As the crowd of attendees at a preview party Monday night for Broad Avenue’s newest enterprise relaxed on couches, ordered drinks at the bar, and played video games like Super Smash Bros. – several of which were projected on a 120-foot-wide wall for collective viewing – one thing was readily apparent.
Rec Room, a combination bar and arcade that opens Wednesday, April 1, at 3000 Broad Ave., is not like anything else that’s yet emerged amid the boom of activity along the eclectic thoroughfare.
For starters, many of Broad’s latest arrivals are transactional – shops where one comes and goes. But the idea at Rec Room, the team behind which includes Memphis restaurateur Taylor Berger, is comparable to something like crashing at a friend’s house. There’s plenty of beer available from brewers like Wiseacre, on-site food trucks, foosball, air hockey and pingpong tables to rent as well as video game consoles, among other things.
Complementing the retro vibe that’s bolstered by things like old-style video game machines featuring titles like Donkey Kong are extra touches like a set of wooden bleachers, acquired from the Imperial Lanes bowling alley.
“It’s not about video games,” Berger said. “It’s about the last 40 years of pop culture as expressed through video games, music, vintage furniture, MTV – all these images. I’m not really a gamer, but I love technology. And the idea of creating a place that unlocks the potential of it in a social atmosphere is really exciting to me.
“The technology we’re investing in is really cool. Like, if you’re really good at Zelda and everyone wanted to watch you play, I could let you play on one screen and put your game on all six screens so people could watch you play. Or I could put the Grizz game on all six screens.”
The action within Rec Room is focused on six divisions of the long wall on which games can be displayed, essentially turning the wall into six 20x20 concrete panels. In front of each of those six panels will be basically a living room setup that can be rented for a set period of time.
Lizzie Mulroy enjoys a pint and a game of Ms. Pac-Man at a friends-and-family soft opening of Rec Room on Broad Avenue.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Hours will be Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight; Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday from noon to midnight. Investors include John Planchon, Barry and Blake Lichterman, Colliers International CEO and president of brokerage services Andy Cates, archer-malmo CEO Russ Williams and archer-malmo senior vice president Martha Hample.
“I wanted to invest because I thought this would be good for the neighborhood, it’s something Memphis doesn’t have, and everybody involved in this is really a great team,” Planchon said.
Anyone following Berger’s Twitter account knew something like this was in the works.
Anna Pearson draws pints at a friends-and-family soft opening for Rec Room on Broad Avenue.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
The Rec Room concept for Broad came together fast. For nearly a year, members of the Rec Room team had been focused on another project – developing a bowling concept for Midtown. They’d already come up with brand identities for it, one of which was Rec Room.
Toward the end of February, Berger was contacted by someone who had possession of a set of arcade games but needed a place to put them. So Berger arranged for them to be stored in a warehouse space at Broad and Tillman. Only part of that space was being used, though, with the rest being basically a large, open warehouse.
On February 28, the video games began moving into what would become the Rec Room space. Seeing the games inside for the first time made Berger take a moment to absorb the view and gave him the idea that the space had potential to be something communal.
That same day, he tweeted an image of the Pac-Man arcade game, teasing his followers with a cryptic message: “Coming April 2015. Because beer and arcade games melt faces.”