Written by Justice Boles
Photos by Jenny Sokolova
You walk into the bottom of Cesar Chavez. You’re hungry, the smell of Ike’s and Nizario’s wafts through the room, but that’s not the hunger. The real hunger you feel is the hunger… FOR GAMES! There’s a selection of a few arcade cabinets down there, some Dance Dance Revolution, some Marvel vs. Capcom. Things you’ve seen a million times. You have spent enough time down there, and the air has grown stale. They offer brief respite from your smart phone, the games it contains and the very app store bolstering your false satiation, like how chewing gum tricks the brain into thinking it is eating. You need something more thrilling, something more physical. You need cold metal pinballing around. You need joysticks and button mashing. You need… an arcade.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many of those left in the city.
Fortunately, I’ve got a list of places for you to check out.
Located on Pier 45, Museé Méchanic is like the Island of Misfit Toys, but instead of toys, it is old entertainment machines. Arcade machines young and old inhabit this arena, mostly old though. Like, almost a century old. Like older than television. Older than radio. It even houses Laughing Sal and other historic remnants of San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach. Inside, the air is absent of any real ambient music, it’s mostly the sounds of a turn-of-the-century fair bouncing off the walls, like a carousel past its prime. Don’t let that deter you, it is a haven for arcade hipsters. Wanna play games before pixels were cool? There’s things to do in there that don’t even involve electricity. Museé Méchanic has it all, from nudey nickelodeons to self-playing pianos to old school atari games no one has ever heard of. From marionettes to Metal Slug, Museé Méchanic is the place to be.
Highlight: Vapor TRX. It is an old Atari game. It is a racing game that seems like an F-Zero rip-off, but flying a racing plane/jet/hovercar through ice canyons and futuristic cities with the ability to shoot missiles at the racer in front of you makes it so much better. I’ve never found another one like it.
Players Sports Grill & Arcade
Players Sports Grill and Arcade. Need a place to watch sports, see Alcatraz out the window and play in an arcade? Players is the place for you. Located on Pier 39, this place has all the classics. It’s Chuck-E-Cheese for parents that don’t hate themselves. It’s got shooters like like Area 51 and Terminator Salvation, as well as go to standards like Whac-A-Mole and air hockey. In addition, it has what any good kid-friendly arcade has, a ticket exchange booth. That is right, Players offers tons of really shoddy toys for way more ticket-to-dollars than they are worth You are not having a good time unless its 25 tickets for a Tootsie Roll and 5000 for a basketball, but hey, that’s part of the experience..
Highlight: Batman. It’s a racing game where you get to drive a Batmobile. Not THE Batmobile, A Batmobile. As in one of Batman’s numerous whips he’s driven through Gotham City throughout the years. From that old Batman ‘66 convertible to that new Dark Knight Rises hovercraft thing. Become… The Batman. Or at least drive his car.
Buckshot Bar & Gameroom
Buckshot, located on Geary and 3rd Ave. stands out above the rest for being a legitimate bar. Players is nice, but that’s just Dave and Busters-lite. Buckshot is a Bar and Gameroom. The games are pretty lacking though. It is classified as an arcade on Yelp, but that’s a pretty loose definition. There is a billiards table and shuffleboard. They have a Tron game as well as a pretty standard deer hunter game with the shotgun plugged into the arcade cabinet. However, they do have booze, so you can get smashed while you play skeeball. They’ve also got a little virtual gambling machine in the corner, so you can get smashed while you play video poker.
Highlight: Gauntlet. Not Gauntlet Legends. Not Gauntlet Dark Legacy. Just straight up Gauntlet. That’s pretty cool. Get smashed while you play Gauntlet.
Playland at Japantown
Located in the Japantown mall west, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Japantown arcade. It’s small and cramped. All the games have Japanese kanji written on and in them. Maybe half the machines involve winning some sort of plush toy, like a Domo or a My Little Pony. There’s a giant Pikachu adorned with flowers in the window. Seriously, it’s a really big Pikachu, the sign said no one over the age of 7 allowed into the Pikachu, so it’s at least larger than the average 7-year-old. Other than that, it’s a nice respite from the loud clunks and beeps of the more American arcades. There are games to win Japanese treats and candies like Hello Panda and Hi Chew. It’s a novel little Arcade that’s simply fun to check out. I got a can of Dragonball Z Cola (Krillin was on my can, sadly. No one cool like Gohan or Vegeta) for the low low price of 4 dollars (or 408 yen) in there, I can’t think of anything more novel.
Highlight: Umm… I don’t know. There was one game where you’re like a sushi maker or something, and another one where you beat these really big drums. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in there. I don’t speak Japanese. That Pikachu was pretty sweet though.
Free Gold Watch
Free Gold Watch is located a block up from Haight Street, right across from Kezar Stadium. Free Gold Watch started out as a printing shop, screen printing and t-shirt making, but has since implemented 2 dozen or so pinball machines. They have come under some fire for it lately, city ordinances and what not, but let it be said the employees will remind you it’s a printing shop with pinball machines, not the other way around. But oh man do they pinball. It’s quite a sight to behold, as well as the sound of a dozen different pinballs rocketing against bumpers and bells. They’ve got pinball machines of every variety and from the furthest reaches of your imagination. Terminator, X-men, Mario, Jurassic Park, Playboy, ACDC, they’ve got them all. It’s all you could want or need in a pinball palace.
Highlight: There’s a Street Fighter II arcade machine in there. The arcade cabinet that crafted champions and birthed tournaments. Granted, it’s a Champion Edition, but that’s probably as close to pure Street Fighter II you’re going to find. Quarter-circle that stick and mash some buttons. Fire off a Hadouken and you can almost feel a moment in gaming history. It’s excellent.