Nevertheless, The Observer and a companion decided to take a tour of these atavistic drink shops on a recent Sunday evening, starting with Williamsburg’s Barcade, to witness this Never Never Land of liquor and perpetual children.
A cavernous, characterless room with 1980s arcade games lining the walls, Barcade is a dystopian version of a teen hangout, Blade Runner meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
After securing a drink, our companion left to survey the room. The Observer approached a 20-something couple visiting from London, Amy Chapman and Chris Curd. They were huddled around a Frogger machine, by their account faring “piss poor” at the game.
Ms. Chapman was particularly impressed by the concept of Barcade. “It makes me want to go home and start one myself. It’s such an amazing idea,” she enthused.
“It’s awesome,” Mr. Curd concurred.
Agree to disagree. But did they not have similar diversions in London?
“Not in bars. It’s mostly gambling machines,” responded Mr. Curd
“It’s mostly a thing for kids,” added Ms. Chapman.
Fancy that. We rejoined our companion at the bar. He informed us of his attempt at regaining the gaming prowess of his youth. “I just made it 30 seconds into Contra and just died. I just blew a dollar on Contra,” he said. “Fucking Contra.”
But what of the vibe, the boozy teenageness of the joint?
“There’s something very nonthreatening about this place,” the companion mused. “There’s no one attractive. It’s like, ‘Let’s just go and play some video games.’ I mean, I guess they’re just nerds … Alright, I’m getting some change.”
In addition to being childish and silly, there was something decidedly unsexy about the superimposition of adolescent accoutrements into the context of a bar. It took away the potential, the edge and the libidinous quality that the best boozing joints give off.
When we reached him by phone, Jason Kosmas, co-owner of the swank bar Employees Only, went even further, pointing out that games of this sort, while ostensibly sociable activities, are actually kind of antisocial.
“You go out with your friends and you spend time with your friends,” he explained. “You know, it’s a wagon train. You go out with your friends and you sort of form a little fortress, and nobody else really comes in.”
As opposed to his establishment, which he said is structured around possibility. “Ultimately, in those places [like his own], people are going to get laid,” he explained. “The word ‘laid’ has different connotations for different people. It might be that they want a great drink, or they might want to see someone famous, or they might want to make a business connection. Something’s gonna happen to them that is out of their ordinary life. Or, most importantly, get laid.”
Imagine as part of this metaphor getting the day’s high score on Galaga. Doesn’t work, right?
Cocktail guru Jim Meehan found that his bar PDT had so much sexual charisma—and such drinkable concoctions—that he had to institute a “No PDA at PDT, hands on the table, tongues inside your mouth” point of etiquette.
“It’s bizarre to me,” he said of the gaming bars. “I work all the time, so going to a bar with my friends to catch up is actually a luxury. I would never go to a place to play lawn darts.”