“Nostalgia is super hot right now.”
From a cultural standpoint, Keith St. Peter, co-owner of GlitchCraft Café and Gameroom, couldn’t be more right. So far this year, Stranger Things has re-awoken long dormant cravings for New Coke, fanny packs have appeared on haute couture runways around the world and Disney has released not one, but three live action versions of our most beloved animated childhood classics.
What is it that makes us long for the ephemera of our youth? Is day-to-day adult life so overwhelming that we need to trade the drudgery of Quickbooks for the adventure of comic books? Are we all just suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome, a total aversion to grown up responsibilities and the weight of maturity?
Whatever the reason, St. Peter and his partners, Adam Levin and Willie Woods, are tapping into the collective “I don’t wanna grow up” mentality and playing the nostalgia card hard with their newest venture, GlitchCraft Café and Gameroom, at 126 Simonton St. GlitchCraft is how every kid envisioned her dream bedroom — board games piled high on communal gaming tables, video game consoles and pinball machines stacked shoulder to shoulder, toys from the ’80s and ‘90s mounted on every square inch of wall space — with a grownup twist.
“The overriding concept was to create a museum to our childhood memories,” St. Peter begins. “So we wanted to find the toys we had, the games we had, the characters that were in the comic books, the comic books themselves. But the people creating the concept — Adam, Willie and I — we were all kids during the ’80s. So we weren’t trying to make an ’80s bar, necessarily. We were honestly trying to recreate our own childhoods, which just happens to have placed the bar squarely in the ’80s due to our ages. But GlitchCraft is for people of all ages who want to come in and be reminded of things they’ve forgotten about since they’ve grown up.”
The walls at GlitchCraft weave a tech- nicolor dream world, with thematic art by local artists Margot Griffin, Dave Holtz and Dan Schwab, a massive video game character mural by New York artist Michael Hildebrandt and metalwork (namely two insanely accurate reproduction metal helmets, those of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the Witch King from Lord of the Rings) by Sean Williams, who runs The Guild School of Metal Arts & Urban Crafts in Pompano Beach, Fla. The owners are, understandably, very proud of how their vision came to life.
“The décor came out awesome,” St. Peter says. “It’s comfortable, it’s warm. And people come in here and lose their f***ing minds, especially if they’re of the same age group as we are. When we crafted the ambiance in here, we tried to encapsulate most of those things from our childhood. The bar top is mostly an homage to comic books and their history. There are toys displayed on the wall behind the bar. But how do you encapsulate a whole multifaceted childhood? We’re constantly adding new stuff, mostly because we’ve become the place where husbands show up with boxes of toys and say, ‘My wife won’t let me keep this.’”
As a result, GlitchCraft has (intentionally) become a sort of Nerdvana for people who love to revisit the games and toys of their youth. And Levin, St. Peter and Woods have dedicated painstaking effort to making sure every game is thoughtfully chosen and every piece of childhood memorabilia is as authentic as possible.
“Once you foray into the realm of nerds, you’ve got to come correct,” St. Peter explains. “True nerds are the first people to call you on even the slightest inaccuracy, so we have a lot of people looking at our stuff. We’re really trying to represent the stuff that was important in our formative years. Not surprisingly, we really had fun with it and I think that shows.”
You’ll hear this statistic thrown around a lot down here, but it’s completely accurate — Key West has more drinking establishments per capita than literally any other city in the U.S. But in a sea of watering holes on an island associated primarily with Spring Break and booze in the blender, GlitchCraft has already carved out a nontraditional, all-inclusive niche. The café boasts 21 rotating beers on tap, as well as a selection of sake and rosé, but patrons can also order root beer, cold brew coffee or a fancy latte from the heavy-duty coffeemaker, and snacks like Combos and Fun Dip.
“Many of the bars in Key West are about the party and the scene,” St. Peter explains. “Glitch is almost anti that. Don’t get me wrong — we all have fun, but we also set Glitch up as a café because it was important for us to have a ton of options that are not alcoholic so that people could stay and want to play games and not feel like they have to drink something. So many people here want to be out and social and not necessarily drinking. And in most other bars, the only activity to do is drink. But here, we wanted to have other activities you can do and options other than taking shots and staring at your phone. We want people to interact and to stay.”
And stay they do. In addition to drawing in a crowd that wants to engage and interact, perhaps over a board game or a movie marathon, GlitchCraft is inadvertently becoming a home base for the mobile business crowd. “A lot of the time, beer reps will come in and do orders from here,” says General Manager Aubrey Otten. “GlitchCraft has turned into an office for some because it’s a comfortable and relaxing environment. We also get a lot of kids and families during the day because we’re a different type of place. Mom and dad can have a drink or a coffee in the air conditioning and their kids can have a snack and play pinball. Part of the magic is that we’re close enough to downtown, but not in the madness, so Glitch has become a place of refuge.”
The idea of creating a sanctuary for an under-served subset of the population is near and dear to St. Peter. “We’re living in a nerd renaissance right now, which just means that all of us who were nerd kids are grown up and we have money and can run shit,” he says. “Today, being a nerd and all of the stuff related to it is cool somehow. Dungeons & Dragons is even cool — celebrities play it! And people want a place where they can go and hang out together and drink or not drink where no one is going to judge or displace them. Those people have always been around, but they’re not going to feel happy and comfortable and safe to play Magic at your average bar. What we’ve created is a safe haven for those people, and that is tremendously important to me.”
With over 70 board games on the floor and another 100 or so squirreled away in the secret office upstairs, there truly is a game for every gamer at GlitchCraft. The café also has pinball, Pac-Man and a standing multi-game console with 60 pre-loaded games, including Dig Dug, Donkey Kong and Frogger, that are all free to play. You can indulge your inner rock star with Guitar Hero or Rock Band or throw it way, way back with a retro game of Pong. There’s a huge projector for movies and games and the café also hosts special events, like Harry Potter trivia, video game tournaments, brewery tap takeovers and game nights on a weekly basis.
“We’ve started hosting trivia on Sundays, but this is nerd trivia — no sports!” St. Peter says. “During the week, there are informal game nights. Groups of six people will come in and play Magic and Pokémon. We host a bunch of sign-up board games on the weekends, which I usually run. I typically post a month’s worth of what’s coming up on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and people can sign up to reserve a spot at the table.”
During the last season of “Game of Thrones,” GlitchCraft screened the new episodes every Sunday. And when the third season of “Stranger Things” finally hit Netflix, the café played the whole season, binge-style. “Those kinds of events are extra nice because it’s summertime and we have ice-cold A/C, so if we have everything that people love, they don’t want to go anywhere else,” says Otten.
And the reality is that, because of the obvious love the owners and staff of GlitchCraft have for this little slice of Key West they’ve carved out for themselves and their like-minded cohorts, the café is uniquely inviting and inclusive to everyone who walks through the doors, whether they want a cold beer or a root beer. “The nostalgia factor is what makes it feel comfortable and homey in here. It makes people so happy,” says Otten. “The vibe is very laid back. We have a ton of great staff. It’s very familial and everybody gets along. Most of us even come here on ours days off. When we want to go out for a drink, this is where we come.”
“It does say something that literally every staff member comes in here because they feel the same way the customers do — it’s comfy and it’s happy” St. Peter adds. “And I think that has a lot to do with the way we set up the café. We very much tried to get away from the cliquey, cool kids club vibe. It’s organic and it’s real because it was made for nerds by some nerds. We serve alcohol, but even Alcoholics Anonymous guys come in here for root beer and to play Uno for an hour.”
To the GlitchCraft team, nostalgia is just a way for us to reconnect with our inner children and to remember how it feels to be truly joyful, with no strings attached. “What we’ve created is a place where you can be a kid, but in the good sense,” St. Peter says. “To me, the most gratifying thing about Glitch is the sense of unbridled childhood we unleash in our patrons, whether it’s the 50-year-old kid coming in or an actual kid seeing all of these things for the first time in this kind of setting.” ¦