16 February 2024

Time for another match: Civic's one-of-a-kind gaming venue up for sale after 10 years

| James Coleman
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Reload Bar & Games

Reload Bar & Games backs onto Verity Lane, behind the Sydney Building. Photo: Reload Bar & Games.

Ten years ago, Jim Andrews found himself with a good sort of problem.

The keen video gamer was also the owner of “Australia’s longest running internet cafe”, The Barracks in Civic. Alcohol was strictly BYO, but the array of gaming PCs and consoles were attracting so many customers throughout the night, he was having to pay for extra rubbish services to get rid of all the leftover bottles. Meanwhile, the nightclub further down the road in the Sydney Building was “pretty empty”.

He decided to collude with a friend – and fellow gamer – about a solution. Ravi Sharma had recently moved to Canberra from overseas, where he’d noticed the popularity of spaces that mixed games with food and drinks (it’s better than it sounds).

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“We just thought, ‘Hold on, something’s not right here – we need to think about how these two things can fit together’,” Ravi says.

It was the conversation that birthed Reload Bar and Games, the pop-culture and video game themed venue “packed full of fun, games and good times” that’s become a hallmark of the Sydney Building.

It opened in 2014 as a “modest” 80-person bar and, thanks also to Marc Brown who joined shortly afterwards as the “hospitality heavyweight” of the trio, it has grown to become a multi-space venue for up to 420 people, and up to 1000 for special events in Verity Lane.

Reload Bar & Games

Inside the bar at Reload Bar & Games. Photo: Reload Bar & Games.

“We’ve got four bars, some seriously good food, and two outdoor areas – plus karaoke, DJs, dancing, pool tables, video games, pinball, and more,” Ravi says.

“At one point, we had people playing League of Legends and others literally dancing around them cocktails in hand. There was nothing else like it in Canberra.”

The Barracks has since shut, but many of the gamers – and more – simply moved to Reload. Game developers, such as those behind Borderlands, even hosted their work parties at the venue, and Ravi remembers when they hosted virtual-reality boxing championships.

“That was fun.”

Reload Bar and Games

The owners of Reload Bar and Games, Ravi Sharma, Jim Andrew and Marc Brown. Photo: Reload Bar and Games.

Now, closing in on its 10th anniversary, Ravi and the other partners have decided to put the business up for sale so they can pursue other ventures.

Ravi will focus on ‘Active Gamers Australia‘, a school holiday program that combines video games and sports with education in cybersafety, teamwork and other STEM modules. It’s currently held across three centres in Canberra, but as it’s coming soon to Wollongong and Campbelltown, Ravi expects he’ll have to spend a lot of time on the road.

“We take over sections of the school – sports ovals or libraries – and set up a whole tonne of gaming screens,” he explains.

“The kids absolutely love it, and we structure it with sessions on teamwork skills like communication and leadership, so the parents can go to work knowing their kids are enjoying gaming we moderate.”

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He describes the decision to move on as a “bittersweet” one.

“I haven’t spent more than three and a half years in a corporate job, so 10 years doing any one particular activity is quite a long time, but we’ve proven to ourselves what we wanted to prove, and decided now’s the time,” he says.

“Reload is a serious undertaking, and we need somebody ready to pour a lot of energy and resources into propelling it forward.”

Reload Bar and Games

Harry Potter dress-up day at Reload Bar and Games. Enough for a Quidditch match? Photo: Reload Bar and Games.

Reload will mark the 10-year milestone with a “whole season of events”, including a Cosplay Showcase, Mario Kart tournament, UNO ‘Deathmatches’, themed trivia evenings, a K-Pop party, hotdog festival (including a Dachshund costume contest) and Chicken Wing Festival.

“And then we want to say goodbye to all the people who have have made it great over the past 10 years – every staff member who has ever worked here, which is a list of about 300 people,” Ravi adds.

Contact Reload Bar and Games for more information.

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