So an Arcade, Viking Beer and a Central New Jersey walk into a bar…
Yes! You heard that right folks. There is no punchline to this one. Central New Jersey now has its very own Arcade Bar. In Metuchen (a small town nestled in between Woodbridge and Edison townships) Hailey’s Harp & Pub on Main Street is an already well established Irish Pub and Eatery with a great selection of alcohol and food to choose from. However, the pub now has an alter ego located behind it on 15 Station Place. The two egos combined are like a mullet straight out of the 80s, business in the front, party in the back.
Hailey’s alter-ego is known as Harp-Cade. Upon entering Harp-Cade, 80s tunes rocked the sound system. The smell of quality lagers, ales and IPAs were complimented with some classic mixers filled the air. I sat down at the bar and immediately noticed a fairly decent selection of beers, many of which I was not familiar with. Being that this was the grand opening, it was time for me to try something new. Immediately, I seen an ale with a Viking holding an axe on the label. The beer was called Skull Splitter so naturally, my geeky, sword wielding, RPG-loving self identified with it. One of the bar tenders handed me a bottle. It was 8.9 by volume. While I will never claim to be a big drinker, this is definitely one of the stronger beers I have tried. While the label implied that Erick the Red would most likely shatter my cranium, the ale was quite smooth and had a deep, hoppy flavor to it. To compliment the Skull Splitter, I also ordered a side of mozzarella sticks. I loved the fact that they were double battered and not just those cheap ones where half the bread crumbs fall off.
Shortly after having a drink and a bite to eat, I entered the back room. At that point, I heard the old familiar sounds of coins clanging out of the change machine, pews, bleeps and bloops and the constant mashing of buttons and joystick clicks. Not since the 1980s have I seen a room so packed with people of many different age groups all there to play video games. Its just day one and the retro scene is a live and well.
The first thing I truly appreciated about this arcade is the fact that they have not hiked up their prices. These machines take quarters and anyone can play them for the very humble, low price of .25 to .50 cents a game. While most of the games were timeless classics from the 1980s such as Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids and Galaga, some 90s hits like Crusin USA, X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Area 51 were also available. While I did play most of the machines there, one game that really caught my attention was the original Asteroids. Back in the 80s, while I have seen this cabinet many times, I only played Asteroids on various collections on PC and Console. It was interesting to see how you main ship and the lasers it fired were lit differently in comparison to the asteroids on the screen. The lasers really popped and were like ten times brighter than everything else. It was like the difference between florescent light versus an LED. While I can talk about it so much, one can only truly notice this difference if they have played an emulated version and compared it to the cabinet. In a very strange way, this little effect they pulled off back then made the game stand out that much more.
After playing a few rounds on Donkey Kong, Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man, Galaga and Defender, I decided to order another Skull Splitter. Sitting at the bar, I noticed a Periodic Table of Video Game Console Controllers and Portables. Also, I noticed a picture of Lion-O from the Thundercats hanging by the shelving that housed the various liqueurs used for the mixed drinks. At this moment, I overheard a couple reading off the various controllers and looking them up on their phones. It was at this moment that I realized that Harp-Cade was not just a Pub with a bunch of Arcade Machines dumped into it; it was a place that was well thought out by a fellow gamer who grew up during the times and wanted to find a way to bring back those memories and create new ones for everyone who comes through the door.
Sitting at the bar, playing games and having various chats with different people reminded me of why the arcade was and always will be the true Social Gaming Network. While we live in a society dominated by social media and online gaming, its so much nicer to actually talk to real people and share the passion for the hobby versus staring at a text box trying to figure out a persons intent. Its a return to the very core of human nature through old technology that has never really lost its appeal. While games will always find a way to PCs and Home Consoles, the arcade will always be the true meeting point for gamers outside of the convention scene. And no, this is not limited to any age group. Sometimes, its not about data contained in the machine. Sometimes, its about what it represents.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent at Hailey’s Harp-Cade. If you are in New Jersey and are looking for something fun to do, you can check out their web sites at the links below. Game On my friends!