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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019
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'Also we'll need a wrestling ring': How Token became a one-of-a-kind Dublin bar

From after-work staff night to full-blown concept bar – the journey wasn’t easy.

Image: Token

IT’S A STRUGGLE as old as the video game medium itself: one person want to stay in playing video games but another wants to go out. Thankfully Token, a retro-arcade bar based in Smithfield, has the perfect compromise.

The idea for Token came to owner Nick DiMaio while working in The RAGE, his vintage record and video game store on Fade Street. After work, DiMaio would have drinks with the staff as they played games on a retro arcade cabinet. Soon he was lugging the cabinet to tournaments in pubs around Dublin.

“Due to the success of the events, I made the decision to find a space and source a lot more machines. Essentially I wanted to create a social, evening version of The RAGE, with amazing fast food and a wide variety of drinks.”

In hindsight Token seems like a surefire hit, offering an experience unlike anything else in Dublin, but for DiMaio it was never a given. From the get go, Token was fraught with difficulties that could turn ones’ hair white.

Planning permission was initially rejected, licensing issues reared their heads, and the entire layout of the basement had to be changed midway through the build due to fire safety issues. On the day of its soft opening the place flooded, like some biblical reckoning against arcade bars.

“At one point I was convinced the building was haunted” says DiMaio. “It genuinely seemed that every time the project moved in a positive direction, there would be something knocking it back. There were really difficult times, and it could feel a bit hopeless. Luckily the team was really supportive and inspired me to push on.”

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Token’s inception may have been filled with pitfalls, but the end result could hardly tell a more different story. Working with designers Lucy Rainey and Sean Niermeyer, DiMaio has created a colourful bar that is both immediately accessible and full of surprises.
“Most arcade bars in the US follow the same design concept with a long bar on one wall and a row of games on the other. Operationally it works but once you’re in the door, it seems to be ‘what you see is what you get’” says DiMaio.

To that end, Token has a row of classic arcade cabinets near the front as well as a dark and cavernous pinball room. And of course there’s the wrestling ring, home to Token’s finest fighting games.

“I’ll never forget the look on Sean and Lucy’s faces when towards the very end of the design process I said “Also Token must have a wrestling ring’” DiMaio says.

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And how did he go about the arduous task of selecting games? “To be honest, I just made a list of most of my favourite games of all time and hoped that I would be able to source them with their original boards, CRT monitors and cabinets. That was important to me, as I feel that playing an arcade machine with its original board and monitor as intended is the equivalent of listening to a vinyl record.”

In addition to supplying drinks and video games, Token has some of the best bar food in Dublin. Described by DiMaio as “cuisine gourmet fast food”, everything is made from scratch using predominantly Irish ingredients. The menu ranges from vegan steak sandwiches to a chili dog that Sonic himself would approve of.

In the last few years, Token has blossomed into one of the top bars in Dublin, and it shows no signs of stopping. After years spent wrangling with multiple landlords, the bar is expanding, creating a new zone for events, themed nights and private functions.

DiMaio attributes the success of the bar to the people he works with. “It’s quite cliché but it’s completely true – the strength of the team is what has made Token what it is. The entire team is on board with the concept, and encouraged to be creative and pitch ideas. When it comes down to it, a great idea is a great idea.”

More: ‘I’d have it even darker than this’: Dive bar magic and an ex-wife’s shoes in Frank Ryan’s>

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