The summer I was 11 years old, my best friend, Emily, and I rode our bikes everywhere. To the swimming pool, to the tennis courts, across Farmington Road to visit friends, to the pharmacy to snag forbidden candy bars. Mostly, we rode our bikes a mile or so up the road to Tally Hall, the food court and shopping plaza at 14 Mile and Orchard Lake.
We spent every day we could of that one last glorious childhood summer standing on our pedals with the wind flying past us and the clack-clack of my loose bike chain providing an uneven soundtrack to our journey. We were there for the magical coin-operated treasure trove called Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum.
To my mind, Marvin’s was Disneyland and BobLo Island and Cedar Point all rolled up in one. It was Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders, with delights around every corner, all flashing lights and ping! buzz! clang!
After a quick lap around the food court, we’d settle on our favorite pinball games and get to work blowing through our stash of quarters scavenged from couch cushions and car seats.
My love of pinball games and video arcades was born during these hazy summer days and continued through college, where I worked at a bar that had two classic ’90s pinball machines: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Addams Family. No trip to East Lansing or Ann Arbor is complete for me without a stop at Pinball Pete’s. I don’t care how mature you think you are — when you’re standing in front of a bleeping, whirring machine with caroming silver balls, frantically smashing the paddles and trying to figure out where the ball went, you’re going to end up making some undignified sounds.
That’s what my sister and I experienced when I dragged her to Barcade in Midtown Detroit recently. We snagged a Michigan-made beer and ordered some loaded tots. As we mounted the stairs to confront a giant lineup of pinball and video games, I spied it: my beloved Addams Family game. Once upon a time I was decent at pinball, but the years have dulled my reflexes, and I tanked my first game pretty hard.
Not to worry, as there were dozens of other games of chance and skill to try out. My sister’s spatial perception came in handy for leveling through Tetris, while my muscle memory did eventually kick in and help me out with a solid showing at Frogger. We were both equally terrible, if giggling like kids, at the Konami Bishi Bashi game with massive glowing buttons and nonsensical game scenarios. By the end of the night, we were down about $20 in tokens but significantly lighter in spirit. And in my dreams, the clang-clang echoes of the pinball paddles turned into the clack-clack of a loose bike chain.
If you’re game, here are some of the metro Detroit bars with arcade games to indulge your playful side.
Barcade, Midtown Detroit
With a couple of dozen craft beers on tap and a selection of cocktails, Barcade is a high-end, pay-as-you-go haven full of vintage and new video, pinball, and driving games. Classics like Centipede and Ms. Pac-Man share space with brand-new technological marvels. 666 Selden St.; 313-285-9410; barcade.com/detroit.
Offworld Arcade, Downtown Detroit
Upstairs from Checker Bar, Offworld Arcade has a devoted following of vintage ’90s arcade fans who come for the Baywatch, Simpsons, and Joust classics. 124 Cadillac Square; 313-961-9249; checkerbar.com.
Sparks Pinball Museum, New Baltimore
Billing itself as home to “one of the largest public collections of pinballs in the Midwest,” Sparks has some rare games from the 1980s as well as a solid selection of great new pinball and arcade games. Sparks is inside the Premier Entertainment Complex, so bowling and pool are also an option. 33151 23 Mile Road; 313-473-9860; sparkspinballmuseum.com.
Free Play Pinball Arcade, Fraser
Any barcade that boasts a 3-by-8-foot Hercules pinball machine is guaranteed to deliver a good time. Fraser’s Free Play offers unlimited play for $15 or $20 (depending on the day) in addition to group reservations, a neon-lit jukebox bar, and more than 70 pinball, video, and arcade games, including foosball and air hockey. 34830 Utica Road, Ste. 100; 586-204-7959; freeplaypinballarcade.com.
This story is from the January 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.