It’s hard to tell what’s really inside, upon entering St. Paul Tap, a sports bar on a semi-desolate street in St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood, near an on-ramp to I-35E.
But walk past the bar and the booths in the former Tavern on the Avenue, and “this is where the fun happens,” said owner Mike Tupa. The space opens up into a cavernous barn of a room, lined with rustic wood and lit with the blinking lights of dozens of video games. (825 Jefferson Av., St. Paul, 651-227-6315, stpaultapmn.com)
“When I came in and saw this huge open room, it hit me right away” that it could become a gaming destination, Tupa said. “I just felt like this is an area that isn’t serviced.”
A detached wall, paneled with barn wood from Moorehead, sections off a kind of nook with retro video games (e.g. Donkey Kong, Paperboy) along one wall, pinball machines on the other. Looming above this area Tupa calls “Pinball Alley” is a 17-foot television screen that patches in the beloved Super Nintendo game of yore, Mario Kart.
Since St. Paul Tap opened late last month, “kids, families, young adults have been waiting in line for their turn” at Mario Kart, the ‘90s racecar game, Tupa said.
On the other side of that wall, TVs hook up to video game consoles so guests can play Fortnite or Call of Duty.
A mezzanine is home to a shuffleboard table, giant Jenga and Connect 4. Down below, games range from the super-analog pool and an 8-person foosball table to an immersive, video-all-around-you Halo machine.
The menu was designed to match the concept. Drinks, a couple of them served in shareable buckets, pay tribute to popular games (Slurp Juice, for example, is a Fortnite reference) and utilize throwback ingredients, like PopRocks. The food is as customizable as a player’s avatar, with a burger menu that allows you to mix and match from a list of proteins, buns and toppings.
St. Paul Tap is the latest addition to a growing genre of arcade-like bars and restaurants.
Tupa, who owns 6 Wild Bill’s Sports Saloons in Minnesota and North Dakota, hopes this concept could expand to more cities, too.
“The popularity of gaming is just huge,” he said. “There’s gotta be that extra.”