CARTHAGE, Mo. — It has the look of a pub. The feel of a pub. For most of its life, it has served as a pub.
But The Venue, at 204 E. Fourth Street, doesn’t allow traditional pub activities such as drinking and smoking. Think of it more as a throwback to the family-friendly arcades of the 1980s.
“I describe it as an arcade (but) with a really cool ambiance,” said Nikki Gonzales, co-owner and operator. She’s not kidding. The building itself served as one of Carthage’s very first bars, established just off the Carthage Square in 1870, she said.
The dark wooden bar, built in 1930, dominates the floor space; it, along with the swivel bar stools and brick-lined walls, are features that never would have graced the interior of an Aladdin’s Castle.
“There’s definitely an ‘80s vibe here,” she said.
But like those beloved arcades of old — with their dark interiors, neon-splashed walls, coin-operated machines and cacophony of chirps, bells, voices and music — The Venue emphasizes family-friendly fun above all else.
“We are alcohol free. There’s no smoking here,” she said. “We want people to just come and hang out with the whole family or with your friends and do whatever you want to do.”
For $5, an individual can stay and play for as long as The Venue remains open, playing games or taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi.
“It’s good all day,” she said of the fee. “It’s perfect for a group of kids who want to hang out somewhere that’s not a house. They can come and loiter here.”
Keith McBride, co-owner, said the idea for a family-friendly arcade originally came from his father, Keith “Skip” McBride, who passed away earlier this year. Skip had previously owned Spookies, an arcade/pool hall hybrid located in Joplin across from Northpark Mall during the 1990s. It was popular with college-aged students. Later, it became a family-friendly hangout for kids “of all ages.”
“So in part,” McBride said, The Venue “is a tribute to him, and his love of arcade games and pool. It’s something I wish he could have seen, but I know he’s proud.”
Plus, McBride admitted, coin-operated video games are a “part of my DNA.”
“Keith and I both have children, and we both have this problem where they complain about how there’s nothing to do” in Carthage, Gonzales said. “When we were kids, we had go-cart tracks, we had bumper cars, there were arcades. Now, they can go swimming, roller skating or go to the park to play, but a lot of times we’re more concerned these days about what might happen to them when we aren’t looking.
“We we began talking about (The Venue). He owns this building and he had a bunch of arcade games and a pool table, I had a foosball table and gaming consoles. So we were like — let’s do it.”
Doors opened for the first time over the July Fourth weekend. A sketch of the iconic Pac-Man and one of the ghosts, Inky perhaps, graces the window next to the entrance at the former bar.
“We’re just a few weeks into it,” she said.
The Venue is home to seven free-play arcade games — seven stand-up and one cocktail. The former includes: the hard-to-find Taito game, “Battle Shark,” Namco’s fighting game, “Tekken 3,” the classic 1982 “Popeye,” the co-op “Ninja Gaiden,” the football action game, “Blitz 99,” the Konami shooter, “Aliens” and the first-person shooter, “Silent Scope 2.” The tabletop game is the 1982 spacer, “Zaxxon.”
“Space permitting, I’d like to expand (the game section) in the future,” McBride said.
Each week, Gonzales showcases a classic gaming console, each with a large assortment of games. For the youngsters, this is their first chance to play a classic such as “Donkey Kong” or “Zelda” as well as getting the chance to figure out the old-school controllers. Consoles featured in the weekly rotation include a Nintendo 64, Atari 2600, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube, Super Nintendo, Playstation 1 and a Sega Genesis/CD combo.
There are also an assortment of boardgames available, ranging from the classic “Risk” to the Japanese import, “Machi Koro.”
On the other side of the bar, Gonzales is able to showcase just a tiny portion of her extensive “Transformers” collection, which numbers between 500 and 700.
“I’m the person who ran home in first grade to watch “Transformers” (cartoon) on the TV,” Gonzales said with a laugh, a Carthage native who graduated from Carthage High School in 1996 and from Missouri Southern State University with a business degree.
“This is the sort of thing that I thought I would have if I ever won the lottery,” she said, slowly looking around at the chattering, singing video games surrounding her. “This has always been a dream.”
Details: To book The Venue for a private event, call 417-825-6437 or visit their Facebook page.