Cocktails mix with coin-op classics at Cobra Arcade Bar.EXPAND
Cocktails mix with coin-op classics at Cobra Arcade Bar.
Benjamin Leatherman

The 10 Best Game Bars in Phoenix

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.

Having a blast with the Skee-Ball machines at Gringo Star.
Having a blast with the Skee-Ball machines at Gringo Star.
Benjamin Leatherman

10. 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 Skee-Ball 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.

Yes, you can play Connect Four (albeit jumbo-sized) at Gypsy Bar.EXPAND
Yes, you can play Connect Four (albeit jumbo-sized) at Gypsy Bar.
Benjamin Leatherman

9. Gypsy Bar
Between the flashy tableaux of all the high-tech games in its Dave & Buster's-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.

The games inside the Tempe location of Dave & Buster's.EXPAND
The games inside the Tempe location of Dave & Buster's.
Benjamin Leatherman

8. Dave & Busters
Everything about the Dave & Buster's 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 & Buster's at the Desert Ridge shopping center in North Phoenix, Tempe Marketplace, and Westgate Entertainment District 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

7. 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 Skee-Ball 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.

This ain't Hogan's Alley, bub.EXPAND
This ain't Hogan's Alley, bub.
Courtesy of Modern Round

6. Modern Round
Under normal circumstances, playing around with a Glock 9mm or AR-15 assault rifle after downing a few potent adult beverages isn’t a recommended activity by any means. If you happen to be hanging out at Modern Round, however, its considered harmless fun. No joke. That’s because the firearms available at this "shooting lounge" are actually light guns, albeit ones that are quite accurate looking, that can be used to blast swamp creatures, mutant spiders, enemy snipers, or other virtual characters. The stylish establishment, which is located in the P83 Entertainment District in Peoria, features 20 private nooks outfitted with posh seating for up to six people and a wall-sized projection screen where patrons can play more than 40 high-tech games of a duck-hunting, target-shooting, or zombie-killing variety. (You can even blow away some garden gnomes or flying pigs.) A full food and drink menu is available and boasts luxe libations and hand-crafted cocktails, including mojitos, martinis, and Manhattans. A word of warning, some of the light guns feature a realistic recoil, which might cause you to spill your drink.

Shall we play a game?EXPAND
Shall we play a game?
Benjamin Leatherman

5. The Whining Pig Arcadia
Your eyes can't help but be drawn to either of its chalkboard-painted walls at this cozy Arcadia spot, which are covered from floor to ceiling with oodles of colorful doodles and its voluminous selection of more than 100 different craft beers and wines available for purchase. Equally as eye-catching is the array of flat screens arranged along one wall, each connected to such classic consoles as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, or Atari 2600. Even more fun can be found in the comfortably cluttered lounge adjacent to the bar, which is appropriately dubbed the "Pig’s Pen” and features two cocktail-style arcade units, a life-sized billiards setup using bowling balls, and tons of board and party games within easy reach.

Pixel-powered libations await at 8-Bit Aleworks in Avondale.
Pixel-powered libations await at 8-Bit Aleworks in Avondale.
Benjamin Leatherman

4. 8-Bit Aleworks
At this Avondale microbrewery inspired by old-school video games, patrons are referred to at “bitizens,” pixelated artwork lines the walls, chiptune music blasts from the sound system, and pint-sized plastic versions of Super Mario-style fire flowers and piranha plants decorate the tables. The theme extends to the six different house brews crafted on the premises by co-owners Ryan and Krystina Whitten, each featuring such geeky names as Hopsassin’s Creed, Extra Life, and White Mage, and are dispensed in either pints or growlers from tap handles topped with repurposed NES controllers. Speaking of which, both the original Nintendo and Super Nintendo are available for play, as is a Sega Genesis, the original X-Men arcade machine from 1992, and the locally produced vector game GraxitreX.

A pair of Bonus Round patrons get their game on.EXPAND
A pair of Bonus Round patrons get their game on.
Benjamin Leatherman

3. Bonus Round
Everything about this CenPho spot is of a geeky bent, from the collage of comic book artwork adorning the bar right down to its nerdy signature drinks (with names like Plasma Grenade, Rogue Leader, and Stardate) available. And there’s the multitude of games you can play, ranging from old-school arcade favorites like Spy Hunter and Silent Scope to those in the tabletop and role-playing vein. Bonus Round co-owners James Goshow and Jacob Rendel are both avowed geeks and designed their spot to be a haven and hub for nerd culture, including hosting events like Dungeons and Dragons sessions, cosplay get-togethers, and gaming tournaments. And as Rendel told us last year, that’s what sets the place apart from other spots on this list. “Our arcade game [lineup] isn't nearly as decked out or as extensive as Cobra's. We don't have the killer music that the Grid has. That's just not our thing,” he says. “But what we do have here are awesome tables for games, a sense of community, and a gathering spot for nerds.”

Some of the many retro arcade games available at The Grid.
Some of the many retro arcade games available at The Grid.
Benjamin Leatherman

2. The Grid
This Mesa arcade bar is a popular spot for geekdom, nightlife, and game culture, and geeky nightlife events inspired by games. Numerous synthwave and electronica artists have performed on its stage, owing the fact its owners are avowed fans of the genre, as have rock bands like the Love Me Nots and a variety of local DJs. The Grid has also attracted beer connoisseurs and arcade fans into its neon-drenched interior with its unique selection of games (which range from classics like Moon Patrol to the action-packed and ultra-addicting multiplayer title Killer Queen) and a cask list that’s heavy on local craft and microbrews.  

The 10 Best Game Bars in Phoenix
Benjamin Leatherman

1. Cobra Arcade Bar
Downtown Phoenix’s Cobra Arcade Bar is the sort of place that locals have both needed and wanted for years. That is to say, a nightspot that boasts a fantastic lineup of vintage coin-op games, not to mention an artsy flair and hip verve. Cobra notches a high score in all these categories with its rotating selection of 40 different titles — all of which are culled from the curated collection of co-owner Ariel Bracamonte — mural work by such popular artists as Lalo Cato and El Mac decorating its interior and exterior, and regular spin sessions from DJs like Chris Villa and Meanmugg. Nifty touches like its 11 game-themed signature cocktails, weekly tournaments for prizes on Sundays, and actual tokens being used help add extra bonus points.

This article originally published in April 2016 and has since been updated.

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