Starting Start Bar

Starting Start Bar

Start Bar, an arcade bar in downtown St. Louis, is opening soon and we couldn’t be more excited. In anticipation, we wanted to share some of the thinking behind the branding and design work that Atomicdust has been excitedly working on.

When I was a kid, there was a show on TV every day at 3:30 called Voltron. It was the coolest thing I could ever imagine. My brother and I would run home from school, hot and out of breath, just to make sure we wouldn’t miss it.

Years went by and Voltron became a memory for me, until one day the Atomicdust office phone rang and the people behind the classic show hired us to create a website. It was like some weird dream come true.

Bursting with excitement, trying to remember everything I could about the show, I sat down to  rewatch it.

And it was kind of painful.

I mean, Voltron is a great show, a classic, but watching it as an adult was never going to live up to the memories of 10-year-old me.


Early logo concept for Start Bar

My nostalgia for the show was so strong that the version in my head was different from what the show ever actually was. It wasn’t cheesy. It was serious. And I knew that the website we would make for them had to align to the nostalgia in my head, not the reality of what the show was.

We went on to make something really great for the Voltron brand, and to this day I’m still proud of the work.

Start Bar Branding: The Origin Story

Earlier this year, the guys from Consips approached Atomicdust about branding and design for their latest project, Start Bar.


The Start Bar concept falls into the “arcade bar” category. It’s a bar with retro cabinet video games. People drink, hang out and pop tokens into the machines. The category of arcade bar is nothing new. They exist all over the country. It’s been done before, just not at this scope in St. Louis.

In regards to branding, most bar-arcades lean into the theme. They fill the walls with retro, 8-bit graphics and game characters.

Early on in the project, someone tweeted that Start Bar was going to be “Chucky Cheese with beer.” The comment was innocent enough, but it drove me crazy.

My friends and I hung out in arcades growing up. I, like many, was raised on video games. Arcades might have seemed silly or “Chucky Cheese” to the generations before or after mine, but to me, they were serious and cool.

Arcades were about adolescence and angst, adventure and rebellion. There was nothing cheesy about them. They were competitive and mysterious. Plus, there might be girls there.

I’m nerding out here a little (a lot), but my friends and I were consumed by video game culture. We would read magazines about games and their “unlockable” hidden characters, memorize the commands for special moves and combos, and try to remember all the finishing moves.


Start Bar branding mixes grunge design, video games and hip-hop culture

We spent our time studying games, all so when we gathered around an arcade cabinet we would be ready to back up all the smack-talking we did earlier that day. Our days were fueled with Slurpees and powered by music from Fugazi and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Maybe it was cheesier than I remember it. Maybe, like with Voltron, the nostalgia of arcades is far stronger than the reality. But that’s fine. I’m going to go with the nostalgia.

Start Bar isn’t cheesy. Instead of filling the space with bright, happy video game characters, we made it more of an art gallery that blends game culture, grunge design and hip-hop lyrics. The design captures how so many of us felt about arcades growing up, and we’re really excited to see it exist in the world.


Ready for this project since high school

It’s taking everything that’s great about arcades and bringing back that mystery, a little angst, and some adventure. Plus, there might be girls there.

Start Bar is opening soon, and we’ll have more of our branding and design work to share. In the meantime, check out the website for Start Bar.

Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski is Principal / Creative Director of Atomicdust and is involved with the day-to-day design strategy, art direction and studio management.

More posts by Mike Spakowski