Save your quarters for these arcade bars
Arcade games aren’t the only draw at this Echo Park establishment. You may come for a few rounds of Punch-Out or Galaga, but you’ll likely stay for the craft beer and pan-Asian cuisine straight from the brains behind Starry Kitchen. The menu offerings, like crispy tofu balls, tamarind chicken wings, pork belly sandwiches and mouth-numbing dan dan noodles, are a far cry from the pizza rolls of your Nintendo days past, and offer more than enough sustenance to tackle a long night at the arcade. With classic favorites like X-men, Streetfighter 2, Mortal Kombat and The Simpsons, everyone from button-bashers to ranked champions should find something to keep them busy, while true nerds will get a kick out of obscure, old school games like Ghouls and Ghosts, Michael Jackson Moonwalker, Tapper and Burgertime—all in pristine condition and well-maintained. A separate room offers some classic and contemporary pinball machines from Game of Thrones to Waterworld. Colorful wallpaper, an upbeat soundtrack and old Wrestlemania videos complete an atmosphere that brings out the kid in you.
While the arcade in this Houston brothers’ hidden ode to the '80s really only amounts to three or four machines, it’s worth mentioning that gameplay on them is free. The atmosphere at Break Room 86 is all-immersive, so you can count on great '80s background music while you’re plugging away at Donkey Kong, Galaga or Pac-Man, and the possibility of break dancers while you’re sipping on your tequila Ecto Cooler. While it may be difficult to get a game in when this place gets packed on the weekends, consider a Wednesday or Thursday visit, when one of the bar’s four private karaoke suites is open to the public. Okay, so you’re probably not going to come here for the games alone, but are you really going to resist an alcoholic push-up pop from the grown-up ice cream truck on the patio? We didn’t think so.
This K-Town dive is LA’s OG arcade bar. It’s relatively nondescript from the outside, but inside, it’s a darkly lit hybrid of childhood amusements and adult inebriation. Oversized carnival animals and vintage toys peek out from every nook and cranny like an 8-year-old’s nightmare, but that’s part of this place’s charm. The selection of games is ample—just don’t expect them to be in tip-top shape. In a bar where drinks are this cheap and stiff, there’s bound to be a few sticky buttons. Ms. Pac-Man, Paperboy and Gun Fight are popular when Blipsy gets packed, with the latter apparently a go-to icebreaker for folks on first dates. If games aren’t your thing, there’s always dancing—every night after 10pm, Blipsy hosts live DJs playing everything from '70s rock and metal to hip hop and Caribbean dancehall. Just remember to bring cash and quarters.
The holy grail of arcade games and bowling, X Lanes in Little Tokyo is a virtual paradise for mixed-gender hang sessions. Our only complaint: not enough air hockey tables. If you're looking for a high-energy club vibe without the aimless standing around, plus the added exhilaration of 24 Lanes of LED-lit bowling, this is your sanctuary. With more than 100 arcade games, a 9-table billiard room and karaoke ('90s power ballads, anyone?), there's no shortage of entertainment for your geek squad to feast on. And speaking of feasting, X Lanes also has a restaurant and full sports bar, because bowling while buzzed is highly amusing, and karaoke to Alanis Morissette after three vodkas is the stuff memories are made of. For large parties, you may want to make reservations ahead of time as lanes do fill up quickly. Order a round of mozzarella sticks, bogart the Dance, Dance Revolution, and make a night of it, you crazy kids.
Marked by a glowing Space Invader icon above the door, the One Up in Sherman Oaks adds a jolt of youth to this quiet stretch of Ventura Boulevard, a block previously dominated by nail salons and dry cleaners. Inside, you'll find Valley dwellers diving into goat cheese tots and Cap'N Crunch chicken wings before wiping their hands and heading over to the arcade area. A selection of roughly 10 consoles offer free games, with an emphasis on classics: Donkey Kong, Centipede, Frogger, Jumping Jack and plenty more. Between levels, thirsty gamers make their way to the bar—the beer options here are just okay, but cocktails break the mold with drinks like Grown-Up Chocolate Milk and the 18 Hour Sling. On a date? Sip your liquid courage on comfy couches by the door, under the soft light of a neon sign that reads, "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."
Like Chuck E. Cheese with beer (and minus the terrifying animatronics), this massive arcade chain becomes an adults-only playground every night. Yes, it's a little more bro-y than the other arcade bars on our list, but it does the trick if you want to be playing skee ball in-between sips of Bud Light. You'll find beer, cocktails and bar food here, along with billiards and shuffleboard for analog entertainment. But most of the activity is centered around arcade cabinets, chance games and ride-like experiences tied into video game, movie and iPhone franchises—in other words, expect to keep recharging that Power Card throughout the night. D&B was once limited to the 'burbs, but this spot at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center marks the first LA location; the chain has also opened a branch in Hollywood.