It’s easy to find a great place to eat in San Jose, but there’s only one place people can have a bite while doing virtual battle with friends and cohorts. By stepping off West Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose, right under the dusky awning at 163, guests will find themselves in what looks to be a sleek, high-end restaurant with an impressive sports bar, bright neon lighting, and plenty of TV screens. Looking closer, however, and guests will see the gaming consoles—lots and lots of gaming consoles. The restaurant itself sits atop a cavernous gaming parlor, packed with over a hundred gaming PCs, numerous consoles, both retro and modern, and, most recently, VR. This is eSports mecca, brought to San Jose by AFKgg Gamer Lounge.
Behind this unique concept are co-founders and co-owners Brad Fry, his brother David Fry II, and business partner David Santos. Brad and David, who first conceived the idea, are as enthusiastic about gaming as they are about growing a successful business. But they weren’t always in sync on the gaming. When they were growing up, Brad enjoyed physically competitive sports, while David sought competition in the virtual world. “Eventually, I started playing video games with my brother,” says Brad. The two boys bonded more closely over their newly discovered common interest, which they later channeled into a business, bringing in computer whiz David Santos to help round out the effort.
The three partners first opened an eSports tournament space in 2013, but the high cost of hosting official competitions proved unsustainable. So they pivoted, and reopened in 2015 with the restaurant/gaming center. The gamer lounge is more responsive to both the wider gaming market and the individual player. From casually enjoying a classic Nintendo 64 game to hunkering down in a LAN party for hardcore online gamers, gamers can find whatever gaming experience they’re after.
For those who know nothing about gaming (yet), AFK is a great place to start. In the restaurant area, customers relaxing in one of the booths can browse intro-level games such as Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. The menu offers an array of freshly cooked American bar food, and, of course, there’s a full selection of drinks for anyone over 21. The bar itself is designed to look like a giant circuit board, something Brad commissioned especially for the lounge and particularly fitting, given the family business.
For private parties, there’s a separate gaming room off the restaurant, fully customizable for any modest group, with up to 10 PCs or a couple of consoles. Larger groups will head downstairs to the vast, fully loaded gaming area with its tables of networked PCs for online gaming and its deep leather couches facing wide, wall-mounted screens for console playing. Consoles range from the original Nintendos to PS4s. Gaming equipment abounds. For people interested in playing an online game, they just need to remember that AFK is BYOA (Bring Your Own Account)—so they should come prepared.
And if a person is more tuned into pre-digital-era games? No worries. There’s a large cabinet filled with board games, which customers are welcome to play anywhere in the lounge. “If you come here and can’t find a game to play,” says Brad, “you’re doing it wrong.” As for the name, AFK, it’s a kind of gamers’ code. “It stands for ‘Away From Keyboard,’ from the old AIM messengers,” he explains. “Gamers would type ‘AFK’ to let their friends online know that they were stepping away from the computer.”
As is only natural for a gaming lounge at the heart of Silicon Valley, AFK stays on top of the latest advances in the gaming world. But the partners strive for balance as well, offering older favorites alongside newly released titles and technologies, ensuring that there’s something for everyone. The lounge also hosts tournaments and other gaming-related events—upstairs, downstairs, or on the spacious back patio—making the venue a lively and festive destination.
No wonder, then, that AFK is doing a brisk business. “It’s a safe environment for all ages,” says Brad, glancing around at the bustling “game and dine” activity of the busy restaurant. “We’re bringing in new people who might not have otherwise come to San Jose.”
Written by Michelle Runde
Photography by Daniel Garcia
This article originally appeared in Issue 9.1 “Find”