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An Evening At AFK Gamer Lounge

In Culture
We sent our writer, Stephen Layton to get drunk, eat food and play video games at AFK Gamer Lounge.

We sent our writer, Stephen Layton to get drunk, eat food and play video games at AFK Gamer Lounge.

Some day, Kevin Wick hopes to play video games in his own video game bar. That day, he tells me on the back patio, will be “The day I can sleep more than five hours a night.”

The 24 year-old co-owner of the new AFK Gamer Lounge has lost sleep for months preparing for this weekend’s grand opening, making it difficult to tell whether rumpled and deadpan is his usual persona, or whether I’m speaking to a barely caffeinated husk of his former self. A few skillful straight-faced jokes make me think the former though, as he shuffles me around the new restaurant dressed in jeans, flip-flops and an SJSU Spartan’s sweatshirt. The décor in the 18,000 square foot space (formerly Los Gatos Brewery) is mostly complete, though still necessitating various ladders scattered around the dining room. The design and color scheme approximates what might happen if someone installed a nightclub inside a giant Xbox.

It’s Monday and AFK is closed for the day, but as we pass through the ground floor from the patio, the staff is undergoing a training regimen consisting of not only restaurant service strategies, but also introductions to video games, specifically League of Legends, a premiere eSports title that has already drawn crowds to AFK to watch big matches. Once the 65 PC basement LAN center is complete, which it should by the grand opening, ‘League’ will be drawing the hardcore gamers as well.

Wick brings me down to the basement, fully stocked with slick black PC towers and custom green and black faux-leather chairs. In a Reddit thread six months back, Wick estimated that all the outlay for these renovations and equipment runs into the “multi-hundred-thousands” of dollars. He is resolutely vague on the exact numbers at the request of his investor, who is also resolutely anonymous. I caught myself wondering how some long-haired jeans-and-flip flop guy my own age got someone to stake him a “multi-hundred-thousand” dollars for a business unproven at this scale, but then I remembered where exactly I lived and that most people here spend their time doing things other than surfing, smoking weed and writing for the alt weekly. (Maybe I chose the wrong “career” path? Nah. But I digress.)

A screenshot of League of Legends, a very popular e-Sports title.

A screenshot of League of Legends, a very popular e-Sports title.

AFK had a soft open at the end of March, so I showed up on a recent Friday with a couple of nerd friends in tow, to find a line for the host stand and the bodies two deep at the bar. Our enthusiastic pony-tailed host explained how things worked, with any food or drink purchase coming with two hours of game time on an open console, something hard to find on a Friday night. We got a table towards the back windows of the restaurant, looking on to a patio full of people who showed no signs of leaving during our visit. Surprisingly, the ratio of men to women was pretty good, which for nightlife in San Jose means about 10 to 1. Fantastic.

Our server was a pro, writing nothing down and getting everything exactly right, though it took about 20 minutes for the drinks and another 15 or so for the food. But really, if you go to a yet-to-be-opened restaurant at 7pm on a Friday and expect the best service of your life, you should be shot in the street and charged an automatic 25 percent gratuity on the cost of the bullet. (I’m not at all bitter about my time in the restaurant industry, no way pal).

To drink we ordered various game themed cocktails: the Companion Cube ($12), a gin, raspberry and egg white mixture served in a fancy little coupe glass; the Whispy Woods ($9) featuring bourbon and apple juice (the best of the bunch); and Tortimer’s Mai Tai ($11), made with Don Q and Ron Zacapa rums.

“At first I wanted crazy gamer cocktails,” Wick tells me later, bright neon concoctions reminiscent of gamers’ energy drinks, but David Nepov, president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild and creator of AFK’s bar program, steered him in a more craft cocktail direction. Wick says singlebarrel is his favorite bar in San Jose, so he was happy to go that way, but although most of the cocktails float around the singlebarrel pricepoint, they didn’t measure up to singlebarrel quality. They certainly get points for daring ingredients though: Walnut bitters? Hell yeah.

The food was similarly above the average bar fare, but maybe a bit pricey for the quality: we got the buffalo wings ($12), the mac and cheese ($7), the chicken walnut salad ($14), and some french fries ($3). We joked they should have added gourmet bagel bites to the menu, and apparently that idea was indeed floated during the menu planning stages, though scrapped due to the high heat of the woodfired pizza oven AFK inherited when it moved into the former home of the Los Gatos Brewing Company.

Of course we wanted to jump on a few games during our stay, but the consoles were definitely in high demand, especially those playing Super Smash Bros., one of which sat next to our table. Memorably, we watched intense and repeated matches between players named “Hodor,” “Poop,” “D” and “Nojohns.” The story behind the lack of johns was never discovered, but we did manage to snag a Super Nintendo for a round of Super Mario Kart, which, compared to Mario Kart 64, is really goddamn hard. A staff member walked by, telling us “I’m gonna put Streetfighter in when you guys are done.”

Falcon Punch! Get's 'em every time.

Falcon Punch! Get’s ‘em every time.

Downtown restaurant spaces this big haven’t had the best run recently, with Los Gatos Brewing Company leaving, plus P.F. Chang’s going out of business and its replacement M Lounge already struggling with accusations of wage theft. But AFK has something else going for it.

Originally, Wick tells me me, the idea for AFK was “A culmination of a lot of things, including living in the dorms, especially having the community of gamers who would take over the common room and just LAN up and hang out. Even though we could do the same exact thing together with the same people from our rooms, we’d all rather go into the main room and play side by side.” If AFK can give gamers a real life manifestation of the community they already have online, then they’re not going anywhere any time soon.

For tickets to the AFK Gamer Lounge’s grand opening party, click here.

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