The “barcade” trend that kicked off in New York in the early 2000s owed a great deal to Generation X, as the kids who played games such as NBA Jam and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in arcades hit drinking age and wanted booze with a splash of nostalgia. The idea spread from its origin in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood (because of course that’s where it started) across the country, including two Las Vegas institutions: Hi Scores and the late, lamented Insert Coin(s). But while Gen Xers have found the comfort of the past at barcades, Stripside resorts are hoping that Millennials will be inspired to find the future at technologically advanced bars, drinking while playing on interactive tables, getting in a round of laser-aided golf or even virtually scaling a mountain. What’s next in bar gaming technology? It may be found in one of these three spots.
Sports bars have a tendency to be combinations of highbrow and lowbrow; it’s impossible for a dive to compete without multiple top-of-the-line televisions, but cheap beer and chicken wings remain the menu of choice. Encore Players Lounge (formerly Encore Players Club) steps into that world with gusto, elevating both ends of the spectrum with interactive tables for revelers to play games and look up sportsbook spreads in between sips of Vegas Seven’s Best Group Cocktail of 2016, the Dom-a-Rita.
That high-low dichotomy is prevalent in the lounge’s entertainment, too; billiards and indoor shuffleboard aren’t exactly iPhone compatible, but they sit next to interactive tables, where guests play games and watch television. Of those tables, “It’s just like a phone,” says Michael Waltman, the executive director of operations for the neighboring Surrender and Encore Beach Club, “and we find people are a lot more comfortable dealing with their phones.”
The next step for the Lounge, Waltman says, will be actual for-money gaming on the interactive table; regulatory approval is the last hurdle. For now, the technology has made for an attractive atmosphere for younger people either waiting to get into the clubs or just enjoying the energy.
“That area was one of the slower parts of the casino,” he says, adding that some customers gather there before heading to Surrender and “some people have no intention of going to the club, but are looking for a cocktail somewhere in the casino. It’s great [for] people watching.”
There are very few occasions when it would be advisable to combine cocktails and rock climbing. It’s difficult to grip both a cliff face and an Old Fashioned. For a limited time, patrons of Alto Bar in Caesars Palace can experience that unlikely pairing in the Oculus Virtual Reality Lounge, where one can mix the Crown of the Gods drink with the sensation of falling off a mountainside. “You look down, and it really feels like you’re 200 feet off the ground,” says David Ponte, the resort’s lounge operations manager.
The newest of the bars at Caesars, Alto opened in October 2016 with its own technological flourishes: booths have personal televisions with audio, and power outlets throughout the space feature USB ports for charging devices. But the star at the moment is the Oculus encounter, which remains at Alto through February 28; after the purchase of a drink, customers can go into the bar’s private area, where guides will take them through the virtual reality setup and answer any questions. Bringing Oculus to Caesars “seemed like a perfect opportunity to try something new and stay ahead of the industry,” Ponte says.
The most equal marriage of technology and revelry may be found in the old Rainforest Café real estate at MGM Grand. Level Up, the game-and-drink emporium from Hakkasan Group, opened in late 2016 with a video wall more than 40 feet wide in front of 40 interactive betting terminals.
In addition to all the screens, Level Up also has the first permanent installation of Golfstream, a next-generation golf simulator featuring a virtual course, a hydraulic system that creates different greens conditions and a laser projection system to guide putting. When combined with Topgolf’s opening (and its electronic target scoring) last May, it’s clear that MGM Grand is betting on younger generations getting hooked on the sport.
“You’re seeing this nontraditional golf experience that appeals to younger people, and that demographic might not be as engaged in golf as the older generations,” says Justin Andrews, MGM Grand’s vice president of national marketing.
The most technology-forward aspect of Level Up is found in its design. With gaming tech advancing at lightning-quick speed, the bar was built to adapt to new features and games that will be constantly arriving, with power and data infrastructure ready for expansion. “We wanted to build the space in Level Up knowing that there’s a lot of technology that’s still in the works and yet to come out,” Andrews says. “We wanted to get the right environment dialed in so that we can be first to market as this new technology comes out.”