Berkshires After Dark: Barcade is retro fun for adults
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The rumor mill delivered exciting news to my doorstep last year. A "barcade" was coming to town -- a retro arcade and a bar.
This pair of distinct public spaces looks like a great match to me -- kid fun and grown-up fun placed side-by-side, presenting the ingredients of a dialectic which, when put into action, resolves that the two types of venues are pretty similar and synthesize into top notch bedfellows. I couldn't wait to visit and then write all about it here.
Then eight months passed and so did my attention, until last Wednesday when three separate friends texted me that moves were being made toward a new barcade in Great Barrington and that I should join. The buzz came rolling back -- a feeling of relief and pride you may feel when a niche business opens in one of these little towns and you happen to fit snugly into that niche.
Driving South on Main Street and then turning left on Bridge Street, where the old Searles School building hulks and sunbakes, I nearly hit the Berkshire Co-op Market before realizing I'd driven too far. The Gypsy Joynt Jive had been on the right, the south side of the street, behind a brick and white painted wood façade with a VW bus parked out front and large windows exposing the vibrancy within to curious passers by. But the only sign I could find was a small piece of slate hung next to the door, dwarfed by the entrance, with the business' hours scribed in chalk.
"Weds-Sun All Ages til 5:00 pm // 18 and up after 5:00 pm // Open at 5:00"
It was 10 p.m. when I got there and found the sizeable former cleaning facility aglow with conversation, physical competitions, eating and video game playing. The space seemed surprisingly large when I first stepped in, in part due to very high ceilings, and perhaps enhanced by the design theme of menu boards, signs and lights being hung as if floating in space.
There's little sense of where the spaces in the Jive begin and end, how far back the kitchen goes, or which seating area is the one for you (Tip: Grab the one you want. Just because it kinda feels like a combination of settings from the "Beat It" video doesn't mean anyone's looking for a wrist-bound knife fight). This had the positive effect of moving crowds around and mixing people together, ours included, and I called four or five seats my own over the course of two hours.
Like a ski lodge or rec hall this place really is designed for the physical whimsy of kid fun, but comfortable and enticing accommodations popular among the "older" set, like drinking and classic rock radio and two pool tables with industrial lights hanging low above them and a "give yourself a tattoo" booth. One of those is a lie. I guess you'll have to go to find out which.
My friends were waiting at the bar, fully stocked with liquor, wine and beers on tap and in cans, when I walked in. The bar doubles as the dining counter, and there are plenty of other tabletops surrounded by seats so this area doesn't become bottlenecked during a rush. They'd finished eating and were raving about these "jive" potatoes that seem to be the house special, along with menus of waffles, tacos and biscuits swaying above.
The basic jive, a $3 "fried potato blossom," comes with some spectacle. The chef used a power drill outfitted with a large threaded bit to bore a potato into the shape of a single slinky, all connected but all over the place, and then fry the curly heap. It's a delicious and satisfying snack or appetizer -- one full potato -- fried into a looped snake that's thick as a home fry here and thin as a potato chip there. Friends who ordered a jive with sausage & gravy ($5) and quinoa foil wrap ($8) had good things to say as well. Cans of beer were notably affordable.
From there, our party split to try the Jive's amenities. By 10:30 p.m. there were about 12 people there, including our group of five, playing at two pool tables, a ping-pong table, several arcade consoles, two skee ball machines and a pinball machine. All off this happened as new groups entered and ordered drinks at the bar with no feeling of confinement, no uneasiness of walking too close behind a drunken pool player and passing through their strike zone, no flailing of a careless racket stationed too close to a resting cocktail. This place has space on its side. Your drink should remain upright.
I was drawn to the machines, some of which I hadn't seen since middle school. For 50 cents a pop (some games cost a little more), the Jive offers titles including Marvel Vs. Capcom, Miss Pac Man, Big Buck Hunter, Tekken, Bubble Bobble, Metal Slug 2, World Cup Bowling, and some other good ones. A few of the machines contain multiple games, again maximizing space. Two beautiful pinball machines, one with a South Park theme and the other Austin Powers, will be my first stop next time.
After 11 p.m. the place was hopping. It had filled with energetic young people quickly, as if school had let out. Some looked like high schoolers, interested only in each other and video games. A college-age set bridged the generation gap, similar in many ways to the youngsters, but old enough to get a beer and proud to show it. A mob of 25 or 30 bodies buzzed around the space, all driven by different objectives, and it worked. The place flowed well when populated, and I think that giving people the space to engage with whatever activities appeal to them is a wise strategy when parceling a cube of air into the stations of an eatery and social hall.
As the pool players bid goodnight, my friend Jenna and I (she's an old pro when it comes to vintage gamine) teamed up for some Metal Slug 2 on a two-player console. The machine took two quarters per play (highway robbery compared to the single quarter of my youth), but we kept coming back again and again despite losing all of our bonus lives. $1.50 each bought us about 20 minutes of solid gameplay in this over-the-top 8-bit warzone action game, a side-stroller, in which we blew away enemy soldiers and released captives with cartoonish artillery. I lost myself in the game and its immediacy, eventually awaking into the Jive as if the lights had been turned on after a film.
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