How do you take happy hour up a level? Try blasting a few virtual-reality zombies to bits before grabbing a cocktail. Here are our favorite spots for pinball, arcade games and beers, including newcomers Augment Arcade and Bar Elena.
Flash is one of D.C.'s best dance clubs, but if you visit the Shaw nightspot on Wednesday or Thursday, you're likely to encounter people wearing bulky virtual reality headsets and frantically waving wireless joystick controllers.
With four deluxe HTC Vive machines that feature more than 30 games and experiences, Augment Arcade lets gamers use designated areas separated by curtains, while flat-screen TVs overhead show what the player is looking at. They may be flying around the globe in Google Earth; using a lightsaber to fight off stormtroopers on the planet Tatooine; playing Space Pirates, a first-person Space Invaders; or fighting the zombie hordes in Arizona Sunshine.
Club owner Afshin Mottaghi says the virtual reality arcade has been more successful than he expected. Doors open at 4 p.m. — two hours earlier than before — to help ease wait times. While Augment Arcade still only runs two days a week, Mottaghi and his partners will expand hours from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, beginning Nov. 25, and looking for a larger location where they can install more — and pricier — equipment.
The original pitch for Augment Arcade was that customers could play as much as they wanted all night for $20. But the ratio of people to machines means that customers often get to play for only 15 minutes, then sit at the bar for an hour waiting for another turn.
Mottaghi says the bar is about to launch a new reservation system, allowing players to sign up for guaranteed times online at a rate of $1 per minute. If you like the idea of all-you-can-play gaming, it helps to show up at around 10 p.m., when crowds have thinned. You'll spend less time sipping a Sam Houser — a PBR and a shot of tequila, named after the developer behind the current Grand Theft Auto series — and more time in another world.
645 Florida Ave. NW. Open 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday. $1 per minute for reserved play, $20 for unlimited games when booked in advance, and $30 for unlimited play when purchased at the bar.
Adam Stein, the chef and managing partner at the new Bar Elena on H Street NE, began associating video games with food at a young age. “Growing up, we'd go to the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House in Springfield,” he says, fondly recalling the local all-you-could-eat seafood chain. “We'd go there all the time, and they always had a game room. As soon as we ate all the crab legs and hush puppies we could eat, we'd go off and play Pole Position or Centipede.”
So when Stein was finalizing the plans for Bar Elena, where the menu features head-on shrimp cocktail and lobster rolls, he made space for a game room of his own, with a pair of skee-ball machines, “Indiana Jones” and “Sopranos” pinball, and classic video arcade machines.
“It's come full circle,” he jokes. “I've recreated Chesapeake Bay Seafood House.”
But Bar Elena is more than just the games. Boundary Road, with its great bar and cocktail program, was “a quiet, sit-down place” for dining, Stein says. The space's new concept is meant to cater to the wave of young professionals that have moved into the evolving neighborhood. “We're trying to add more energy,” he says.
The dining room, equipped with more four-top and high bar tables, features a scaled-back menu that's heavier on sandwiches and appetizers, including General Tso-spiced chicken wings and hush puppies buried under a pile of chilies, queso fresco and crema. The drink menu has more than a dozen red and white wines by the glass, seven craft beers and cocktails using local ingredients, such as a Negroni with two types of Green Hat Gin.
A renewed focus on happy hour means $5 mixed drinks, wine and beer daily from 4 to 7 p.m. and again from 11 p.m. to close, as well as deals on oysters, mini-burgers and nachos. During a recent happy hour visit, the bar had a mix of 20- and 30-somethings, and multiple families sat at the bar's tables — including two kids who couldn't wait to play skee-ball after dinner.
414 H St. NE. Open at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
More bars with game rooms
The Board Room: The two-level Board Room has dozens of classic board games — think Mousetrap, Scrabble or Clue — but they also have a modern selection that ranges from Settlers of Catan to What Do You Meme and Cards Against Humanity, all of which cost $2 to play. Pro tip: Board Room doesn't serve food, so fuel up around the corner at Glen's Garden Market. 1737 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Lyman's Tavern: D.C.'s best pinball bar has good food, free popcorn and 10 well-kept pinball machines, including Ghostbusters and Attack from Mars. There's a monthly tournament called the Jackalope Hunt that's held on weekend afternoons and open to all. 3720 14th St. NW.
Penn Social: The cavernous Penn Social has it all: skee-ball, pop-a-shot basketball and numerous arcade games, including Space Invaders and Walking Dead-themed machines large enough for two players. If you prefer low-tech games, play free giant versions of Jenga and Connect Four. 801 E St. NW.
Spider Kelly's: The Clarendon version of Chuck E. Cheese's, Spider Kelly's has pool, skee-ball, shuffleboard, pop-a-shot, darts, Golden Tee and arcade games. It's hectic on weekends, but easy to shoot pool or play shuffleboard during the week. 3181 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
Vük: A dark room full of video games with the scent of fresh pizza hanging thick in the air, Vük is a teenager's dream arcade, with pinball machines ranging from Medieval Madness to Metallica, and a few classic games from the '70s and '80s. Use whatever quarters you don't sink into machines to order slices of classic New York-style pizza. 4924 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda.