It's hard to tease out what takes a bar from middling watering hole to travel-worthy destination. After all, there are date bars and dive bars, beer bars and cocktail bars, hotel bars and dance bars; there are bars for music and celebrations, and there are quiet, empty bars for drinking yourself into a wallowing puddle of self-pity. But if there's one thing I've learned over my ever-so-extensive six years as an of-age drinker, it's that every bar can be improved by one simple addition: a sh!t-ton of games.*
*If you've made it this far, I'm assuming we're on the same page.
So what, you ask, qualifies as a game? It was a pressing question as I embarked on my voyage to hunt down the best game bars Brooklyn has to offer; as time wore on, it grew into one I might call existential in nature. At even their most basic, bars are always filled with the promise of some sort of game or another; if pressed, I imagine most of us could accomplish quite a bit with a shot glass and a little creativity. Narrow the field to more "officially" recognizable games for those of us seeking a greater challenge than isolating our threshold of high-proof liquid retention, and it's still overwhelmingly broad.
Enter our criteria. Each bar on this list has one or more qualities that makes it a unique destination, be it an exceptional range of games, a memorable atmosphere, a stellar drinks selection, or some combination thereof. So, without any further ado, allow me to present nine Brooklyn bars that promise to pique your competitive spirit, with everything from bowling to boardgames to skeeball, mini golf, and oh-so-much more.
It's not the only bowling joint in Brooklyn, or even in Williamsburg, but what sets The Gutter apart from its peers is the low-key, neighborhoody ambiance. You won't find that crisp, corporate feel that seems to accompany the vast majority of bowling lanes and that's because, in many respects, it's a bar first and a bowling lane second.
Which isn't to scoff at the 8 full blast-from-the-past-vintage lanes—it's merely to celebrate the homey sit-down bar area, the selection of craft beers, and the binders of menus on hand for hungry patrons in the mood to order out some food.
And hey—even if you're set on bowling and stuck with a wait, there's pool to be played, kitsch plaques to be perused, and a handful of old-school arcade games to keep you busy until a lane frees up.
The Gutter: 200 N 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY (map); 718-387-3585
Confession: arcade games stress me out. Big time. I'm one of those weirdos you'll spot going into bizarre physical contortions—tip of my tongue protruding, one leg wrapped around the other, uttering mangled, incomprehensible cries each time something threatens to go awry. Lucky for me, there's Barcade, where nobody will ever notice. Between the blasting music and the 40-plus arcade games lining the walls (see the full list here), most everyone's far too preoccupied with their own frenetic gaming to pay anyone else much heed.
Need a quick break from the madness (or just plain out of quarters)? Get lost in the drinks menu, which tops off the 25 microbrews on tap with a sizable range of bottled beers and house cocktails. Happy hour will knock a dollar off those drinks, but even at full price, the daily selection is one worth traveling to sample.
Barcade: 388 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (map); 718-302-6464
I am, at best, apathetic when it comes to televised sports games, so when my companions insist on catching a game, I insist on 4th Down—the perfect sports bar for folks who want to watch their games and play them, too.
Up front, you'll find a ton of seating and more HD screens than I can properly count. And yes, boys and girls, there are buckets of cheap beer to be had in appropriately inappropriate sports-watching volume. Looking for something a little stronger? They also carry my preferred order—a couple o' Sixpoint tall boys—along with your typical selection of hard liquor and a handful of beers on tap.
But if your eyes aren't glued to the television screen, head into the back, where my kind of magic happens. There's foosball, skeeball, a top-of-the-line air hockey table, darts, and even one of those infuriating punch-o-meter machines that seem expressly engineered to make you hate yourself. That said, you'll find the real gem in an unassuming plastic tub: an epically massive set of wooden blocks for playing the best—and most physically threatening—game of Jenga you'll ever lay your hands on (just make sure to
run for your life take a few steps back when the whole thing starts to topple).
4th Down: 170 N 4th Street, Brooklyn, NY (map); 917-744-6522
Full Circle Bar
If the name or the signage doesn't clue you in, it won't take long after stepping into Full Circle to realize that you've stumbled into skeeball heaven. These guys are the self-proclaimed "Home of Brewskee-Ball," complete with a competitive league and, in my humble opinion, what is hands-down the best-decorated dedicated skeeball room of all time. Assuming there's no tournament on, you shouldn't have much trouble swinging yourself a spot at one of the bar's four set-ups, but in the off-chance that you're facing a wait, worry not—there are plenty of other treasures to be found lurking about.
For starters, spend some time staring down the massive beer can display board-cum-menu, helpfully organized by price and variety. And if the light night munchies strike, feel free to press your nose up to the glass of the pretzel machine and watch those babies rotate about all sultry-like. Then, if you're smart, order one and wash it down with your brew of choice.
Full Circle Bar: 318 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY (map); 347-725-4588
On Tuesdays, you'll find this yawning red-lit bar packed to the brim with enthusiastic know-it-alls (of the best sort) for Black Rabbit's widely acclaimed trivia night; other evenings, cozy up in a booth with one of their dozen or so board games. There's everything from Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble to Yahtzee and Connect Four, so you can
dumb down simplify your game play as the evening—and your buzz—wears on.
Bar snacks range from an impressive Frito Pie situation to a slightly more refined cheese plate, with a complementary selection of beers, wines, and signature cocktails, like The Berry Rabbit ($9)—blanco tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and Lambrusco wine—to keep you in business for a long night of crushing your foes.
Black Rabbit: 91 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (map); 718-349-1595
If Full Circle is skeeball heaven, it doesn't get much better for bocce lovers than Floyd and its equally destination-worthy (but slightly more raucous) Park Slope sister bar, Union Hall. The former is my personal bar of choice, thanks to its intimate and laid-back atmosphere—more living room than frat house. While you wait for the bocce court to clear, settle into one of the comfortably worn couches or grab a stool at the bar.
You'll be hard-pressed to find friendlier service to guide you through the beer selection or shake up a cocktail, and when it's your turn for a free (!) round of bocce, they're equally happy to talk newcomers through the rules of the game.
Floyd: 131 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (map); 718-858-5810
Bushwick Country Club
Though neither in Bushwick nor a country club, Bushwick Country Club does deliver on its myriad other promises, namely Buckhunter, board games, an old-school photo booth, and the most bizarre, dysfunctional mini-golf set-up you have to try. Like, actually:
Tack on the exceedingly wallet-friendly drink specials and it's a great spot to bounce around from bar to games and back again, especially when it's warm enough to hang around comfortably in the spacious backyard (and the, er, "golf course" it houses). Better yet, make it your birthday bar destination—you'll drink for free all night long.
Bushwick Country Club: 618 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY (map); 718-388-2114
At first glance, there's not much to set Zombie Hut apart from any number of friendly Brooklyn bars that just happen to have a stack of boardgames on hand. Well, aside from the tropics-inspired décor, tiki beverages in glowing neon hues, and the flickering firelight emerging from that scorpion bowl you simply had to order just this once. But stick around long enough to sip on your fruity beverage of choice, sputteringly discover that your straw was filled to the brim with Bacardi 151, and chances are you'll see the light. And by "light," I mean potential darkness of the blackout variety. Or, to put it more gently, it's possible you'll start to understand exactly who the zombies are in this particular hut.
For those less interested in a night of tiki-style excess and more intent on playing games, it's no less welcoming an atmosphere—low and comfortable lounge-style seating and plenty of table and bar-top space are just as amenable to hosting a game of Monopoly as they are a flaming bowl of punch.
Zombie Hut: 273 Smith Street, New York, NY (map); 718-875-3433
Winter isn't really the prime season for paying a visit to Brooklyn Crab*, but when sunshine and blue skies roll out, it's a whole different story. That is, if you're looking for a place to sit out by the water sipping a spiked lemonade Crab Cooler ($10) between rounds of mini-golf and corn hole (which, obviously, you are). And should your appetite kick in, you can order up a veritable tower of crabs or take our recommendation and dig into the Fried Oyster Sandwich ($16); just be prepared for a bit of a wait in the evenings, especially when the weather's particularly fine.
*Though if you're intrepid enough to venture out to Red Hook on a chilly night, the outdoor deck is outfitted with heaters.
Brooklyn Crab: 24 Reed Street, Brooklyn, NY (map); 718-643-2722
Are we missing anything? Share your favorite Brooklyn bars with games in the comments below!
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry.