Gaming Tavern South: A Video Game Bar

By on 27 August, 2012 in Bars, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 4 Comments

As any player of video games knows, sometimes you have to go on a quest. You may have to go off the beaten path, into rarely-seen realms, but when you do, the rewards can be great. That’s the story of Gaming Tavern South, a bar near the intersection of Highway 231 and the Eastern Boulevard. It’s not in an area of town that most people frequent, but if you go there, spend some coins, solve the puzzles, the payoff is exceptional.

GT South (as it is known) lies in a once-prosperous part of town, a gleaming corporate gateway to the southern part of the city. Travelers from the southern regions, heading north of Troy on 231 knew they had arrived in Montgomery, the shining capital city, when they reached the Boulevard. The Montgomery Mall was there, and in later years, a well-stocked corporate chain bookstore and, not too far away, a movie theater. But the mall became abandoned and scary. Barnes and Noble fell victim to economic dragons and the David’s Bridal was consumed by the same monsters that devoured Just for Feet and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Now there is a Winn-Dixie, holding strong, and a Subway and something called Simply Fashion.

Between those two latter retail establishments is one of the true gems of Montgomery. I had long heard about “the video game bar,” but until last week, had not ventured out to find it. Finally, admitting my love for video games and drinking, I went to a place where I could do both. And it was spectacular.

Five bucks (and a valid ID showing that you’re of legal drinking age) will get you in the door. And from there, you buy your drinks and it’s all the video games you can play. They have a fantastic selection. Now, this is not some kind of arcade, like from the movie Tron (or that insanely heart-warming viral video about the cardboard arcade that that little kid built in L.A.). No, this is a bar in a strip mall that has a bunch of TVs and a bunch of home video gaming consoles. And you simply tell them the kind of system you want to play on (Nintendo, Super Nintendo, XBox, etc.) and then which game you want (their selection is quite good) and they help you get started, and you’re off. Buy a drink, play some Street Fighter. Buy another drink, play Super Smash Brothers. Buy another drink, struggle to remember which buttons to push and make sure you have a designated driver.

It’s stupendous. I went in, ordered a rum and coke and got started smoking my buddy at Super Mario Cart for the Super Nintendo. For those of you that don’t know, the SNES (as it’s called) was an incredibly popular home video game system in the early 1990s. And that may have been the last time that I had played one. It’s amazing how you remember, not just the buttons and controls, but the little tricks, like how to make your racecar hop to avoid skidding around turns. Many, many summer days were spent playing such games.

The old games mostly hold up against the newer ones with lifelike graphics, but even the ones that don’t are still fun to play for nostalgic purposes. We went from Mario Kart’s racing game to a side-scrolling fighting game involving something called the Battletoads. It was terrible, but also pretty fun. And we then had to try an old sports game, the John Madden pro football game from 1994. We played Bears vs. Oilers, before deciding that NFL games are one genre of game that has greatly improved over the years, rendering older versions (at least that old) nearly unplayable.

The staff were incredibly nice. The bartenders made great drinks and had an intimidating list of specialty mixed drinks with video game and geek-friendly themes. We didn’t venture into any of the items on this list, but hope to do so next time. The tech staff were exceptionally nice at helping us pick out games and get them working on the machines. Fans of old video games will remember that sometimes you have to blow into the cartridge to make sure there is no dust in there.

They were having a special event the night we were there, whereby if you were able to defeat Mike Tyson in the legendary boxing game, you’d get a free drink. Having spent a sizable chunk of my childhood failing to KO the nearly-invincible champ, I knew better than to try.

We switched to some newer games, including something called Fusion Frenzy for the Xbox. My Mario Kart victory was promptly avenged, as I failed to grasp the controls in the addictive newer system. I was also completely distracted while playing by the guy sitting next to us, who was in the middle of an intense and beautiful zombie killing game called Dead Island. It’s hard to focus on childlike two-button multi-player contests when the guy next to you is bashing the head of a zombie with a fire extinguisher in horrifyingly lifelike graphical detail.

We finished our evening with a game of RBI Baseball 2, a 1990 game for the old Nintendo system. My beloved Cubs were defeated by the Mariners in a come-from-behind upset. And by that, I mean that I was genuinely upset in a way that video games rarely make me anymore. Sitting there with a friend in friendly and heated head-to-head competition is an experience that online gaming will never replicate.

The folks at GT South have made sure to have something for everyone: a wide variety of drinks for folks looking for something they can’t get at their usual watering holes, old games for 8 and 16-bit nostalgia heads, and newer games for gamers looking to test out the state of the art. They even have an open mic night, where standup comics are invited to come in and try out material. They celebrate anime and have karaoke, and seem like an overall fun place to be. They allow folks to rent the place out, which seems like a fantastic idea for a party. Video game tournament anyone?

All in all, this is an idea that could be bad in the wrong hands, but seems great in the hands of the folks that are running it. They’re laid back, helpful, and seem to know exactly what people from our generation like. Regular bar games have their place, I guess, but it’s hard for darts and shuffleboard and billiards to compete with Mega Man and Mario.

A lot of cultural talking heads believe that video games have decreased our community spirit, shaking their heads with disdain whenever they see a child walking around with a portable game machine, locked into a isolated world that prevents social development. But GT South suggests that there is also a communal aspect to playing games, that they can be enjoyed in public, amid the masses, and not just in the home or in solo screen time on phones or portable consoles. GT South suggests that adults can gather in public, like in the days of the old video arcades, play games with strangers, and meet new friends.

We can’t wait to make the voyage and visit them again.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. David says:

    Iv been meaning to go here for a while now. How were drink prices? Were you charged by game is was that what the cover charge was for?

    • Stephen says:

      Drink prices were quite reasonable for the basic mixed drinks I got (low-end rum). Not sure what they charge for beer, or how the selection was, but most folks not looking for the fancy stuff ought to be quite happy. There was no charge per game. You pay at the front door and then it’s just play as many games as you want (one at a time), factoring in the basic human kindness to recognize that it’s a lot of work for the staff to be re-file and hunt down a new game every 10 minutes.

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    Our bottled drinks are currently $3 happy hour (4-7pm) $3.75 regular. Our mixed are mostly $5 happy hour, $5.75 regular. There are a few higher content drinks that are $6.50 such as a long island, or like our Fallout which is equivalent to 109 proof.

    No charge per game play, we have a small cover charge at the door that helps us cover our expenses, $5 for 21+ and $10 for age 19 & 20. On Thursdays gamer girls (ladies) have no cover and Fridays Service folks IE: Military/Police/Fire/Ambulance have no cover.

  3. Katie says:

    I just went to GTSouth for the first time last Saturday. I had a great time playing some old favorite games, talking to people, watching dodgeball out back, watching the karaoke performances, and trying out the custom cocktails. I had more fun here than I’ve had in any bar in Montgomery.

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