By Steve Adams
As most Bay Weekly readers know, there’s no shortage of places to wet your whistle in Bay Country—from dockside bars on the South River to sailor-friendly spots in Eastport and historic haunts in downtown Annapolis. There are also lots of locations where you can mix a few drinks with adult-friendly activities, from good old bowling alleys and pool halls to newer options such as escape rooms and businesses offering guided painting experiences along with a glass of wine.
But one of the newest places for grownups to have fun in the area, GameOn Bar + Arcade, aims to offer something truly unique: nostalgic arcade games, drinks, and eats in a setting that’s equally laid-back and exciting.
“We visited a small bar/arcade while on a trip to New York a few years ago and had a blast, so we decided that we wanted to bring that concept to Maryland but on a bigger scale,” says Casey Linthicum, who along with her husband, Eli, is not only opening GameOn in Annapolis but also in Baltimore.
The couple will bring their food and entertainment industry experience to the venture. Casey owned and operated a McDonald’s franchise before selling it in October 2021, and Eli is leaving his current role as general manager of Urban Axes, an axe-throwing bar in Baltimore, to open GameOn. And, as Casey emphasizes, this begins with a keen focus on, as the cliché goes, “location, location, location.”
“We found this building and fell in love,” says Casey. “The building is an old firehouse (it housed the Rescue-Hose Company fire station before the City of Annapolis sold it, in the 1980s, to finance the construction of a new station on Taylor Avenue), which was perfect because after college I spent some time as a wildland firefighter in Colorado. We also loved the location because West Street is, as Joe from Stan and Joe’s says, ‘fun and funky.’”
Located in a 102 year-old brick building in the downtown Annapolis Arts District, next to the Graduate Hotel, GameOn aims to make adults of all ages wax nostalgic from the moment they first step in the door.
The interior includes a few features of its former life as a firehouse, such as a bright blue spiral staircase and a sliding pole, mixed with many modern design elements that the Linthicums say should clearly convey and create “an ’80s-’90s vibe and a retro atmosphere.” The space is decorated with neon lights, paint-splotched oil can tables, and graffiti of video game characters such as Mario, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man painted by their friend, Jimbo (@jimbo_th13_artxgod on Instagram).
Bright lights and colors are also emanating from the games themselves. The coin-operated arcade games run the gamut from action-oriented options such as pop-a-shot, skee ball (Casey’s favorite), and Dance Dance Revolution, to throwback games like pinball and Eli’s favorite, Tapper, in which the player is a bartender who must serve beer to ever-thirsty patrons. (My personal favorite is Feed Big Bertha, which features a doll with a gaping lipstick-rimmed mouth that players have to throw balls into to score points.)
The food and beverages are equally retro and diverse, with the menu at Brix’s Food Truck (named after the owners’ son) offering “upscale comfort food” from local vendors—think Frito pies, hot pockets and gourmet pop tarts. The bar serve up more than just standard craft beers, wine, and cider but also Cold Ass Beer on tap, boozy slushies, 21+ Capri Suns, Jell-O shots, and shareable-sized cocktails.
Last but not least, there’s a large cobblestone patio that offers a break from the action and will host seasonal activities such as cornhole and outdoor movie nights.
GameOn is located at 114 West Street and is open daily, with minors who are accompanied by an adult permitted until 8 p.m. Ribbon cutting ceremony will be March 18 at 3pm: gameonbararcade.com.