With its rows of lovingly preserved, vintage coin-op machines, the recently opened Brewcade is likely to become a prime destination for video game lovers. Regardless of whether you are old enough to remember the arcade era, when you grab a beer and pump some quarters into the Frogger machine, it will be hard not to feel like it is 1981 all over again.
While the splashy graphics of the various arcade cabinets are pure 1980s, this watering hole's industrial chic decor is as modern as it gets, and the snaking lattice of pipes behind the bar may remind you of an interior set from 1979's “Alien.”
Speaking of old sci-fi movies, be careful not to get mesmerized watching one on the giant video screen — its insanely high definition will bring out visual details you never noticed in the monster movies and space operas you grew up with.
Brewcade is the brainchild of Blackbird owners Shawn Vergara and Tiffny Chung. Vergara said he learned of the “barcade” phenomenon from his nephew in Colorado Springs, Colo., where an arcade renaissance is taking place. Vergara — who grew up playing games like Battlezone and Tempest — said of his first visit to an arcade bar, “I felt like I was home.”
In order to fill the space with classic arcade cabinets, Vergara forged a partnership with “Video” Bob Albritton, whose Starbase arcade was a fixture in San Rafael for over 30 years but recently closed due escalating rents. Albritton says bringing part of his collection to Brewcade is a win because he gets to operate his classic arcade machines in a place where they are appreciated but without the burden of commercial rent payments.
Each play costs 50 cents, rather than the quarter it would have cost in the old days. But that's a better deal than you might think. Adjusted for inflation, each quarter you would have spent playing Space Invaders in 1978 was the equivalent of almost a dollar in today's currency. So you are effectively paying half price to play the games.
That is not all: Albritton has tweaked the settings on most of his machines so you start each game with at least five lives, rather than the more typical three.
And if you do not see your favorite game, that does not mean it is not there. While games like Ms. Pac-Man, Gorf, Scramble, Donkey Kong Jr. and Dig Dug are easy to spot, there are many more hiding in a few special machines containing multiple games. For example, Joust, Robotron 2084, Defender and Stargate all live inside one Multicade cabinet.
As for the brew part of the Brewcade equation, noteworthy local beers selected by bar manager Kai Villegas include offerings from San Francisco's Four Point Beer and Cellarmaker Brewing companies, as well as the Sacramento-based Ruhstaller Brewing and Track 7 Brewing companies.
Because the bar is only licensed for beer and wine, Villegas has created various wine-based cocktails that are served on tap. Two are carbonated, one is not and another uses nitrogen to produce a frozen sparkling-wine beverage. Premium bottled sodas are also on hand for those who do not imbibe alcohol. “There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who say, 'I don't like beer,'” Villegas noted. “I don't want to lose that one guest who might come here with a friend but not be into beer.”