Somewhere along the line, nerds became big business. It used to be that the geekier elements of society were also its most marginalized, and nerds were creepy basement dwellers with little in the way of social cache. This is a post-Bill Gates world, however, a society where computing entrepreneurs can acquire larger followings than politicians or rock stars. So it’s little wonder that, more and more, destinations are catering to this increasingly affluent segment of society. Here is our first list of ten high-profile destinations for the nerd in your life.
No matter what nerds do, they will always fantasize about using their unique skills to save the world. Mathematicians rarely get to fulfill that dream, but Bletchley Park let it happen as the centre of the Allied code-breaking machine. It was a bustling hive of activity populated mostly by oddball geniuses and high-ranking intelligence officers. It was at Bletchley Park that the Second World War was won, in the form of thousands of broken Axis communiqués and military telegrams. Today, the Park is open to history buffs, and anyone else who has ever dreamed of calculating their way to glory.
Peter Jackson’s film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings" may be the most successful series revival of all time. New Zealand, which provided the rolling scenery for the movies’ epic fantasy story, has spared no expense in capitalizing on the world-wide clamour for all things Middle Earth. Today, Rings-crazed travellers have a robust Tolkien industry to explore, dozens of tours, and several imaginative uses for old film sets. Crouch down to have a cup of tea in Bag End – just make sure you schedule around the shooting of Jackson’s upcoming "Hobbit" movie.
The best way to describe Mana Bar may simply be to list its dress code: “No Shorts, No Thongs. Unless you’re in cosplay.” That pretty much sums up the two-location Australian chain’s approach to nerd culture: it is the ultimate priority. The brainchild of a videogame developer and two videogame critics, the bar is a love letter to all things videogames. When it first opened in Brisbane, The Mana Bar became an emblem of the burgeoning nerd-pride movement, and inspired other similar businesses around the world. The latest consoles are available for visitors to play every day, and the staff pride themselves on knowing more geeky trivia than just about any swaggering fan who might enter. Contests and high-score grudge matches are common sights at the Mana Bar. It doesn’t get much geekier than this.
With its three urban locations in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Philadelphia, Barcade has a simple slogan: “Celebrating American craft beer and classic arcade games.” That’s what the chain does best, and it has become an icon to the gaming-while-drinking crowd. While the American craft beers might not help with the breaking of high scores, it certainly helps break down any social barriers its clientele might normally feel. More than just a warehouse for pinball machines and fancy beers, Barcade has a reputation as a nerd utopia, a judgement-free zone for those used to hiding their true passions. Little wonder that the chain has been so successful, and that it continues to grow to this day.
This collection in Sonoma County, California bills itself as the largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia on the planet. It’s run by Steve Sansweet, a true Star Wars fanatic who has written 16 Star Wars books and compiled the 1.2-million word Complete Star Wars Encyclopaedia. Dedicated fans can lose whole days in the museum’s elaborate halls, which are over 9,000 square feet in total. This space is well-used, packed sometimes literally to the rafters with priceless movie memorabilia and collectible rarities. The ranch is constantly being updated, and many Star Wars fans reportedly make an annual trip just to see the newest retro-futuristic additions.
Though its throne was briefly threatened, an expansion has recently settled the issue for good: Midtown Comics is the largest comic book shop in North America. Measured by size, sales, inventory, or staff, New York City’s legendary Midtown Comics is the comic nerd’s ultimate destination. The largest of its three locations is a two-storey monster in Times Square, and its proximity to both Marvel and DC Comics headquarters has allowed it to play host to a number of major events in modern comics history. It is the site many industry press conferences and celebrity sightings, and is generally the epicentre of the comic books industry today. Few geeks can resist its siren call, though their accountants might wish they could.
This is the place that started it all. The cult film Pirates of Silicon Valley sparked a new wave of interest in the area, but some romanticism over computing’s Garden of Eden has always existed. Where actors and writers move to New York or Los Angeles to break into show business, would-be tech moguls pack their bindles and make for Silicon Valley. This was the birthplace of Google and Microsoft, Apple and Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Adobe. It is the site of as many triumphs and shattered dreams as Hollywood itself, and some sections of street hold more recognizable names than the Walk of Fame. For a certain type of nerd, the type that finds more value in code loops than movie props, Silicon Valley is the end-all of geek-chic.
Stormcrow is the creation of PopCap and Bejewelled creator Jason Kapalka, who founded the Vancouver bar after selling PopCap to Electronic Arts for just shy of a billion dollars. Now he has created the passion-project of The StormCrow, a budget-bar that hopes to unite the traditionally warring nerd factions of non-fiction and fantasy, history and science fiction. With a schedule built around communal showings of movies and television, and a menu where every item costs just $6 flat, the advantages of being independently wealthy become clear. With big tables and a gaming-friendly volume level, StormCrow is making a serious bid for the title of Canada’s premiere geek destination.
Science Fiction Museum
Science Fiction is arguably the backbone of nerd culture. It is the intersection between so many of the group’s loves – advanced technology, high adventure, speculative moral quandaries, and more than enough trivia to occupy an obsessive mind. Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum is thus a must-stop for anyone interested in the genre’s history or present. Whether it’s a breakdown of the psychology behind classic sci-fi villain design, a dissertation on the real science of Star Trek, or detailed displays on the genre’s greatest writers, Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum is sure to be a hit with anyone looking for a more cerebral take on the genre they love.
Large Hadron Collider
Though it was recently vindicated in its search for the all-important Higgs-Boson particle, the international wonder that is the Large Hadron Collider would be worth the trip either way. Even if it hadn’t recently revolutionized our understanding of the universe (and relieved a century’s worth of academic anxiety) the monstrous circular atom-smasher is a wonder to behold. Its largest loop is over 27-kilometers in circumference, and atoms sent round it will pass through both France and Switzerland at speeds approaching that of light itself. More than 100 countries donated money and/or supplies to its construction. Outside of the International Space Station, there is literally no large-scale undertaking in history that better displays the extents of human ingenuity. Tours through the facility are common and are often scheduled to coincide with actual tests. Head over to the LHC, and see real scientific history in the smashing.
For part 2 of this piece, click here.