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A big blue bar with beach cruiser bikes hanging from the ceiling
A cluster of colorful bikes suspended from the 20-foot ceiling lead the way to a mezzanine level outfitted with a surprise surf shack.
Daniel Swartz for Boardwalk

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Beat Winter Blues at Boardwalk, the Wharf’s Shiny New Arcade Bar

Penn Quarter’s twice-as-large waterfront counterpart opens Friday, February 18

Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Filled with dangling beach cruisers, surf boards, pelican prints, and bleeping vintage arcade sounds, the new pastel-blasted Boardwalk bar makes its Southwest Waterfront stretch look a little more like Santa Monica Pier these days.

Boardwalk Bar & Arcade flicks on its frose and pinball machines at 4 p.m. on Friday, February 18. Daily hours kick in at 11 a.m. the following day. A 120-foot bar that does a loop around the length of the facade is the Wharf’s biggest indoor-outdoor drinking station yet (715 Wharf Street SW).

With around 10,000 square feet, Boardwalk’s new Wharf locale is nearly twice as big as the landlocked original in Penn Quarter. And not to mention more on brand, with bobbing boats and an actual boardwalk out front. Better Hospitality Group, also behind Shaw rooftop staples Takoda Restaurant & Beer Garden and Cortez, will keep expanding this spring with a twice-as-large Takoda for Navy Yard.

For BHG’s flashy Wharf debut, a massive marquee spelling “Boardwalk” in bright bulbs competes for attention with frozen cocktail barrels hypnotically swirling on the bar.

“We’re going all in on frozen,” CEO Ryan Seelbach tells Eater. Eight glowing machines churn out pina coladas and BHG’s beloved frose across two floors. Boardwalk also pours draft beers and carnival-styled cocktails from 24 tap lines. With a 640-person capacity, quick-serve drinks are a key component at each of its three bars.

A pelican posting up on a pier at sunset keeps tabs on shuffleboard players below.
Daniel Swartz for Boardwalk

To stand out as one of the biggest arcade venues in the city, Boardwalk’s selection plays up old school games from the ‘80s and ’90s. Instead of tokens, reloadable cards can be used to arcade hop for around $1 per play. The bar is also cashless, and kids are only allowed with a 21-and-up guardian.

Seelbach says he sources from one of the top arcade collectors along the East Coast. Nostalgic finds like a sequin-adorned (and sorta creepy) fortune teller mannequin join modern inventions like Dance Dance Revolution and four-person Connect 4 Hoops. Machine themes cover cult comics and pop culture (Deadpool, Guns N’ Roses, Fast and the Furious, and Simpsons, to name a few).

A wall was broken down between a former boat shop and a yoga studio to create a blank canvas for Boardwalk.
Daniel Swartz for Boardwalk
A surf shack-themed bar lightens the mood with pops of pink coral, aerial beach photos, and Dance Dance Revolution on full display.
Daniel Swartz for Boardwalk

Penn Quarter’s popular pint-sized surf shack gets supersized at the Wharf. The carefree, retro-styled perch packs in a curved bar, woven basket lights, tropical palms, surf boards, a rope swing, and rainbow throw pillows.

BHG executive chef Julio Estrada’s Boardwalk menu also balloons in size at the Wharf, thanks to a much larger kitchen. Boardwalk-friendly fare includes chili dogs, corn dogs, blackened mahi tacos, thin crust pizza, club and Cuban sandwiches, popcorn, and ice cream sandwiches. Cocktails loop in carnival flavors like a “Butter Corn” Old Fashioned with butter-washed bourbon and a “Cotton Candy” collins built with vodka, lemon, and sugar. BHG hits like Cortez’s margarita and Takoda’s mule also make appearances.

A daily, three-hour happy hour includes $5 beers or hot dogs and $8 adult “happy meal” combo (a 10-ounce High Life, whiskey shot, and popcorn).

The back “Arcade Bar” switches up the vibe.
Daniel Swartz for Boardwalk

An “Arcade Bar” in the back dims the lights and lowers the ceiling, where a bar framed in shiny red bar stools and silver siding join Mario Kart, Big Buck Hunter, and a claw machine to catch mini life preservers. Gamers get to know their neighbors in nearby “Arcade Alley,” branded in Sega pixelated-style lettering across the wall. The dark hallway is jam packed with a row of throwback games like another claw machine (this time to grab lollipops) and Whack-A-Clown blasting out colorful neon light.

To pay homage to Santa Monica’s beachside boardwalks, designers Wood + Starr soaked its soaring walls and ceiling with pink coral, sea foam, and deep blue tones. A whimsical print of blue balloons hovers above a Skee-Ball section upon entry. Monochromatic bathrooms slathered up and down with slick red or canary yellow tiles are made to mimic both “‘90s high school” and public restrooms at Santa Monica’s beach, he says.

Carnival odes to Coney Island were largely scratched during the design process in favor of sunny California.

“Coming out of COVID-19, we’re leaning towards beach style,” says Seelbach.

Connect 4 Hoops has its own custom-sized nook on the mezzanine level, which was built from scratch to add 3,000 square feet upstairs.
Daniel Swartz for Boardwalk

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