Milwaukee is known for having a bar on every corner, with many of those bars featuring a theme. Sports bars work because it’s awesome to share the thrill of victory with a room full of fans. Irish bars offer a unique mix of Old World charm and beers that eat like a meal. Strip clubs work because ’90s rap acts need to start their nostalgia tours somewhere. A seemingly unlikely newer template for success is the geek club. Places like 42 Lounge, UberDork Café, and 8Bit offer places where arguments about which Star Trek captain is the best can reach the same fevered pitch as which Packers quarterback is the all-time MVP.
A new challenger has appeared on the mean streets of West Allis. Binary: Games, Food & Spirits (9105 West Lincoln Avenue) quietly opened at the beginning of April in the shadow of the West Allis medical center. Can the Milwaukee area support multiple nerd bars despite its rocky history with conventions? Milwaukee Record journeyed to the center of the Earth (well, okay, 91st Street) in search of the answer.
The space: Binary’s building looks like much of the architecture in the area: angular, blocky, and likely home to a dentist office at some point during its existence. The sign outside and the fresh coat of blue paint distinguish the place a little bit, but folks who wander in off the street expecting yet another sports bar may be a little confused by the inside. The decor can best be described as a mom’s basement writ large. Kelly Hansburg, the owner, put several of her own collectibles in some big cases for display, many of which are the kind that most nerds only see on the Internet. The collection sits alongside a mix of bar games ranging from skee-ball to a pro beer pong table. A few arcade cabinets and pinball machines round out the space, but the big draw here is an extensive board game library available to patrons of the bar. There are party games like Apples To Apples, big table affairs like Arkham Horror, and licensed affairs like Firefly: The Game.
The service: Our waitress handed us a menu and took us to one of the many metal tables in the main dining area. She was very helpful in suggesting drinks and food, even if she demurred on her favorite game from the library. Luckily the enthusiastic bartender helped pass the time waiting for our food by discussing his favorite games. Hansburg came out to talk about her plans for the space in the future. The bar soft-opened at the beginning of April, with a grand opening to come in a couple of weeks. Organized viewings and other events are on the docket, including Terrible Person Tuesdays where the entire bar will play some Cards Against Humanity and the staff will judge the winners.
Milwaukee Record’s food and drink: The menu was printed in an 8-bit font and stapled in the upper left-hand corner like a book report, complete with handwritten corrections. The drink menu didn’t have much in the way of craft beers, specialty drinks, or clever food names, which seems like something a themed place like this should have. If a sports bar can have a Touchdown Burger, surely a nerd bar can have a TARDIS Burger? Our mozzarella sticks appetizer ($5) and waffle fries seemed like Basic Bar Food 101, but there were a couple of standouts in unlikely places. The garlic toast ($1 for a plain slice; $1.50 with cheese) offered great taste for the value. We recommend a full plate as an appetizer over some Tales From The Crypt pinball. The American cheeseburger ($6.50) was worth the pretzel bun upgrade to soak up the grease of the burger and grilled onions for a great pub taste. The fried egg add-on could really do wonders for a marathon gaming hangover—though we recommend extra napkins to keep the game components fresh and clean.
The verdict: A big board game collection and a decent greasy menu make Binary a solid addition to West Allis’ roster of pubs.