Walking into VS Arcade Bar is like walking into a coin-op video game museum. A wide variety of machines covers the main floor with classics games ranging from “Donkey Kong” and “Galaga” to “Street Fighter II.” Various pinball machines also line one corner of the bar.
The bar's General Manager Brock Miller said they move games in and out, and come from a collection by owners Josh and Jamie Root.
“It gives people something fun to do with their hands while they’re out,” Miller said. “A lot of people at bars seem so into their phones nowadays, so this way people can drink a beer and do something with their friends."
VS also has the Midway classic Skee-Ball machine and a pool table for people needing a break from the flashing lights and 16-bit soundtracks.
Miller said when arcade machines began to go out of style toward the end of the 20th century, arcades began jacking up the prices of their games to make up the cost. At most bars, a single video game or pinball play can cost a dollar. But at VS, nostalgia extends to the wallet, too. Each machine costs -- as it should -- a quarter per game. A bill-to-coin machine sits in the corner next to the ATM, with a stack of plastic cups at the ready to store your quarters.
“Something like $10 will easily buy you an hour or more depending on the games you’re playing and how good you are,” Miller said. “And 25 cents keeps people hanging out, and we like to keep the costs low so people can keep having fun.”
Cocktails and Craft Beer
Older gamers might notice the absence of a lone coke machine hiding in the corner, VS offers a wide variety of craft beers and cocktails, the most expensive ranging around $6. Miller, who has previously worked as a bartender at several cocktail joints in Omaha, said VS doesn’t stock bottom-shelf liquor. He also rotates the craft beer that's on tap. The cheap prices keep people drinking and gaming until closing time.
“I make some high-end cocktails here that I used to have to charge double the price at some of the other bars I used to work at,” Miller said.
VS will soon be celebrating two years since it opened in the Haymarket, and has seen every type of crowd imaginable. Miller said they’ve begun to see some regular patrons establish themselves, but the crowds that come in mix together well despite a wide age range.
“It’s not just 21-year-old college kids coming in to check out our games,” Miller said. “I see all kinds of people come down. Even middle-aged people and older folks come in to check out the nostalgia factor and stick around for awhile. A lot of these games were huge when they were kids.”
VS is situated next to the Starlite Lounge, which has made its mark in Lincoln with its own brand of Atomic Age nostalgia. If the Starlite Lounge transports people back to post-war America, VS yanks them forward to the 1980s and 1990s.
The alluring glow of classic videos games in a low-lighting basement setting practically seduces people inside to see the sights and sounds. The sound system blasts rock music classics from Whitesnake to The Killers, and MTV Classic showcases flashy music videos from when the network first aired.
“Nostalgia is really attractive to a lot of people,” Miller said. “This place used to just be an empty room, but we worked really hard to make it seem like something people used to be familiar with, and I think it really hooks people in night after night.”