Does it bother you that your kids don't know all four of the ghosts in Pac-Man (say it with me: Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde), or all the characters in Mortal Combat, or what the game Asteroids even is? We're here for you. We've found a handful of old-fashioned family-friendly arcades around NYC, some straddling the line between retro and cutting edge video games.
Of course, you can also find arcade games at Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster's. Check out our roundup of more birthday-oriented video game spots with laser tag and cheesy pizza for more of these game fun zones. You can also find small arcades at many of the city's bowling alleys.
But consider one of the retro spots below if you're in the market for some parental nostalgia and old-school family fun.
The Chinatown Fair is one of those NYC gems we hope never closes. Photo by uncovermore via Instagram.
Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center – Chinatown
8 Mott Street near Chatham Square
Totally overhauled in June 2012, this legendary arcade no longer sees unapologetic, cash betting on Street Fighter bouts or a tic–tac–toe playing chicken (she usually won—even in tic–tac–toe, odds favor the house). Now more family-friendly, Chinatown Fair nonetheless remains a real gamer's game spot, with staff attending the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention in November of 2016 and ordering the best and newest games, like Space Invaders Frenzy, Pump It Up Prime 2015, Quick Drop, and Baseball Pro, all of which had already arrived by March of 2017. Staff also told us that The Walking Dead and Hyper Shoot were expected to arrive any day.
Funtopia USA – Ridgewood, Queens
6626 Metropolitan Avenue near Rentar Plaza
This one-stop fun spot offers laser tag, bumper cars, a three-story playground and a video game arcade that's located on the top floor. There's no elevator so leave the stroller at home or let the tweens go up on their own.
Kids Fun House – Ridgewood, Queens
6273 Fresh Pond Road (between 70th and 71st Avenues)
Another Queens fun spot: This too is primarily known as an indoor children's gym and play space, but it also has a small selection of video games to keep tweens busy while their younger siblings romp around.
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Pinball fans pay by the hour at Modern Pinball. Photo courtesy of Modern Pinball NYC.
Modern Pinball — Kips Bay
362 3rd Avenue (between 26 and 27th streets)
My tween daughter and I arrived here on a chilly Saturday afternoon, and it was packed by two dwindling birthday parties. Without prompting, the gracious staff added 20 minutes extra to our purchased hour of pinball (saying "hey, it's crowded, here's extra time.") If $12 an hour for anyone older than 12 or $10 for kids under 7 seems pricey (kids under 3 are free), it isn't, for two reasons: it takes a true pinball nut to play for more than an hour (three hours is $19/$15), and because Modern Pinball has a really cool slate of pinball machines (no video games here), from some of the earliest models on up to Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. When it cleared out, we easily enjoyed all the games. With each purchase, patrons get 10% off anything at the Mad Hatter, the bar next door. With Modern Pinball's generous allowance for patrons to leave and re-enter via wristbands, it occurred to me that a gaggle of tween pinball players could easily be chaperoned by parents enjoying a meal next door. Groups of 10 or more need to be booked, though.
Museum of the Moving Image – Astoria, Queens
36-01 35 Avenue (between 36th and 37th Streets)
Even though MoMI's exhibit Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off closed in 2013, its memory lingers in the minds of any parent or kid who were lucky to catch its 20 vintage titles on a variety of platforms (arcade, console, handheld, and PC), including arcade classics like Asteroids, Tempest and the old Star Wars game. MoMI does retain six vintage, playable video games in its permanent collection, including Donkey Kong and Space Invaders. Although nothing is confirmed, MoMI informed us in early March that the summer could include a return to video games, possible via the use of Virtual Reality.
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Entrance to pinball speakeasy at Sunshine Laundromat and Pinball. Photo by mokotowmokotow via Instagram.
Sunshine Laundromat and Pinball — Greenpoint, Brooklyn
860 Manhattan Avenue
Be your kids' total hero for a day by telling them, “Hey, let's stop at this laundromat," and then open a secret door in the back leading to a full pinball arcade. Kid-wise, this friendly joint is best attended during the day, as the pinball area is also a bar. No cover, and games are 50 cents a pop.
Of course, if you just want an adults night out, there are many bars that offer classic video games, like Barcade in Williamsburg and Two Bit's Retro Arcade on the Lower East Side. And hey—Modern Pinball is open until midnight, and Sunshine Laundromat until 11pm. And there's the brand-new VRBar on Smith Street in Brooklyn if you want to go in the other direction, indulging in the ultra-modern gaming pursuit of virtual reality.
Top photo: Modern Pinball. Photo by Alex Fitzpatrick via Flickr.
A version of this article first published in February 2013.