The AFK Tavern in Everett is closing after 10 years due to then end of a lease and the impact of COVID-19. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The AFK Tavern in Everett is closing after 10 years due to then end of a lease and the impact of COVID-19. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Game over: After 10 years, last call at Everett’s AFK Tavern

The closing is due to COVID and the end of a lease. The owner hopes to reopen elsewhere in 2022.

EVERETT — At the AFK Tavern, it’s game over.

At least, for now.

Friday was last call at the landmark geek bar on 41st Street, off Rucker Avenue.

For a decade, the AFK was a haven of weird and wonderful, with 1,000 board games and untold cosmic cocktails. Patrons could sing their hearts out to karaoke or zone out on video games. Anything was possible in the ramble of rooms with mismatched walls and curtain tie-backs made from Nintendo controllers.

COVID-19 changed the game board.

“We are a place for experiences,” owner Kayla Graves said last week. “For large groups, for friends to hang out. We can’t have those things. We can’t be ourselves under the restrictions.”

Her lease of 10 years on the building is up. The plan is to reopen elsewhere in 2022. Until last month, she had been looking for a place to move, but that is on hold.

“We’re walking at the end of our lease, not going bankrupt,” she said. “I keep calling it victory. We’ve been here 10 years.”

Graves was only 26 when she opened AFK, a messaging phrase for “away from keyboard.”

“The idea was the only place I ever felt happy was with people playing games, and I wanted to find a place that was also happy and away from the keyboard,” Graves said. “I was a bartender and moved here with my wife (Alison Stoneklifft), who got a job at Boeing. I was following her jobs. I did software, but never really liked it.”

Michelle Peterson (center) helps customers at the AFK Tavern in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Michelle Peterson (center) helps customers at the AFK Tavern in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The tavern drew people from all over the state — and out of state — who picked up a Sharpie to leave a message on restroom walls. It stayed open on holidays, with potluck meals.

Pandemic steps were taken to try to keep going. Booths were turned into pods, draped with plastic sheeting. Games got sanitized. Karaoke mics went mute.

“We’ve been soldiering along,” Graves said. “We’ve stayed afloat through COVID. It hasn’t been easy and there are days when we haven’t had anybody walk in. We’re not the place that used to have a three-hour wait on Wednesday.”

The last day was supposed to be Nov. 28. The announcement on Nov. 10 was a week before the latest round of state restrictions. The remaining nights were supposed to be epic. Instead, they were pretty much limited to a few chairs of chilly outdoor dining and delivery.

In March, AFK Tavern had 28 workers. By November, only five were left, including a few, like Graves, who don’t get a paycheck. CARES Act aid barely paid the rent.

AFK Tavern as a business is not for sale. Not the name or the hundreds of video games, posters or stacks of chairs.

“Don’t pick over the corpse of the company before it’s dead,” Graves said. “Everything is going into storage.”

Graves created drinks named after games and characters.

Mai Pikachu, with orange and citron vodka, plus mixers. Kirby’s Adventure, a drink that’s a metaphor for existence, with banana, chocolate liquor, cream, pink stuff and more cream. Klingon Blood Wine. Deadpool’s 4th Wall.

The goal wasn’t a “Cheers” bar where everybody knows your name. Your game, yes.

A customer makes her way to a pod, booths draped sheeting, at AFK Tavern in Everett on Nov. 15. The revered geek bar is closing after 10 years due to the lease being up and the impact of COVID-19. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A customer makes her way to a pod, booths draped sheeting, at AFK Tavern in Everett on Nov. 15. The revered geek bar is closing after 10 years due to the lease being up and the impact of COVID-19. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“I’m not good at names, I’m very good at remembering what people drink,” Graves said. “It’s a good skill to have for this industry.”

The menu included Battle Ready Burgers and Mozzarella Joysticks.

Olushola Bolonduro, founder of the goth social group Dark Side of Everett, said AFK Tavern was the first place he felt a sense of belonging when he moved to Everett from Seattle in 2019.

“I played video games with friends and shared stories,” Bolonduro said. “It has been an important social spot for my group … until COVID.”

Online comments offered thanks for the food, drinks, games and memories.

“I have laughed harder there than anywhere else,” a post read. “The nerd talk… From my own table of weirdos and drifting from other tables of weirdos.”

Another said: “AFK helped me realize that I didn’t need to hide who I was and that it was cool to be geeky.”

A tweet put it this way: “Damn 2020.”

Graves said she is not angry. The AFK afterlife will be a set of meetups, events and online content. Imbibe as if you were there by subscribing to the AFK Drink Book on Patreon.com.

“Beyond the physical location, we built a community full of great people,” she said. “That’s going to live on beyond these walls, the mismatched walls.”

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

The City of Arlington filed a lawsuit seeking the closure of the Smokey Point Motor Inn because of excessive criminal activity on the property. Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington wants to close motel, center of ‘criminal activity’

In the past few years, police have responded hundreds of times to the Smokey Point Motor Inn.

A handful of Northwest Union Carpenter members picket in front of the new Marysville civic center construction site on the sixth day of a region wide union carpenter strike on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Union carpenters picket at Marysville and Everett projects

The Marysville Civic Center and an Everett Amazon building are among dozens of construction sites affected.

Twins Leslie Davis (left) and Lyndsay Lamb stage a house in Everett as seen on the second season of "Unsellable Houses" on HGTV. (HGTV photo)
Sold: Snohomish twins back for more HGTV ‘Unsellable Houses’

The makeover show’s 13 episodes feature Snohomish County homes, with decor items sold at new store.

Tuesday's career fair will be at Everett Community College, which incidentally is also one of the participants. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Snohomish County Career Fair set for Tuesday at EvCC

Job seekers can connect with more than 40 employers at this year’s annual event.

Snohomish County unemployment rate drops slightly to 5.6%

Washington added 16,800 jobs in August.

Report: Criminal indictment coming for former Boeing official

Mark Forkner was the 737 Max Chief Technical Pilot who is alleged to have lied to aviation regulators.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
All eyes on Alice, the electric plane made in Arlington

If all goes well, Eviation’s battery-powered airplane will make its debut test flight later this year.

Bufeng Gao, owner of Qin Xi'an Noodles, receives a check from the Edmonds Chamber Foundation's Wish Fund outside of her restaurant that was burned in a fire on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After arson burns Edmonds plaza, 14 businesses need help

Plum Tree Plaza — a cultural hub for Asian Americans — burned in a three-alarm fire early Sept. 11.

Hand drawn vector illustration of bottle of red wine and two glasses. Abstract cartoon style isolated.
You voted: The best wine list in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, folks still have their favorites.

Boeing sells land for $200M in plan to shrink holdings

Boeing has sold 310 acres of undeveloped land next to its Frederickson manufacturing plant.

Washington August jobless rate was 5.1%; 16,800 jobs added

August’s rate was the same as July’s rate, and increased even as COVID-19 cases surge.

Boeing moving 150 jobs from Washington and California to Texas

The affected jobs are in the company’s global parts distribution unit.