1UP Gamers Pub: Making a business out of passion in downtown Bucharest
In one of Bucharest’s busiest intersections, nestled between a kindergarten and a barbeque restaurant, is one of the newest pubs in Bucharest, dedicated to anime, manga, and board games.
From the outside, 1UP Gamers Pub looks much like the thousand restaurants and pubs dotting the Romanian capital, famous for its nightlife. Its black, spear-like gate and the house’s well-kept cream walls make one feel like a trespasser in the yard of a well-to-do family rather than at the door of a pub. Once inside, however, one can hardly mistake the large bar, the anime cut-outs, the wall of board games, old gaming consoles, and the mangas on display.
It is all of these that make 1UP not your average pub. Opened in September 2022, the place has already formed a small community of usual customers. The clientele is fairly young, most of them under 30, and includes many cosplayers. Its two owners, Petronela and Radu, wanted to open a small pub even before the pandemic – but luckily, they waited.
“We wanted to open a small bar, but also a safe haven, a home for geeks and nerds, introverts like us. We’re like the majority of our customers,” says Petronela. “Most come in cosplay during events, but some of them come wearing their costumes during the weekdays as well. I like the fact that they can do that without being judged or pointed at,” she adds.
Aside from the cosplayers, 1UP’s clients also include a community formed around board games. Catan, D&D, and many other board games are in no short supply at the pub thanks to partners like Creative Board Gaming, who supply it with the latest tabletop adventures and even organize gaming nights. In one recurring event, called Meet & Play, those wishing to play can come and join games, guided by a host who also speaks English.
1UP has several partners that come back time and time again with their own events and resources. Some specialize in anime and manga, like the IZANAGI Japanese Film Festival, while others, like Octav Ungureanu, are up-and-coming Romanian comic book artists. 1UP also organizes quiz and karaoke nights, with dancing and singing, week after week.
The pub can afford to host so many events because it has a lot of space to work with across its two floors. There’s a room dedicated to board games, one for anime and manga, a retro room with old consoles, a room for comics, and one with a gaming theme, where visitors can watch esports games. Events, therefore, don’t disturb the day-to-day, even if they end up taking up a room or two. The building that houses 1UP is a historical monument. Famous Romanian painter Stefan Luchian spent the last years of his life here. The house was modified in the meantime but kept its personality.
The pair at the helm of 1UP, Petronela and Radu, say that they see a clear future for the niche in Romania. More children and teenagers now read manga or watch anime, some thanks to Netflix, they argue. Board games also went past Monopoly or the stage where they were mistaken for gambling. “Now there’s a much wider audience; a lot of people come to play board games and socialize, so there’s clear progress. The same can be said with comic books, and you can see it during our events. We’re seeing an audience that is bigger than we expected because we didn’t know exactly how many people who like this sort of thing were in Bucharest, not to mention across Romania,” Petronela says.
Opening the pub was not easy for the two. “We risked a lot, and we’re still risking because it’s a new business, and it’s difficult. I hope that there will be other places that will open addressing the same niche, a place that is a bit different, where people can feel safe. If you’re going to open the same type of pub, or coffee house, it’s going to be monotonous. But it’s up to everyone, how much they’re willing to invest,” she adds.
One of the problems they’ve had, like many Romanian entrepreneurs, is finding people. Waiters and bartenders at 1UP are young, between 18 and 26, and they come and go. “They see it as a seasonal, or temporary job, which is fine; we don’t blame them for that. But it’s hard,” Petronela says with a smile. “The ones who come here, though, especially since 1UP is starting to become a brand in the niche, are either gamers or they love anime. They identify with the place.”
1UP has big plans for the future, but for now, they are focused on events. “I want to make it past the first year; then we’ll see,” she says, laughing. Personnel includes waiters and bartenders, but the marketing, advertising, HR, accounting, and talking to suppliers and partners are done by the two. “And that takes us basically our whole lives. We’re here every day, since morning. And that’s probably valid for any time of business.”
Events are always upcoming at 1UP, and the best way to keep up to date is by following the Facebook page. On the last Sunday of every month, the pub hosts a major event. In February, the second edition of 1UP Comics Day will be held. The event features stands where comic book artists sell their art, comic book workshops, and a special partnership with graphic tablet maker Wacom. A D&D Con will also be organized on February 18 and 19 by a fan community from Ploiesti at 1UP.
Anime and Manga Day will be the major event in March, with cosplayers and artists who draw anime and sell their own stickers, drawings, and shirts. Cosplay contests will also be organized. Cosplayers Day, with workshops for cosplayers, where newbies can learn from veterans how to make costumes, will also take place in March.
How to get there: 1PUB Gamer’s Pub is a few minutes away from the Romana metro station, in central Bucharest. The pub opens every day from 2 PM until 11 PM.
(Photos: 1UP Gamers Pub Facebook Page)