Whether the recent slate of “immersive” theme oriented bars strikes you as cheap gimmickry contrived to deflect you from a very real sense of existential dread or simply a social experiment to unleash your inner child turned horribly awry, one thing’s for certain: they’re not likely to disappear any time soon. It’s simple marketing. A voice was heard saying “let there be axe-throwing bars”; and there were axe-throwing bars. And with trends indicating a significant drop in drinking habits among millennials alongside a demand for more interactive and personalized options, it only makes sense that the novelty of mixing hard seltzers with a round or six of Centipede would enchant an entirely new generation who wasn’t even alive when both offerings first wriggled their way into the American psyche.
But immersive bars aren’t a new trend, as anyone who’s grown up under the Tiki-guarded shadow of Kowloon during the past 70 years will proudly tell you. And arcade themed bars aren’t necessarily an overnight phenomenon, either. Barcade, considered to be the father of the trend, first opened in Williamsburg during the Bush 2.0 era of 2004 and quickly drew a spawn of imitators; so much so that Barcade’s copyright infringement threats have become the stuff of legend.
Locally, you can thank Bit Bar for being the first area venture to carry on the tradition of mixing what has been a quintessentially 1980s suburban pastime one of the oldest pastimes in the world: heavy drinking. And they’ve announced plans to expand their bleepy bloopy operations to a city distinctly suited for both—Malden.
The Salem-based restaurant announced last week they’ll be opening up a sister location in the proposed J Malden Center development on Pleasant Street, where they’ll join the likes of crowd-funded Union Square Donuts offshoot Landsmith and Soul City Yoga as te development's retail tenants.
An opening date has yet to be announced.
Bit Bar first opened in 2016 in the Old Salem Jail, immediately following the vacancy left behind by A & B Burger. Prior to the venture, co-owners Rob Hall, Max Clark, and Gideon Coltoff had been sponsoring local pop-up events at area breweries. And after four years, what would have otherwise seemed like nothing more than a passing novelty has turned into a prime tourist destination in a city already teeming with tourist destinations. And despite its location and competition from large scale entertainment groups, Bit Bar’s managed to garner plenty of local media attention, including a nod from Eater as one of the hottest Boston restaurants of 2016—despite the fact that their specialties have historically been limited to a Tetris-themed tater tots plate and vintage Simpsons video games.
“[Salem has] a lot of interesting stuff, but it also has a rich history of artists and musicians and things like that, which kind of makes Salem a little more interesting," said Bit Bar co-owner Andrew Wylie shortly before the restaurant’s opening. "Salem has just got a little more going on around town. ... It's spunky."
Um, Andrew? As a resident of a city that boasts more hair weave outlets per capita than any other city on the East Coast, I think it’s fair to say Malden’s definition of “spunky” may be slightly different than yours. Ya guys got Keno?
Bit Bar is located at 50 Saint Peter St in Salem and is open Monday - Thursday from 12:00 pm - 12:00 am and Friday - Sunday from 12:00 pm - 1:00 am. For more information, visit bit.bar