The death of the arcade is often cited as one of the hobby’s greatest casualties when discussion turns toward the impact of home video game consoles — and rightfully so. Arcades, at one point in time, were the essence of video gaming, a place where gamers would frequent to not only play games, but to socialize as well. It was our geeky social club, and it sadly passed away into the night.
Surprisingly, arcades have seen a resurrection of sorts in New York City, 2D-X‘s base of operations. Barcade — the hipster retro-gaming haven located in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn — mixed ’80s arcade uprights with a fine beer selection and indie music. I spent a summer there downing IPA brews while lumping up Mr. Sandman in Punch-Out!!. The wall-to-wall crowds eventually wore on me — saying “Pardon me” every two steps is frustrating — so my attendance dwindled. Thankfully, other establishments have emerged to serve as viable alternatives.
Enter Two Bits Retro Arcade, a small location tucked away in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The nondescript exterior doesn’t scream modern arcade, which is something that I found appealing. Places like Chinatown’s Chinatown Fair (the old school version, anyway) and Coney Island’s Faber’s Fascination (once again, the old school incarnation) weren’t super-glitzy. They had just the right amount of underground flavor to let you know that they were hardcore spots for hardcore gamers.
Two Bits Retro Arcade’s walls are aligned with mostly ’80s and ’90s arcade classics including Afterburner, Ms. Pac-Man, Final Fight, Marvel vs. Capcom, a yellowing Hydro Thunder, a sit-down Popeye cocktail cab, and a haxzored Street Fighter II: Champion Edition that lets you perform air combos and move at super speed. The MvC cab caught my eye because Capcom placed Mega Man in a prominent position on the marquee. That probably wouldn’t happen in 2013.
I spent quite a few quarters on a Big Red Neo Geo upright that contained a game that I had only read about but never played: The official Double Dragon movie tie-in game. It features a mutating, overly muscled Abobo and a FMV opening featuring Terminator 2‘s Robert Patrick and Party of Five‘s Scott Wolf — it’s ’90s awesome/heinous. Five to six pinball tables reside in the back area including Stern Pinball’s Avengers L.E. and Bally’s classic Theatre of Magic, which I had only previously played on The Pinball Arcade collection. It could’ve used one of Konami’s multiplayer beat ‘em ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of The Simpsons, but that’s a minor gripe.
The drink selection sports a decent mix of beer, wine, and sake. Two brews on a Saturday night cost $13, a little more than I’d like to play, but the games are priced right. Most uprights are a quarter and the pinball machines start at 50 cents — just like back in the day! My one gripe is that the machines’ audio output is low — it’s a bit hard to hear the familiar bleeps and bloops — but the ’80s and ’90s hits that blare throughout the joint more than make up for it.
Two Bits Retro Arcade served up more old school enjoyment than I ever would’ve expected — my $5 in quarters were gone by the time I left the establishment two hours later. It was a trip back in time that recalled my younger days when I quartered up, laughed, and had an unbridled passion for games that wasn’t sullied by rampant fanboyism and weekly industry controversies. If you’re in the NYC area, do yourself a favor and plop down a quarter for a game.
Two Bits Retro Arcade is located on 153 Essex Street, New York, NY.