make a reality. Specifically, the notion of having a nerd-oriented bar/eatery where anyone of a geeky bent can gather, game, and get their drink on.
“When we started this, it was before there was The Grid in Mesa and before there was Cobra [Arcade Bar], which is a spot for nerds and underdogs and people like us to be able to come and hang out and play games and drink or have something to eat,” Rendel says. “We’re big nerds ourselves, and felt at the time like there wasn't a place like that where we could go.”
Goshow says that while there have always been tabletop gaming or RPG-oriented hubs in the Valley, such as comic-book shops or places like Glendale’s Imperial Outpost Games, he felt there needed to be one with the added element of drinks and eats.
"Me and my friends played [Dungeons & Dragons] for a long time at someone's house where we had to bring our own beers and food," Goshow says." And we just wanted to have good craft draft beer and food while playing, and we had no way of doing that without having to pause the games and go out. So I was thinking, there has to be a place where we could do this. Comic book stores don't work, since you can't bring food and drink in. So that led to us to think that could do one ourselves.”
The problem was, however, that the pair weren’t familiar with the bar biz. So in addition to securing a liquor license and renting the Camelback Road spot that formerly housed decrepit dive bar Four Kings Central last year, they teamed up with Whining Pig’s Clayton Steffen and restaurant-industry veteran Nick Lewis.
"Clayton helped with our cocktail menu and with our beer list,” Rendel says. “He's expanded our horizons with beer and helped us make our draft list, so we're super pumped by that."
Teaming up with Steffan wasn’t the only collaboration that’s benefited Bonus Round, as Rendel and Goshow brought Matt Gacy, formerly of Gallo Blanco, on as the spot’s main bartender. Together, they came up with its list of 10 signature cocktails, all of which feature such geeky names as “The Killing Joke,” “The Defender,” “Full Restore,” and “Golden Gun.”
The spirits selection compliments Bonus Round’s collection of craft brews, which includes nine tap handles and numerous locally sourced beers.
“First and foremost, we're a cocktail lounge, so we're trying to spend a lot of attention to detail on our craft menu, on our craft cocktails, and on our craft drafts,” Rendel says.
They’ve also spent a lot of time focusing on its geeky amenities, as well. There are a couple of large community-style tables where gaming sessions can take place and a large chalkboard will also be available for players to arrange meetups or tournaments.
“We wanted to do a chalkboard signup [wall] where if people want to play games here, they can write down that they're looking for other players, like if someone wants to start a D&D campaign every Tuesday night or form a league,” Goshow says.
Bonus Round’s arcade selection includes crowd-pleasers (NFL Blitz '99, Silent Scope 2: Dark Silhouette, Rampage World Tour) and old favorites (Spy Hunter, Mortal Kombat, and a rare two-player version of Cyberball). There are also several two-player games like Jurassic Park, Area 51, and Cruisin’ USA, which reinforces the social nature of the bar. And every game is set to "free play" mode to boot, which means patrons won’t have to slow their roll while fumbling around for quarters.
“To only have 15 games is okay,” Rendel says. “Really, we want people to come for the social experience as well as the games.”
Here's an additional look at what else is in store at Bonus Round.
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