- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Vulcans, Gryffindors, wizards and hobbits are just a few of the characters that customers run into at the Cloak & Blaster bar in east Orlando.

If you’re not sure what those are, you might feel out of place there - just as Cloak & Blaster regulars might feel during Monday Night Football at a sports bar.

Whether in the back of comic-book shops or in their own buildings, entrepreneurs are opening niche spaces catering to video game fans, role-playing gamers and comic-book aficionados.

Bar owners say they are responding to a demand in the marketplace: a gathering spot for people who love geeky things, whether sci-fi movies, video games or Japanese anime.

Other geek bars include comic-book haven Geek Easy in Winter Park, card-game hangout Sidequest near University of Central Florida and the Offworld Lounge at Artegon Marketplace.

The hangouts host tabletop gaming nights, Super Smash Bros. tournaments and even cosplay karaoke, where fans dress up like their favorite characters and belt out tunes.

But mostly, owners and patrons say, geek bars are a place where people of similar interests can gather.

Florida Geek Scene blogger Scott Schlazer of Ocoee said geek bars aren’t unique to Orlando, but the area has become a hotspot in recent years. There are at least four dedicated geek bars, two video-game bars and even an I-Drive attraction called Drip: Underground Bar, which turns itself into a vampire lair during October.

Of course, Central Florida is one of the easiest places to live out pop-culture fantasies, with theme parks celebrating cartoon characters and frequent comic-book conventions.

But Schlazer said geek bars are growing simply because people who loved video games, comics and sci-fi television shows as children are coming of age and now have disposable income.

“Everybody is a little bit of a geek for something nowadays,” Schlazer said. “Even people that were jocks in high school are buying tickets for Avenger movies.”

Orlando property manager Roger Thacher, 25, said he frequents Cloak & Blaster because it’s a bar where someone with an introverted personality can feel comfortable.

“You’re probably not getting a lot of people that frequent big nightclubs,” Thacher said.

He is also a big fan of cosplay karaoke.

“You are supposed to get up there and look silly,” he said.

Orlando’s Sidequest bar named after the extra tasks often added to video games to keep things interesting.

The bar is attached to the Campus Cards & Games shop and hosts weekly video-game tournaments, Dungeons & Dragons gatherings and trivia nights.

Pokemon, mathematics history and Muppets movies are among topics during its Thursday trivia nights.

Owner Eric Robinett started Campus Cards & Games four years ago and later wanted to start serving drinks to late-night gamers.

“I couldn’t just get a cooler and sell some cheap beer,” Robinett said. “So I had to go through the whole process of getting licensed for a bar.”

He said the bar has done well enough just from customers at his comic-book shop.

“A lot of games take more than an hour to play, so why not grab a drink while you do it?” he said.

He doesn’t advertise as a bar because he said he wants to avoid partyers and clubgoers.

Among geek bars, most have a niche. Sidequest is a haven for Magic: The Gathering players.

Winter Park’s Geek Easy is a bar in the back of the business A Comic Shop and caters to comic-book fans.

The bar has release parties on new comics Wednesdays, said co-owner Adam Bernstein. It has also become a go-to place for “nerd bands” that play songs inspired by video games and “chiptunes,” music that emulates the soundtrack to early video games.

“I’m really surprised sometimes that people even find us,” Bernstein said. “We don’t even have a sign outside.”

Artegon Marketplace’s comic-book and pop-culture memorabilia shop Gods & Monsters opened Offworld Lounge, a bar in the back, a year ago.

Now the bar brings in as much revenue as the Gods & Monsters shop, said co-owner Todd Fisher. It has a menu of 20 nerd-themed shots in addition to craft beer.

“We have a bunch of people that come in with their D&D; group, and typically a drink is something that is a part of their evening,” Fisher said.

With a downstairs tabletop gaming room and an upstairs sci-fi themed bar, Cloak & Blaster is just one of the growing number of geek bars spawning in Central Florida.

“I think all of us nerds, geeks, gamers, or whatever label we choose, have the need to create a special place for our friends to gather and have fun,” said Cloak & Blaster owner Andrea Zimmerman.

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Information from: Orlando Sentinel, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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