People always talk about how technology—even though it has the best intentions—removes people from the moment. And it’s true that when you see someone staring into a screen and ignoring their surroundings, it’s hard to think they’re making connections.
You’ll see the opposite at @nerdvana.food+spirits and @nerdvana.coffee+shop, next door neighbors in Frisco Square, the lively mixed-use center across from Toyota Stadium (where FC Dallas plays).
Here, food and conversation are the side dishes to board and video games. My girlfriend and I headed to @nerdvana.food+spirits for dinner on a Saturday night.
Like the Coliseum or the Grand Canyon, @nerdvana is one of those places you need to experience to grasp the scale. @nerdvana.food+spirits, the restaurant-bar, was grandly spacious and popping with fun eye candy, the decor a balanced mix between futuristic and whimsical that’s surprisingly chic.
A massive bas-relief sculpture on the lobby wall set the tone. It was a 3-D tableau of video game parts, from controllers to consoles, from joysticks to gutted-out innards, like a technology minefield, all rendered in pearlized white.
A trio of friendly young hostesses greeted us and escorted us to one of the cozy booths. We were tickled—remember, it was our Saturday night date. But especially after we saw that the booth came equipped with a vintage Nintendo 64, the ’90s classic video game console with batarang controllers.
Beverages included novelty cocktails, wine, and local beer. I had a pint of ale from a local North Texas brewery, while Robin ordered a Mad Moxxi, a margarita named after the character from the video game Borderlands. It had fresh lime juice and habanero-infused simple syrup. “It starts off sweet until that habanero heat kicks in,” she said. She playfully threw her straw at me.
Nestling into our luxurious white leatherette banquette, we sipped and surveyed the scene. A group of guys in their 20s sat at the bar, playing a videogame displayed on a screen overhead. It was hard to tell if they knew each other before they bellied-up to the bar—great service, a ton of taps and a video game everyone can rally around makes @nerdvana that kind of place. We saw booths big enough to hold entire families, and although there were a few kids, it seemed like @nerdvana is aimed at adults who want to eat, drink and play a free videogame on the side.
Most of the booths only have a single game option, so if you’re seeking a comprehensive selection of games from which you can choose, this isn’t the place. What you get is the luck of the draw. Our table had “GoldenEye 007”, the James Bond first-person shooter based on the film of the same name. The game was only single player, but Robin was content to watch me revert to my teens as I peered down hallways searching for bad guys to take down with my license to kill. It brought me right back to the days when simple technology seemed magical. Robin and I would switch off between levels, with me giving her pointers on things I remembered about the game from so long ago.
We pressed pause to check out the menu, which proved that nerds aren’t all about potato chips and Hot Pockets. It followed the gamer theme with cute titles like “hand helds” for sandwiches and M (Mature) Floats, made with Not your Father’s Root Beer. We split a pasta dish with house-made pappardelle noodles, and a Crab Melt, which had blackened lump crab, fried green tomatoes and melty provolone cheese on grilled French brioche, with a roasted red pepper aioli.
Chef Mike Junio dropped by to see how we liked our food. He told us that his sister, Kristy Pitchford, owned the place. Her husband, Randy, is CEO of Gearbox, the makers of the Borderlands videogame, whose headquarters are upstairs in the same building. Part of their goal was to provide his employees with a place to get coffee and a place to celebrate gaming. What a benefit for us.
After dinner—and after Robin totally owned a GoldenEye single-player mission—we ambled next door to @nerdvana.coffee+shop, where games and gamers of all stripes took center stage. We heard “green, seven,” called from the main station, and a person ambled up holding their Uno card to collect a bright orange juice.
The menu is filled with pastries, Texas toasts and the full gamut of coffee and espresso drinks. Robin was looking for some post-dinner caffeine, so she downloaded the Ripple app, uploaded a selfie and got a drink with her face on it. “It’s Monet meets macchiato,” I said.
We sat at a table that was filled with a colorful jumble of dice displayed beneath glass. Nearby, another table had a multi-leveled game of chess forever frozen in time beneath it’s glass top. Sitting next to us, two fellows were ticking off the days until the Texas Pinball Festival, the largest pinball show and auction in the country, which takes place every year in Frisco.
The city is also home to the National Videogame Museum, which opened in 2016 with the world’s largest Pong console; and is headquarters for PVP Live, the leading source of news on e-sports and gaming. With the addition of @nerdvana, Frisco has become a gamer Valhalla.
A shop within the shop sold an assortment of games, T-shirts, hats and coffee beans, as well as a legit variety of board games that are available to play for free, including Catan, Connect Four and Scrabble.
Robin pulled out a dog-eared box. “Mark, look what I found,” she said. It was a vintage game of Monopoly. This was really going back.
“C’mon—let’s play,” she said.