A line of thirty people extends out from an oversized game of Connect Four. The blue and red game pieces would be perfect for a battle between Charmander and Squirtle, red vs blue, fire vs water. But this opportunity was missed – and instead, it’s just a comically large game between friends. I move to the next station: an inflatable plastic room with a leaf blower connected. Yes, you heard me right – a leaf blower. After waiting in a forty-five minute line, I enter to try and collect a mixture of $100 bills and Pokemon cards that blow around. Why am I collecting $100 dollar bills? I’m not exactly sure – but in the end, I trade them for a few stamps on a game sheet – a little closer to a prize if I collect all 80 stamps.
The PokeBar pop-up is the next in a line of incredibly lazy and uninspired attempts at an Instagram-palace cash-grab. Their selling point is three burgers, each dressed up as a different Pokemon: a yellow Pikachu, a red Charmander, and a green Bulbasaur. While these are novel enough to draw a crowd, they aren’t enough to sustain an experience. The remainder of the two hours that aren’t spent eating are spent within Boomtown Brewery playing a series of carnival games for stamps. The stamps serve as motivation to play the games, post to social media, and engage in your surroundings, but are perhaps the most egregious part of the entire experience.
If you want to take anything home, guests must collect 40 stamps for a small prize or 80 stamps for a medium prize. Each game provides anywhere from 1 to about 10 stamps, depending on if you win or not. The Connect Four game yields one stamp for the loser and 5 for the winner; while the leaf blower money game provided one stamp for each bill you exited with, providing about ten stamps for an average player. Normally, providing motivation to play games is a smart idea and giving people a task can be rewarding, but with only six to seven games to play and lines that averaged between twenty and forty minutes long, it was physically impossible to collect the amount of stamps needed to get a prize.
But prizes aren’t the main reason we come to these, right? It should be about playing the games with your friends! Well, sad to report here that the games were rarely even Pokemon themed and never amounted to anything that was much more exciting than your standard brewery pick-up-and-play. There was a putting green, a game of Cornhole, and a fishing game that at least had guests fishing for Pokeballs in a children’s pool of water. However, the magnet in the pole was not strong enough to lift the Pokeball, rendering this game impossibly difficult; the helpful hints by the man running the booth to hook the fishing line on the clasp of the ball proved frustrating at best. Finally, in the center, there were sheets of paper with a nice game of Sudoku and two different mazes to complete. At least one of the mazes tried to make it somewhat themed by having you collect six elements along the way.
If games and prizes aren’t your thing, then you could always sit down at brewery seating or enjoy a few photo ops. They had Charizard wings painted on a backdrop for you to pose in front of – and a series of Pokemon cards you could place yourself in – except one of the longest lines went right in front of this photo op, rendering it obsolete the entire night. Oh – and there was a photo booth too – but you had to pay for that. The description mentioned things like “opportunities to play a real-life version of the popular monster catching game” and “two hours of trivia battling.” I did not see any trivia, and the only monster-catching that occurred was patrons rushing to collect stamps.
As for the food, it was tasty. An outside grill served up meat or vegetarian burgers reminiscent of the variety at a cookout, and there were options to get them somewhat customized. With a long line, and numerous people ordering at once, it was difficult to get your orders understood to the level expected of this experience. Of the four burgers ordered in our group, two of them were made incorrectly. Also, the nice pictures in the adverts – we all know that the food never looks quite like that, and it definitely didn’t this time. Finally, the description mentioned “themed drinks,” and while we were given a ticket for a drink, the only options were four different beers, and three sodas. Very little about this event was themed.
With marketing vastly different from what the actual experience was, I can only assume that there was more behind the scenes that a standard audience member wouldn’t be privy to. Just days prior to the experience, a location change was announced – and most of the games there did appear to be ones that were already at the new location: Boomtown Brewery. It’s unclear what caused this change and why the themed drinks, trivia, and other experiential moments were abandoned; but if what was advertised was abandoned, this should have been communicated and refunds should have been an option. That kind of transparency would be far better than providing a sub-par event that does not match expectations.
The PokeBar pop-up is a perfect example of marketing that does not align to the reality. Ultimately, $55 bought you a long line to play standard brewery games, a grilled burger with a cute face, and a regular old drink. If you were truly ambitious, you may walk away with a Pikachu hat or a small Pokeball-inspired speaker. And if you’re a fan of the anime, games, or movies, you may walk away with a massive dose of disappointment.