Like a lot of people whose phones have been replaced by demanding little robots, I have had some difficulty adjusting to the new technology. Thanks to smartphone games such as Words With Friends, there are no longer awkward pauses in conversation, or opportunities for quiet reflection. There are only chances to press buttons. I am that guy.
All of which is to say that while I will be geeking out appropriately at the Orlando Science Center's Otronicon video-game convention, I've got to admit that gaming hasn't done much for my social life lately.
So why am I here at a bar, one of the final bastions of socialization, surrounded by video games?
The bar in question is BART, one of the newer additions to Orlando's Colonialtown neighborhood. The venue's mash-up name evokes all the niches it hopes to fill: bar, arcade, art gallery. But anyone strolling up can take a good guess at BART's specialty, given the 8-bit design of its outdoor signage.
Sure enough, more than half the bar is a retro gamer's Shangri-La, with classic arcade games such as Q-Bert and Centipede all set to free play. No quarters neccessary — just set your beer in one of the handy drink holders and fire away.
Husband-and-wife owners Chris and Adrian Brown change out some old games for new ones each month, just like the art. The gallery wall typically sticks with BART's geek aesthetic, such as the current exhibit of "Legend of Zelda" themed works.
As a craft-beer bar, BART isn't going to steal any brew snobs from Will's Pub nearby, but no one will go thirsty. There's a modest selection of wine and a decent array of bottled beers — no drafts or liquor. High-end brews such as Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout can get pricey, but happy hours offer some tempting breaks on weekdays, with $1 off most beers from 5-7 p.m. (or a free second beer on Fridays).
Elsewhere in Orlando, the menu isn't the only thing looking familiar at Spacebar. The beer and wine bar was — and is — a great hidden spot for DJ nights in Robinson Street's Milk District. (Be sure to stop by for "Bring Your Own Vinyl" night on Thursdays, where your old records can win you free beers and/or some hipster derision.)
But lately, the place has undergone a subtle rebranding as "Spacebarcade," filling the smallish bar with its own spread of classic games. Originally brought in for a video-game-themed art show in November, the games caught on with regulars, and owner Tommy Mot aims to keep them around — and on free play — for at least the near future. As befits the vibe, "Spacebarcade's" arsenal is less recognizable, but funkier, with esoteric shooters such as R-Type standing in for the usual Pac-Mans and Donkey Kongs. There's an even weirder selection of pinball games — I may have nightmares from the backboard artwork on "Bride of Pinbot."
Funny thing about all this technology, though: The games don't isolate people at these bars. Most of the regulars play in pairs, either talking smack or just pondering the goofiness of this magic era before video games had a plot. (If the hero of BurgerTime is a chef, why do his own ingredients want to kill him? Is it because he steps on his hamburgers?)
Sure, I might have just been trading one small screen for a bunch of bigger ones, but I had a great time at both spots. "Barcades" may not replace billiards halls anytime soon, but in this age of "interactive" tech, I'm all for anything that actually lets us interact. Especially over a beer.
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Where: 1205 N. Mills Ave., Orlando
Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Where: 2428 E. Robinson St., Orlando
Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday