By Rayna Elizabeth
Geek culture has become more popular than ever before. A new superhero movie seemingly premieres every week and merchandising is ubiquitous, including clothing, games, action figures, mugs, the list is endless. Therefore, it’s no surpise that geek related themed restaurants are also on the rise. Geek and Sundry put out an article recently listing the top fifteen geekiest restaurants in the world. But what exactly do I mean by themed restaurant? Researchers Alan Beardsworth and Alan Bryman examine the origins of themed restaurants in their article entitled “Late Modernity and the Dynamics of Quasification: The Case of the Themed Restaurant.” They loosely define the themed restaurant as “an eating establishment which clothes itself in a complex of distinctive signs…a wide range of readily recognisable narratives drawn from popular culture” (1999, 228).
The themed restaurant includes large contemporary establishments such as the Hard Rock café, Planet Hollywood and the Rainforest Cafe (Beardsworth & Bryman 1999:239). Sociologist Mark Gottdiener suggests that “…each restaurant belongs to a web of eateries marketed through association with a national or global company” (2000, 274). However, times seem to be changing as all three geek themed restaurants that I visited were small, local spaces run by those who were fans of a particular genre. At first, my goal was to write about a themed restaurant in Canada, The Geekery. I happened to be headed to Niagara Falls and wanted to see how geek culture plays out in a restaurant environment. As I began writing this post, I learned of another bar opening in Toronto called The Lockhart. After visiting, another restaurant called See-Scape came to my attention. All of this took place over the span of a few months, so I will describe these geek themed restaurants in the order I visited them.
The first restaurant I visited was The Geekery, located in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. The restaurant is adorned with Game of Thrones banners, video game icons, comic book characters and board games. The venue boasts inclusivity: no matter what your fandom is, you are free to celebrate it there. Another unique feature is that the restaurant employs those with intellectual disabilities and autism. The owner, Suzanne Bilski, has a son with autism who loves everything geek, a passion which added to her inspiration for starting the new venture.
The environment was very welcoming and there was so much paraphernalia that my brain had trouble deciding what to focus on. I sat in the Game of Thrones nook, although the Nintendo area was inviting as well, both Mario and Zelda respectively. Music filled the restaurant, playing geeky themes from television, movies and video games. The menu offers punny food items such as “The Hyrule Hero,” “The Meaty THOR,” and “Lord of the Onion Rings.” One employee was wearing a Star Trek uniform, demonstrating how cosplay can occur outside of Cons or Halloween.
I watched some patrons playing Magic: The Gathering, while other reveled at The Geekery’s décor, smiling and laughing at some of the game options. The restaurant also has a small space for merchandise where you can buy games and figures from all different geeky genres. So much to do here, all within a great atmosphere.
My second stop was The Lockhart, located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which opened its doors in September 2015. The owners tastefully adorned the space with hints of the Harry Potter realm. This small establishment is not technically a themed restaurant and it was the subtlest of the three I visited. A local newspaper, The Toronto Star, posted an article with more details about how the owners are avoiding any copyright issues.
When I went inside the bathroom, I was confronted with the warning quote: “Enemies of the Heir, Beware!” written on the wall. The symbols of Rowling’s wizarding world are salient reminders of another space and time. From my table, I could clearly see the words “potions and elixers” labeling the lines of jars behind the bar with unknown substances within. I was reminded of Snape’s potion class. Other than these elements, however, one would have a hard time recognizing the bar as themed.
Typically in non-themed bars and restaurants, I am not mentally transported elsewhere. Several times throughout my visit however, my mind was taken away by the imagery. Additionally, a few drink items were not of Harry Potter origin, such as “The Picard,” a reference to Star Trek.
My third and final destination was See-Scape, also located in Toronto. Opened on October.31st, 2015, this newly established science fiction themed restaurant offers patrons several options in terms of experiences. Similar to The Geekery, they have carved out a few booths that are designed around different themes. One wall is stacked with various board and card games, while another side of the restaurant has T.V. screens and consoles for video games. I found that the sound of people playing video games in a public space was somewhat soothing, reminiscent of being on the couch, gaming at home.
See-Scape was unique in that they are also considered a gallery. They showcase artwork from artists, including both geek and non-geek themed original art pieces that can be purchased. Some pieces were displayed on the walls, while others could be bought as smaller prints. The artwork here set this restaurant apart from the others, offering a space for local artists to share their talents. Not only are the patrons exposed to geeky décor, but they are also presented with art that they may not have seen otherwise.
If you are interested in more sci-fi themed restaurants, here is a comprehensive list.
But what does it mean?
There is a certain comfort that comes from being surrounded by familiar settings, going to a public space and interacting with others, with friends or strangers, with the underlying knowledge that everyone shares similar interests. You also get to interact with objects and ideas that aren’t physical or material most of the time. They can bring to life things that are completely imaginary and fantastical. The experience is not too far from being at Comic-Cons, just on a smaller scale with less people and no celebrities. As Beardsworth and Bryman put it, “the themed restaurant allows for consumers to ‘pretend’ that they are embroiled in an experience that is outside the modern context, but which is in fact firmly and safely rooted in it” (1999, 249).
I felt excitement and happiness, but also a sense of community, which is an important element of the themed experience. The feeling of solidarity encompasses another aspect of what the themed restaurant is all about. The Geekery and See-Scape also offer their spaces for other events, such as workshops, art classes and parties. This allows for people in the local community to come together for reasons other than eating or gaming.
Within the themed spaces I visited, there was a feeling of being immersed in another culture. The fabricated environment made me feel as though I programmed a holodeck, to become surrounded by a science fiction or fantasy setting. Both fantasy and reality collided, creating an interesting cocktail for my mind to drink in. It was entertaining to look around the room and see symbols that reflected different fandoms.
Additionally, the intimacy and sociality of these spaces are important to mention. In a world where online interactions and texting are prominent forms of communication today, themed restaurants give people a public space for face to face engagements.
If you get a chance to visit a geek themed restaurant, go! The experience is enjoyable, social and atmospheric. Who knows, you may meet others playing the same card game you love at The Geekery, cheers them with a Shacklebolt drink at The Lockhart, or take someone down playing Mortal Kombat at See-Scape. Whatever your interests, chances are there’s also a themed restaurant worth your visit.
All photos by the author
Beardsworth, A. and Bryman, A. “Late Modernity and the Dynamics of Quasification: The Case of the Themed Restaurant.” The Sociological Review 47 (1999): 228–257.
Clarke, Katrina (2015). “Harry Potter-influenced Toronto Bar Gets Worldwide Buzz, but Owners Are Careful Not to Get Too Cosy with the Series.” The Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/life/2015/09/11/harry-potter-influenced-toronto-bar-gets-worldwide-buzz-but-owners-are-careful-not-to-get-too-cosy-with-the-series.html
Druce-McFadden, Colin (2015). “The Fifteen(ish) Geekiest Bars in the World.” Geek and Sundry. http://geekandsundry.com/the-fifteenish-geekiest-bars-in-the-world/
Gottdiener, Mark. “The consumption of space and the spaces of consumption.” In: M. Gottdiener (Ed.) New Forms of Consumption: Consumers, Culture, and Commodification (2000): 265–284. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Mizer, Nick (2014). “Freaks and Geeks: Geek Culture as Cosmogenesis and Cosmophagy.” The Geek Anthropologist. https://thegeekanthropologist.com/2014/10/28/freaks-and-geeks-geek-culture-as-cosmogenesis-and-cosmophagy/