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Thanks to one Lexington bar, you can now party like it’s 1989. In May, The Burl opened up The Burl Arcade, bringing dozens of vintage arcade nostalgia games to its compound in the city’s booming Distillery District. Housed inside an old Texaco garage, the building was constructed in the 1920s and first used, along with the music venue next door, as part of a train loading station.
Leading The Burl Arcade’s lineup of more than 30 games are familiar favorites such as “Dig Dug,” “Donkey Kong,” “NBA Jam” and “NFL Blitz,” joined by nearly a dozen pinball machines that include “Star Wars,” “The Walking Dead” and “Metallica.” Most games are at the vintage price of 25 cents a play, though pinball is $1.
According to Will Harvey, a partner in the venue along with Cannon Armstrong, Seth Bertram and Jomo Thompson, the units came from a variety of locations: pinball from Cincinnati and arcade units from St. Louis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and other locales in the region. It wasn’t always easy either. On a trip home from retrieving a dozen arcade units in Chattanooga, Harvey recalled having to frantically tarp up the vintage finds on the back of a flatbed as the aftermath of Hurricane Irma swept through.
In many instances Harvey says that modern technology also lent a hand in locating and bringing the old tech to the Distillery District compound.
“I think I searched Craigslist every day for six months looking for games,” said Harvey. “It felt like I checked every city within 10 hours [of Lexington].”
In addition to a growing collection of retro units and pinball machines, The Burl Arcade in the last two weeks has added two skee ball lanes to go along with an assortment of board games. However, the venue’s most sharable attraction may just be the TV wall, stacked top-to- bottom with retro monitors connected to Atari, Super Nintendo, “Guitar Hero,” old school movies and more. According to Harvey, the goal with the TV wall was to have it rival the stained glass backing the stage next door.
“We wanted something that was fitting to the [arcade’s] vibe and stimulating artistically, so we came up with the idea of having TVs stacked from floor to ceiling displaying consoles, old DVDs and static,” said Harvey.
Recently The Burl Arcade has begun organizing pinball tournaments with more on the way according to Harvey, who hinted at a concept of hosting three-game tournaments with the best cumulative score taking top prize. In addition to tournaments, the arcade also hosts a service industry night with drink specials and free play on select games on Monday nights; trivia on Wednesday nights and a resident DJ every Saturday night after midnight.
Once a month the venue hosts an all ages Sunday, allowing parents to bring their kids down to experience and enjoy the games that they grew up playing.
Brandon Judd, general manager and beverage director at The Burl, understands that gamers easily work up a thirst and as a result has concocted several festive drinks for the arcade, led by Mojitos on tap. To create the mixture, Judd combines different acids and oils with rum and sugar inside a 628 oz. keg, which is then charged under pressure for more than 24 hours. The drink has been a favorite among people wanting to grab something quick before getting back to playing games.
“It very much tastes like a Mojito, but there’s a lot of beverage knowledge that I’ve had to incorporate to make it work,” said Judd.
Other drinks on the menu include the Koko Collins, Judd’s re-imagination of a “chocolate cake shot” he used to make named after Koko the gorilla, a primate that passed away this June but came to fame in the ‘80s for having learned hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language; a Cosmo with gin dubbed the “Contrapolitan” after the arcade classic; the popular summertime Aperol Spritz; extra-aged bourbon, lemon and honey coined Gold Rush on the rocks after many of the arcade games which you chase after gold coins; and the Mario Cup, consisting of Pimms No. 1, fernet brancha, ginger ale and lemon.
Also available at the The Burl Arcade’s bar are a variety of well drinks, arcade sours, wines and brunch drinks such as bloody Marys from noon to 4pm on Sundays.
Judd says he plans to adjust the drink menu seasonally, with one upcoming addition being a take on the popular White Russian.
“Creatively, there’s a fine line between being clever and being cheesy,” said Judd. “I like to tip-toe that line without [hopefully] falling on the cheesy side of things.”
IF YOU GO
The Burl Arcade
What: Bar loaded with vintage video arcade games, pinball machines, console games and more.
Where: 369 Thompson Road
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Fri., noon-2:30 p.m. Sat., noon-midnight Sun.