There was a time, before anyone had a very fast connection to the internet in their house, when playing head-to-head or co-op video games meant being in the presence of another human being. And it was good.
Whether you were standing up at a Mortal Kombat machine, quarters stacked and ready, or flopped on a worn couch with friends, Cheetos-dusted fingers clickety clicking away at your Guitar Hero guitars, it was a way to keep a foot grounded in the real world, while still enjoying the digital one. It was social.
Video games are fun to play alone, at home, against online foes and allies you only know via their gamer tags. We’re not begrudging anyone that.
But let’s not forget they’re also fun to play, and watch, and talk about (and trash-talk about) in person, with old friends and maybe new ones. Here are the best places to do that in Tampa Bay.
Vector Bar & Arcade, Clearwater
Clearwater finally has its own video game bar, and it’s definitely giving us old-school arcade vibes. Married owners Lauren Patrick, a self-described serial entrepreneur and beer connoisseur, and Michael Burke, a pinball enthusiast who builds and restores arcade and pinball machines, collaborated on a space that proudly advertises itself as both “dimly lit” and, more jokingly, “dark and sexy.” They keep it simple. One wall is lined with 15 arcade machines (Metal Slug 6, Double Dragon and Aliens), the other is lined with 10 pinball machines (from 1975’s 300 to 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean), and they all take quarters, no cards, no tokens. There are no televisions, “no sports, no news, no YouTube videos,” because, Burke said, “We really want people to interact and engage.” The bar was built in the back, so you can chill on their blue velvet couch and get away from the gaming noise. They have about 30 beers, mostly from Florida breweries in cans and bottles, plus coffee and teas. 629 Cleveland St., Clearwater. (727) 754-9933. vectorarcadeclearwater.com.
Lowry Parcade, Tampa
Whatever the gene is that creates a preference for craft beer, it’s closely related to whatever drives us to seek out coin-op arcade classics. You won’t find a better pairing of both than at Lowry Parcade. They’ve got the really old-school ’80s stuff (Donkey Kong, Defender, Ms. Pac-Man), the weird stuff (Tapper), the multiplayer ’90s nostalgia essentials (NBA Jam, X-Men, the Simpsons) and a not-to-be-forgotten pinball lineup that includes some icons of the genre (Aerosmith, Terminator 2). Plus there are 21 rotating taps, with local and interesting beers. Mondays are free play, Tuesdays mean free tokens with every beer, and on Wreck It Wednesdays, setting a new high score on a designated game gets you a free brew (and your name on the board). They pack the calendar with beer events, tournaments and a monthly “nerd market.” 1213 W Waters Ave., Tampa. (813) 915-9180. lowryparcade.com.
Right Around the Corner Arcade Brewery, St. Petersburg
This place ups the beer-cade ante by not only offering classic arcade games (Lethal Enforcers, Tekken) and pinball machines (the Simpsons), but by dedicating some of their 18 taps to the beer they brew themselves, which right now includes their 1 Up sour IPA. (Also, many of the tap handles are console game controllers. How cool is that?) With a foosball table and a big stack of board games in the corner, the vibe is best described as “your high school friend’s parents’ awesome basement family room,” and we mean that in the best way possible. Stop in to play some Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64 or the Super Nintendo. 2244 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (813) 360-0766. stpetearcadebar.com.
Park & Rec, St. Petersburg
This party-central, indoor-outdoor bar is energetic — think big, college crowds, loud jams from a live DJ, a boozy signature “Slurpee” called the Kwik-E-Mart and giant beer pong played with red garbage cans in lieu of Solo cups out front. Inside you can get down on some NFL Blitz, Golden Tee or Frogger. They also have skee-ball, air hockey and coin-op basketball. A full food menu includes a “Mario’s Margherita” pizza and a “Fancy AF Grilled Cheese.” A weekly Sunday Funday! brings out a live DJ in the afternoon and $4 tallboy cans until 5 p.m. 100 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 245-9100. parkrecdtsp.com.
Pints & Pixels at Brew Bus Brewing, Seminole Heights
NerdBrew Events, promoters of all things geeky, hosts this night of free console gaming featuring tons of retro and indie games from the ’80s and ’90s (Street Fighter, Super Mario Kart, Donkey Kong Country). They also bring out computers so people can try some modern, co-op indie games against locals. Think stuff like Craw, Castle Crashers and Cuphead. And they hand out raffle tickets for nerd swag with every beer or food purchase of at least $5. Seminole Heights residents get their first beer free. Once a month they run a fun, free-with-purchase tournament on a different game (this month it’s Mario Party on Wii). Mondays, 7 to 11 p.m., 4101 N Florida Ave., Tampa. Toll-free 1-888-945-2739. nerdbrew.com.
First United Church of Nintendo, three locations
As the name (and the “Sega sucks!” on their Facebook page) implies, it’s pretty much all about Nintendo consoles, ranging from the NES up to the Wii U. They bring out hundreds of original Nintendo cartridges, so if there’s a classic Nintendo game you’re looking for, chances are you can play it here. It’s a good, laid-back event to gather, play and meet people. It’s free, but donations are appreciated. Mondays: 6 to 11:30 p.m., Vector Bar & Arcade, Clearwater; Wednesdays: 6 to 11:30 p.m., Mad Hatters Tea Bar, 4685 28th St. N, St. Petersburg; Thursdays: 6:30 to 11:30 p.m., with free pizza at 9 p.m., Lowry Parcade, Tampa. facebook.com/groups/churchofnintendo.
TAKE THE KIDS, OR NOT
Dave & Buster’s, Tampa
While a lot of places on this list specialize in classic arcade games, Dave & Buster’s is one of the only places locally to check out new, high-tech arcade games such as the “body-shocking 3-D horror shooting” game Dark Escape 4D or the new Jurassic World VR Expedition. The slick, futuristically lit 40,000-square-foot sports bar, arcade and full-service restaurant is the latest piece of the almost-in-Brandon entertainment complex including the TopGolf driving range and iFLY indoor skydiving. The walls are lined with giant TVs (a couple measure 190 inches) so it’s great for catching a game, but also to play giant Connect Four and Dance Dance Revolution. Anyone younger than 18 must be with an adult 25 or older, and it’s 21-and-up after 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. All games are half price on Wednesdays. 10209 Estuary Lakes Drive, Tampa. (813) 603-9700. daveandbusters.com.
GameTime, Ybor City
The centerpiece is a sports bar with lots of TVs, solid pub snacks, burgers and wings, surrounded by a big arcade floor. The games run on a rechargeable card and include a mix of video games, but also games that will reward you with e-tickets redeemable for prizes such as Deal or No Deal, Milk Jug Toss and an NFL 2-Minute Drill football-throwing game. They also have mini bowling, with shorter lanes and lighter balls. You can bring your kids here, but plenty of adults show up on their own. 1600 E Eighth Ave., Tampa. (813) 241-9675. gametimeplayers.com.
NO FOOD OR DRINKS, JUST GAMES
Replay Amusement Museum, Tarpon Springs
This place has the most impressive collection of 1970s vintage (Hercules) and new (Star Trek Pro) pinball machines in the Tampa Bay area, along with a rotating selection of arcade machines, including the laserdisc-powered rarity Dragon’s Lair, but also classics like Asteroids and Centipede. There are more than 100 machines altogether, and the great part is that it’s a flat $14 for adults and $8 for children to play unlimited games for an entire day. From 8 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, they run a date-night special: $22 for two adults. 119 E Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs. (727) 233-8490. replaymuseum.org.
Tampa Bay’s only spot dedicated to virtual reality gaming opened last fall in an unassuming strip of storefronts next to Mr. Empanada. Don’t let the plain exterior fool you — the inside is straight-up futuristic. They boast an Omni Virtuix, Tampa’s only “fully immersive” virtual reality setup, meaning that when you walk inside in real life (on a treadmill-like platform), you walk inside the game. It has five games, such as Omni Arena, where you’ll have to survive waves of robot attackers before they destroy the virtual arena. They also have two of the acclaimed HTV Vive stations, allowing you to play more than a dozen games, such as Space Pirate or Fallout 4 VR, alone or with a friend. The Vive even allows you to play seated if you’re still getting used to the whole VR thing. $35 for two hours solo, or $30 each for two people. 4838 N Armenia Ave., Tampa. (813) 515-6177. solara-tec.com.
Reboot Dunedin, Dunedin
The owners of Reboot Dunedin have spent nearly a year turning their space into a cyberpunk oasis with serious Blade Runner vibes, from the red, glowing sign that spells out “Reboot” in Mandarin by the bathrooms, to the weathered-looking wooden bar in a space illuminated by futuristic, circular LED lights. They will have a few arcade games and pinball machines, but when it opens (they’re shooting for mid-August), the coolest feature will be that you can pay $5 to rent a controller, bring it to any open TV and play new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games. That will make it the only Tampa Bay bar devoted to modern console gaming. They’ll have a range of beer and wine, plus food catered by a local food truck. They also plan to devote some TVs to e-sports. 248 Scotland St., Dunedin. facebook.com/rebootdunedin.
Flynn’s Retro Bar & Gaming, Ybor City
The space that was formerly Ybor City’s Liquid nightclub is being turned into a bar dedicated to ’80s and ’90s nostalgia. Expect lots of pop-culture memorabilia, old-school movie trailers projected on the walls and some arcade machines of the era. They’ll also serve as the showroom for a local company that restores pinball machines, so all the playable games will also be purchasable. Co-owner Ricky Ricardo Zayas said they plan to work with NerdBrew to bring lots of cosplay events, workshops and trivia games to the bar. They plan to open in September. 1502 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. facebook.com/Flynns-Retro-Bar-Gaming-1943148415938579/
Playtime Arcade, Seminole
One half of the space is a bar, with dart boards and some more adult-oriented video games. The other half is an old-school arcade, featuring many coin-operated games salvaged from defunct arcades and other places around Tampa Bay that were phasing them out. It’s a mix of video games and classic ticket redemption machines, and the owners are very proud to point out that they run on metal tokens and spit out paper tickets — no cards here — and the prize redemption counter features a mix of stuff that will appeal to both adults and children. The idea is for the whole place to be family friendly, but with possibly later hours for the bar depending on demand. They’ll also have food — hot dogs, pizza, pizza rolls and the like. The grand opening is July 14. 8975 Park Blvd N, Seminole.