With its neon splashed walls and maze of arcade cabinets, NQ64 is an arcade gaming idyl in the heart of Bristol. Except, instead of sticky floors and stickier machines you get DJs, craft beers on tap, and professional bartenders serving cocktails like the Kong Island Iced Tea.
It’s a powerful combination, and it’s working. NQ64 is one of the largest retro arcade bar chains in the UK; Bristol is the 11th location conquered for founders Matt Robson and Andy Haygarth, who opened their first retro arcade bar in Manchester in 2019.
To understand NQ64’s massive success and the rise of retro arcade bars, we’ll need to cast our minds back to the early days of arcade machine gaming.
Pubs & Games: A Classic Co-Op
While modern barcades make the combo of pubs and video games seem trendy and new, it’s anything but. One of the very first arcade cabinets blinked to life in a bar in 1971. It was Nolan Bushnell’s Computer Space, which he installed in a popular student watering hole called the Dutch Goose.
Bushnell’s next game, Pong, was simple enough that even drunken workers and university students could play it. But Pong didn’t become an industry-defining hit because it was easy. It had managed to achieve something no game before it had: it made gaming social.
Before Pong, arcade gaming was largely a single-player experience. Two player games were an anomaly amidst pinball machines and electro-mechanical games.
Games also heavily skewed towards men. “At that time, coin-operated games were dominated by pinball machines that had sometimes lurid graphics or driving machines that required skills that appealed to young males,” says Al Alcorn, Pong’s developer.
Pong’s appeal was unisex, inviting everyone to play, and bring a mate with them while they’re at it. And play they did. Pong became so popular Alcorn kept getting called in to fix machines that had jammed from overflowing quarters.
The Power of Player 2
The same spirit of competition and community fuels modern haunts like the NQ64 arcade bar. While the retro aesthetic helps lure in the nostalgic, it’s not the only reason people keep coming back.
Barcades offer something not even the largest MMO can: genuine face-to-face interaction. Under the neon lighting and synth music, an arcade was a place to come together, just like pubs. “The experience of the arcade–it isn’t necessarily nostalgia. They were so popular, so they must’ve touched on something social,” says Barcade founder Paul Kermizian.
It’s no wonder these dens of booze and button mashing are massively popular. The one on Baldwin Street boasts enough standing room for three hundred and fifty people–a difficult image to grasp for those of us who grew up jostling for elbow space in our local arcades.
The Golden Age & More: What Games Wait Inside?
How do you keep hundreds of people entertained? With smash-hit arcade games from every decade. And booze, lots of it. NQ64 Bristol’s bar has five stations serving up game-themed drinks and craft beer.
There’s something to play in this retro gaming bar for everyone. Most, of course, are golden age classics. NQ64’s selection is essentially arcade gaming’s Hall of Fame. There’s the classic Pac-Man, plus its 4-player descendant, the Pac-Man Battle Royale Chompionship. In one corner, Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat sit side-by-side, awaiting new high score champions. Just behind them, award winning beat ‘em up, The Simpsons.
NQ64 Bristol even has Tapper, which CVG UK called a game that “will have you on the edge of your seat” and “unlike anything that has ever been tried before”. Old-school pinball machines line one wall.
Large racing cabinets dominate another area. One of them is Mario Kart Arcade GP 2, an arcade exclusive with power-ups you won’t find on the console version. An enclosed room houses a Guitar Hero cabinet for those who came to shred. Super Nintendos, GameCubes, and PlayStations are hooked up to flat screen TVs.
The NQ64 arcade bar Bristol is a gamer’s paradise, offering the very best of the arcade era in one place.. It’s open every day from 4pm to 2am weekdays and 12pm to 2am on weekends–plenty of time to grab your mates and duke it out on the high score leaderboards.