As craft beer asserts itself as part of the mainstream, it is becoming a necessary part of trendy new pubs and bars.
About 10 years ago, Paul Kermizian, who directed the 2002 craft beer documentary, American Beer, and a few of his friends bet they could make a business out of two of their favorite pastimes: playing classic video games and drinking good beer. In 2004, they opened their first Barcade in an old metal shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Four more followed, including two in New York in 2014. Beer and arcade-themed pubs have since sprung up in Chicago, Omaha and Indianapolis, and now in San Francisco.
Brewcade on Market Street offers an intriguing prospect to grizzled ‘80s arcade veterans and retro-chic millennials alike: The opportunity to wrap their itchy trigger fingers around a breed of uniquely satisfying video games sadly on the verge of extinction. The beer is the easy part. Success will require Brewcade owners Shawn Vergara and Tiffny Vergara Chung to invest as much care and creativity in the quality of the games as they do in the taps and bottles, if not more.
The beer list is promising, though a little unfocused. That’s to be expected as the brand new pub finds its footing with its video gamer customers. For now, the 25 taps and numerous bottles tick most of the boxes that beer drinkers have come to expect: usual suspects like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Steam and Racer 5, along with some unexpected pleasures, such as Fort Point Kolsch, Heretic Shallow Grave Porter, Henhouse’s Honest Day’s Pay Tart Saison and on nitro, Ryrish Dry Irish Stout from Mountain Toad Brewing. Adjusting the taps to suit the clientele shouldn’t be too difficult, though dedicated craft beer drinkers might still prefer the classic pub ambience of Lucky 13 down the block.
As most local arcade goers know, you'd be hard-pressed to find a real video arcade anywhere in the Bay Area. The economy hasn't been kind to any establishment trying to make a buck off arcade cabs. Most have closed down and their games languish in storage.
Walking into Brewcade, I was happily greeted with the familiar blend of arcade sounds and fuzzy ‘80s monitor glow. A well-used Neo Geo cab hummed away up front, and it was nice to see a Paperboy cab complete with bicycle handle controller and Centipede. A panel TV was showing a movie with the sound off and the juke box rumbled loudly against the din of the machines.
I usually gravitate toward shooting games like R-Type II and the 19xx series. One of the nicest aspects of arcades is how social they can be, with onlookers clustering around more experienced players to see how it’s done and to pick up new strategies against some of the seemingly impossible stages of games.
For arcade game newbies, these games are real quarter-munchers. I'm sure that having a few too many beers only adds to the hilarity of “Game Overs!” leading to even more coins spent out of frustration. (Arcade etiquette demands that you put your quarters on the cabinet or screen of the machine as your place in line. Don't just feed the machine until you run out of money.)
I liked the way the arcade cabinets were spaced out, and the cup-holders by each game were an excellent touch. Overall I really like the idea of a bar and an arcade, and think it's a perfect marriage of two wonderful things. However, there are a few questions/suggestions I'd like to address.
What’s up with the games?
Are there more?
The Neo Geo cabinet, for instance, is a cartridge based game system built with swapping in mind. Could players like my friend Myung Kim and myself request game board changes in some of the cabinets? Swapping out boards could be an attractive option for people who want to play different games.
If the owners offered this to their gamer customers, they'd have a grateful and loyal following for the rest of their days.
Smooth buttons and joysticks, please
The game cabs could badly use some TLC. Nothing crazy—just a little maintenance on the buttons and joysticks.
Also the coin slots are in dire need of fixing. They ate at least a dollar’s worth of my quarters and I know I'm not the only one. And I wasn't please that my button jammed the entire duration of my game.
These are good machines; they just need regular maintenance to function properly. Most of them carry inexpensive American Happ parts, which are cheap to swap out.
To sum up:
1) Recap and retune the screens
2) Replace the buttons (some of the sticks on the older games are harder to get new, but all the buttons are standard happ parts you can get for cheap)
3) Repair the coin mechs (they eat too many coins)
4) Replace the blue elf and pandora boards with original hardware and cycle through the games more
(Special thanks to Myung Kim for his input and expertise on this matter)
The gamer in me really hopes arcades will make a comeback, but if my only alternative was a beer and Puzzle Bobble, I'd say Brewcade was doing it right.