You might have to fight over the "Stranger Things" pinball machine, but don’t worry — there are 17 other pinball machines at Bishop Cidercade. And about 150 other arcade games. And, in that theoretical future of a post-coronavirus pandemic Austin, there might be closer to 220 games at Riverside Drive’s latest lakefront attraction.
Joel Malone has been looking to open an Austin location of his arcade-meets-cider bar since about 2017. Now, Bishop Cidercade has landed in the old Joe’s Crab Shack spot on Lady Bird Lake, with its enviable view. Bars are still shut down in Texas, but arcades are allowed to open, and the business sells pizzas out of its kitchen, too.
And yes, your gut is right: Malone says there was stiff competition for the lakefront spot.
Austin has homegrown cider spots like Austin Eastciders, which just opened a new restaurant on nearby Barton Springs Road, and for your games-and-drinks needs, there are local faves like Pinballz, too. But Bishop Cidercade mashes the two up in a rapidly developing and highly sought-after district.
So, here’s how a cidercade works: Guests pay a $10 admission fee to get in, and they can play all the games they want inside. The arcade spread is designed to please the masses. Classic joystick games for people who grew up in the 1980s. Millennials might want to sit inside the "Jurassic Park" game, Malone says, or shoot hoops on the basketball game. Dance Dance Revolution, skeeball, racing, air hockey, bubble hockey, those pinball machines — listen, you’ve been to an arcade before. Bishop Cidercade probably has what you’re looking for.
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Don’t forget the "cider" in the name. Malone says they have 24 boozy beverages on tap, all of which the company makes itself (mostly at its Dallas production facility), from hard cider and hard seltzer to hard kombucha and wine. (But it’s 90% cider, he says. The name, you know.)
Austin customers also can order a thin-crust pizza from the rotary stone hearth oven. Pepperoni for the picky eaters, peach and prosciutto for the adventurous.
At 8 p.m. Bishop Cidercade becomes a 21-and-up establishment. It feels "a little like a casino, a little like a family entertainment center," Malone says.
Malone and his wife/business partner, Laura, first opened up a cider bar in May 2014 in Dallas’ Bishop Arts District, which led them to branch out into the city’s Design District a few months later. The second location was much bigger, allowing for a larger manufacturing facility with plenty of space for … something else. They just weren’t sure what. Malone says they started doing tours, and then booked live music to fill the non-touring hours. But when they moved arcade games into the facility, lines started to wrap around the building, he says.
"We never anticipated how big it was gonna get," Malone says.
Soon, the Bishop team was looking to expand outside of Dallas. In the Texas capital, the Malones saw a chance to build a location that could be everything they wanted it to be. In addition to a cider bar and arcade, they envisioned a restaurant, as well as a large room that could be closed off for private events. (There’s also a Houston location in the works.)
"All of the mistakes we made in Dallas, we got to fix in Austin," he says.
When the Austin location first was announced, the Malones hoped to open by the end of 2019. Zoning and permitting challenges delayed things, Malone says, as did the city inspection process. They needed to add a third ramp to comply with accessibility requirements, and they found out there’s a historic tree on site that needed a protection plan drawn up by an arborist.
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The Malones pushed their Austin opening to March 2020, to line up with South by Southwest. Malone says he talked to the fest about the possibility of partnering in some way.
Well. Then ... you know.
With the rush to get ready for SXSW no longer a factor, and with new safety considerations because of the pandemic, Malone says they took their time in opening. Bishop Cidercade’s normal occupancy caps at 302; under state health guidelines, they could operate at 50% capacity, but Malone says they’re cutting things off at 140.
In addition to fewer games than normal, tables and chairs are spaced out more, and masks are required. The whole place is cash-free. After hours, Bishop Cidercade runs ULV foggers, and Malone says they test surfaces and sanitize games "constantly." Disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are available to patrons.
Bishop Cidercade’s Austin location has a staff of about 20. The Malones hope to get a place to stay in Austin, eventually; driving from Dallas to Austin five times in nine days will make you want that.
If Austinites want to try the cider but aren’t ready for an arcade environment as the pandemic persists, Bishop Cidercade sell cans and growlers to go. And there’s the "giant" patio, too, Malone says.
The reception has "been awesome" so far, he adds.
"We’re at limited capacity right now and still hit that capacity over the (first) weekend," with a line 60 people deep on their first Saturday.
And Bishop Cidercade might have a mascot after only a couple weeks in business, too, thanks to its proximity to the lake.
"We also have a raccoon that seems to like the attention," Malone says.