Four Places in Pittsburgh Where You Can Game Like It’s the ’90s
These arcades and gaming cafes are popular destinations.
Every so often, old becomes new again — the resurgence of vinyl records, the popularity of retro colors and styles and, of course, the continued affection for arcade games of ages past, even in an era of gaming dominated by virtual reality and 4K graphics.
There’s something special and markedly charming about the good ol’ days of simple mechanics and 8-bit characters, and there’s something equally great about a place that lets you enjoy some throwbacks with other people who enjoy it, too. It all gets back to the basics of what gaming is all about — having fun.
Marking an era of renaissance for the once-bygone arcade, there are a few places around the city — some old, some brand new — that offer some modern twists on the timeless classics. Whether you’re an amateur pinballer or a Pac-Man aficionado — or if you’re just looking for something different to do while COVID cases are down — Pittsburgh has got you covered.
Coop de Ville
Arcade meets bar meets chicken joint. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, Coop de Ville is the place for you.
In late 2020, Richard DeShantz opened Coop de Ville in the Strip District. His restaurant group also operates Downtown’s Gi-Jin, täko, Meat & Potatoes and several other restaurants around town.
Coop de Ville is no one-trick pony; there’s a La Colombe coffee bar near the entrance, which serves up traditional lattes and espresso drinks as well as alcohol-infused coffee beverages, snacks and pastries, too.
A little farther inside is a large liquor bar with high-top seating and a few TV screens, a tiki bar trailer, an arcade with classic cabinet games, pinball machines, pool tables and an eight-lane duckpin bowling alley. Ample social and seating areas are peppered throughout, and there’s a champagne vending machine by the bowling space.
In the arcade, you can try your hand at old favorites such as Super Mario Bros., Elevator Action, Pac-Man and Mr. Do, or play billiards or foosball with your friends. There are a few machines that can convert your dollars into tokens to play the games. Most machines cost from 2 to 4 tokens, but it can cost up to 8 for bigger, multiplayer endeavors such as foosball.
Street and garage parking is available but sometimes tight. You might try one of Pittsburgh’s many alternative transit options such as the bus, Pogoh e-bikes, Spin scooters or Scoobi mopeds.
Overall, Coop de Ville is a refreshingly retro take on the classic arcade, remaining true to the experience while adding its own flair. It blends all of the best elements of a fast-casual Southern restaurant, bar and entertainment space into one, and it sets a precedent for what other arcades should strive to be.
Strip District: 2305 Smallman St.; 412/991-2667, coopdevillepgh.com
Ace Breakaway and Play
This hidden gem, tucked between the towering skyscrapers of Smithfield Street Downtown, offers more of a traditional arcade experience. It’s a hole-in-the-wall that offers Pac-Man, pinball, skee-ball (or as it calls it, ice ball) and other classics aplenty but few of the bells and whistles that define some of the city’s newer spots.
Don’t expect craft beer or Southern-style dining, or any of the big, over-the-top prizes you might win at Dave & Buster’s. But unlike some of the other arcade or gaming venues, most of the machines at Ace’s dispense tickets that can be redeemed at the front desk for the kind of small prizes you might remember from childhood — bouncy balls, finger traps, Slinkys, sticky hands and parachute men among them.
Most of the games at Ace’s cost just a quarter or two to play; they’re less expensive than those at other venues. There are machines that will convert your $1 or $5 bills into quarters.
Parking is tight and expensive Downtown. Instead, consider hopping on a bus or using a Pogoh bike or Spin scooter to get there.
It isn’t a one-stop shop, but it’s a good place to kill some time with or without the kids. Most importantly, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t — it’s just a simple arcade without a schtick or gimmick, and in a way, that’s what makes it special.
If you’re Downtown already for a show or festival, or if you’re looking for a place to spend your lunch break reminiscing about the good ol’ days of retro gaming — and maybe take home a tiny trinket — this is the spot for you.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Sundays
Downtown: 417 Smithfield St.; 412/434-0202
Shorty’s Pins x Pints
North Shore’s newest “retro-tainment” joint offers a place to kick back and relax with a cocktail and enjoy a selection of games, all in a classy yet convivial atmosphere. It nicely synthesizes all the best parts of a bar — including the food — and a gaming cafe, with eight duckpin bowling lanes, 10 pinball machines, two foosball tables, three shuffleboard tables, five vintage arcade selections and two bocce courts.
The inclusion of shuffleboard and bocce sets it apart from other similar venues in the area, including the Strip District’s Coop de Ville. Similarly, its expansive outdoor space along the Allegheny River offers cozy campfires and cornhole games aplenty.
With more than 30 rotating drafts and a selection of always-on mainstays, too, it’s a hophead’s paradise. Shorty’s also offers wine and mixed drinks, plus some boozeless mocktails such as a hazelnut horchata and Red Ribbon sodas.
It may offer some of the best old-school entertainment, but the space itself is new; it opened in February in the space once occupied by the Tilted Kilt — between PNC Park and Heinz Field. It joins a growing roster of businesses opening on the North Shore in recent years, to not only capitalize on game-day action but also to offer fun before concerts, for cyclists on the riverfront trail and more.
A second location is already in the works. Shorty’s Tap x Taco is slated to come to The Waterfront in West Homestead this summer in the former Bar Louie space. (Ironically, both locations are also across the street from Burgatorys.)
If you’re planning a trip, leave the cash at home. Shorty’s is card-only.
North Shore: 353 North Shore Drive; 412/904-4450, shortysx.com/pins-x-pints/north-shore
The South Side may be known for its drinking venues and late-night shenanigans, but this gem offers a rare alternative in the neighborhood for folks who aren’t looking for a bar or club. Nestled between Jack’s Bar and Trap Yoga Studio on East Carson Street, Victory Pointe was one of the first gaming cafes in the city, marking what would soon become a retro-loving renaissance for those looking to relive the joys of a bygone era — or even experience it for the first time.
Victory Pointe offers retro games — including a Doctor Who-themed pinball machine, which was a personal favorite. If you can manage to beat one of the high scores on a pinball machine, which may indeed be easier said than done, you can win a handspun milkshake — another feature of this arcade.
When you enter, you’ll see a selection of retro games and a milkshake-and-espresso bar. Victory Pointe uses Betsy’s ice cream, which is made in Mt. Lebanon. Its sundaes and splits are hand-scooped and its waffle bowls are made to order. The milkshakes, though, are certainly the shop’s claim to fame, with a vanilla ice cream base created specifically for shakes and premium add-ons, including Ghirardelli chocolate, fresh-brewed espresso, house-made ginger syrup and more.
Its menu boasts names gamers might recognize: the tropical-flavored milkshake is called Yoshi’s Island, and a Captain Picard milkshake includes Earl Grey tea, which fans might remember as the “Star Trek” captain’s favorite drink.
On the second floor, visitors can pay a modest fee to access nearly any gaming console ever made. Whether you’re looking to relive your childhood with some 8-bit fun on the Nintendo Entertainment System or hoping to play one of the newest titles on the PlayStation or Xbox, there’s a good chance they’ll have it waiting for you upstairs.
This arcade’s selection varies between the ultra-old-school to the brand new, staying true to its claim to have a little something for everyone. Its schedule can be a little hectic, as it also offers private rentals that close the place to the public. Check out its handy Google calendar to make sure it’s open before you make a trip.
There’s metered street parking on East Carson Street or parking on back streets — always tight on the South Side. It’s along the 51 and 48 bus routes and close to a few biking trails.
South Side: 1113 E. Carson St.; 412/251-5150, victorypointe.com