Getting Nostalgic, Sort of, at Barcadia

Tuesday at Barcadia used to be the special free-play day when the Midtown location of the bar/kitchen/arcade chain first opened. Now everything is set on free play daily - everything that works, at least. (Currently, there's no Galaga, no Star Wars, only one out of three skee ball machines - but hey, it's free.)

Last Tuesday, there was no line for Mortal Kombat, so my friend Casey grabbed a spot at the machine. Another guy walked up and with minimal communication - probably similar in procedure to a furtive bathroom hookup - assumed his role as challenger. Despite not having played in well over a decade, Casey remembered a code involving a spear and ended up with a perfect win.

I, on the other hand, couldn't figure out Joust (why the hell is it called Joust if you're stepping on heads instead of stabbing?) until I was nearly out of lives. At one point I turned around and saw a woman who looks remarkably like an ex-girlfriend. And right after that little jolt, the screen tells me "Thy Game Is Over." Not as encouraging as "Flawless Victory," but at least it's an excuse to get another beer.

The current Tuesday specials at Barcadia are $3 Texas drafts and an offer for patrons to pick a color and have a bartender make a shot to match that choice. The bartender on duty insists she never trolls customers with awful shots, but other bartenders will occasionally pick on deserving individuals. If you complain that your shot "isn't purple enough," try to hit up a new bartender the next time around.

I took my fresh St. Arnold's Weedwacker outside, where two groups were playing giant Jenga. People love giant Jenga. At least people at Barcadia do. Several bars have generally untouched block towers assembled on patios. As trends go, it's a cheap one to follow and get wrong, I guess.

Jenga and skee ball look like the most popular draws for the crowd. But most of the video games cycle through demo screens over and over without anyone pushing the red free-play button. The primary source of Barcadia's nostalgia pastiche (Arcade games and pin-up art? The Black Album and the Pogues?) seems to have lost its shine. When the place opened, people lined up to drop quarters in old machines. Now, save for a couple fighting games, they're having trouble giving it away.

Probably because, by today's standards, most of those games suck. Have you spent more than five minutes standing at a Dig Dug machine? The controls are unwieldy and the concept is boring. The majority of vintage arcade games are like that. I'd rather get drunk and play Minesweeper. No shame.

Maybe the nostalgia has reached its saturation point, or maybe bar-goers in the area are just finicky, but Barcadia doesn't pack them in like it did six months ago (damn near half a decade in Midtown years). Still, if you're around those parts, skee ball and $3 Saint Arnold isn't flawless, but it's not bad for a Tuesday.

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