The Best Arcade Bars
In The Phoenix Metro
From Galaga And Pinball To Newer Gaming Fair, The Valley’s Eclectic Arcade Bar Scene Has Something For Everyone, And Alcohol To Boot
By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine
Sept. 9, 2016 — People have been going to bars for roughly as long as people have been drinking alcohol, give or take a couple of years. The only problem is, if you can call it a problem, is that outside of darts, loud music and pool tables, bars have not found a lot of great ways to give people something to do whilst they drink. Well, until recently that is.
In recent years, arcade bars have started springing up all around the country, and Arizona is no exception. A handful of these bars feature a wide range of different video games for patrons to play while wetting their whistle.
Sure, standard bars will occasionally feature an old NBA Jam cabinet or a Galaga/Pac-Man station where only the Pac-Man side works and us Galaga players are left out in the cold. But these arcade bars are a different animal. They dedicate themselves to the idea that the games are just as important as their craft beer selection. So, if you haven’t tried a place like this yet or didn’t even realize they existed in the Valley, here is a guide to the best arcade bars in the Phoenix area.
501 S. Mill Ave., #101, Tempe
While it may not have the largest selection of games out of the various arcade bars in the Valley, there is a definite charm to Gringo Star, and it may well be the most well-rounded bar of the bunch. Gringo Star is still very much a bar, so if you just want to go have a drink at a fine establishment located right in the heart of Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe, it is a great fit.
However, it also has a varied selection of arcade games in the back, ranging from driving games to your pretty standard let's-scream-at-one-another-in-healthy-competition-type cabinet games.
Really, the location is either the most appealing, or the least appealing part of Gringo Star, depending on your feelings. Being on Mill Avenue, you get a lot of random foot traffic from people just looking to drink, and it can get awfully crowded. If you like the college crowd, great! If that isn’t your thing and you are looking for a more hardcore gaming crowd, you should look elsewhere. You can check out its website for more information at www.gringostarstreetbar.com.
The Grid: Games and Growlers
525 S. Gilbert Road, Mesa
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat; yes, The Grid is in East Mesa. At first, when I heard that an arcade bar was in East Mesa, I raised an eyebrow as well. However, if you can get over the potential drive and the somewhat unexpected location, you will find that The Grid is probably the most gamer-friendly bar in all of Arizona.
While many arcade bars focus on retro cabinets or things of that nature, The Grid has a little bit of everything. It has an entire bank of PCs for those who prefer PC gaming, a wall of board games, various gaming consoles all throughout the bar (which are free to play) and, of course, a ton of arcade games. The main attraction, if you are into yelling at one another in teams of five, is Killer Queen. It is a game that very few arcades have, and one that is very difficult to explain. I suggest rounding up four friends and showing up to challenge another group. You will not regret it.
The atmosphere is incredibly welcoming, and it has an excellent selection of beer. Plus, it also has a stage for live music that gets put to very good use. If you are a gamer and love beer, it is hard to imagine a more well thought out place for you to enjoy. It is worth the drive even if you don’t live in the East Valley. You can check out its website at www.thegridgg.wixsite.com/thegridmesa
5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle, Tempe
Many Arizona residents may not even realize it happened, but the stalwart GameWorks at Arizona Mills closed down last year. Long before arcade bars were really a trendy thing, GameWorks, though pretty corporate, was cornering that market. It was a shame to see it go, but another corporate arcade bar has come to take its place in the form of Tilt Studio.
For some, the corporate designation is a good thing. It is broad. It is simple. It is effective. Largely, outside of a slightly more colorful atmosphere (it is so purple), Tilt Studio has a similar vibe to GameWorks with one slight edge. One of the main attractions that may appeal a certain sect of gamers is the large bank of pinball machines upstairs. Sure, many bars have one, maybe even as many as two pinball machines, but Tilt Studio has what roughly amounts to a lot. Plus, you can still get a beer and some food while enjoying the nostalgic thwap and clink of these games.
While it may not have the most unique and individualistic charm, Tilt Studio is effective. Also, pinball. You can check out its website at tiltstudio.com/locations/tempe-az.
24 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix
First off, how good of a name is Bonus Round for an arcade bar? Does it live up to that name? Yes.
The self-proclaimed “only nerd hub in Phoenix” is very laid back and has a very simple and welcoming vibe.
Do you want to just sit a table and talk to your nerd friends over an alcoholic refreshment of sorts? Great, you can totally do that. But, the bar also has plenty of arcade games, and they are all free to play. That makes Bonus Round a very difficult place to ignore in terms of straight up value.
It has a great selection like your standard bar cabinets such as NBA Jam and Galaga, but it also has some other classics that are very appealing such as Area 51 and Johnny Nero Action Hero. In terms of value, location and well-roundedness, it is hard to beat Bonus Round. You can check out its website at www.bonusroundphx.com.
Cobra Arcade Bar
801 N. Second St., #100, Phoenix
Last, but very certainly not least, we come to Cobra Arcade Bar. Sure, Cobra has not been open for all that long, but it got it absolutely right from the get-go. Cobra is totally dedicated to classic cabinet gaming, and its selection is simply unparallelled in the Phoenix area.
The bar has around 40 cabinets in it at any given time, but the owners have a selection of more than 100 to choose from, which are rotated in and out regularly. That means you will always have something new to play at Cobra. Not only that, but every game is always a quarter a play, which is pretty damn reasonable, especially when compared to a big chain arcades. Hell, even most bars charge 50 cents for a round of Pac-Man.
The location really helps Cobra’s mass appeal, as it is located right in the heart of downtown Phoenix, next door to FilmBar. My suggestion? Head to FilmBar earlier in the evening to catch a flick, then scoot on over to Cobra to round out the night with drinks and gaming. The only downside is that Cobra can get extremely busy, which is good for them, but can be bad if you are waiting to play some Simpsons Bowling. Comparing video game bars is like comparing apples to oranges, but it is hard to argue against Cobra Arcade Bar in terms of overall quality. You can check out its website at cobraarcadebar.com.
If for some reason none of this appeals to you, there is always Dave & Buster’s, I suppose.
But I wouldn’t recommend it.