It's Game On for Detroit's 'Bar Arcade' Scene

M-Brew, Pop + Offworld, and Ready Player One pair microbrews with retro video games


The resurrection of outdated media forms like Polaroid cameras, vinyl records, and cassette tapes suggests a thing or two about contemporary entertainment — people tend to like old things.

The latest throwback trend is 1970s-’80s classic, arcade-style video games. Pac-Man, Galaga, and any pinball machine — if you’ve played one you’ve played them all. But these games aren’t returning as vintage installations at Dave & Buster’s. They’re now being played at bar arcades, which are bars or breweries littered with retro video games.

Bar arcades aren’t an entirely new phenomenon. In 2004, four friends opened the original Barcade in Brooklyn. In 2007, they trademarked the term and proceeded to open locations in other states. Last summer, Barcade announced plans to open a Midtown storefront in 2018. It’s expected to be one of the company’s largest installations in the country.

The local bar arcade scene, so far, has remained outside the realm of corporate chains. In recent memory, a handful of games could be found hiding out in dive bars like Gusoline Alley in Royal Oak or Midtown’s The Old Miami. However, in the past few years, interactive watering holes with dedicated arcade spaces have been popping up around town. These independently owned establishments have an underground, art-house vibe, and there are a few worth checking out this winter.

Since its opening in 2014, Ferndale’s M-Brew has had all the amenities of a cozy cabin up north. The wood-paneled walls, a tchotchke-covered brick fireplace, and the Pinconning pizza all add to the bar’s cozy interior. The upstairs features 30 rotating Michigan draft beers, and downstairs is the family-friendly “Brew-Cade.” This lower-level space is home to games like bubble hockey, old-school shuffleboard, and Game of Thrones and Star Wars pinball, which bar management says is popular with M-Brew’s pinball league. 177 Vester Ave., Ferndale; 248-542-2739;

Pop + Offworld
Pop + Offworld is the product of a permanent partnership between pop-up space, Pop, and the city’s traveling arcade, Offworld. Occupying the renovated second floor of Checker Bar in Detroit, Pop + Offworld offers more than 30 classic arcade games. The walls feature ’80s-themed murals by Michelle Tanguay. While Checker Bar is still slinging burgers downstairs, the upstairs time machine serves New York-style pizzas, including the Pig Destroyer, Caper Crusader, and Napalm Breath. 124 Cadillac Square, Detroit; 313-961-9249;

Ready Player One
The close-quartered atmosphere of RPO in Detroit is foreshadowed by the Pac-Man-themed maze of martinis, beer bottles, and cocktail glasses on the bar’s exterior door. Inside, the bar and eatery’s modern charm is dated by its entertainment, including The Addams Family Pinball, Ms. Pac-Man, and NFL Blitz. Arcade games are interspersed throughout the basement-level space, surrounded by brick walls and brightly colored murals painted by Kyle Culps and Scot Ferguson. Try a video game-themed cocktail like the D.K. Ol’Fashioned (an Old Fashioned with Faygo orange reduction), or Spyro Lemonade. 407 E. Fort St., Detroit; 313-395-3300;

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