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By: Mitali Chaudhary
Nestled in the loft of an Irish pub just off of the loud bass and strobe lights of Hess Village is a throwback to simpler times: The Arcade Bar. Retro, cozy and stocked with an impressive collection of classic arcade games, it offers a fresh take on Hamilton nightlife.
Arcade’s humble beginnings mirror those of its soft-spoken owner, Justin Kavanagh, who moved to Canada from Ireland ten years ago, and whose passions include restoring classic cars and motorcycles. Inspired by his admiration for the 70s and 80s, Kavanagh interestingly coined the name of the bar first, and then realized that including the arcade games that were such a significant part of his childhood would create a niche in the club and bar scene that Hamilton has yet to experience. Offering a selection of craft beer, cocktails and food cooked by his wife, it delivers a different, but fun way to spend a Friday night.
The concept of an arcade-bar fusion is not Arcade’s only defining quality. As an alternative to clubs, which allow for a grimy floor and scant conversation, the bar creates a more mellow environment where dancing and drinking is still encouraged, but also a place where real connections can still be made with others.
This might be a hint at a shift in the wants of bar-goers and the newer cohort of students that are flooding to McMaster, and Hamilton. As Kavanagh notes, “There seems to be a major move towards smaller, independent, food-based [places] … it seems that the next generation doesn’t want those giant clubs.” Indeed, the incredibly loud, packed nightclubs of the early 2000s might be on their way out, as young adults crave a more intimate space. Arcade’s unique setup, and resulting unique demographic, makes it a strong alternative; an interesting mix of twenty-somethings to sixty-year-old regulars comprise the usual attendees, which according to the owner, makes for very interesting conversations.
The bar’s distinct character is also playing a part in bringing some attention to the smaller businesses on George St., normally passed up by Hess regulars. “Nobody really knows this strip,” remarks Justin. This might be changing soon however, since the entire area has been displaying obvious signs of a transition, as many new pubs and restaurants are opening along the road, and quite a few of the clubs on Hess are rumoured to be in the process of being sold or shut down.
It’s clear that Arcade is one of what is definitely soon to be many that cater to a change in interest in the nightlife scene, though it is currently the only “barcade” in Hamilton. “People want something slightly different to do,” as Kavanagh puts it, and The Arcade Bar offers just that.
Photo Credit: Mitali Chaudhary