We've been doing a fair bit of introspection lately, looking at the best PCs in PC games and showcasing 15 games with their own simulated operating systems. Which made us wonder: if videogames are a form of escapism, is it possible to escape within that form of escapism?
Yes it is—by frequenting virtual pubs, obviously. And before this all gets a bit too Inception, raise a glass to/drown your sorrows with our list of the best pubs in PC games.
The Hound Pits pub, Dishonored
On tap: Suspicious brown ales, possibly watered down with festering dock water.
Bar snacks: Jellied Eels.
Vibe: We’ll all be dead of plague soon so who cares if the bar snacks kill us first.
The conspirators’ hangout in Dishonored is the perfect example of a pub that exists only for a select cadre of locals. A punter hoping for a quick pint on the way home from the docks will be met with cold stares and served with icy contempt. Most will leave partway through the first tankard, put off by the extremely dodgy brew and that really starey guy at the end of the bar who looks like he’s murdered a lot of people in mansions.
The huge spaces between the bar and the booths are begging for some tables—another sign that the proprietors don’t really want anyone around. That, or it’s one of those crap overcrowded pubs in parts of London where everyone stands up all evening and has a terrible time. Frankly, the Hound Pits pub so not a great pub for ordinary punters. Luckily you play as one of the anointed locals, which means it’s warm and inviting safe haven. —Tom Senior
The Bannered Mare, Skyrim
On tap: Special Brew
Bar snacks: Humble pie
Vibe: Lads holiday
Situated in the heart of Whiterun, The Bannered Mare is the quintessential medieval pub with its open fire centrepiece, exposed wooden joists, ornate wall-hung shields, and typically leary clientele. And yet it's the more reticent of patrons that make this free house so special, not least Sam Guevenne—a Breton mage who enjoys drinking competitions. Take him on and you wake up half the map away in Markarth with a headache and zero recollection of the previous evening.
Piecing together your session sees you pinballing across the realm chasing goats, fleeing from disgruntled witch brides, and entering strange dimensions in the most Elder Scrolls-esque take on The Hangover imaginable. Boozing buddy Sam, you ultimately discover, is in fact Sanguine the daedric prince of debauchery which is probably why he could so easily drink you under the table. At least he treats you to a rose at the end of your inebriated encounter. It's always the quiet ones. —Joe Donnelly
The Hanged Man, Dragon Age 2
On tap: Chasind sack mead
Bar snacks: Wyvern wings (really chicken)
Vibe: The best and only hangout spot in the city.
Of the four or five rooms that make up Dragon Age 2's Kirkwall, this is my favourite. The Hanged Man is basically the city's centre of activity, with jaunty music, semi-classy decor and a nice, relaxed atmosphere. It's also where Varric and Isabela hang out when they're not in your party, and they're pretty much the two best companions in the game, so I ended up spending quite a lot of time here. It's better than hanging out with Bodahn and Sandal in Hawke's fancy house, anyway.
A couple of interesting things to note: depending on your choices in Origins, Alistair can turn up here as a drunkard (I made him king in my game, so I never saw this). And I can't verify this, but according to the game's Wiki page, if you order 30 drinks and enter the bar afterwards the patrons will shout 'Hawke!' in the style that the Cheers bar would yell 'Norm!' Even Varric will call The Hanged Man a place where "everybody knows your name". —Samuel Roberts
Cafe Ankh, Discworld Noir
On tap: A half-empty pint
Bar snacks: Sour grapes
Vibe: Misery loves company
As a noir detective mystery, Discworld Noir needed a sad, empty space for its most maudlin characters to drown their sorrows—including its protagonist, the PI and recent werewolf, Lewton. Cafe Ankh is that bar. It's not happening, and it's not hip. Nothing about it suggests that it's a fun place to be. But that's why it's so good—it's a bar that perfectly captures the atmosphere of its story, vampire pianist and all.
Over and above everything else, a good digital pub should fit the tone of its game, and Cafe Ankh is the Casablanca parody that Discworld Noir needed.
Fifth Eye Tavern, Torment: Tides of Numenera
On tap: Whatever comes out of these pipes we found
Bar snacks: Thoughts for food
Vibe: This is but one facet of reality but it’s the facet where we keep the booze
This establishment’s psychic dampening effect makes it a fine retreat for Torment’s addled techno-wizards. While they take a break from hearing the tedious inner complaints of every citizen in the city they can treat themselves to a tasty glass of searing psychotropic gunk. Before you visit it’s worth noting that the Fifth Eye’s cocktails randomly destroy drinkers, which adds a certain frisson to Friday evening celebrations.
The venue also has an interesting approach to interior design, mashing up aeons of technology from past civilizations into a demented collage of technology that drives you mad if you look too closely at it. Be aware that the group sitting at the table opposite are psychic praetorians who have been waging terrible wars in the mind realm for generations—don’t spill their drinks. —Tom Senior
MacDevitt’s, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
On tap: The realest ale
Bar snacks: Pork scratchings
Vibe: Use beer on face. repeat.
A mystery involving the Knights Templar leads tourist-turned-detective George Stobbart to the sleepy village of Lochmarne, Ireland. His first stop is MacDevitt’s, a rustic pub that proudly serves real ale. In the words of regular Patrick O'Doyle: “It’s flat and warm with bits in, and it makes you fall over.”
Stobbart can take a break from his investigation and order a pint, and the more he drinks, the rowdier he gets. His drunken suggestion that proprietor Michael Leary should turn MacDevitt’s into a cocktail bar (“Cocktails are chic, cool, and popular with young drinkers!”) is abruptly shot down. —Andy Kelly
Kickstand, Full Throttle
On tap: Engine oil
Bar snacks: A punch in the face
Vibe: We’re all here for a fight, right?
A grimy bar on Highway 9 where only bikers are welcome. Ben and the Polecats are drinking here when the events of Full Throttle are set in motion. It’s a scuzzy dive befitting a bike-riding outlaw. But despite its earthy ambience, it’s actually operated by Kickstand National Headquarters, who own franchises across the United States. Designed by Peter Chan, this has become an iconic adventure game location, and a bar is the perfect place to introduce a hard-fightin’, hard-drinkin’ character like Ben. —Andy Kelly
Steinway Beer Garden, Grand Theft Auto 4
On tap: Stout
Bar snacks: Pavement
Vibe: Scene missing
In spite of some of the fine establishments on this list, there are very few videogame pubs that actually make me think: Yeah, I could see myself drinking here. The Steinway Beer Garden from Grand Theft Auto 4 is, however, one of those pubs with its Irish music, flowing whisky, draught beer and suntrap outdoor seating area. This pseudo tourist video doesn't exactly sell it, nor does getting Nico knocked down outside while blind drunk as chum Patrick "Packie" McReary watches on more times than I care to admit, but the Steinway is my kind of drinking den.
So what if 90 percent of the clientele soil themselves, fight with one another armed with pool queues, or drink themselves into lifeless stupors—it's the authenticity of it all that lends it charm, wouldn't you agree?
No? Looks like it's a cheap round for me, then. —Joe Donnelly
The Friendly Arm, Baldur's Gate
On tap: Some strong, dwarven ale
Bar Snacks: Potion of healing
Vibe: Nomad you stopped by
It's not as clean as an Elven arse, and you're even attacked when you first approach—calling its name into question. Otherwise, though, The Friendly Arm is a perfectly pleasant place. It's distinct from the series' other watering holes in not being attached to a local town, thus not filled with the town's local characters and criminals. It's a stopgap on an adventurer's route, and so full of possibilities.
In terms of Baldur's Gate's plot, it's where tragedy turns to action, as you meet up with Jaheira and Khalid and begin to figure out your lot in life. It's also where you can steal a nobleman's pantaloons. If you carry those trousers through to Baldur's Gate 2's expansion, they're a component in crafting the most powerful armour in the series. . —Phil Savage
The Blue Casket, Grim Fandango
On tap: Absinthe
Bar snacks: Absinthe
Vibe: Being dead is so fucking cool
Another bar from the imagination of Tim Schafer. The Blue Casket in Rubacava plays bebop and hosts avant-garde poetry readings. It’s dark, moody, and crowded with beret-wearing beatniks railing against the nouveau riche. Manny can take to the stage and improvise a poem by stringing words together, which is met with scornful hisses from the patrons. But when owner Olivia Ofrenda repeats the poem word for word, she gets a round of finger-clicking applause from the audience. Outrageous! —Andy Kelly
Tifa’s 7th Heaven, Final Fantasy 7
On tap: Phoenix down in one
Bar snacks: Materia
Vibe: Underground movement
The heart of the Midgar slums probably doesn't feature high on your ideal night out list, however there's a certain charm to Tifa's 7th Heaven. With a name coined by Crisis Core's Zack Fair many years ago, this old fashioned watering hole houses bare wood furnishings, simple leather barstools, a rear-projection television, neon signage and a jukebox. The gantry is packed with your favourite liquors and if you fancy a spot of pinball make use of the vintage table.
Just don't don't mess with that switch to the left because Tifa's 7th Heaven is actually a front for a guerrilla terrorist organisation whose headquarters resides in the basement and that there button turns the pinball machine into a lift and acts as the only means of accessing the clandestine den. Got it? Good.
Should you venture down there, though, you'll find all sorts of mapping and communications tech, what appears to be a BBC computer and some boxing equipment. If Tifa isn't around, ask for four-year old Marlene who's often left in charge. —Joe Donnelly
Scumm Bar, The Secret of Monkey Island
On tap: Grog
Bar snacks: That rat you just caught
Vibe: Drunken sailor
Located on Melee Island, this raucous pirate bar is named after SCUMM, the engine/programming language used in early LucasArts adventures. Guybrush Threepwood meets the grog-drinking Very Important Pirate Leaders here, who inform him of the Three Trials he needs to complete before he can become a pirate: sword fighting, thievery, and treasure huntery. Another iconic adventure game location, with a rowdy atmosphere that gets you in the mood for piracy and adventure. —Andy Kelly
The Prost Bar, Fallout 4
On tap: Nuka beer
Bar snacks: RadX
Vibe: Where everybody knows your name
Tucked away down a narrow street southwest of the Massachusetts State House and directly adjacent to the gazebo at Swan's Pond lies a seemingly innocuous pub named Prost Bar. My first visit was a fairly routine one—I'd nipped indoors in search of supplies while being pursued by a gang of hostile raiders. To my delight I found a stimpack and two baseball grenades in a desk drawer in the back office, before retracing my steps towards the entrance.
And then it hit me: this is Cheers! Set in Boston, Fallout 4's Prost Bar is designed to model the Ted Danson-starring hit TV show that ran from the early '80s into the early '90s. Better yet, it's littered with subtle nods to series as, besides its layout, baseball posters adorn the walls in a doff of the cap to Danson's ex-baseball playing character Sam Malone; one of the now very much dead patrons wears a postal uniform in reference to the show's postman character Cliff Clavin; and 'prost' is the German translation of the 'cheers' drinking salutation.
No sign of Dr Frasier Crane, but perhaps that means Fallout 5 will be set in Seattle. —Joe Donnelly