A block behind Franklin Street, upstairs from a Mexican grill, there’s a place: a warehouse-esque bar with concrete floors, wooden booths, and steel shelves packed with tabletop games.
The Gathering Place—so named by cofounders Don Tiver and Josh Goodsell—is exactly that: a place in Chapel Hill for people to come together and hang out after a long day at work, drink a beer (or a hibiscus tea), and talk.
“It reminds me of all of my friends’ basements combined,” says Zach Thomas, a regular who is about to sit down for his weekly Dungeons & Dragons campaign. “Like, we were doing the exact same activities. It feels very homey. It feels nostalgic.”
The Gathering Place, which opened in February, started as a place to sell Magic: The Gathering cards, says Goodsell. He’s been playing the massively popular tabletop card game since he was eight. Today, some of the rarest cards in the game are worth thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars.
“I was selling Magic cards as a side hustle since the beginning of 2019—just to collect [limited-edition cards] I didn’t get a chance to collect when I was a kid,” Goodsell says. “I started buying small collections, keeping the cards I wanted, and then flipping everything else. By the end of 2019, I had amassed a pretty modest $25,000 collection with an initial investment of $500. I just kept turning it over in my free time.”
Goodsell got into the Magic business full-time in 2020, after he lost his job as an executive chef, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. He was doing a ton of sales with a pretty thin profit margin, but it was enough to live off of, he says. In 2021, he recruited Tiver, a guy he’s known since the fifth grade.
Together, the two started thinking about opening a brick-and-mortar store so they could expand their online business. Running a cost-benefit analysis, though, it looked like renting a physical space would be too expensive.
“Then we found this space,” Goodsell says. “Me and Donnie walked in and we were instantly like, ‘Oh, this could actually work. If it’s a bar and a game store’ …. I started running numbers and I was like, ‘This is actually a viable business model. Even if nobody walks in the bar for the first year, we’ll still make money if we’re doing our online sales.’”
Goodsell’s restaurant background allows him to provide what he calls “white-glove service for nerds.” He’s hands-off when he needs to be and always right there when someone needs something. The consensus among the bar’s regulars, of which there are many, is that the place is “welcoming.” Although it’s undoubtedly a gaming store, selling miniatures and RPG rule books, it’s also a bar.
“We have a bunch of people that come in just for the atmosphere in here,” Goodsell says. “Even if you’re not a gamer, not a Magic nerd, you don’t know anything about D&D …. There’s just a weird vibe in here that’s very welcoming and warm and fuzzy.”
Case in point: Kendall Lee, a Chapel Hill resident with long braids and painted nails who wandered into the Gathering Place by accident.
“What do you think, Donnie, about two months ago?” Lee asks now, turning to Tiver.
Since then, Lee has been a daily visitor, warming a stool directly across from the bar’s 30 taps.
“We’re all kind of like a family around here,” Lee says. “We have trans people, we have nerds, we have people who don’t game at all, it’s all different walks of life. It’s a safe place to be and not be looked at differently. Whenever I need to decompress from work, I come here. It’s my local hangout spot.”
Lee’s not a big gamer, but he quickly bonded with their fellow regulars, even trying their hand at the classic, strategy-based board game Azul. The Gathering Place is a gaming geek’s paradise, but it’s also a good place to “dip your toe in” if you’ve never tried tabletop, Goodsell says.
“It’s not your typical local game store that might feel pretentious or exclusive, where if you look a certain way or act a certain way or talk a certain way, you might feel out of place,” he says. “We’re a bar.”
The Gathering Place definitely doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Goodsell, who has a classic mohawk, jumps from customer to customer in a scuffed pair of Adidas, selling dice and answering questions about the newest Magic release. Tiver, a guy with sleeve tattoos, bright blue earplugs, and a 1980s cult science-fiction T-shirt, is behind the bar pulling pints. The speakers pump out a mix of hip-hop and metal.
The bar itself has a smorgasbord of local brews, from a Belgian Tripel made in Sanford to a saison made in Saxapahaw. Tiver likes to include out-of-state offerings too, he says, like an ale from Oregon and wheat beer from Maine.
“We grew up having a craft beer education that was pretty unique, because in New Jersey you weren’t allowed to have a taproom until 2012,” Tiver says. “So we constantly were inundated with stuff from all over the country, because the craft beer market was strong but you couldn’t go local.”
In North Carolina, it’s almost the reverse, Tiver says. Many of the bar’s patrons are familiar with local brews but have never tried, say, a Narragansett lager from Rhode Island. Regardless, Tiver likes to have things on tap that are a little bit different—unique alternatives to well-worn beers like Blue Moon and Miller Light.
Some of those alternatives are even non-beers. In addition to the multitude of local brews, the Gathering Place offers wine, sake, and cider on tap. It also has coffee, soda, kombucha, and tea. The in-house cold brew is particularly delicious.
“We wanted to make the best of having 30 taps, because it’s a lot,” Tiver says. “We didn’t want to just have beer. We wanted to have our wine on draft, ciders, even nonalcoholic stuff, because there’s a lot of younger players, there’s a lot of people that don’t drink, and it’s still nice, socially, to be able to walk around with a goblet of coffee or root beer or something.”
Contrary to traditional business patterns, Wednesdays are one of the bar’s busiest nights. This week, there are some 25 people bustling around, some at the bar, some at long card tables in the back. The draw? Tabletop games, of course.
“We do a modern-format Magic tournament on Wednesdays, which is pretty much the most popular constructed format in the Triangle, so it’s got a pretty big draw,” Goodsell says. “Then on Thursdays, we’ve got two D&D one-shots and a few campaigns that run, and there’s always new faces coming in.”
The bar also holds nerd trivia on Fridays and alternates between stand-up comedy showcases and karaoke on Saturdays. In a reverse of the normal struggle, Goodsell and Tiver are trying to get more people to stick around on weekends. Whether it’s on a game night or a weekend, however, the vibe is the same.
The Gathering Place is your classic down-the-street haunt, a place where everybody knows your name. And it seems like Goodsell and Tiver really do know everyone’s name. Goodsell is quick to greet the next guy who comes through the door—Colin Sheffield, a middle-aged man with a thick beard. In response, Colin simply unfolds a bright pink T-shirt, some merch from a recent concert he attended.
“Oh, yes! You’re the best dude,” Goodsell responds, cradling the Run the Jewels T-shirt in his hands. “Hey, Colin’s drink is on the house.”
Tiver immediately pauses in his explanation of how he and Goodsell founded the bar, moving to pour the man his drink. He already knows Sheffield’s order.
“It’s a very welcoming atmosphere,” Sheffield says. “I wouldn’t go out and just buy a concert T-shirt for somebody if I didn’t feel like I was part of a community.”
Tiver’s description of the Gathering Place is a little more colorful.
“I like to think of it as the Foot Clan hideout from the first [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles movie,” he says with a chuckle. “Except for offering children cigarettes. And I guess there’s not a skate park inside. Other than that, it’s the exact same.”
“It’s got that clubhouse sort of feel,” he adds, on a more serious note. “Especially if people don’t come here on purpose. They see nerd stuff on the wall and usually there’s hip-hop on, and they’re just like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ So I imagine it’s just very unusual for a lot of people. But that’s what we like about it.”
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