You know you’re in for a good night when there’s a DeLorean parked outside.
It’s part bar, part arcade, part museum and all brilliance. Welcome to Bartronica, Melbourne’s latest and greatest addition to the world of alcoholic gaming.
Just a few steps away from Elizabeth Street, tucked away next to the Bull & Bear down a little flight of stairs, the place still smells brand new. The folk-rock tunes they’re pumping through the speakers start worming their way under your skin as soon as you step up to the red brick fronted bar and take in the shelves upon shelves of locally distilled spirits beside an old payphone from the set of the Matrix trilogy. The lights and sounds of your childhood favorites are chiming in around you and people just like you and I mill around them, dumping quarters and dollars in for a taste of nostalgia. Maybe, this time, you’ll finally beat Shredder at the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machine by the entrance. There’s a local spin on everything, from the original Australian versions of NBA Jam and the Simpsons to the historical street signs from Flinders Lane out in the New York style beer garden. Each drink you order comes with a smile, and just about everyone you speak to feels like an old friend.
I got a chance to speak with Bartronica’s owner, Josh Egan, during my visit to the grand opening. In the short time I was able to speak with him, between tossing out references to some of my favorite old-school button-mashers, I understood how obvious it was that Bartronica was built on passion. “I saw places in America, places like Insert Coin(s) and Barcade, but it actually came from when I was a kid. A mate of mine had a caravan park, and out the back was this dirty old shed, and there was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in it. We just to just open the coin door and put credits on it. That’s where it all started. It’s all about the passion behind the arcades.” After looking through two hundred odd venues along Brunswick, Gertrude, Smith and everywhere else the cool kids hang out, five years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears have made Bartonica what it is today. “Usually, I’m kicking around in overalls. I’ve fallen off ladders, I’ve cut myself, we built it all. It’s a labor of love.”
Josh obviously understands the growth of video gaming from the old days until now. “The newer stuff’s fun to play, and it’s very addictive, but the old stuff… bright colours, simple gameplay, people love it.” The walk between the front door and the back wall is a walk back through the history of gaming, a veritable time capsule of joysticks and 16-bit graphics. By the time you’ve made it past the bar and taken in the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Mega Drive, you feel like you’re at home among the cabinets.
The staff have clearly got their fingers on the pulse of Melbourne’s gaming community. “I always found it hard to find new spots to go on dates. That’s why I started this, in a lot of ways. This is about a place that you can sit in all night and play Goldeneye.” Indeed, I’d seen a group of four guys with a controller in each of their hands, and none of them were cruel enough to play as Oddjob. Even if you walk in alone, you’ll find someone to back you up with a little co-op help or another like-minded fellow to beat the tar out of at a classic beat-em-up.
Even if you’ve never played some of these old chunks of gaming history, we’d all do well to remember our roots once in a while and learn something new. And, really, where else are you going to find a working model of Gun Fight from 1975? Have you ever turned the key beside an Atari Hard Drivin’ cabinet and span the wheel until your car plowed into the broad side of a barn or felt the joystick kick against the cabinet on an original Mortal Kombat machine? There’s something here for every gamer, be they a Call of Duty fanboy, a Commodore 64 kid or anything between. And with a lineup that’s been promised to constantly shift, there’ll always be something new. “Some of the machines came from all around the world. TNMT came from Point Cook, but Gun Fight came from Tennessee. Give me a month or two and I’ll have Afterburner down here.”
This is arcade gaming all grown up. This ain’t your mother’s basement. Between the already blossoming clientèle and the dreams of the future (including a Mortal Kombat tournament that I’ll definitely be attending), Bartronica’s well and truly settled in as the new cornerstone of Melbourne’s gaming community. “We’re gonna be here for a long time. We’re not going anywhere.”