UPON ENTERING the gates of the dragon's brick lair, you encounter laughter and the aroma of steak fries. You are immediately faced with a monumental decision.
“Are you on an analog or a digital quest?” asks the Gatekeeper, shaking a stack of menus expectantly.
Weakened by hunger and thirst, you are unable to respond. The Gatekeeper, a nice college student with a nose piercing, notices your confusion and guides you past a cluster of friendly wizards wielding joysticks.
“That’s OK, you can choose a game later. Let me show you to a table.”
Thus begins your adventure at the Chromatic Dragon, Savannah’s only culinary establishment dedicated to gaming culture and its attendant accouterments. Located on MLK Blvd. in the former Bub-A-Q’s, it’s a respite from the boring land of the Muggles and a watering hole to find common-minded ilk. This is where Dungeon Masters sit amongst Planeswalkers, where Pokemon breaks bread with Mortal Kombat, and where Star Wars and Game of Thrones might throw down for an arm wrestling match.
Along with tasty takes on pub grub and craft cocktails, the Chromatic Dragon serves up all manner of gamecraft: There are “analog” tabletop board games like Settlers of Catan, Walking Dead Risk and the scandalously fun Cards Against Humanity; the borrow list even includes old school family faves likes Apples 2 Apples and Monopoly.
On the “digital” menu are the hottest video games for the house XBOX360, PS3 and Wii stations (just tell the Gatekeeper—er, host—that you’d like to be seated near a screen.)
Giant Jenga blocks keep all ages amused, and of course, rowdy rounds of role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: the Gathering are highly encouraged.
“If it has rules and you can play it, you’ll probably find it here,” assures co-founder Clegg Ivey, an avid gamer himself.
“Unless it has a ball,” interjects business partner and fellow Dungeon Master Jacob Heider. “Then it becomes a sport.”
The anomalous conundrum of beer pong aside, these fellows know their gaming. Ivey is a former Silicon Valley start-up whiz and intellectual property lawyer who has been rolling 20-sided dice since the 1970s; Heider is a computer programmer and software engineer with an affinity for Wii bowling. Heider worked for one of Ivey’s companies in Orlando, FL, and the two forged a fast friendship after meeting at an office D&D meet-up (where else?)
The Chromatic Dragon is a spin-off of the partners’ wildly popular venture The Guild Hall, the makerspace/gaming/performance compound also on MLK Blvd. Part clubhouse, part laboratory, The Guild Hall has rapidly become Savannah’s “thirdspace” for nerds of all stripes. Members enjoy coding classes, sword fighting sessions and epic Nerf gun tournaments along with shows by the Odd Lot Improv Troupe and local bands.
“People would say the only reason they would leave was to get food or get their drink on,” says Ivey. “It wasn’t in the plan to start a restaurant, but it got us thinking.”
When the barbecue joint next door closed up shop, the opportunity arose to give the Guild Hall’s 500+ affiliates an excuse to stay within the domain. Ivey and Heider found inspiration in other gaming pubs like Orlando’s The Cloak & Blaster and in Korea’s strong e-sports bar culture.
“There are all these places in Seoul where gamers gather to watch Starcraft tournaments,” says Ivey. “It’s up on the big screen like football or soccer, only it’s a video game.”
The non-gaming public is also finding its way inside the Chromatic Dragon’s majestic realm, drawn in by the patio seating and artisanal touches from local metalworks guild La Bastille and Aurora Stained Glass. It’s not long before these plebes find themselves with cards or a joystick in one hand and a fork in the other.
The menu itself is traditional pub fare translated into pure tongue-in-cheek geek: Meme mash-ups crop up in the Soup O’ the Day, and Tolkien references abound (Lord of the Wings, anyone?) Mixed in with the Wedge Antilles salad and the Malfegor spicy chicken sandwich are knighted “legendary items” like the Starfox Barrel Rolls, a crispy spring roll filled with savory corned beef, melty Swiss cheese and tangy sauerkraut served on a bed of fresh greens.
Such imaginative foodplay is the brainwork of Chef Bret Gnat, recruited from the resort scene in Port St. Lucie, FL. A gamer himself, he jumped at the chance to relocate to Savannah and create the city’s first high-end, game-themed cuisine.
“I come from the waterfront dining world, so I’m comfortable with the presentation stuff,” says Chef Gnat. “It’s great to create something with a little extra flair.”
While there are plenty of meaty plates to sink into after a major battle, the Chromatic Dragon holds its vegetarian comrades dear: The Commander Shepherd’s Pie is comfort-food jewel of sage-roasted carrots, peas, cauliflower and mushrooms topped with a parmesan mashed potatoes and a nutty cream sauce, and herbivores can also snack on the roasted red pepper chickpea sliders. A slew of salads and other meat-free dishes are cleverly marked with the symbol for Grass Pokemon.
After a small hiccup with its liquor license, the Dragon’s bar is expected to begin breathing fire this week with a massive selection of locally-brewed and nationally-renowned craft beers and other grog. The creative craft cocktail menu includes “health” and “mana” potions served in glass vials, but beware of mirroring your World of Warcraft character’s drinking habits.
Prices are reasonable with snacks starting at $5 and sliders and sandwiches running $9-12; generously-portioned entrées top out at $22 for the 12-oz. Knight Artorias ribeye. And save room for dessert ($6): Even if you don’t live in Westeros, all must bow to the Mother of Dragons, a cinnamon sugar-dusted Twinkie singed golden-brown by the breath of Forgiarix, the Guild Hall’s house mascot.
Best of all, access to the game library is free with a food and beverage tab.
But play nice and mind the code of conduct—otherwise, Forgiarix may eject you from the Shire onto the street.