It’s a bar, but it’s no Cheers.
Battle and Brew doesn’t look a thing like that cozy neighborhood tavern made famous on TV. Battle and Brew is a place where patrons go to interact with TVs.
“In 1983, bars were like Cheers,” Battle and Brew’s general manager Nate Sanders said. “In 2018, a bar can mean a lot of things.”
So, how does he describe the place he runs, which is tucked into the Parkside Shops shopping center on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs? “We’re a geek bar,” Sanders said.
In other words, it’s designed to attract folks who would proudly describe themselves as “geeks” or “nerds” or other members of the “geekdom,” the culture that has sprung up around video games, science fiction, technology and fantasy literature and takes in anything from Japanese cartoons to the “Star Wars” movies, from Dungeons & Dragons games to the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” from the TV series “Stranger Things” to even stranger things.
It’s the culture celebrated by the tens of thousands of fans who gather in downtown Atlanta for Dragon Con every Labor Day weekend. If you can name the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or get in a heated debate over whether Han Solo shot first, you might be a geek, or at least know one.
What’s the difference between a geek and a nerd? “Basically, a geek is someone who appreciates STEM [science and technology],” said Brian Smawley, the marketing manager for Battle and Brew, “whereas a nerd is someone who consumes culture at such a level they get obsessed by it.”
Regular folks, Smawley said, might say, “I like ‘Lord of the Rings.’ ” “A nerd,” he said, “is someone who says, ‘I like “Lord of the Rings” and my favorite character is [so-and-so] and on page 873 …’ They’re hyper-focused.”
The decor of Battle and Brew reflects that culture. A mural of a mutant ninja turtle snarls from one wall. Paintings with sci-fi subjects cover other walls.
They were done by customers, Sanders said. One depicts a one-eyed space cat saying, “I’m from Meowter Space.” The bar’s bathrooms lie hidden behind a blue police call box like the one that provides entry to Doctor Who’s Tardis.
Battle and Brew’s patrons come to drink cocktails or fancy beers, but mostly they come to play games. Or to watch other people play games. The place looks like a sports bar — an “esports bar,” Sanders calls it — and is packed with TV screens showing video games being played by customers sitting in front of them, groups of patrons and even by people in other parts of the world.
One recent Friday night, Neil Patel, a 27-year-old pharmacist from Brookhaven, was sitting at the bar watching a TV screen showing some of the world’s top players compete in the video game “Dota 2.” Teams from China and Europe were playing in Vancouver, Canada, in a tournament offering $25 million in prize money.
“I like to watch the pros play,” he said. “I also play soccer and I watch the premier league every weekend. When the NBA finals are on, I watch that.
This is no different from that. You can see what the pros do and say, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that…’ ”
On the other side of a big room filled with towers of TVs and computers, Austin Wright, Keraline Morales and Julia and Steve Watson had settled in on a couch facing a TV and were firing up a computer game. Battle and Brew rents its couch and gaming machines by the hour. Julia Watson said she and her friends come to the bar to be “around fellow gamers.”
“People like us,” Morales added.
Sanders, who grew up in Marietta, said he started playing electronic games when he was 5. He says that although many people play alone, video games don’t divide. “I feel that it’s a misnomer to think that gaming is antisocial,” he said. “I‘ve got folks I get together with … and we game five, six or eight hours together. It’s more fun to be sitting next to the person. That’s what we offer — that ability to have a social connection as well.”
Battle and Brew got its start in 2005. It outgrew its original location in Marietta, Sanders said, and opened in Sandy Springs on a Friday the 13th in 2014.
“It’s kind of the geek cultural hub of metro Atlanta,” said Sanders, a 36-year-old whose bushy beard reaches his chest. “We’re a welcoming safe space.
We offer a fun, accessible place to get lost in. My idea of the perfect bar is a place where you can go on vacation. We want you to forget about the outside world and enjoy yourself.”
Maybe it’s kind of like Cheers after all.
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. If you know someone with an interesting story to tell who would make a good subject for an Around Town column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.