Exclusive Interview with HQ Beercade’s Brandon Aquino

Located at 2833 N. Sheffield, Headquarters Beercade offers, as its website proclaims, “an alternative experience to the common night out”. With over 30 arcade machines and nearly two dozen pinball tables, as well as all of the trappings of a full-service bar, it’s tough to disagree with that statement. I had the opportunity to speak with Brandon Aquino, Director of Marketing and Communications, who answered some questions for me about this unique establishment.

Tell me a little about the history of HQ Beercade: When did it open, what was the inspiration, what did the founders do before this, etc.
Headquarters Beercade opened in October of 2012. The founders all come from different backgrounds with owning different bars in Chicago. The vision was to create the most unique concept and bar experience that Chicago has to offer. [They] were inspired by Barcade in Brooklyn, after stumbling upon it during a business trip in 2011.

How would you describe your typical clientele? Do you find it’s more bar-goers who happen to enjoy games, or gamers who have come out drinking? Do they skew younger or older?
Our typical clientele consists of a good balance of bar-goers and gamers. On any busy night, almost all of the games are being played at any given time. With there being over 60 games in the room, 100-150 people are engaged in game play during peak times while there are still 200-300 people in the room drinking, socializing and even watching our hand selected media for the TVs (80’s and 90s wrestling videos, American Gladiators, etc). Our typical age range is about 27-35.

Old-school wrestling and American Gladiators, I love it! I also love the video game-themed mixed drinks. The Soda Popinski is my favorite. What can you tell me about the creation of those? Do you have more than what is listed on the website?
Our mixologist and one of the founders came up with the signature cocktail menu. Soda Popinski is one of the few signature cocktails that has been around since we opened, as we continue to introduce new drinks on our menu.

You have a wide array of different game titles. How were those games selected, and how often are they rotated? People can suggest a game on the website – how big does that factor into choosing future games?
Several factors came in to what games we choose to have on our floor. Initially, we all made separate lists of 30 titles that we wanted to see on the floor and would compare our lists to come up with a master “wish list”. There are still a few games that we are pursuing, and have been pursuing since before we opened. We do take our game suggestions very seriously – Killer Instinct, Tapper, X-Men, and NFL Blitz were all brought in based on the high volume of suggestions from our website!

Well we here at Chi-Scroller certainly dig seeing local titles like Tapper and Blitz and are proud that so many people requested those. Speaking of Chicago, why do you think an establishment like this works so well here?
We believe that creating a unique, one-of-a-kind night life experience is really what Chicago needed at the time. Most of the night life options in town are so predictable. Sports bars with loud Top 40 music, night clubs with long lines, cover charge and bottle service. We wanted to be outside the norm – our music format, craft beer and cocktail menu along with the arcade and pinball games creates an experience that no one else is offering.

The feel and decor of the bar itself seems more geared toward a 50’s and 60’s pop culture vibe than the stereotypical “gamer” vibe, with a lot of art and deco that has little or nothing to do with gaming itself. What went into that decision?
We wanted to create an environment that really takes back every guest in a time travel back to their youth.

Well I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me Brandon. Anything else you’d like to talk about before we go?
We actually have a huge announcement today live on FOX news between noon and 1:00pm – the founders will be doing a live segment.

That sounds exciting! We’ll be looking forward to it. Thanks again!

[UPDATE: The announcement was that there will be a new HQ opening in River North in Spring of 2014!]