Bit Bar, a restaurant, bar, and arcade located in the Old Salem Jail at 50 Saint Peter St. in Salem, is slated to open by the end of June 2016 with more than 30 games, including four pinball machines. Read on for a sneak peek inside the space, where the final pre-opening pieces are rapidly falling into place. And take a look at the opening menu below, which features fun twists on comfort food with a focus on foods that are easy to eat while standing in front of an arcade game.
As previously reported, the forthcoming venue comes from the Everett-based Boston Bit Fest team, which lugs around classic arcade games to various locations for pop-up events. The new permanent location will feature a rotating selection of games from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, with a particular focus on the 1980s and 1990s. Arcade games will cost a quarter, and the pinball table pricing will vary. Keep an eye out for bonuses, discounts, and potentially a mobile payment system.
Eater visited the former jail on June 8; these photos show a glimpse of the nearly completed space from that day. Games already lined most of the perimeter in the main room, with paper taped to each one indicating repairs to be done. Planks of 100-year-old reclaimed heart pine were propped up on chairs, having just been sanded. The planks will eventually become tables in the main room, where full-service dining will be available. There will be service on the 60-seat patio outdoors as well, and the patio is slated to open at the same time as the rest of the restaurant, just in time for the start of summer.
For those who'd rather stand and play games all night, customers will be able to start a tab at the bar and then order food from any server. There will be skinny tables between games for easy snacking.
Down the hall from the main room, there's a smaller cave-like room that will have more games, including the pinball tables, and a second bar. Infinity mirrors will be installed on the ceiling to open the room up a bit.
It's clear the team had fun designing the space, paying attention to details like bronze and turquoise metallic paint and custom cube-shaped light fixtures. A decorative film of colorful blocks covers several second-story windows in the main room, helping prevent sunlight from disrupting the game-playing experience.
Chef Eric Hammer, who has spent time at McCormick & Schmick's, Tavern in the Square, and Lolita, has designed a menu that he describes as "very eclectic" with lots of "portable proteins" — all the better for dining while playing games. He's most excited about the elk burger, served with smoked cheddar and bacon on a doughssant (doughnut/croissant hybrid, which you may recognize by another trademarked name from a popular New York City bakery). The doughssant will have black garlic icing, and there will be waffle fries served on the side. The vast majority of the menu is gluten-free, and there are numerous vegetarian and vegan options. Take a look:
An abbreviated late-night menu will be available from 11 p.m to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, featuring snacks like the smoked mango chicken walking tacos, Sriracha Cracker Jacks, and Buffalo-spiced popcorn with blue cheese aioli.
Chef Eric Hammer
The nearly finalized brunch menu, which will be available on both Saturday and Sunday, includes items like breakfast sushi (oats, eggs, chorizo, and avocado, wrapped in nori, served with warm maple syrup); a meat and egg board (Scotch egg, house charcuterie, smoked cheddar, fig syrup); benny waffles (poached egg, duck bacon, hollandaise); chicken and waffle sandwich (fried egg, bacon, white gravy); and more.
The Bit Bar space has quite a history. As the Old Salem Jail, which opened in 1813, it held inmates as recently as 1991 before it was finally shut down. Seven years earlier, some inmates had filed a successful lawsuit alleging that the living conditions were inadequate. For one thing, the individual cells had no plumbing — inmates had to use chamber pots aside from a weekly field trip to the building's two functioning toilets.
The space was empty from 1991 until 2009, when some apartments opened up inside the building, and a year later, a restaurant called Great Escape debuted. A&B Burgers replaced it in 2013 but recently moved to a new space in Beverly.
Stay tuned for an opening date for BitBar.
Bit Bar food photos courtesy of Beth Swan