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Bar and Skee-Ball lanes at Thriller Social Club Jonathan Fong

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The New Thriller Social Club Bets Big on the Return of Arcade Bars

A massive new arcade bar opens this Friday, October 29, talking big game with a Skee-Ball champion and $85,000 golf simulator 

Thriller Social Club is a massive new arcade bar smashing open this Friday, October 29 in a familiar spot, the former Coin-Op space in SoMa, so a couple of long blocks from the ballpark. It’s been taken over by Kingston Wu, who’s also the managing partner of Westwood and Wilder, of mechanical bull fame in the Marina, as well as an investor in various other bars and restaurants, including Horsefeather and Last Rites. He and his partners own the building, so they were left holding the keys to a cavernous empty space during the pandemic. But now they’re betting big on SoMa striking back: Thriller Social Club boasts two levels and three bars, both arcade games and carnival games, a Skee-Ball champion ruling eight lanes, and “the most expensive golf simulator in the world,” so they say. Oh, and craft cocktails and buttered lobster rolls, of course.

Arcade bars were on the rise in San Francisco before the pandemic: Coin-Op was a big opening in 2016, Emporium was even bigger in 2017, and in the following couple of years, there were more than a dozen great bars with fun games to hop around across town. They often catered to tech workers, both engineering types looking for activities for dates, and company reps with entertainment budgets booking parties and events. But bars are just easing back into action, arcade bars have more surfaces to sanitize, and SoMa has been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, as many tech workers haven’t returned to the office. So why open a new arcade bar right now, and why do it in SoMa? “We saw [Coin-Op] do extremely well before COVID … ” Wu says. “It was a home-run concept.” And he believes that people are now looking to get out of the house for fun dates and holiday parties — with the right combination of attractions.

Skee-Ball lanes at Thriller Social Club Jonathan Fong
Golf simulator at Thriller Social Club Jonathan Fong

Thriller Social Club is swinging hard with a mashup of arcade games and carnival games: They’re firing up the classic cabinet games that may bring back memories and aromas of the mall, including Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter. But they’re also including old-school carnival games with beach boardwalk and state fair nostalgia, such as Pop-a-Shot, Connect 4, Ring Toss, Down the Clown, Baseball Throw, and Punching Game. “Joey the Cat” Mucha, a three-time national champion, has signed on to oversee eight Skee-Ball lanes, and the SF Brewskee-Ball competitive league will now call Thriller home. Plus there’s an $85,000 golf simulator, which Wu says is the most expensive in the world, and the same one that Tiger Woods and Steph Curry have in their homes.

Cocktail at Thriller Social Club Jonathan Fong
Caramel popcorn at Thriller Social Club Jonathan Fong

But unlike an arcade bar where you’re really going for the games, and the drinks are whatever, the Thriller cocktails and menu actually sound promising. Stag Dining Group is partnering to provide the food, which means that one of the premier caterers in the Bay is now slinging burgers and dogs: The smashburger is a fresh grind of brisket, special sauce, and American cheese; while the Thrillerdog is 13-inch beef hot dog fully loaded with sour cream, cheddar, bacon, chives, and potato sticks. There will be plenty of pizza (thanks to the original oven from Orson); and a Butter & Bacon Lobster Roll tossed in brown butter, topped with aioli, and eventually, with an option to add on caviar. Barman Sean Doolan from the Westwood team is crafting the drinks, which include “the Happiest Gilmore” with gin, cucumber, and mint; a Hurricane with spiced rum and passionfruit; and some fun garnishes like cotton candy. Check out the opening menu, below.

Dark and mysterious hallway at Thriller Social Club Jonathan Fong

Given that Coin-Op only opened five years ago, the space was in good shape, but the new team redecorated so Thriller Social Club could have its own look and feel. Wu says they reimagined the space with a little more theatrical flare “inspired by the Greatest Showman.” There is new damask wallpaper and rich velvet curtains, wooden archways and carved details like carnival bullseyes and mystical eyeballs. The massive bar downstairs can be staffed by up to five bartenders, and the two additional bars upstairs include a new bohemian bar called Fortuna Lounge. Wu says the team is making every effort to keep the space clean and safe, and they’re using reloadable game cards so you don’t have to handle tokens, although they can’t realistically wipe down every Skee-Ball between players. But with 10,000 square feet and two levels, players and drinkers can space out, as well as book a number of different areas for private parties. Let’s see if SoMa is ready to roll.

Thriller Social Club opens this Friday, October 29. Opening hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to close. Address is 508 4th Street.

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