Brother-Sister Duo Delivers Nostalgia
Rebranded San Francisco Arcade Bar a Neighborhood Fixture
by Matt Harding
After recently having its 5-year anniversary, The Detour SF – formerly Brewcade – has a lot to celebrate. After reopening in mid-July 2019, it’s more than double the previous size, going from 2,000 sq. ft. to 5,000 sq. ft.
That means more space for unique arcade options, something they were no stranger to in the first place. (The venue was an early adopter of BumbleBear Games’ Killer Queen.) It also means a bigger bar – now full-service and serving food.
The concept came from siblings Tiffny Vergara Chung and Shawn Vergara. Their dad was a chef, and they grew up in and around the restaurant business. Tiffny went on to a career in finance while Shawn stuck around the hospitality biz, working at clubs and then managing and developing bars and restaurants.
“We both complement each other’s weaknesses,” Vergara said. “I’m more front of house and operations, and she’s behind the scenes doing payroll, billing and the business end.” For Shawn especially, the arcade bar idea made a lot of sense. Now 51, he grew up around the games and understood the excitement and nostalgia surrounding them during this renaissance.
“As a concept person, you’re always looking to do something new, fun and fresh – whatever’s going to excite customers to come out and patronize your business,” he said. “When these concepts started opening up throughout the Midwest, I’d visited one and immediately said to myself, ‘We’ve got to open up one of these in San Francisco.’ It seemed like a no-brainer.”
So that’s what they did. And it was successful, too. But as time went on, they knew they ought to do something more. “We knew that it wasn’t realizing its potential,” Vergara noted. “We had been wanting to do the renovation and rebranding for a while, but with the space next door, it hadn’t really worked out.”
When the opportunity presented itself, they jumped – closing down for about a month-and-a-half to knock down an adjoining wall and expand the operation. They were already prepared on the games side of things, and with the new concept.
“For the first years, it was kind of an incubator space to learn about the games and find a service team that could help us support them,” he said. “If you don’t have working games, you don’t have a full working business.”
Vergara explained that the name change aspect was two-fold. First, it was no longer a “Brewcade.” They now have a full-service bar and food. But why they changed it to The Detour SF was personal to Vergara. That was the name of a long-gone gay bar in the Castro District where he went in his 20s.
“The Detour meant a lot of things to a lot of people,” he said. “This is my homage to the neighborhood.” This year, the city named the Castro an LGBTQ cultural district. “We wanted to align ourselves in honor of that designation,” Vergara added.
Even though food and beverage accounts for more than 90 percent of revenue, don’t think the arcade is lacking. Now at 50 games, up from 30, it’s quite large for an arcade bar – especially considering the diverse lineup that includes basketball, Ice Ball lanes and other large-format games. They own about half of the arcade games, and work with two different vendors on supplying the rest.
It’s a mix of old and new – all running on quarters. Popular classics include Tetris, Centipede, Defender, Frogger, Dig Dug and The Simpsons. The modern indie game Killer Queen is a favorite, too. “We were the first business in California to have Killer Queen,” Vergara boasted. They also have Cosmotrons, a video game developed by Arcadeaholics, and were the first to get game designer Tony Hauber’s DeathBall (per Hauber’s website, www.deathball.cab, it was during a Killer Queen tournament at the old Brewcade where he came up with the idea).
The Detour SF has six pinball machines, but Vergara said that’s going to be the next change. He’s getting ready to pull slower-generating cabinets in order to get at least a few more pins in there, due to their popularity. About 10-12 of those will be the sweet spot, he said.
Like a late-night informercial – “But wait, there’s more!” –– they have a giant Jenga setup, console games, board games, trivia night, movie night and even occasional bingo. Plus, there’s a monthly free-play Tuesday.
“What I love about this type of concept is you can kind of throw anything at it,” Vergara said about arcade bars.
That brings us to the meat and potatoes of the business – both literally and financially – the food and beverage. The Detour SF implemented a fast-casual system where people walk up to the food bar or regular bar to order, grab a pager, then pick up their food. They can eat at the bar or at one of the many tables in the facility.
They have burgers and fries, pizza and salads, and a root beer float for dessert. They reduced the draft list down to five beers, plus many more in cans and bottles. There’s still wine, too. But it’s the cocktails that are the real money maker and specialty of the revamped bar. (Shawn and Tiffny are also partners at a nearby cocktail bar called Blackbird.)
There’s nothing standard about the cocktails either. A unique, cinnamon-soaked piña colada, sangria and all sorts of carbonated and non-carbonated liquor-filled concoctions – a select few straight from a tap.
Grab your drink of choice at 2200A Market Street in San Fran, raise your glass and cheers to five years for the new neighborhood staple.