The Megapolitan Flâneur: West Allis: Binary: Games, Foods, and Spirits
The Megapolitan Flâneur is a series of short travel essays. Neither chronology or inventory, the essays will be reflective, free associative, and impressionistic.
megalopolitan, adj. pertaining to a very large city. also megapolitan.
flâneur, noun, mid-nineteenth century French (from flâner to lounge, saunter idly). An idler.
Binary: Games, Foods, And Spirits
9105 W Lincoln Ave, West Allis, WI 53227
Located a few blocks past the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in West Allis, Binary: Games, Foods, And Spirits is a “geek bar.” A large square sign outside announces Binary. The sign has the name printed in front of cascading binary code. Located a block from a freeway and other business, Binary exists as a hidden jewel for those looking for things geek-centric.
It’s no secret that Greater Milwaukee has many, many bars. Sports bars, Irish pubs, high-end hipster lounges, biker bars, Mexican cantinas, and the ever-present non-specialized bar. The geek bar provides a venue for an audience that has since been under-served or invisible to the general populace. With the commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the renaissance of science fiction and fantasy TV shows, and fan conventions, Binary represents a savvy marketing decision. The most immediate parallel to a geek bar would be a sports bar. Both possess passionate fandoms, loyalty to particular franchises, and a built-in camaraderie. If you’re not a member of Wisconsin’s unofficial religion, The Green Bay Packers, you can find Browncoats, Trekkies, BSG fans, Whedonites, and Star Wars fans at Binary. (Although this characterization isn’t one of diametric opposition, since there are sports fans who are also sci fi/fantasy geeks.)
Binary offers a sanctuary to these fandoms and for fans of tabletop games. The interior is squarish and blocky, while not architecturally exciting, provides plenty of space and light. The night my wife and I were there, we visited during the annual Whedonite event, Can’t Stop The Serenity, a global charity event. On the ground floor there was a bar with several beers on tap. Around the bar and the building were shelves with hundreds of games. We played a card game and then played Jenga and Tetris Jenga. Not only were the cocktails and food top-quality, but we could converse without shouting. Instead of a sports event on the TVs, Binary showed Back To the Future and South Park.
The nachos we had arrived loaded with goodies and the cocktails were potent and inventive. I had The Eye of Thundera. And what would a geek bar be if it didn’t serve Romulan Ale? I would put the nachos and cheeseburger we had on par with major chains like T.G.I.Fridays or Chili’s. The regular loaded nachos were more than enough for two people, since the waitress brought it to us on a small pizza plate. At $6 it was a steal. The large nachos are $9 and ideal for a large group playing a tabletop game.
In addition to the tabletop games, Binary has several display cases chock-full of memorabilia. The memorabilia ranges from fan-made objects to movie tie-ins and other pop cultural artifacts. The display cases were more akin to the artifacts one would see in Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock Cafe. Binary has a Princess Bride replica sword that is impressive in its accuracy.
Outside the main bar/dining area, Binary has several small anterooms with other games and a large basement area. During Can’t Stop The Serenity, the basement area had chair set up in front of a film projector and items in a silent auction lining the wall.
The geek bar has a welcoming atmosphere. Geekdom is the antithesis of hipsterdom. Although, again, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Geek culture is accepting, ecumenical, and passionate. The hipster stereotype is one of obscurantism and existing as a perpetual reactionary against the mainstream. The two merge when one’s fandom becomes a bragging point. Regardless of age or franchise loyalty, geeks will accept you. During Can’t Stop The Serenity, it was comforting to be around other Browncoats (fans of Firefly and Serenity, the cult Joss Whedon TV show unceremoniously canceled by Fox).
In earlier decades, Binary would come across as a ham-fisted gimmick. The cultural and commercial ascendancy of geekdom has made Binary a place where fellow geeks can commiserate, imbibe spirited beverages, and debate Kirk vs. Picard and Star Trek vs. Star Wars. The bar provides a welcome sanctuary from this mundane realm. To quote Spock, I hope Binary can “live long and prosper.”