With a reputation for attracting the Type A working crowd, DC is a hardworking town deserving of a well-needed break from time to time. Enter bars with plenty of distractions in the way of arcade games, social sports and communal entertainment that also provide elevated dining experiences over the typical pub grub. In the past year, the city has seen a wave of bar openings that go beyond the usual food and drink offerings whether they be sport, arcade games, or providing a place to gather and unplug from the 9-5 grind.
DC newcomer SPIN recently opened its eighth location a hop, skip and a jump away from Metro Center, a hub for the downtown working crowd. Malin Pettersson, SPIN’s grand opening manager, reflects on what makes the ping-pong club an attractive destination for District denizens.
“You have to disconnect a little bit after work,” Pettersson says. “Everyone is so busy doing big, important jobs. SPIN is a place where you can really disconnect. We’re in the basement too, so you kind of have to disconnect.”
An oasis from the burdens of office life, the social sport club is an ideal refuge.
“When you play [ping pong], you can’t really focus on anything else but the ball,” he continues. “You can’t think about your issues at work or what you have to do. You just have to let go and watch that ball. I think that’s something that DC needs: a place to disconnect.”
At its core, SPIN is all about offering a place to create relationships on a personal, individual level.
“I think it’s great that [we] don’t want to sit still and want to have an activity, because it’s so much easier to connect with people that way.”
Beyond the escape aspect, SPIN offers an easy environment for folks to let loose and connect over an elevated bar menu and brews.
“Our chef is Filipino so he’s putting a little bit of an Asian twist on some of the items there and it’s been very well-received.”
Notable menu items include the fried chicken banh mi and crispy shrimp bao buns.
The Eleanor in NoMa is another bar raising the game when it comes to menu offerings and entertainment. When owner Adam Stein took the menu into consideration, he focused on comfort foods with some seasonal twists.
“We try to be super eclectic,” he says. “Even though a lot of our stuff falls into the bar category, we make as much as we possibly can in-house.”
Inspiration for some dishes came from the kitchen’s collective history of working together (think elote loco-style hush puppies or whimsical dishes from Stein’s childhood like the spaghetti sandwich.
“It was really important to us to elevate the food, the drinks and the service.”
Another important factor in his decision-making process? Keeping a sense of DC authenticity on the menu.
“We definitely made sure we involved a lot of the local producers. A lot of our spirits [and beers] are from DC, Maryland and Virginia. In terms of food, we try to be seasonal, so we use a lot of local purveyors.”
Branded as a bowling lounge, bar and grill, The Eleanor caters to a multitude of crowds. No matter who walks in the doors, the mini-bowling lanes, arcade games and pinball machines ensure that anyone and everyone will have a good time.
Players Club on 14th Street offers an approachable cocktail program with throwback games in an environment where guests can have a “laid-back and entertaining time at the bar.”
“The venue works cohesively as a bar, a place to watch sports and an entertainment venue with plenty of options,” says director of operations Scott Herman.
Guests mostly fall into the category of “young professionals to bar and restaurant industry friends that stop by on their night off,” according to Herman. Although the retro basement bar doesn’t offer its own food menu, patrons can have items delivered from nearby Shake Shack.
“People love being able to order Shake Shack without having to leave the bar.”
At the end of the day, it all comes back to building an authentic connection.
“It’s been interesting to see how much people enjoy the games,” Herman notes. “We see lots of couples on dates – having games to play is an easy icebreaker for people that are just getting to know each other.”
Learn more about these game-centric bars below.
Game-Filled Watering Holes
Looking for a quick escape with friends? Whether you live in DC proper or across the bridge, the surrounding areas have plenty to offer in the way of social activities and fun distractions to take you away from the daily grind.
Adam Stein also co-owns the H Street spot focused on eclectic comfort food (think fancy nachos topped with cotija, radish and black bean puree and General Tso’s wings), local shellfish, and a seasonal cocktail program with diversions that come in the form of pinball machines, skee-ball and classic video games like Ms. Pac-Man. Rounding out the bar’s offerings are two happy hours to draw in the after work and late-night crowds. 414 H St. NE, DC; www.barelenadc.com
The Arlington sports bar is home to 50-plus HD TVs to catch all the live sports action, plus a gaming lounge complete with the newest arcade games and throwback favorites like shoot-to-win basketball and skee-ball. Snack on next-level bar food such as filet mignon skewers, bulgogi wonton tacos and pastrami egg rolls. 3028 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.thegoatva.com
Brightwood Park’s Jackie Lee’s has fun on the forefront of its bar offerings. Patrons of the neighborhood spot can partake in vintage arcade games while chowing down on comfort pub fare like bacon-wrapped jalapeños and knocking back cold brews. Communal tables, Art Deco décor and an assortment of throwback games add to the social bar experience. 116 Kennedy St. NW, DC; www.jackieleesdc.com
What better way to let loose than by satisfying the primeval urge to hurl axes? The indoor axe-throwing haven recently relocated to Penn Quarter where guests can take a less traditional route to bar games. Throw back some brews while throwing axes and order up beer, wine at the bar and small plates from Kraken’s next-door neighbor Cedar Restaurant.
840 E St. NW, DC; www.krakenaxes.com
Pizzeria Paradiso Game Room
The local pizza chain’s Georgetown location debuted its game room early last year. The basement bar’s walls are splashed with colorful murals and it’s filled with familiar games like pinball, shuffle ball and skee-ball in addition to a rotating list of popular arcade games. As one can expect from Pizzeria Paradiso, the beer offerings are on point with 60 cans and eight taps featuring rotating craft brews. 3282 M St. NW, DC;
Punch Bowl Social
An adult playground of sorts, Arlington’s barcade features 25,000 square feet of restaurant, games, outdoor patio space and social activities galore. At the tri-level entertainment destination, guests can take part in all kinds of amusements including karaoke, bocce, bowling, table games (think Giant Scrabble, ping pong, billiards and foosball) and arcade favorites. Bar offerings include plenty of shareable items like sheet nachos and green chorizo fries to go along with boozy punch (of course), craft brews and signature cocktails. 4238 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.punchbowlsocial.com/location/arlington