Barcade in Manhattan is home to a very special place that combines two of the best pastimes imaginable: Enjoying an adult beverage and playing vintage video arcade games from the days of my youth.
This is a magical place that transported me back more than 30 years to a time before Wii, online gaming, Xbox and all manner of other sophisticated game systems.
The premise of video arcade games was simple: You stood in front of a machine the size of a refrigerator with a screen, a set of buttons and, depending on the game, a joystick.
I try to explain this concept to my sons and they look at me the same way they do when I speak of black-and-white television, rotary dial phones and hard copy encyclopedias.
I was struck by a sense of nostalgia in seeing some of my old (OK, very old) favorites like Donkey Kong, Asteroids and, of course, Pac-Man.
For myself and members of the About Men Radio posse, it was a daily after-school ritual: Go to the five-and-dime store in the Bronx on Castle Hill Avenue called Kress.
Some of us were players and some of us were watchers.
A knot of kids would collect around the machine as if we were metal and it was a gigantic magnet.
Players would wedge a quarter atop the buttons or line them up on the screen, upright, as a way of holding their place in line.
Hard to believe this was the way it was done. But this was organized on the honor system and each player waited for his turn, which could take a while depending on how advanced the current player was.
Another odd memory: Players would put their lit cigarettes (yes, this was long before indoor smoking bans) either atop the machine’s “roofs” or rest them against the buttons, where they would create small burn streaks on the machine’s dashboard.
The arcade games were in few places, mostly what we would refer to as “candy stores,” which were a combination of newsstand, cigar shop and/or ice cream parlor, complete with counter and swivel stools.
Back in the day, the mother lode of these machines, as measured by quality and diversity, was only to be found in Times Square.
So every once in a while, the fellas and I would trek down on a Saturday morning with rolls of quarters to play games we could not find in our Bronx neighborhood.
Of course, later as we got older, we would trek to the then far-seedier Times Square with quarters for other nefarious purposes in mind, resulting in one particularly memorable and hilarious field trip that I have written about in a previous blog post.
The occasion for the visit to the Barcade was to see old work colleagues, including April Hunt, who I wrote about in a previous blog post. (She is a die-hard, champion Ms. Pac-Man player.)
I turned my attention to some old-time favorites, such as Asteroids and even a Star Wars game. Sure, the graphics and sound effects were clunky and dated compared with today’s almost-holographic games, but that is part of their charm.
But just like old times, I died inglorious deaths pretty quickly on the first rounds of almost every game l played.
With these old arcade games, it pays to have fast fingers.
Unfortunately, for me, I’m all thumbs.