Put down the Xbox Live headset and get outside already. Not like to a park or anything, but to a barcade, the newest nostalgia trip sweeping social gaming and bar culture. These barcades pack serious joystick-and-concave-button hardware; we’re not talking about the junk at Dave & Buster’s, but the classic token-operated, upright cabinets that scream out commands like “Finish him!” The retro phenom started a decade ago and now a dozen of these bar/arcade combos open every year. Here are some of our favorites from across the country.
Headquarters Beercade (Chicago)
To succeed a barcade has to be a great arcade and a great bar—you can’t make rent off of 25-cent pinball pulls. HQ Beercade in Chicago is both of those things, offering 7,000-square-feet of pinball real estate and more than 50 kinds of craft beer. HQ leveled-up its concept with a second location in River North, where it offers gourmet food like kimchee deviled eggs and pixelated chicken and waffles. Even the Red Falcon would be impressed.
John John’s Game Room / Add-a-Ball Amusements (Seattle)
John John’s and his older brother, Add-a-Ball, aren’t huge barcades, but they’re certainly keeping the change machines in business in Seattle. At each location you can pump quarters into two-dozen classic cabinets, most of which are outfitted with cup holders. Win Add-a-Ball’s annual 420 gaming tournament and you get to take home your very own pinball machine.
Barcade (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Philadelphia, Jersey City)
Barcade is the grandfather of all bar-arcades on the East Coast. (In fact, the bar trademarked the term “Barcade.”) The first location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been the go-to spot for pre-gaming gaming since it opened in 2004. Barcade now has four more locations in the tri-state area: Jersey City, Philadelphia, New York’s Midtown and the East Village. The East Village location only has arcade games from the 1990s. Barcade even has an app that alerts you when someone beats your high score.
Kung Fu Saloon (Dallas, Houston, Austin)
Kung Fu Saloon is a martial-arts themed Texas chain of sports bars that is packed with old arcade machines. We’re not sure what all of those have to do with each other either, but the alcohol selection is fun (a list of specialty sake bombs include the Longhorne: Pearl sake dropped in a glass of Lone Star with a splash of orange juice) and Sundays are Free Play.
The original Emporium in Wicker Park has dozens of old-school cabinet games, live bands almost every night and 50 varieties of whiskey behind the bar. Tiring of the same ol’ Donkey Kong? Get your quarters warmed up because Emporium has opened a second location that’s only for table games: fooseball, air hockey and shuffle-puck bowlers.
With two locations in Denver, 1up offers more than 150 playable games including the classics, pinball, Skee-Ball and giant Jenga. But games aren’t the only thing spewing from 1up’s consoles: The bar’s owners built a custom arcade cabinet to house a dozen taps of Rocky-Mountains-cold Colorado craft beer. Bonus points: In addition to the brews and full bar, 1up also has a solid selection of 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor.
Insert Coin(s) (Las Vegas)
Las Vegas’ premiere barcade is more of a nightclub-ade. Every night nearly 300 people line up to get into Insert Coin(s). There you can play more than 60 old-school arcade games or challenge strangers to compete against you in modern PlayStation games that are broadcast over the bar. DJs spin remixed 8-bit soundtracks for people on the dance floor and it wouldn’t be Vegas without table service. At this bar’s VIP booths, you can order classic game consoles like an NES to play privately along with your bottle service.
Ground Kontrol (Portland)
Entering Portland’s Ground Kontrol is like getting sucked into the glowing, electronic world of TRON. You don’t have to fight your way out, but you can choose to play some of the barcade’s 100 classic games. Ground Kontrol is the largest and oldest bar-arcade on the West Coast and has the game collection to prove it. But it does not have Space Jam. Do not ask them to get Space Jam.
16-Bit Bar and Arcade (Columbus, Cleveland)
The great thing about 16-Bit is that nearly all of its games are free to play. Gorf! NBA Jam! The Simpsons! For. Free. On Wednesdays the bar screens cult-classics from the 1980s and every night serves drinks named after members of the Brat Pack. We would venture all of the way to Ohio just to wrap our lips around an Emilio Estevez (tequila blanco, Grand Marnier, orange, lime and salted rim).
EightyTwo (Los Angeles)
Not every barcade is a neon wonderland. EightyTwo, a minimalist arcade and cocktail bar in L.A.’s arts district, looks more like a modern gallery space. Forty colorful machines line gray walls and polished concrete floors as if they were on display for gaming connoisseurs. Waste a few lives playing Street Fighter II and then respawn on EightyTwo’s patio sipping one of the bar’s signature cold-brew cocktails. Ready for another round?
Alyson Sheppard is a hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Her work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mental Floss, McSweeney’s, National Geographic Adventure, Jezebel, and more. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep