The concept is not a new one: Owner Erik Holzherr, who also runs the cocktail lounges Church and State and Wisdom, originally wanted to call the place Barcade. Problem is, a bar with the same name and theme opened in Brooklyn back in 2004, before becoming wildly popular and then expanding to Philadelphia and Jersey City last year. They own the copyright, so Holzherr had to rethink the name.
In any case, this is a bar where you can have a Natty Boh ($3.50) or a pint of Lost Rhino Pils ($6) while playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Donkey Kong, Shinobi, Crus’n Exotica (the third edition of the ‘90s racing game), Golden Axe, Magic Sword or Big Buck Hunter Pro. Games all cost a quarter or two; There’s a change machine right next to the bar for those who don’t have a jar of quarters at home. I just wish there were shelves or tables next to the machines for setting down your drink while playing.
While full-sized arcade games dominate the room, the bar counter itself is outfitted with classic Sega and Atari home game consoles and flatscreen TVs at each end. Grab a beer, grab a controller, hit up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A and you’re good for a while, since the games are free.
The obvious problem noticed during the soft opening was that there are people who want to sit at the bar and talk to their friends (or to the bartender) but aren’t interested in playing video games, so the joysticks just sit on the bar unused. A couple of signs reminding people that certain seats are reserved for those playing Contra or Sonic the Hedgehog might go a long way.
Crowding goes beyond the seats. The building is pretty narrow, and the layout is awkward for moving around; whenever Big Buck Hunter was in use, there was no room to move past. It shouldn’t be too hard to reconfigure the consoles to improve the flow of the room.
There are things that are undeniably corny about the place -- the idea of paying $3 for Pop Tarts or $1.50 for a bowl of sugary kids cereal, a Boardwalk-style claw game filled with stuffed animals, some of which have bar tabs attached to them. The video game selection feels like a work in progess, especially for those looking for more widely popular titles — Pac Man, Missle Command, Tapper, even, dare we hope, Paperboy — though Holzherr says he’ll rotate a number of games every few months, and is taking nominations for machines that people would like to play. But the drinks are reasonably priced for the neighborhood, and I have no doubts that I will find myself wandering in to have a beer and play Turtles or Shinobi while in the neighborhood. I also doubt I’m the only one.