On the whole, video games haven’t been around that long – compared to games like, say, Mancala or Cuju, they’re a recent phenomenon. But they are old enough to stir wave after wave of nostalgia, and to have whole cottage industries springing up around that nostalgia. But perhaps the best thing to come out of it is the arrival of the barcade, a cool bar bolted to an old-fashioned arcade.
Modern barcades tend towards stylish and trendy, with fun retro color schemes reminiscent of the geek culture of the ’80s and ’90s, local craft beer and game cabinets that are mostly functional and in good condition. They are – unlike the vast majority of real arcades – great places to meet up, watch sports, a space for light-hearted, casual competition, quiet chat and several rounds of good drinks.
Some run a bit of club beer, and some are more game oriented. Some have better food and some have wild decor, but they are universally fun places for a night out. From Downtown to Hollywood and the Valley, these are ten of our favorite barcades in LA:
Arts District’s Hotspot 82 is the barcade for those who prefer the emphasis on the first syllable – there are some good quality games here, but it’s an aesthetic tone setter as much as anything. There is also a large outdoor patio, retail space and a listening bar with a full-time DJ program. That means the energy can go clubby, with a more dressed-up downtown crowd than the others in the category. That said, they play host to the LA Pinball League on Tuesday nights, and you’ll have no trouble finding a partner for a round. Area 51 at any time.
There’s a reason Highland Park’s Barcade has a generic name: they invented the concept, or at least they claim so. The company’s first branch opened in Brooklyn in 2004 and they now have nine barcades across the country, mostly in the Northeast, one in Detroit and one here. Whether or not they were the first (there are a few people in Portland who would beg to differ), Barcade executed the idea to perfection, with a simple food menu, good cocktails and beer, and a great set of classic arcade games and pinball . And if you get a high score, they put it on their website – we’re coming for you, Tenny.
Most barcades lean towards the retro end of the aesthetic spectrum, but few go as hard as North Hollywood’s Player One. Their massive space sits on a prime corner of Lankershim, a bright purple, pink, and teal monument to 80s retro-future style with teal palm trees and a silhouetted vintage sci-fi cityscape to the side. The theme continues throughout, with 80s and 90s jams on the stereo, lots of glowing neon, and lots of vintage game consoles. There are games in bigger format like Dance Dance Revolution, as well as regular events such as bar trivia and karaoke. There’s hearty craft beer and a full bar, and you can bring food with you as long as you clean up yourself and don’t spill on the games.
Since it’s also a Dodger bar, taqueria, and natural wine bar, you’d almost forget that Button Mash is primarily a barcade, with a great selection of vintage games in great condition. Play classic firecrackers like Galaga, NBA Jamand X-Men while sipping back on some curated craft beers. Then take a short break with a mushroom taco from Tacos 1986 and hit the skee-ball and pop-a-shot for a friendly match.
If you don’t long for the buzzing arcades of the 80’s of Tron but for the clad silence of your friend’s TV room, with a two liter soda and several video game stations connected via LAN, EXP Barcadia might be the place for you. The decor is relatively toned down, with accents lifted in equal parts from a WeWork kitchen and communal dorm room. The games are more reminiscent of a high-end home setup than a classic arcade, with PC gaming labs, consoles set up in recreated living rooms, and dedicated VR space. Cocktails all have game-themed names like the rum and citrus-based Health Potion or the tequila and prickly pear Exp Boost, and there’s an interesting food menu with Japanese and LA influences.
The Sherman Oaks barcade The One Up is named for the extra life bonus in vintage video games, but it could also refer to the way they stay ahead of the competition with a simple policy: their games are free to play for customers. If you eat from their menu of vegetarian pub food or drink their cocktails or beer you can dive into ? CarnEvil, Space Invaders, Double dragon, or anything else from their large selection. The decor is loungey with fun, nerdy touches like a series of pop culture portraits and a giant Mr. T mural.
Many of these other arcade bars look like your best memory of an old arcade mixed with a trendy bar. Blipsy is more of a real old-school arcade – it’s dark and dizzying, some games are broken, and you’ll inevitably grab something mysteriously tacky. But they have a great selection of games, affordable drinks and the energy is always good. If you want to see your childhood through rose-colored glasses then maybe look elsewhere, but if you really want to remember arcades as they were 30 years ago, this is your place.
The sign outside Walt’s loudly shouts “Pinball” in bright rainbow neon, but it’s not as intense as it looks – it’s more of a bar with some cool pinball machines than a Pinball Bar. The focus is instead on their good natural wine list, hearty craft beer and hot dogs, with pinball tournaments a special feature. Whether you’re there for a tap take, winery night, or just hanging out on a quiet weeknight, Walt’s is a great place to kick back a few cold drinks and slam a metal ball around a machine.
Guildhall isn’t exactly a barcade like the others on the list, but it’s a fantastic place to have a drink, eat some creative pub food and play games – they’re just board games rather than video games. Guildhall is an e-sports bar, where you can watch the best e-sports leagues and Twitch streams on their TV screens, and it’s also a board game bar, where you can check out board games from their vast library of over 200 titles to play while you eat and drink. The mechanics may be slightly different, but the fun, competitive, nerdy spirit of the best barcades is alive and well in Guildhall.
Hollywood and Westchester
Yes, it’s a business behemoth, and no, it’s not as trendy or cool as most of the other options on the list, and yes, the beer list leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s a reason Dave & Buster’s in recent years has grown so much over the years. barcade game – their formula works. Each venue has an absolutely huge selection of games, including classics and modern hits, and the food and drink is fully competent. It won’t give you the electric charge of a vintage-style arcade, but it would be a mistake to write off D&B, especially if you’re looking for a kid-friendly afternoon activity.
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