Rainy days are for staying indoors and finding ways to stay entertained (while working on our hand-eye coordination).
We talk to the guys behind Melbourne’s arcade-bar (barcade?) trend to find out why it’s so popular – and which games we should be hitting up.
Bartronica owner Josh Egan is a diehard arcade devotee. The TV director says games have been a passion since he was a child – his other passion is hospitality. “I believe in Melbourne, in the bar and hospitality culture that we have,” he says. Though arcade bars are now [emerging in Sydney and beyond], he thinks we were the first city in Australia “to really have a crack” at the sorts of bars famous in Japan and the US (from where he sources many of his games). He sees the venue as something between a bar and a museum. “We get the games people don’t have access to; they can travel a timeline.”
Here, you’ll find classics: Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Streetfighter and a four-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But there are also some rarer beasts: a 1975 version of Gun Fight is the oldest of its kind in the country, modified by Egan’s team to take dollars instead of quarters. Some games are part of just a handful of publically playable machines left worldwide. But you won’t find an Xbox. “We stick to our guns,” Egan says. “I’m really retro.”
Must play: “Ice Cold Beer – a 1983 game by Taito.” The aim of the $1 game is to balance a beer on a small silver ball all the way to level 10. Game winners get a free pot of Little Creatures from the bar. “Only two guys in Melbourne have been able to finish it,” Egan says with the air of someone throwing down a gauntlet.
Must drink: The drinks list echoes a 1980s theme. Try The Delorean: a reinvented mojito with strawberry and ginger, served in a copper cup.
Rory Lim, self-described “arcade maven” at Pixel Alley, has a few theories on the arcade trend. “Most things take 20 years to come back around,” he says, acknowledging the obvious role nostalgia plays in it all. “But smart phones have brought games into the mainstream, more than consoles ever did. You get Pac-Man on your phone, and realise a lot of these games are actually really cool.”
The game-inspired cocktails here are next level. Lim nominates Pacman Bubble Tea as the bar’s MVP: a bubble cup of vodka, ginger beer, lime and lychee “boba power pellets”. “To get your game on.”
Must play: “We try to introduce people to Snow Bros and Armored Warriors,” Lim says. “They’re really popular with people who know them. Everyone comes in to play Daytona and Big Buck Hunter, but they try these and walk away thinking, ‘Oh wow’.”
Must drink: The Pipe Dream (gin, peach liqueur, guava, lime) comes in a Mario-inspired, pipe-shaped mug. What more could you ask for?
Graeme Orr, who owns Collingwood’s Forgotten Worlds with partner May Sivakumaran, thinks Melbourne’s love affair with arcade games is partly a generational thing. “As a kid, all my friends played video games; we’ve reached that time when you want to relive childhood.” Mainly, though, he reckons the reason is not that complicated. Straight up: “It’s fun.” And the perks aren’t bad either – earlier this year, Orr got to meet Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, when he came to the bar to shoot an ad.
Orr likes to keep things simple, kind of. “We mostly do beer,” he says when asked about the drinks list. It turns out “beer” means around 70 varieties: Australian and American craft brews, as well as labels from Japan, Denmark, New Zealand and the UK. “It’s a nightmare doing stock,” he admits, laughing.
Must play: Streetfighter 2. “We’ve been open for nearly two years and I still can play it every day,” Orr says. “It was one of the highest-grossing arcade games of the ‘90s – it changed and revived the whole industry. We’ve done three Streetfighter competitions, and you get these old-school players from the ’90s coming in, lots of good fighters.”
Must drink: “We have two taps of a new bourbon-barrel-aged stout from Anderson Valley in California.”