The quaint cafe features handmade decorations by store owner, Heather Powell. Photo: Tommy Nguyen.
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Students can find coffee, comfort, nostalgia with retro-themed hangout spot

Got a three-hour break between classes and want to play some Street Fighter? Caffeine 1UP, Ottawa’s newest gaming café, has got you covered!

After their soft-opening on Sept. 12, the modest space has already seen a lot of traffic, from curious pedestrians and the gaming community alike. Located just across the street from the Loblaws on Rideau Street, and spitting distance from the University of Ottawa’s Friel and Rideau residences, the café houses a full service counter that serves up pastries, bagels, sandwiches, coffees, and specialty drinks.

As for the games themselves, rates are set at $5 for unlimited play, but until their grand opening on Sept. 26 they’ll have an unlimited play option available for a price of $3 per person.

Currently, there are six gaming stations each equipped with monitors and two consoles each spanning from the original Nintendo Entertainment System to a custom-built PC that plays Steam and indie-developed games.

Even with an impressive collection of more than 200 game titles—most of them are from owner Heather Powell’s personal collection—they are always open to suggestions. You can expect tons of old-school retro games as well as fun split-screen local co-op action.

With a focus on nostalgic, communal games, don’t expect to see the latest generation of consoles, since they don’t lend themselves well to split-screen, optimized play.

“The nostalgic games are really the sweet spot … I want people to play next to each other,” says Powell.

Although this is her first video game business venture, Powell admits that gaming has always played a huge role in her life. The Nintendo Entertainment System set up at the café’s “Hyrule” gaming station  is actually Powell’s own from childhood.

“My very first system was the NES, and since then I was just hooked!”

After meeting her husband while playing Dark Age of Camelot online, Powell moved to Canada from the United States. Working her way up to the assistant manager position at a coffee shop franchise, she then decided that she wanted more creative control and left to open up her own business.

Even though she’s had an extensive amount of experience working in the coffee business, her history with video games goes back even further.

“Anytime I wasn’t at work, I’d be playing games,” she said.

With a promising soft-launch, there have already been talks with gaming groups to hold tournaments and companies who want to rent out her café for team-building exercises. Powell also promises some in-house tournaments featuring retro-games or notoriously difficult games like Contra Hard Corps to test seasoned players.

Their grand opening will be an all-day event, featuring tournaments and giveaways, with the first 25 people to come in during official party hours of 12-2 p.m. getting handed special loot bags. All pay-to-play proceeds will be going to local charity Ability First Ottawa, which provides local support and skills training for persons with disabilities.

While Caffeine 1UP isn’t the first game-oriented cafe of its kind, Powell doesn’t view other establishments like The Blurry Pixel or Level One as rivals. Instead, she sees it as everyone contributing to the development of a local geek-gaming community.

However, she does set herself apart from others as being a full-service café. Whereas the licensed bars will have to kick out underagers after 9 p.m., Powell hopes that her café will be a welcome haven for first-year students who are new to the city and want a place to hang out and play games with friends.

“I’m always doing weird funky things and encouraging staff to as well,” she said of their menu items. The frozen mocha turtle is already a favourite dessert drink among those who have discovered this niche coffee spot.

As for future plans of expansion, Powell shares that “room for growth is always something you gotta keep in mind, even if you’re on day four of being open.”



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