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The Five Best Video Arcades in New York City

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Spurred by this morning’s rad New York Times piece on one of New York City’s last great video arcades in Chinatown — and in the Styles Section, no less! — we present a nifty little roundup of the best places to play video games in New York City.

4. Barcade (Williamsburg, Brooklyn): Off-limits to minors — sorry, kids — but a stone’s throw from the Lorimer stop is Billyburg standard Barcade, where — for $0.25 a game — you can engage Barcade’s awesome selection of coin-ops, none of which have been made after 1990, which they rotate regularly. Think: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Tron, Star Wars, Ghosts and Goblins, 420, Tapper, Galga, Pac-Man, Out-Run, et al. There’s a giant chalkboard with all the epic high scores on there for you to take a stab at, or you can just do what everyone else does and indulge in the stellar beer-tap selection. Mediocre music — why does the music always suck there? — and few seating options leave a little to be desired, and the place is a hit with Brooklyn tourists, so avoid prime hours. But they’re now open at 2 p.m. daily, and they don’t mind if you walk in just to play the games. It’s hard to argue with this place: It’s quickly becoming a Williamsburg landmark, if it isn’t already, with good reason.

2. Chinatown Fair: The aforementioned New York Times profile of the place will tell you everything you need to know about it, but basically, if you remember the good old days of watching your tokens flash before your eyes after you stand in line for 20 minutes only to get your ass kicked in three on Street Fighter II, Turbo Edition by the nine-year-old kid who’s been manning the machine for the last three hours, then yes, this is the joint. Think of Chinatown Fair as the fundamentalists’, purists’ video arcade. Family fun you won’t find here. What you will find are a bunch of pro-gamers and young Manhattanites who resemble the stereotype of old-school New Yorkers in their youth: seasoned, tough-talking, no-bullshit players who all know each other, and can see you, the tourist to their hallowed grounds, coming from a mile away. Don’t be afraid –just enjoy getting schooled, and respect their grounds. It’s not too expensive. They have a solid selection of games and it is, for all intents and purposes, the real deal.

1. Dave and Busters (Times Square): A shocker, but wait. Yeah, it’s Times Square. Yes, it’s the most expensive of the bunch. Yes, it’s a chain. And yes, if you go at any time you have any inclination that there might be a few more people there than you’d like there to be, you can bet the place will be packed to hell with tourists. But you can’t deny these guys their fantastic selection of games (including a giant, projection-screen version of Arcade Madden Football) and ticket-spitting machines you can cash in for the joy of indulging in a bunch of knick-knacks practically made for small children to choke on (or if you save a bunch up, a bootleg MP3 player). As for the kids, they’re either rampant, or absent (the place is 21 and over, guardians have to be at least 25, and it’s no more than five kids to every parent). The booze is good, if you’re drunk enough, the food will suffice, the people who work there are (amazingly) often very nice, it’s a great place to watch a baseball game on huge TVs and kill time between innings, and also, it’s very unlikely you’re going to find yourself embarrassed at any point, because nobody you know will see you there, and if they do, they’re probably indulging themselves, too. Happy hours, game specials, you know the deal. As much as you want to hate Dave and Busters, their product makes it pretty difficult.

Honorable Mentions: Williamsburg’s Alligator Lounge and its sister-bar in Union Square, Crocodile Lounge, both have Buck Hunter and Skee Ball, and also, free pizza with your beer. In fact, Williamsburg does pretty well in this department. The recently-opened Commodore in Williamsburg has a rad Shinobi Machine and a Pac-Man table to kill time while you wait on some pretty solid, cheap food. Full Circle Bar is practically a shrine to Skee-Ball, and a perfect date-stop (the New York Times also dropped in there once, with the classic headline “This is how they roll.”). Ace Bar’s got a few decent pinball machines and an overpriced Skee-Ball lane, and speaking of pinball, the NYC Pinball Players association keeps a comprehensive by-machine list of every machine in New York. Also, a few movie theaters around town have some decent machines, a personal favorite being the Lincoln Square-66th AMC, which has a Time Crisis 4 machine that often goes blissfully ignored. Finally, the old locals trick: If you’re desperate enough, step into any Best Buy and wait your turn, and pretend like you’re gonna buy something. The one on Broadway above Houston works best for this. I’m serious.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com | On Twitter]

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