Friday, October 9, 2009

Barcade Hero

We were in Williamsburg recently (Brooklyn, that is, not Virginia) taking a knife skills class and we thought it would be a great opportunity to try out a bar that we've heard a lot about--Barcade. The gimmick with this place is that they boast a full bar and a bunch of 80's style stand-up video games.
I suppose, in my own mind, I was preparing myself for disappointment. Sure I really enjoy playing video games, but if a bar has video games, it's usually one or two and they're usually tucked in some ignored corner. I pictured a combination pac-man/galaga machine where the start button doesn't work and a centipede game with no rollerball. Maybe there would be a claw machine too but that would be it. This was what I was bracing myself for.
We walked into the place and I was wrong. The walls were lined with games. We counted over thirty of them. No claw machines, no photo booth that puts your face on a sticker, no fodder. Just classic stand-up arcade games. I remember thinking that a pinball machine or two would have been fun and Heather said she would have appreciated some skee-ball, but I have to believe that the proprietors of this establishment are purists and I respect that. I like that they've decided to do one thing and do it really well. I sauntered up to the bar to select my beverage. I had an Oktoberfest and Heather had the Doc's Cider.
I looked around to survey the scene. It was a Wednesday night so it wasn't crowded at all and it seemed like everyone there was a regular. To them, I suppose, the games had lost their luster. Heather and I had our pick of the litter. There was a change machine next to the bar that I stuck a five in. Twenty quarters--twenty chances to be somebody.
As I approached the games--beer in one hand, quarters in the other--I wondered what I was going to do with my beer while I played. Was I going to have to set it on a table and have Heather watch it while I'm having fun. The good people at Barcade thought of that. Next to each game is a shelf where you can set your beer while you play. It may seem like a little thing but I was impressed. It showed that they put some thought into the setup of the place.
The games were a quarter a piece. The same price they were when they were manufactured. They weren't retrofitted with higher prices and it's a good thing too because I am not as good at classic video games as I originally thought. I had to burn through a quarter or two just to get the hang of them. The first one I tried was Contra. It took me three quarters just to get past the first jungle area. Three. I moved on to Frogger, Tetris, Donkey Kong, and even some lesser known games like 1941, Pengo, and Ladybug. I had considered playing Q-bert but then I remembered how bad I was at Q-bert and reconsidered. We looked at the high scores board that was posted and saw that there was a Star Wars game. We looked around for it because it seemed cool, but it was broken in an alcove near the bathroom.
I dont know that I've ever been cool in my life. I was in the chess club in middle school and I was a drama nerd in high school. Video games are just cool. Anyone who's seen the underrated Fred Savage movie The Wizard knows that.
It makes sense that a place like this exists in a place like Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Barcade knows exactly the audience to which they're catering. White, mid-twenties, with a little bit of disposable income. Someone who is a lot like me. If this place were in Jackson Heights, I'd be there every night and they would have to force me out with me screaming that I can't leave before I get the high score in Marble Madness. However Barcade has a very specific demographic. If you were to open it in, say, the Pennsylvania suburbs where I grew up, you would alienate a large segment of the drinking population. Sure you've got places like Dave and Buster's, but they've got a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles and the games cost a lot more. Barcade has a much more subdued classic arcade feel.
There's something about being an adult and playing video games that's even better than doing it as a kid. While I was playing Donkey Kong, I was thinking that life doesn't get better than this. I'm playing an awesome video game with a decent beer at my side while a hot chick--namely my lovely fiance Heather--looks over my shoulder and cheers me on. If there's anything better than that in life, I don't want to know about it.

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