Family-friendly arcade bar coming to bustling corner of downtown Wilmington

Renovations will soon begin to transform the old City Limits Saloon space into an arcade with a kitchen and bar. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WILMINGTON –– A lively corner of downtown Wilmington is undergoing renovations soon and will emerge early next year as the retro new neighbor of Reel Cafe and The Husk.

Game Over Bar and Arcade is targeting a late winter opening at 28 S. Front St., formerly City Limits Saloon. The arcade bar will offer local craft beer and cocktails, light food and plenty of games to play, from a wide selection of pinball machines to Dance Dance Revolution.

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Car repairman Dominic Pirozzolo is aiming to introduce the modern, boozy version of an arcade to Wilmington, a trend that has gained traction in recent years with nostalgic millennials in urban markets. He is working on designs to remodel the former country-themed nightclub, once known for its bikinied patrons and mechanical bull. Once open, the establishment will be family-friendly while still catering to the downtown adult crowds on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Game Over will offer at least 16 taps of rotating beers, with a priority of showcasing Cape Fear breweries, as well as fried foods and carnival-like desserts for gamers to munch on between attempts to outscore leaders on Pac-Man. Pirozzolo said he wants to support as many small, local breweries as he can, since his father owns Papadom’s Singing Sangwich Truck and frequently parks at spots like Waterline and Flytrap.

From conversations with contractors, Pirozzolo is targeting an early 2022 opening, but plans will depend on how smoothly the business works through the necessary permitting processes.

This is Pirozzolo’s first venture into the arcade bar business. Previously he worked in an automotive performance shop in California, buying and salvaging cars to sell. A Brunswick County native, he and his wife recently returned to the Wilmington area and have been in search of activities to do with their daughters. While living on the West Coast, arcades Round1 and Dave and Buster’s were located conveniently nearby.

“Coming back to Wilmington, we don’t have that for whatever reason anymore,” he said. “So, this is kind of like one of those, ‘aha moments,’ trying to find something with the kids.”

Pirozzolo said he only began seriously thinking about bringing an arcade bar downtown two months ago, when he noticed the old Varnish Ale & Spirits space for rent.

“We started pursuing it and then the Varnish space ended up getting leased to somebody else,” he said. “I continued to hunt for a building, and I saw a phone number on the door of the old City Limits building that was for rent, just a little handwritten ‘call.’”

Most traditional arcades shuttered by the late ‘90s, losing out to home game consoles and smartphone apps, but the growing popularity of barcades has brought new life to the neon centers. Downtown Wilmington has a similar establishment, Blue Post Billiards, but to get in you need to flash an ID at the door –– not a place for kids. Jungle Rapids has a gaming venue but doesn’t sell alcohol on site.

“I want to create a space where other people with children can actually come enjoy real arcade games, not like redemption stuff,” Pirozzolo said, referring to joysticks that reward tickets or cranes that hover over prizes — “or, like, the gimmicky revenue generators.”

Most arcade bars market toward adults. Pirozzolo said he recently scouted out Boxcar Bar + Arcade in Raleigh. It was packed, he noticed, but as a parent, he wants to prioritize family inclusivity in his own business.

The front section of the building is two stories, and the back is just one, featuring a high ceiling.

Downstairs, Pirozzolo intends to station the larger equipment: racing and shooting games, Skee-Ball and basketball hoops. An upstairs space will be dedicated to nostalgic Nintendo and vintage cabinets. He’s set on incorporating a selection of pinball –– his favorite arcade-style game. “They’re just hours of entertainment,” he said.

Other games will include Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, TMNT, Burgertime, Tapper, Space Invaders, Centipede and Qbert.

The building also comes with two outdoor patios overlooking Dock Street. The lower level space will be reserved for seating but might sometimes host live musicians or gaming competitions. The plans for the upstairs patio are up in the air for now.

The overhaul of the space will include the addition of a commercial kitchen, in hopes of having a pick-up window. For dining selections, Pirozzolo envisions a menu of simple, fried bar food — chicken tenders, fries, maybe corn dogs — in addition to a few healthy options like hummus.

He’d also like to include fun fair desserts, like funnel cake and fried Snickers.

The business is leaning toward an unlimited play model, Pirozzolo said. Customers would pay admission and receive endless gaming during their visit.

“You pay 15 bucks, you get in the door and you can have hours of fun,” he said.

However, Pirozzolo said he’s ultimately interested in what the community wants, stating some customers might just be looking to grab a quick drink and play a few games. The alternative would be to dispense tokens.

The business has already piqued the community’s interest. Pirozzolo is sharing details on the Game Over Facebook page and said one post reached around 85,000 people.

“We’ll just kind of be quietly working in the shadows for the next few months, but I just wanted to let people know that we were going to be there,” he said.

Game Over is looking for investors through Invest and has a campaign running through Mainvest, an online platform that allows people to invest in their own community. The first 50 people who contribute more than $1,000 are receiving free play-for-life in return for supporting the business at its start.

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