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The Anti-Social Social: Retro’s E-sports Bar

“I’ll be honest, we’re all nerdy here”, says Andrew Warman, as we sit in his office that is tucked away adjacent to the gaming area of his bar. Surrounding us are many works in progress. There are hand-made and painted arcade-style cabinets to house TVs and video game rigs. These will be dispersed around his bar, so players can challenge others, and engage in old-school standup arcade style gaming. Behind us are two computer towers, which are being repaired, and VR headsets. In front of us is a home-made Donkey Kong barrel with a slate of electronic parts on top.

When asked why this bar is fit for Peterborough, Andrew states, “This is a bar where you can come as you are.” He continues, “The bar life can be very restrictive. We cater to the anti-social. People can come in and game and people can talk to you when you want them too. We are bringing back social gaming.” Andrew’s philosophy may stem from his history as a social worker. Working with different levels of antisocial children, Warman understands the need for inclusivity and comfort.

One objective of this social gaming is to eliminate the often verbally abusive, and upsetting nature of anonymous online gaming. “There is an etiquette to social gaming. You shake hands, say ‘good game’ and go about your business. There is no ‘you suck, delete the game!’ here.” This means that any gamer can come in and have fun, and not be shamed due to their skill level. The objective is fun and social gaming, not aggressive and isolated gaming, as the tropes depict.” Not only is Andrew providing Peterborough with a place for people to have fun, drink, and eat, he is also drawing those who aren’t inclined to socialize out of their homes and rooms. This provides a network and community for the self-conscious, awkward, and less socially inclined among us.

Although Retro’s, in some ways, is quite different from the rest of Peterborough’s bar culture, one theme that is consistent with Peterborough’s culture is Andrew’s DIY nature. Andrew slowly built a gamer community, which turned into his business, by sitting in a vape store with a hooked up game system and asking people if they wanted to play Street Fighter with him. This turned into weekly gaming nights, and tournaments, which continue within the bar itself. Warman creates most of the bar’s innards. From the tables, to the arcade cabinets, to the gaming computers, Andrew and his team do the work themselves. “This place is built off other local businesses too. We are feeding money to the downtown economy.”

The food is also made from scratch. Condiments are made on site, and all of the food is cheap, largely portioned, and highly intriguing. Andrew states that they want to “make interesting food that people haven’t tried before.” The menu isn’t exotic, but has many twists on classic pub fare. Two staples of the bar include the Tater Tot poutine, and the delicious, homemade Peach Hot Sauce, that has three levels of spice.

The building itself has a unique history, which will be covered more extensively in the next issue of Arthur Newspaper. 172 Simcoe is allegedly haunted, which Andrew says he will embrace with Halloween approaching. Having been a bouncer here, Andrew holds a connection to the place. “There is so much character here.” From the exposed brick throughout the building, to the large patio out back (which includes a large Tetris mural on the patio’s floor), Retro’s has a homey feel. Andrew likens it to hanging out with “your cool grandma.”Andrew reminisces of his summers spent at his grandmother’s house, playing video games and eating food, when life could not get any better. “We are trying to provide a home away from home. I want to offer students an escape.” Retro’s is a place that embraces nostalgia, and hopes to recreate summer days spent when you are most happy, without the anxieties of forced socializing, school worries, and adult life.

Our talk ended with a rundown of Andrew’s community efforts. When the bar opened Andrew reached out to Children’s Aid, and Big Brother/Big Sister to offer them weekly nights. On Friday nights, the bar hosts a DJ night. However, this is not your typical club atmosphere. The point of the night is to get individuals accustomed to that sort of heavily social atmosphere, without the worries associated with a typical nightclub. They also do joint efforts with The Board-Walk Café, the Boffers & Vampire Masquerade-two live-action role playing groups from Peterborough, in addition to helping with The Amigos Day, which targets less socially fluent people and helps them make friends and socialize.

To summarize Retro’s, let’s end with a quote from Warman himself:

“This is a place where a 13 year old girl can beat a 30 year old man at a video game, just beat him to a pulp, and people will cheer.”

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