The video arcade isn’t quite what it used to be — or is it? More people are gaming at home these days, teaming up with folks from around the country and world via the power of the web. But there are still quite a few arcade bar, the entertaining mashup of nostalgic video game culture and hooch.
The beauty of the arcade bar is hands-on activity. The bar side of the coin encourages socializing and engagement. The arcade side spawns competitive bouts between your favorite pals or fellow gamers you just met. And the stakes can be quite high when you’re contemplating going with Sub-Zero or Johnny Cage for that next Mortal Kombat battle—the next round’s not going to buy itself.
Portland, Oregon’s Ground Kontrol touts itself as the West Coast’s premier classic arcade. It’s tough to argue with the claim, given a lineup of games that includes everything from Asteroids and Bubble Bobble to Shinobi and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There’s also plenty of pinball and often DJs spinning retro jams. Oh, and it’s Portland, so there’s an impressive cocktail list and some local draft beer to enjoy while trying to remember a cheat code.
Set on L.A.’s iconic Sunset Boulevard, Button Mash brings Double Dragon, NBA Jam, Frogger, Tron, and more to the Angelino Heights and Echo Park hoods of the city’s east side. The food is surprisingly good, with offerings like double-fried tamarind chicken wings and spicy Korean cold noodles. And with about a dozen brews on draft, a healthy can selection, and even a few wines, a quick game or two can easily turn into an entire quarter-dropping evening.
The Twin Cities is home to Up-Down, an expansive joint with fifty arcade games from the 80s and 90s, skee-ball, and colossal Jenga and Connect Four sets. As a nod to the thriving Midwest craft beer scene, the place boasts 60 draft beers and pizza for grub. A few of its best games include Battletoads, NFL Blitz ’99, and Punch Out. The small Up-Down chain includes sibling spots in St. Louis, Nashville, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Des Moines.
The Barcade franchise in New York City is perfectly fine but the harder-to-find games are found at Two-Bit’s. This Lower East Side establishment has late-night tempters like Big Buck HD but also treasures like Spy Hunter and After Burner. Better still, plenty of booze (including some sake), simple but satisfying snacks, and daily specials. It’s perfectly dive-y and there’s a good chance an old Simpsons episode will be playing on the projector.
Austin, Texas has a surprising number of arcade options. Pinballz is among the best, fit with a wonderfully casual BYOB policy at its original location. There are 80‘s themed nights, live bands, and weekly specials if the largest collection of new and classic pinball machines in the state isn’t quite enough for you. At their Buda location, there’s even a German-inspired beer garden. The three Texas locations are also some of the relatively few arcade bars that are family-friendly, with distractions like bumper cars and laser mazes keeping the kids busy while you work on besting your top scores.
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