Q&A: Ben Morgan of Old North Arcade

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Professional poker player-turned-entrepreneur Ben Morgan is doubling down on the arcade bar concept and the Old North neighborhood. Slated to open in early May, Old North Arcade promises free arcade and console gaming, 20 taps of craft beer and signature nerd-inspired cocktails. But Morgan's concept doesn't involve becoming another destination bar; he and general manager Pierre Mondon are focused on adding to the Old North neighborhood. With a heavy focus on nerd-culture and fast-paced '90s gaming, Morgan plans on bringing new clientele to his favorite neighborhood.

I've been a gamer my entire life, and then I realized a barcade was a thing. As a young teen I was really into “Magic: The Gathering,” and then I got into online poker. I was a professional poker player for 10 years until the government shut it down. I didn't just essentially lose my job; most of my net-worth was seized. Other online poker players who owed me money had their assets seized as well, so I wasn't getting paid. I started playing live poker and met a lot of small business owners who motivated me to become an entrepreneur. Being a professional poker player is like owning a small business; there is a lot of risk and reward analyzing, networking and planning. 16-Bit proved the barcade concept could work in Columbus, so much so there is a demand for a second one.

Setting up in the Old North neighborhood was a no-brainer.I've lived and played in the Old North neighborhood for a decade, and the area is definitely growing. We were going to sign at another building, but then the Sunflower Natural Foods building became available. When the first brick was laid in this building, its destiny was to be a barcade. The long narrow architecture of the space is perfect for lining up tons of games, and it's always going to feel kind of cozy. I think the Old North is the crossroads of our target demographic being between campus and Clintonville. We have a lot of synergy with the surrounding businesses. If we execute the barcade concept well, it's a win for everyone in the neighborhood.

Since we are nerds, we are focusing more on craft beer and nerd culture. We have a 20-tap beer system, which will feature primarily Central Ohio beers and some other breweries from the Midwest and California. Like the games, we plan to keep the beer list constantly rotating. We are also going to feature some nerd-themed signature cocktails. There will probably be a Star Wars-themed cocktail for May the 4th. I think 16-Bit is more about '80s pop culture. Since our demographic is probably going to be a little younger, we are focusing on the fast-paced games of the '90s rather than the puzzle games that were popular in the '80s. We are also reserving extra space up front for console gaming, like “Mario Kart 64.” I'm completely addicted to the game “Asteroids.” It is absolutely infuriating — it has ruined friendships. There will always be an “Asteroids” game in this building.

Finding and retrieving arcade games is an adventure. You have to meet weird people on Craigslist and then move the game from their trailer or basement to the arcade. One night we thought we were going to die on the way back home. The whole ride back we were hydroplaning and skidding all over the road — it was pretty terrifying. We were more afraid for our lives than the game. You also meet people who are really attached to the games, and aren't always ready to give them up. Having a barcade gives us an advantage, because we get to assure them the game is going to a good home and they can come play it for free whenever they want.

Mortal Kombat is the great equalizer. Being a dorky guy, the idea of going out on a Friday night and talking to people or dancing is slightly terrifying. I love the barcade concept because it gives people a reason to interact. It doesn't matter if you're a big burly guy or handicapped or anything, you're all equal when you start the game. In fact, if you're a nerd you're not equal — you're above. All that matters is how good you are at the game. That's why a barcade is the ultimate happy hour spot as soon as we open — it's live entertainment the entire time. Any other barcade I've been to, the patrons come out happy. They are smiling, laughing and having a good time. We don't want to be a drinking and drowning establishment, we want people to have sore fingers from pounding on the buttons so hard.

Photo by Meghan Ralston

Benjamin Morgan

Age: 29

Hometown: Columbus

Current neighborhood: Upper Arlington

Day job: Entrepreneur

Currently listening to: Nujabes

Playing favorites:

Favorite movie: Anything Hayao Miyazaki

Favorite TV show: Currently "Game of Thrones"

Favorite beer: Anything Seventh Son

Favorite restaurant: Mad Mex

Favorite video game: "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" (excluding the Water Temple)

Best way to spend $10: Nachos at Mad Mex

Weirdest thing you've purchased online: "Embarrassing amounts of Magic cards."

Old North Arcade

Opening early May

2591 N. High St., Old North