I spent a lot of time at LeBlanc Café in Persona 5. It was my home. It was where I studied and read books in my free time. It was my hideout for the sleuthing heart-stealers, the Phantom Thieves. It was where my surrogate dad taught me how to make coffee and curry (the former I’d always make with a dash of love when friends visited). Elsewhere in Tokyo, burrowed in a diner, I once loitered for hours sipping a single coffee. The act raised my Guts. LeBlanc Café isn’t the first video game cafe, obviously, but it’s one of the most homely.
In movies, television, books, and beyond, cafés and bars serve as a sort of watering hole for their characters. In the sitcom Friends, the group of cozy young adults living in impossible apartments above their local shop dwell on their go-to couch, a spot other patrons know is a no-go. In the anime Nichijou, a coffee shop is a place of anxiety for the character Yukko, as she struggles to comprehend the intricacies of the café’s menu.
There have been a lot of cafés and bars in video games over the years. Cafés and bars serve equally similar vibes in games, contrary to reality. In games, they’re often a little bit seedy, but always cozy; a place to relax and talk with NPCs. Sometimes they’re so interchangeable, that the two names will be swapped in favor of a less nefarious liquid of choice (such as Earthbound’s shift of Boris’ Bar becoming Jackie’s Café). In reality, they veer one way or the other (in rare cases, both).
And why do we go to cafés and bars in real life? To reflect? To relax? To catch up with an old acquaintance? There are games that mirror those functionalities, but mostly, they don’t. They house needless NPCs and quest givers, set pieces, or even nothing at all. Often, video game-bound cantina-like sanctuaries serve one thing only: an in-between shelter before facing the rest of the interactive world. But some rise above the others.
7th Heaven (Final Fantasy VII)
7th Heaven, Tifa’s recognizable bar, also serves as a hideout for Cloud and the gang. The bar resides in the slums of Midgar initially. Its ramshackle boards tower high to account for the bar and restaurant’s multiple levels. It has common decor: a jukebox, wooden tables. To passersby, it’s a whatever establishment. Common for the poverty-stricken slums of Midgar. But inside lies the secrets of Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and others, and their doomed plan to upend Shinra once and for all.
The Blue Casket (Grim Fandango)
The Blue Casket is the coolest club in all of Grim Fandango, daddy-o. It’s where beatniks meet, poets spout words, cigarette smoke clouds the air. Manny, with his white suit, sticks out like a sore thumb at the Blue Casket. Visually, we see that Manny isn’t quite as suave or uppity as the patrons of The Blue Casket. And when his live poetry is ripped off by the bar’s owner Olivia, wherein she receives a stunning response of snapping applause, Manny’s stature is obvious. He’s not welcome here in cool cats land.
The Lower Depths (Kentucky Route Zero)
There’s a soft, glowing sign dangling outside of The Lower Depths in Kentucky Route Zero that reads “HARD TIMES SERVED.” This is referencing a specific brand of whiskey, Hard Times Whiskey, but it could reference the gloom that haunts everyone over the course of the episodic game. With the middle-of-nowhere bar’s emphasis on quiet conversation, rather than yelling at sports games on tv or drinking the night away in a belligerent frenzy, The Lower Depths exists as a rare dive bar, in a medium where dive bars are hardly emblematic of what they truly are: dives.
Milk Bar (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask)
Not many bars post up giant milk jugs as decor. But not many bars serve exclusively milk either. The Milk Bar, a staple locale in a few The Legend of Zelda games, is one of them though. The Milk Bar in Majora’s Mask in particular, with its purple-hued space, feels the most un-tavern like of them all. If it weren’t for the cow-speckled bar countertop, it could easily flip to being a Milk Café.
The Roost (Animal Crossing: New Leaf)
Thanks to ol’ Brewster, The Roost always serves up delicious hand-roasted blends. In some games, The Roost serves as a venue for the town’s regular crooner K.K. Slider. But in New Leaf, The Roost ventures elsewhere: as its own building. Brewster remains there, serving cups of joe to regulars. The critters of town still loiter around, and the player can chat them up if they so choose. Coffee in Animal Crossing—like everything, really—relishes in its soothing qualities. There’s not really a game-focused “point” to visit it, but whatever. Why do we buy coffee at a café when we can make it at home? To get out of the house for a change.
Stray Sheep (Catherine)
Unlike most of the games above, a bar (the Stray Sheep) is where the core of Catherine takes place. We see everything in Vincent’s life unravel at the bar: his friendships, his interactions with the bar’s employees and patrons, his inevitable infidelity. The Stray Sheep isn’t just a place for Vincent to drink his life away and ignore his responsibilities, but a place for him to mull over texts from loved ones; to learn about others that aren’t himself. Catherine wouldn’t be the game it is without the Stray Sheep to anchor Vincent down, even as he stumbles with each sip.
Valhalla (VA-11 Hall-A)
VA-11 Hall-A is technically the name of this bartending simulator’s bar, but the colloquial name “Valhalla” suffices for its patrons. Valhalla represents a rare sanctuary to a dystopian cyberpunk world we never see. We only see inner spaces of VA-11 Hall-A’s Glitch City: Jill’s apartment, and Valhalla, the bar she bartends at. Over the course of VA-11 Hall-A, Jill mixes drinks and “saves lives,” talking to the local patrons through their problems, and sometimes befriending them along the way. VA-11 Hall-A manages to craft an entire universe of grime and life through the most minute way: via the conversations you have with the city’s diverse citizens.
What other cafés, bars, taverns, and other beverage serving places do you love in games, and why? Sound off in the comments!