There’s nothing wrong with drinking and talking and actually connecting with your fellow human beings at the bar. But after you’ve fully covered “what’s new with you” and “what movies have you seen lately,” it’s time for games. We’re not talking about beer pong or even Jenga, we’re talking about actually fun, competitive games that energize your night—and save you from having to once again bring up the great “is a hotdog a sandwich or not” debate, which always seems to bubble up when there’s an awkward silence. Here, a ranking of the best games a bar can have.
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Dive bars are almost obligated to have a pinball machine in the far back of the room. Most people take notice of it, think to themselves, “Oh, cool, a pinball machine,” and leave it at that. But the next time you spot one, go ahead and slip in a few quarters. You’ll quickly remember just how fun pinball can be—bonus points if it has an obscure 1980s band theme. While it’s not particularly group friendly, pinball is a great way to pass the time while you wait for others or for a table to open up.
Your pool table at home might just be a place to stack old magazines and souvenir water bottles, but in a bar, a pool table is a social oasis. It’s where you meet new people as you wait for your game, challenge strangers to a friendly competition or act out a romcom cliche by teaching someone how to play (while falling madly in love, of course). The slow pace of the game also allows you to do what you came to the bar to do in the first place: drink.
Nothing puts a smile on your face like throwing sharp objects at the wall with a drink in hand. The element of “danger” (which is fairly non existent unless you insist on standing directly next to the dart board while other people are shooting) gets your blood flowing, while the competitive nature of the game makes even watching on the sidelines exciting. Though bull’s eyes might elude some, pretty much everyone becomes (somewhat) proficient after a throw or two. Simple, mildly dangerous, group-friendly: all the ingredients of a great bar game.
Whether it’s the tabletop version or the real deal, shuffleboard is quickly making its way out of retirement homes and cruise ships and into bars. It makes sense, because retirement homes, cruise ships and bars all have something in common: the need for light, low-energy activities that can be played while drinking (mark our words, those retirees will drink you under the table). The notion that this game is just for the elderly is as old as the people you probably envision playing it, so grab one of those giant sticks and get ready to slide some discs.
4. Air Hockey
More and more bars are installing air hockey tables, harkening back to those '90s arcade parties you went to as a kid. It’s about as high-tech a form of entertainment a bar can have (with the possible exception of a mechanical bull) before it becomes overkill—don’t even get us started on Dance Dance Revolution. Unlike many other top bar games, air hockey is a fast-paced, high-intensity game guaranteed to bring out the competitive nature in anyone. Just make sure you don’t leave any drinks on the rail.
Sure, you may have played foosball in a bar before, but have you ever played foosball in a bar correctly? If you have, then you already know it is against the rules to turn a knob past 360 degrees, meaning your “power shot” that sends the little soccer guy spinning is actually illegal. If you play the right way, the game becomes a lot more tactical and requires much more coordination, which can be a lot of fun when both of those skills are a little fuzzy from drinking.
2. Bocce ball
Bocce ball evokes Italian summers, aperitivo hour and Mediterranean breezes. Pick up one of the hefty balls and you’re liable to forget that you’re only a 10-minute drive from your very un-palazzo-style home. Bocce ball is like a more aesthetically-pleasing version of shuffleboard, in that you’re rolling objects down a lane, trying to get your balls closest to the “jack.” You can play it outdoors or indoors, and it’s pretty much a rule that you have to have a drink in your non-throwing hand at all times. It’s molto bene—or however you say a real good time in Italian.
The only thing you’re throwing or dropping in this game is knowledge. Nothing draws a crowd like the chance to show off useless knowledge, win cheap prizes and come up with dumb punny team names over a few a drinks. It’s a great way to spark conversation while finding out which of your friends has a hidden stash of facts about mid-90s boy bands stored away in their brain. Just remember: Skin is the largest organ in the human body, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, and bats are the only mammals that can fly.