Get your game on and drink on at any of the following spots.EXPAND
Get your game on and drink on at any of the following spots.
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 part of the bar experience for as long as bars have existed, going back to the days when esteemed European gentleman played lawn games outside 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 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 lo-fi options like board games.

Hence, the rise of the arcade and bar hybrids that have sprung up in major cities like New York and L.A. 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 and The Grid in Mesa) or old-school distractions made new again like Skee-Ball, which can be found at places like the Little Woody.

Billiard bliss awaits inside Freezer's Ice House, as does a respectable collection of arcade classics.EXPAND
Billiard bliss awaits inside Freezer's Ice House, as does a respectable collection of arcade classics.
Courtesy of Freezer's Ice House

Freezer's Ice House
83 East Broadway Road, Tempe

If you’re into billiards or darts, you’ll find an abundance of both at Freezer’s Ice House. More than 30 pool tables and dozens of dart machines are housed within this cavernous Tempe spot located near Arizona State University that's typically packed with college kids and 20-somethings on nights and weekends.

If you’re more into mashing buttons instead of shooting stick or tossing darts, you’ll also find a respectable collection of a half-dozen or so retro arcade games, including Ninja Gaiden, Street Fighter II, Centipede, and Double Dragon. Keep your head on a swivel when playing, however, in case you’ve got to quickly move out of the way of pool players angling for a perfect shot.

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

Gypsy Bar
50 West Jefferson Street

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. Self-medicate with one of the 11 different specialty cocktails or any of the wealth of libations available from the bar, all of which should help limber you up for another round of button-pounding, game-playing fun.

Air hockey action at Dave & Buster's in Tempe.EXPAND
Air hockey action at Dave & Buster's in Tempe.
Alexandra Gaspar

Dave & Buster's
21001 North Tatum Boulevard
2000 East Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe
9460 West Hanna Lane, Glendale

Everything about 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-over  after 11 p.m. on weekends, which means you can game and imbibe without the kids around.

The exterior of the Little Woody.EXPAND
The exterior of the Little Woody.
Benjamin Leatherman

The Little Woody
4228 East Indian School Road

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 it's 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.

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

The Whining Pig Arcadia
3730 East Indian School Road

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 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-size billiards setup using bowling balls, and tons of board and party games within easy reach.

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

Modern Round
8320 West Mariners Way, Peoria

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, it's considered harmless fun.

That’s because the firearms available at this "shooting lounge" are actually light guns, albeit ones that are quite accurate looking. They 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.

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

8-Bit Aleworks
1050 North Fairway Drive, Building F Suite 101, Avondale

At this Avondale microbrewery inspired by old-school video games, patrons are referred to as “bitizens,” pixelated artwork lines the walls, chiptune music blasts from the sound system, and pint-size 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. They feature 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.

Some of the many games available inside Bonus Round.EXPAND
Some of the many games available inside Bonus Round.
Benjamin Leatherman

Bonus Round
24 West Camelback Road

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 the spot as a haven and hub for nerd culture, with 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.”

The main room at The Grid.EXPAND
The main room at The Grid.
Benjamin Leatherman

The Grid 
525 South Gilbert Road, Suite A-7, Mesa

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, as 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.  

Local cosplayers get their game on at Cobra Arcade Bar.EXPAND
Local cosplayers get their game on at Cobra Arcade Bar.
Benjamin Leatherman

Cobra Arcade Bar
801 North Second Street, #100

Downtown Phoenix’s Cobra Arcade Bar boasts a fantastic lineup of vintage coin-op games, as well as an artsy flair and hip verve. Cobra notches a high score in all these categories with its rotating selection of 40 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.

Editor's note: This article has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in April 2016.

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