The inside of the Silhouette Lounge in Allston is a bit like a pinball machine: it’s a tiny space packed with an abundance of competing sensory stimulants. There’s the clacking sound of a billiard ball in the corner, the alluring lights of the ever-popular erotic-photo-hunt machine, the buttery scent of popcorn, the flash of neon message boards, which seem to display only run-on sentences. And there are 10 televisions of various sizes and qualities (one is dead) that occupy every inch of wall near the ceiling, simultaneously blasting sports games, Keno numbers, and late-night news.
A few months ago, the Silhouette added its 10th TV, a flat-screen vertical set provided by Somerville-based company BarCast, which is described on its Web site as “an interactive network of high-def flat-panel displays.” According to Evan Steiner, BarCast’s vice-president of business development, it’s just one of 55 Boston watering holes that the company has attracted since January.
“It’s all about interactivity,” says Steiner, on the phone from Somerville. “It’s a new medium. You can text the screen and it’ll show up in all bars across the Boston network. It’s sort of the same as the mentality behind JumboTron screens at sporting events,” he says, meaning that just as you might glance up at the screen at Fenway and see yourself or a friend, you can now glance up at a bar and see you or your friend’s text message (or blurry texted photo) — with the occasional advertisement in between. This pays BarCast’s bills, so they’re able to place their screens above beer taps around town at no cost to either the bar or the company.
The Silhouette is one of many drinking institutions around town that Steiner and his partners deemed “young, hip,” and BarCast-worthy. On a recent, rain-soaked Tuesday night, a group of twentysomethings passing a pitcher of PBR around a booth is momentarily mesmerized by a game called Jumbly, which involves assembling words from disassembled letters as they float across the screen. Suddenly, the broadcast transitions — rather unsmoothly — to an ad for Brubaker (a woman shown from behind, with a bottle of the beer resting snugly in her thong strap), then to a photo of a thin woman in a tight green tank top and a BarCast hat, whose image recurs throughout the evening.
Several women drinking pints in the middle of the room scowl. “That’s sexist,” one complains, eyes fixed on the TV. “Yeah, but it’s grassroots sexism, so it’s okay,” jokes her male companion. Photos of Revere Beach sand sculptures pop up, followed by a jumbled mix of text messages: “Pop ya colla, Jim!” and “We love ur hair Erik!” Moments later, BarCast’s news headline list informs the crowd that two people were arrested in Medford with nine kilograms of cocaine. A group of guys order shots of Jameson to celebrate a 21st birthday. This is the future of community. Perhaps.