What’s Columbia really been missing? An arcade bar. Yeah, it’s happening

New restaurants, businesses opening in the Midlands

Here are the new stores and restaurants opening around Columbia, SC and the Midlands.
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Here are the new stores and restaurants opening around Columbia, SC and the Midlands.

Remember when your mom used to drop you off at the mall, and you’d go to the arcade and spend all afternoon — and all your money — playing pinball and Pacman and Frogger?

Josh Rainwater vividly remembers those days, remembers that feeling of just pure fun.

And that’s what he wants people in Columbia to feel when they walk into the new Transmission Arcade + Bar.

“We want people to walk in and feel like they did when they were a kid, but then also be reminded, ‘Oh yeah! I can drink!’” said Rainwater, one of the trio of co-owners behind the soon-to-open bar-arcade combo that, he said, will be the only one of its kind in South Carolina.

Rainwater and his business partners, Bradley Randolph and Cam Powell, are close to sealing a lease for a permanent location for Transmission. Rainwater declined to name the location until after the lease is signed.

Until then, they’re introducing themselves and their growing stock of classic arcade games — pinball and cabinet games popular from the ’70s to the ‘90s — to the community through a series of free pop-up events, starting March 20 at Craft & Draft on Devine Street.

“We want people to fall in love with these” games, Rainwater said. “It should feel as fun as an arcade did when we were children. ... You are at a place where the only expectation is fun.”

When Transmission officially opens — the permanent location and opening date are yet to be announced — it will stand alone in all of South Carolina, Rainwater expects.

Bar-arcade combos, often nicknamed “barcades,” have been popular in big cities for years.

“They are in kind of all the big metro areas, except there’s not a true one in South Carolina,” Rainwater said. “There are lots of places throughout the state that have a few machines here and there, but none where the machines are as important as our craft beer and wine selection. We saw that void in South Carolina.”

Columbia, he said, is ready for a business like Transmission.

“I think Columbia is already a cooler city than it knows,” he said. “To say we believe Columbia is ready for an arcade bar is representative of the fact that we’ve been keeping our finger on the pulse.”

Rainwater and his partners took inspiration from places like the Boxcar Bar + Arcade in Raleigh in shaping plans for Transmission. And they took suggestions from people they talked to in Columbia — what would they hope to see in a place like this?

Turns out, people around here really want to play skee ball.

So yes, there will be skee ball lanes, four of them.

There’ll also be 10-15 pinball machines (including an Indiana Jones-themed game bought from a Chapin resident) and 15-20 classic arcade cabinets. Think Donkey Kong, Frogger, Pacman, Centipede — “heavy-hitters and recognizable titles that people might have played from their childhood,” Rainwater said.

Just as importantly, Transmission will offer about a dozen beer taps, 20-30 beers in bottles and cans and 10-15 varieties of wine.

“We plan on having classics and staples from local breweries but also want to find stuff that’s a little offbeat or up-and-coming,” Rainwater said.

And they plan to rotate both the games and the drink selection frequently to keep the fun fresh.

In the future, the Transmission partners hope to add more “indie” arcade games and set up game-trade agreements with some other arcades around the region, Rainwater said. And they’ll keep asking people what they want to play and keep adjusting their games to meet Columbia’s tastes.

“We’d hate to fill it up with only games that we love,” he said.

To keep up with Transmission’s future pop-up event plans, keep an eye on its Facebook and Instagram pages.

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Sarah Ellis has reported on Columbia and Richland County since 2014. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism. She’s probably skipping happy hour to go to a County Council meeting.