Medicine and bar ownership complement each other. If it gets really tough in one area, you can go to the other thing for a while. I’ve never considered stopping either one.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2021
The basement events continued over the next few years, as Dr. Burkhart married his wife and had the first of his five children. “After a while, I thought it would be fun to own a business like it, before bar/arcades existed,” he said. “A few years later, maybe eight to 10 years ago, my brother told me about a friend in New York who visited a place called Barcade.” But at that point, Dr. Burkhart reasoned, he was married, had his medical practice, and was raising two small children with a third on the way. The time for opening a bar/arcade just wasn’t right.
After another year or two went by, Dr. Burkhart learned from his friend who fixed broken pinball machines that a similar place was opening up in Columbus. “I said to myself, ‘It’s now or never’ and talked to my wife about it. She’s an attorney, and I have my practice, but we didn’t want to be old and gray, sitting in a rocker on the front porch thinking, ‘I regret that we didn’t try opening our own business.’”
The result was Level One Arcade and Bar, which opened in 2015 in the Crosswoods area of Columbus. It’s one of several bar/arcades that operate in the central Ohio area. Dr. Burkhart stocked the place with his own Simpsons, South Park and 20 other pinball machines, nearly 50 stand-up video games, and two Skee-Ball lanes. Level One serves mostly craft beers and a few game-themed cocktails but doesn’t sell food.
“We’re still an attorney and a doctor, and food is too complicated,” Dr. Burkhart explained. “We wanted to keep it simple, so we have menus available from local restaurants.” Pre-pandemic, the business would allow take-out from other establishments to be brought in and was a popular setting for birthday parties and other gatherings. During Level One’s first year in business, Dr. Burkhart hosted his eight-year-old daughter’s soccer team party at the same time as a birthday for a patron turning 70. “It’s a pretty broad demographic,” he said.
A Pandemic Pivot
When COVID-19 hit in March, Level One—like businesses across the country—shut down. Bars and restaurants were allowed to open in May, but arcades didn’t reopen until June. As of press time, Level One was open limited hours with a bare-bones staff.
“We don’t have a lot of overhead because I use my own machines as stock,” Dr. Burkhart explained. Before the pandemic, the business employed 12, including a full-time manager, several bartenders, and barbacks. Now, it employs four.
“It’s a lot slower than it used to be, but we’re doing all the precautions and then some,” said Dr. Burkhart. “We have gloves for playing Skee-Ball, sanitizer stations all around the bar, and we thoroughly bclean tables between parties. There’s only one person allowed at a time at the bar, and the staff and customers have to wear masks when they’re playing and walking around. They can take them off only to drink,” he said.
Dr. Burkhart took a break from his pinball league this year but spent every Monday night for the last four years playing his favorite game. “Columbus has a lot of good pinball players, and there’s one local guy who ranks in the top 10 pinball players in the world,” he said. “There are several others who are world-class players. Out of 70 people, I’ve ranked in the top third.”
Dr. Burkhart said he has never wanted to sideline his medical career for full-time pinball, viewing the game and bar ownership as a fun pastime. His five children, whose ages range from 7 to 14, all enjoy playing, and some have joined him in pinball leagues. One son won a tournament in 2019, and one daughter took second place.
But Dr. Burkhart doesn’t think his kids will follow in his flipper-loving footsteps. “They enjoy pinball, but they’re also into their own things,” he said. “They’re not freakish about it like I am,” he said with a smile.