4210 SW Admiral Way, 206-883-7529
On the remote isle of West Seattle, there hides a strange adult playground known as Vidiot. (No, not that kind of adult, you pervert. I'm talking about alcohol.) The former Heartland/Benbow space, pirate ship bar included, was taken over by Vidiot and stuffed with a ridiculous number of arcade games—all of which are free to play! Old favorites like Gauntlet Legends, Crazy Taxi, and Primeval Hunt abound, alongside hundreds of titles you've never heard of that just might become your new favorites. Also available: a bank of gaming computers, a large TV with multiple game consoles, and piles of board games. There's even an all-ages arcade in the front, though those machines are not free, so make sure to give your kids enough quarters to keep them occupied while you drink and drive a hydroplane. Be prepared to stumble back out into the sunlit outside world with no idea how long you spent inside—and no regrets. Happy hour is Monday to Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. ($3.25 tall boys), Wednesday 5 to 9 p.m. (50 cent chicken wings and $1 off all whiskeys), and Thursday 5 to 9 p.m. ($1 off select taps). Game on!
2301 Eastlake Ave E, 206-329-3277
Plenty of places call themselves "dive bars," but the Zoo is a true old-Seattle dive, serving lots of beer and a little wine in a big room where all the chairs seem to have one leg shorter than the others. And while you might not guess it from the outside, the place also boasts an impressive array of games to get steadily worse at as you drink. Pool is the Zoo's specialty, but there's also ping-pong, skee-ball, pinball, and a selection of classic arcade games. In fact, games are so much a part of the Zoo that you can play some old eight-bit classics on the bar's website (eastlakezoo.com). The fun, divey atmosphere of the physical location is enhanced by, among other things, a giant, lumpy dragon sculpture with beady red eyes that stares down at you, benignly judging you for your drunken shenanigans. Their happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and offers discounts on drafts, pitchers, and bottles—plus free pool. (They only take cash, but they also have an on-site ATM in case you forget to stock up beforehand.) This is not a place to find $15 artisanal small-batch cocktails—and we should treasure it all the more for that.
1511 Seventh Ave, 206-521-0952
Why yes, to answer your most pressing question, GameWorks DOES have a happy hour! Even better, as I was somewhat surprised to learn, you can carry your beverage of choice out onto the game floor, so you don't have to choose between beer and House of the Dead, THANK GOD. GameWorks' happy hour runs 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, giving you time to enjoy the tail end of it even after a long workday. And the specials are pretty sweet: half off all drafts, house wine, and wells. Interestingly, at about 4 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, most of the patrons were adults of varying ages. Presumably weekends are when the real-kid crowds descend on the place, making a weekday afternoon the perfect time to go enjoy your Serious Grown-Up Pastime of riding a pretend motorcycle through a bunch of explosions. If you want to be absolutely certain you won't encounter any children, go after 10 p.m. any day of the week, as that's when GameWorks becomes an 18-and-older cool party zone.
Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison St, 206-684-7200
On the third Thursday of each month, the Seattle Center Armory morphs into the biggest bar in the city and throws one hell of a party. From 5 to 8 p.m., the space fills with happy Seattleites looking for cheap drinks, discounted food, games, prizes, and more! One of the most popular features is the selection of giant board games, such as Giant Jenga, a human-height version of the tower-building classic. There's also a wide selection of normal-size board and card games to play, and a rotating selection of video games, old and new, on which to challenge friends and strangers. On top of all that, there are twice-nightly raffles for tickets to all kinds of events in and around Seattle Center, from sports to performances. And the best part? There's no cover, and even the raffle tickets are free with entry! All you pay for is food and drink—$3 to $4 beer, $3 wine, $5 mixed drinks, and specialty cocktails as expensive as (gasp!) $6. If you are looking to maximize your fun on a minimal budget, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better destination.
1510 41st St, Everett, 425-259-0525
Though it's not technically in Seattle, Everett's AFK Tavern is an obvious inclusion on any list of nerd-friendly drinking establishments (for all you normals out there, AFK is a common gamer term that stands for "away from keyboard"). Billing itself as "first and foremost a community center for nerds, gamers, geeks, and internet socialites," AFK makes no attempt to pander to a non-nerdy crowd. Their policies explicitly permit lingering at your table to play games for as long as you want, with no pressure to order round after round to earn your seat. If you want to borrow a game from their extensive library, you can choose based on how long it will take to play, a helpful touch that I wish more places would pick up (I say that sincerely, as someone who was not warned about Arkham Horror). AFK has a rather nontraditional happy hour, taking place from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday to Wednesday, and the deals include $2 shots, $5 "Sonic Screwdrivers," and various tater tot concoctions. Next time you find yourself organizing, say, a Dungeons & Dragons meet-up, the AFK Tavern would no doubt be happy to be your host.
Geeks Who Drink
Geeks Who Drink is an ongoing series of quiz nights hosted at locations all across the city, and they make a point of letting you know it is not just another generic bar trivia night. Multimedia questions, progressive difficulty, "bizarre prizes," and more elevate Geeks Who Drink nights into real events. They claim not to repeat a single question for at least two years, so if you really want, you can go to every single thing they organize without hearing the same one twice. And they are the mad geniuses behind the popular Harry Potter–themed trivia nights, as well as plenty of other themes that pop up periodically throughout the year. As they charge no entry fees, instead simply requesting that participants be good patrons of the host venue, this is another great option for non-bank-breaking entertainment. Check out Geekswhodrink.com for the schedule and locations.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
I wouldn't feel right closing out this list without mentioning a few more places.
Cafe Mox, with locations in Ballard (5105 Leary Ave NW, 206-523-2273) and Bellevue (13310 Bel-Red Rd, 425-326-3050), is widely considered the default nerd bar, with a long history of hosting everything from board-game-themed birthday parties to official Magic: The Gathering set releases. Both locations offer large tables, borrowable games, and foods you can eat without ruining your cards.
Meeples in West Seattle (3727 California Ave SW, 206-535-7896) is a family-owned game store/cafe with a big, sunny space and friendly staff. It's also one of the most truly family-friendly places I've had the pleasure of visiting, with plenty of fun and appropriate entertainment for kids and adults alike. Sip a local beer, get your kid a soft pretzel, and play anything from Uno to Settlers of Catan.