10 Best Game Bars in Phoenix

Cocktails mix with joystick classics at Cobra Arcade Bar in downtown Phoenix.
Cocktails mix with joystick classics at Cobra Arcade Bar in downtown Phoenix.
Benjamin Leatherman

As many barflies would tell you, there’s more to do at local watering holes besides tying a few on. And we aren’t just talking about singing karaoke or watching the latest sports action, pal.

Depending on the particular spot, you can shoot some stick, toss a few rounds of darts, fling bean bags, answer brain-busting trivia questions, or engage in any sort of competitive distraction.

Games of skill and chance have been as much a part the bar experience for as long as there have bars themselves, going back to the days when esteemed European gentleman played lawn games outside of pubs, and even earlier. The games have evolved over time, of course, but have kept the same goal throughout the eons: keeping bar patrons entertained and in the mood to buy more alcohol.

In recent years, arcade games, pinball machines, skee-ball, and even old-school consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System or Sega Genesis have proven to be increasingly popular, owing to the nostalgia of throwback thrills or vintage video games. While it's true that most drinkeries and dives have boasted quarter-munching contraptions for decades, there’s been a growing emphasis on games, ranging from high-tech systems to more lo-fi options like board games. 

Hence, the rise of the arcade/bar hybrids that have sprung up in major cities like New York and LA or chic drinkeries where you can play Sonic the Hedgehog while sampling craft beers. 

Phoenix has its fair share of such joints, including any of the following bars that feature video games in abundance (such as Cobra Arcade Bar, The Grid in Mesa, and Tempe's Endgame) or old-school distractions made new again like skee-ball, which can be found at places like The Little Woody or Gringo Star on Mill.

And there are even more game bars in the works, including the soon-to-open Bonus Round near Camelback Road and Central Avenue that will debut next month. In the meantime, here is a look at the 10 best game bars around the Valley.

Billiards aren't the only game in town at Stinger's in Glendale.
Billiards aren't the only game in town at Stinger's in Glendale.
Courtesy photo

10. Stinger's

It’s be hard to get bored at this Glendale sports bar, considering the abundance of distractions that are packed inside its expansive interior. There are the more traditional pursuits (a dozen different pool tables, six electronic dart machines, three shuffleboard tables, and nightly poker showdowns) as well as off-track betting, foosball, and ping-pong. And then there’s the assortment of old-school arcade titles found around Stinger’s, which include Arkanoid, Super Mario Bros., and the Aerosmith-endorsed rail shooter game Revolution X. Suffice it to say, a roll of quarters might come in handy when enjoying a night out here.

A lineup of arcade games inside Gringo Star in Tempe.EXPAND
A lineup of arcade games inside Gringo Star in Tempe.
Benjamin Leatherman

9. Gringo Star Street Bar

Given that two major pastimes for college kids are drinking and gaming, putting a hybrid bar and arcade like Gringo-Star Street Bar within fragging distance of Arizona State University is an idea worthy of the Mother Brain herself. The Mill Avenue spot levels up the hipness factor even further by mixing vintage video games (10 arcade classics like Galaga, and Street Fighter II, plus two Nintendo 64 consoles and skeeball machines) with vibrant street art murals from Lalo Cota, JB Snyder, and Sierra Joy. Games are free to play every Monday, and the bar offers several drink specials, while the big DJ nights on Friday and Saturday bring out both bottle-poppers and quarter-droppers.

10 Best Game Bars in PhoenixEXPAND
Benjamin Leatherman

8. Gypsy Bar

Between the flashy tableaux of all the high-tech games in its Dave & Busters-like arcade lounge, the vibrant tempest of lights and sounds coming from its DJ booth and dance floor, and the array of eye-popping aerialist and burlesque performances happening on weekend nights, there’s a good chance you might experience sensory overload when visiting this CityScape nightspot in downtown Phoenix. Who knows, maybe even a killer case of Pac-Man fever, too, considering there’s a four-player version of the arcade classic on the premises. Self-medicate with one of the 11 different specialty cocktails or any of the wealth of libations available from the bar, all of which will should help limber you up for another round of button-pounding, game-playing fun.

10 Best Game Bars in PhoenixEXPAND
Benjamin Leatherman

7. Dave & Busters

Everything about the Dave & Busters is big, from its gigantic “Million Dollar Midway” arcade that’s as glitzy and lively as a casino to the games themselves, which are all of the cutting-edge, high-end, and redemption-oriented variety. (Some are just flat-out enormous, like the life-sized Connect Four that towers over players.) Even its menu of specialty cocktails and themed drinks is enormous, as it features 16 pages of libations that are ultra-colorful, to say the least, including such signature concoctions as the “Purple People Eater” and “Angry Balls.” Like most other locations in the chain, the Valley’s Dave & Busters at the Desert Ridge shopping center in North Phoenix and Tempe Marketplace are strictly the domain of the 21-and-crowd over after 11 p.m. on weekends, which means you can game and imbibe without the kids around.

The exterior of and faux front entrance of The Little Woody.EXPAND
The exterior of and faux front entrance of The Little Woody.
Benjamin Leatherman

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6. The Little Woody

Much like the speakeasy theme of The Little Woody, the thrills and distractions available in the Arcadia spot’s side room are of a quaint and throwback nature. A vintage shuffleboard game that looks like its straight from the mid-century era takes up almost an entire wall, while a pair of skeeball machines, a dart board, and foosball each occupy their respective corners. Several board games or beloved playthings from childhood, ranging from checkers to Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, can also be found at tables or being played by patrons enjoying a nostalgia kick along with their buzz.

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