Imagine a bar for geeks. Food and drink, events, a library, games, and more. Sound like a great idea? Well David Zoltan and his group made it a reality with Geek Bar Chicago, which has exactly that. So of course I’m going to ask him how they do it.
1) David, I completely understand why there would be a Geek Bar. Is there anything in its founding idea that would actually be unusual or is this what we’d expect?
Well, they had just announced the series premiere of Doctor Who, Matt Smith’s last series as it would turn out, back in August 2012. I thought to myself, “Self, I can throw a stone down any street in Chicago and hit a half-dozen sports bars or faux Irish bars, but where can I go with my friends and all the many other Whovians in this amazing city to watch the Doctor Who series premiere?” Well, the answer was nowhere then. Now, we have Geek Bar.
2) So let’s ask who came together to make this work?
Most importantly, my operations staff. I am thankful every day for the magnificent bar management experience of my Galactic Overlord (Muggles would call him a General Manager), Rob Stein. Behind the bar, our Queen of Drinky Things (Muggles, see: Beverage Director), Laura Green,brings amazing creativity and serious management skills to the table.We’re in flux right now in the kitchen as we hire on a new executive chef, but the person we’re bringing on board as our new Archmage of Fire is going to bring that same passion for food that Laura brings to the drinks.
We also had tremendous support from the geek community itself. They’ve become investors in the business, they’ve supported us on Kickstarter,and, of course, they’re visiting Geek Bar Beta and trying everything we do which is magnificent.
A project of this magnitude has a ton of people that contribute to make it work, and I can’t possibly name them all. I’m thankful everyday for every geek in Chicago and beyond that has been a part of our success.
3) How did you organize it and get it to happen – and how did you pay the bills?
First things first, like a good nerd, I spent six months just doing the research into what makes a great bar and grill tick and what would need to be different about Geek Bar. I built a business plan, financial projections, put together what I wanted out of our GeekFleet membership program, and more. As a serial entrepreneur, I knew whereto start, but I’ve never run a bar before, so there was some important work to do right from the beginning.
There was a couple of months in there of putting together the legal structure as well and figuring out how to do an equity round. This was my first time dealing with equity at all, having done my other businesses either by debt deals or out of pocket. On April 1st, 2013(no joke), we announced what we were doing to a small group at a theater, and a month later we signed our first equity deal. Since then we’ve brought more investors on board, signed an SBA loan, done some private microloan deals, sold a little merchandise, done a few pop-ups, and finally opened Geek Bar Beta.
4) What were the unexpected challenges?
We continue to have problems with the city on permitting at the bigger location that we have picked out. The bureaucracy is frustrating, especially when you consider that the mayor’s office itself has endorsed us twice now as a business that the city wants to see happen. There’s a tremendous disconnect, it seems, between the ultimate goals of the top brass and the ability of the city bureaucrats to help make that happen. We’re working now to see what our options are as a whole and find new ways to move forward.
5) So tell us what the Geek Bar offers in detail – and what’s the most popular? What kind of events do you run there?
Our event schedule is amazing and constantly is bringing people in to celebrate and foster geek culture in all its forms. Whether you’re a board game enthusiast or an astronomy lover, a video game competitor or a sci-fi junkie, there’s something going on for you all the time.Our Hogwarts Holiday Party was a smash hit. Our monthly Awkward Meet &Geek that we host with Captain Awkward who happens to be local to Chicago allows singles to get together, play games or color geeky coloring books with other geeks, and hopefully make a connection in an environment that is far, far better and more welcoming than speed dating. Our biweekly Geeky Trivia Nights that we self-host are packed to the brim. The options are nearly endless.
We have an incredible cocktail program, led by our Queen of Drinky Things, Laura Green. Her cocktails are all drawn from geek inspirations and reflect the subject matter in composition. Whether it’s the Rose from our Doctor Who Companions menu or the Cthulhutini from our Gettin’ Lit menu, it will look and taste amazing as well as having you nodding your head that it matches whatever it was inspired by.
Our food is what has been called “upscale bar food”. We’re not quite your typical bar, because we’re geeks about everything we do, our food included. It’s inspired by geeky things, everything from the pizza to the burgers are designed around geeky properties with both deliciousness and geekiness in mind. Right now, one of our most popular items is the Bluth Family Special, waffle-battered chicken strips (coo-coo-ka-cha!) spiced with a hint of sriracha sauce and served with our house-made honey mustard sauce. What’s not to love?
6) Do you partner with any conventions, comic shops, etc.?
We’ll be hosting the Heroes party this month, already sold out, forReedPOP’s C2E2, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. We were just recently at Windycon, co-hosting one of their room parties, where we won best drinks of the convention with a cocktail named “The Hammer is My Penis”. We expect to hit more and more of the very robust Chicago convention circuit moving forward.
We also work with game stores like the Dice Dojo here in town, comic shops like Challenger Comics, a fantastic local Japanese toy store named Nakama Toys, and more. We also are working with major sponsors too like our sponsor, Jinx.com, a geek clothing and accessory website that has done some fun stuff with us including some kickass coasters and branded glassware.
7) What are your next plans?
We’re still perfecting what we’re doing little by little and then we’re going to look at expanding like the Zerg. Beyond the bar, we’re going to be launching some very cool media very soon. We’ll eventually want to be an integral part of your geeky lifestyle, in the bar and beyond as well. It comes back to our mission which I alluded to earlier: to celebrate and foster geek culture in all its forms. The bar is a constant celebration of our culture. Next up, finding more ways to foster geek culture too.
8) Any plans to expand operations elsewhere?
Absolutely. We have plans going out five years and in many parts of the country that don’t have enough geeky options yet. Where exactly we’re going first will depend on a whole lot of metrics. We are, after all, data nerds too. But we’re keeping our eyes open for places that need Geek Bar and filing those places away for when we’re ready to get going.
9) Any final advice to our audience?
Follow your passions. Don’t ever be afraid of who you are or what you love. Find your geek community, because they will share those passions or at least geek out with your geekdoms as you geek out with them about theirs. There is no better feeling than that.
Welcome anyone that says they are a geek. There is no ultimate authority on what is geeky or who qualifies as a geek. Not me, not you, not anyone. Everyone is geeky about something in their life. Something that they pursue with passion, something they study with at least a little intellectualism, something that they can’t help but share when the topic comes up because they love that thing that much.It might be Star Wars, or it might be NASCAR. Not everyone is part of geek culture, and that’s a choice they make for themselves. But, by the same token, no one can keep you out of geek culture either.
Glory in the “Ascendancy of the Geek”. It has never been a better time to be a geek. The things we love are on television, in movies, in stores, everywhere. We’re still a sub-culture, but we’re a major one now. Embrace the many things available to us that we had to hunt for not so long ago. Find community online or your Local Friendly Game Store or at Geek Bar. If someone tells you what you love is childish or dumb or nerdy, laugh and carry on with your geeky self. In the immortal words of the Face of Boe, “you are not alone. Not anymore.”