Two new gamer hangouts set to open in Bellingham

Rook-rogueWBy Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal

Soon gamers will have not one, but two, places to eat, drink and play in Bellingham.

Best Buds Gaming Lounge will be in Fairhaven, at 1121 Mackenzie Ave, and will focus on video games.

Rook & Rogue, at 206 West Magnolia St., will focus on board games. It’s set to open on April 29, which, appropriately enough, is International Tabletop Day.

Danielle Rupinski convinced her mother and sister to move from Orlando, Florida to help her open Rook & Rogue. Between the two of them, Pam and Laura Rupinski have more than 60 years of experience in restaurants.

The pub will have a full menu, and a full bar. It will open for brunch on the weekends, complete with a bloody mary bar.

But the pub isn’t just for eating and drinking — it’s also a place to gather and and play board games. They have a library of around 600 games that appeal to everyone, from the casual gamer, including Jenga, Scrabble and Monopoly, to more hardcore fans of rare and complicated board games. Casual games can be checked out for free, but diners will have to purchase a membership to get access to the more complicated and niche ones. The pub will also buy and sell used board games.

Danielle’s background is in computer programming — she is building a custom point of sale system that can not only handle the standard food and drink orders, but also the checking out and checking in of board games.

Despite not doing any advertising, the bar already has a following — it’s garnered more than 1,000 likes on Facebook. The team credits their crowdfunding campaign with helping to spread the word.

“We used it as an organic way to see what was important to people,” Laura said.

In addition to a traditional business loan, they used the Kickstarter campaign, which only raised about $5,000, to raise money for extras for the pub. Those extras include tables specially built for tabletop games, dimmable lighting at each table, and server call buttons for each table.

Bellingham was ripe for this kind of place, Danielle said.

“There’s a lot of people who identify as nerds,” she said.

Across town, in Fairhaven, another lounge for gamers is getting ready to open this summer, although this one will have a lot more TV screens.

During the day the Best Buds Gamin Lounge will be all ages, and then at around 9 p.m. it will switch to 21 and up. They’ll serve beer and wine, as well as a full menu. To play games, customers can purchase different membership levels.

They’ll have 19 different kinds of consoles available for customers, from the Intellivision, which was released in 1979, to the Nintendo Switch, which was released last month. There will also be around 2,000 different video games for customers to play.

Hugh Newmark, who is starting the lounge with his fiance Alex Ritz, anticipates they’ll be able to host midnight game release parties at the store. But he’s certainly sure they’re going to host lots of tournaments.

The lounge will also be buying and selling retro games.

“There’s a huge void,” Newmark said. “I think there’s one retro gaming store in all of Bellingham.”

Best Buds Gaming Lounge was born out of the end of a previous business. Newmark and Ritz managed Best Buds when it was a medical marijuana dispensary. But when the medical and recreational industries merged last summer, they weren’t able to get one of the new licenses.

They still had their storefront, though.

“We got a sweet lease in the middle of Fairhaven,” Newmark remembers thinking. “We should do something with it.”

They got to thinking.

‘There really isn’t a good, counterculture nerd bar,” Newmark said.

Both Newmark and Ritz love video games.

They aren’t new to hosting gamers in their shop. Even back when it was a dispensary, dozens of people would show up to participate in a weekly Super Smash Bros tournaments.

They plan to continue those popular events.

“It’s kind of our dream to have a cool video game bar,” Newmark said. Their location is ideal, Newmark said. Fairhaven is close to Western Washington University, and there’s plenty of parking .

“I don’t think that there’s any place in the country that would work as well as Fairhaven, Washington for the high-end lounge setting we’re going for.”

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