Level up with booze-video game combo at Level One Bar + Arcade

Abernathy Miller, Columbus Alive

When Paul Burkhart saw the popularity of bar + arcades growing in Columbus, he knew it was time to put up or shut up. The self-proclaimed pinball junkie always dreamed of owning his own bar and arcade, but had been putting it off to focus on his successful medical practice and family. After nearly 20 years of waiting, Level One Bar + Arcade is set to open at the end of this month on the North Side.

"I've been a gaming fanatic my whole life. I grew up playing pinball at the local arcades. I told my brother about wanting to do a bar and arcade concept years ago, but life got in the way," Burkhart said. "When I started seeing bar-arcades popping up, I decided it was time to finally do it before the market got saturated. I always wanted to do it, but figured I couldn't. As I got older I realized that life is only so long. You have to go for it."

Burkhart opened the floodgates when he bought his first pinball machine for private use. His collection quickly grew to more than 90 machines. His pinball arsenal became a centerpiece for parties, which made the bar + arcade concept even more appealing. Burkhart, with support from his attorney wife, began taking steps to make Level One a reality.

"My wife was really supportive and pushed me to finally do it. Columbus is a big enough city that we can spread out. Since most of the bar and arcade spots are centered downtown, we decided to open up in the northern part of the city," he said. "Getting all the paperwork done has been a boring and tedious process, but planning the concept and seeing it come to life has me really excited."

Burkhart decided on a 4,000-square-foot space in Crosswoods Worthington, which will make Level One the largest bar and arcade space in the city. He plans to have 40 traditional arcade games and 15 pinball machines to start, and plans on filling his 24-tap system with local and regional craft brews to complement the specialty cocktail menu. Burkhart hopes his bar + arcade will attract other pinball fanatics, and maybe even result in some video-game-to-pinball-converts.

"Pinball requires constant upkeep because there are so many delicate moving parts. After video games, I think pinball became too much of a hassle for game operators, so pinball disappeared for a while, which created a cult following," he said. "I think with most arcades, games with name recognition like 'Pac-Man' or 'Pong' bring people through the door; then they discover pinball. Some people are into retro games, others are into fighting games and they all become fanatical followers. But games like 'Pac-Man' follow a pattern, whereas a pinball game, the experience is different every time."

Burkhart is in the final stages of remodeling and hopes to be open for business in late July, though he wishes it was sooner.

"Getting Level One up and running was a long grind - but so was medical school. It's easy for time to go by - but eventually you have to stop dreaming and start doing," Burkhart said. "Before you know it, your dream is a reality. I'm ready for this thing to open like, yesterday."

Level One Bar +Arcade

130 Hutchinson Ave., North Side

level1bar.com