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Chase The High Score At The Best Arcade Bars In The Country

From the flashing neon lights to the pizza grease on the joystick, a trip to the arcade is pure 12-year-old magic. The perfect place to blow an afternoon and 10 bucks in quarters — just ask the Stranger Things crew. We’re not saying arcades stop being fun when you grow up, but for a long time that meant tolerating roving gangs of pre-teens. Sober.

It was… rough, to say the least.

Lucky for you, we live in an age where everything you ever liked as a kid has been absolutely and completely poached by adults. Meaning there are lots of places in this great nation where you can get buzzed and play some Joust until the wee hours of the morning. Barring personal tragedy or teenage-style relationship theatrics, it literally isn’t possible to go to one of these ten spots and have a crappy time. Just you try it.

Cobra Arcade Bar — Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona

Ariel Bracamontes, the co-founder of Cobra Arcade Bar, spent years amassing more than 100 arcade games from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. When he made the move to open Cobra, his impressive collection of retro consoles finally had a place to shine for the public. And shine they do, because all of them have enjoyed some level of refurbishing — be it a special paint job, a custom controller, or another creative enhancement courtesy of Bracamontes or one of the many artists he has given free rein to work on the machines.

Friday and Saturday nights often mean long lines to get in and game. Instead, try Dude’s Night on Mondays and Ladies Night on Wednesdays for smaller crowds and free tokens. If you aren’t looking to play for free based on your gender, try Tuesdays when buying a drink scores you 10 free tokens.

Barcade — New York and St. Mark’s Place, New York; Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey; Los Angeles, California; New Haven, Connecticut; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Barcade’s OG Williamsburg location opened in 2004, giving it quite a head start on the current craze. That’s probably why it has more locations than any other arcade on this list. It’s simply had more time to grow than its competition. In 2015, the trailblazing funsters behind Barcade started using the tagline “The Original Arcade Bar” to cement their place among the hundreds of similar businesses that have popped up since their first location opened, and they really have paved the way in creating cool gaming and drinking spaces for adults.

The menu here is mostly bar bites and sandwiches, and they only serve American craft beer on tap in order to reduce the amount of waste and energy used to get a good beer buzz. The games tend to be from the classic early 80s era of arcade gaming, but they range through the 90s and there even a couple from the 70s and mid-2000s included in the rotation. The pinball machines boast some contemporary titles, but there are definitely ones from that classic arcade period as well. The Brooklyn location has attracted world record holders to compete for Guinness placement in games like Tapper and Ms. Pac-Man, so you know they’re legit.

Logan Arcade — Chicago, Illinois

For nearly a decade, Logan Hardware was the record store to frequent when people in the Logan Square hood needed some vinyl, so it was a bit of a shame when the shop closed. However, most people forgave them when the team behind the record store opened Logan Arcade three blocks from their former location. Plus, they still do record store pop-ups in the arcade, so people can get their fix. Logan Arcade also hosts nights with DJs and magicians, as well as movie nights.

There’s a lot of creativity going on here — the walls are covered with colorful pieces of gutted games that have been turned into lights; the overall aesthetic is modern and stylish. It wasn’t the third barcade in the city, but it just might be the best.

Coin-Op Game Room — Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Diego, California

Though there are multiple locations where a Californian can enjoy a Coin-Op Game Room, we dig the San Francisco branch the most. This massive 10,000-square-foot, two-story arcade built in a former foundry has nearly 50 games that primarily hale from the 80s and 90s and nearly 15 pinball machines that include a few of the all-time best and some modern limited editions. It’s a solid arcade, but it’s also kind of a bougie lounge club. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s fun to have an upscale drink in a place with table bases made of Legos and Super Mario Brothers wallpaper in the bathroom before you rock a little Ghostbusters pinball. Really, where else can you get a Galaga high score and a fifty-dollar lobster pizza with brown butter garlic sauce, crispy pancetta, wilted spinach, and sun-dried tomato pesto?

It’s also worth popping into The Grid, a Tron-themed speakeasy inside the arcade, but you will have to use a secret, online reservations system. Once you figure that out, make your way through a door designed to look like a vintage Tron arcade game. That’s how you commit to a theme.

EightyTwo — Los Angeles, California

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Opened by childhood friends near Downtown in 2012, EightyTwo is L.A.’s first arcade bar. Because it is situated in the Arts District and shares that neighborhood with some trendy hotspots, EightyTwo tends to attract a young, hip crowd full of vintage dresses, skinny jeans, mustaches, and thick-framed glasses. There’s a rotating collection of 50 arcade games and pinball machines, plus a full bar, nightly DJs, an outdoor patio, and weekly gaming competitions. The goal is to be a clean, open museum-style space. Think polished concrete floors and open exposed beams. The outside is covered in vibrant graffiti from local artists. Plus, the bathrooms have attendants, which isn’t strictly museum or art-related but is really fancy and fun.

EightyTwo doesn’t just rotate their games, they also rotate the food trucks that sit in the parking lot each night. Sometimes you can even find a taco stand or barbecue pit. At one point, they kept customers updated on the food options via social media, but these days, they stick to shouting out DJs. Don’t worry too much, the food may be a surprise but it will also be very very good.

Ground Kontrol — Portland, Oregon

Technically, Ground Kontrol opened in 1999, when members of the bands The Dead Stars on Hollywood and Warshow Angels launched it. But the arcade underwent several changes and moved its location before becoming a full-service bar in 2011. The present two-story location is home to more than 100 classic video games and 40 pinball machines. There is also a full-service bar that operates from noon until two in the morning. The cocktails are pretty tasty, but most of the people seem to have beer cans in their hands. The food is pretty simple hot dog and pizza fare, but Ground Kontrol makes a lot of the items vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free to serve customers with food sensitivities. Look, it’s Portland. That’s how they do.

If the games and the drinks weren’t enough, the space has a decent number of events, including DJ nights, comedy shows, game tourneys, high score competitions, Rock Band karaoke, and indie game showcases. For those who go hard at pinball, the Portland Pinbrawl is an annual tournament held at Ground Kontrol.

Kung Fu Saloon — Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee

In 2009, the first Kung Fu Saloon opened in downtown Austin, Texas, and it proved so popular that there are now six locations across Texas and Tennessee. Plus, the OG Austin location moved to a larger location with room for a kitchen, meaning people looking to game the night away can keep themselves fortified with Cap’n Crunch fried pickles and kimcheese tots while they knock back a cold beer or some sake bombs. They are also pretty famous for their pickle shots. On the gaming side of things, these aren’t the kind of arcades that offer 100 games to choose from. Each location only guarantees it will have more than 18 vintage games. But they try to make up for the paucity by offering ping pong, foosball, Giant Jenga, Giant Connect Four, shuffleboard, board games, and skee ball lanes. Plus, the skee ball is always free, and that’s very, very exciting. There is a dress code, which isn’t typical in places where you are quaffing a Lone Star and playing some Tapper, but it’s not overly oppressive.

The Sunday Funday is worth your hung over effort here. All the games are free. There are mimosa specials. There’s a bloody Mary bar. And Happy Hour prices are in place until seven at night. It’s one of the only bar arcades we know of that leans into brunch hard.

The 1Up — Denver, Colorado

The 1Up started with a location in LoDo (lower downtown) in September of 2011. It proved so popular that founder Jourdan Adler opened a second arcade in Colfax and a third in suburban Greenwood. Opened at the close of 2018, the Greenwood spot has a full kitchen, more than 100 games (the largest selection of the three), and 30 pinball machines. So, though you are more likely to run into kids, who are welcome 11:00 am – 3:00 pm weekdays and 11:am – 7:00 pm Saturday and Sundays, you are also going to have a lot more gaming options. Just go during the times young ones aren’t allowed and drop some tokens on the rare six-player X-Men game and the world’s largest Pac-Man screen. This is also a good spot for chowing down on bar staples and cheap, canned beer. Though, we say you opt for a Slush Puppy and mix your favorite liquor into a frozen cocktail.

Every Sunday, the Greenwood 1Up hold a pinball tournament with three-dollar Montucky tallboys. There are also dollar mimosas on Sundays, so you have options. Though if you are really going to go full pinball wizard, you might want to stay sober.

Up-Down — Nashville, Tennessee; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri; and Des Moines, Iowa

Co-owners opened the Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Milwaukee locations of Up-Down before launching their Des Moines gaming haunt in 2013, but this East Village location is our favorite. This year, the arcade expanded to the floor above the basement where it started, which doubled its size. Now, there are 60 classic arcade games and a kitchen that allows for gamers to carb up on things like Mac & Cheese pizza and Chicken & Waffles pizza. At four bucks a slice, you might as well snag one of each. Wash it all down with a beer from one of the 30 taps in the upstairs bar, or take advantage of one of their drink specials like Fireball shot skis or local beer night when you get a dollar off Iowa beers and three free tokens. Their specials are actually pretty crazy. On Fridays, the first 100 folks through the door get 100 tokens or you can pay 25 dollars to get a six-pack of beer and a pound of token in an Up-Down fanny pack. Thursdays bring ten-cent tokens from open to close. And Saturdays are two-for-one token night from two to nine.

Of course, it’s the cabinet games and the pinball that are the big draw, but we like that this location also has six lanes of classic skee ball, gaming tables with life-size board games, and Nintendo 64 games that you play in an old school living room set-up.

A4Cade — Cambridge, Massachusetts

How do you get a 21 and over speakeasy arcade bar in the Boston area? In this case, it was a magical collaboration between local sandwich institution Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and pizza wizards Area Four. Rather than move forward with commonalities like carbs and cheese, the owners of these fun businesses opted for a dual-venue with an awesome menu, super cool cocktails in wacky glasses, and a grip of games. Arcade cabinets, pinball machines, foosball tables, and shuffleboard are all represented here. And you get to enter through what looks like a walk-in-fridge door. A4cade is a place where people wear mustaches like Magnum P.I. and the beer taps are decorated with video game paraphernalia. Anyone looking to drink out of a mug styled after a pop culture character will be pleased, as will those who like a plastic unicorn in their glass.

With two killer restauranteurs behind the scenes, the food is exceptional. There are a lot of grilled cheese options that include things like hot honey, house-made guacamole, caramelized onions, braised barbecue short rib, fig jam, and herb goat cheese. Plus, they make a bunch of vegan options, which isn’t the expectation when it comes to grilled cheese. Be sure to get some tots topped with salt, truffle oil, and rosemary.

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