PORTLAND— In the time it takes to make change from a dollar, Arcadia National Bar fills up quickly. The newest nightlife option in Portland is a barcade — an arcade that dispenses adult beverages in lieu of soda pop.
Step into the month-old Arcadia on Preble Street and the telltale “waaap, waap, whaaaa” of games like Pac-Man and the incessant “zap-zap-zing” of pinball pierces the air. Between games, patrons quench their thirst with locally crafted beers such as Banded Horn from Biddeford and Limerick’s Gneiss on tap at the snug bar.
Hungry? Grilled cheese is the nightly and only special. “I don’t have culinary experience,” said co-owner Dave Aceto, “but I do have experience being a bachelor.”
Which means grilled cheese, paired with buffalo chicken or spices, depending on the owner’s whim, is the plate du jour.
“People can hang out, play some games, drink some beer … We haven’t had a slow night yet,” said Ben Culver, who dreamed up Arcadia with his friend Aceto when they met at Coast City Comics bonding over (what else?) pinball.
Formerly Slainte wine bar, Arcadia is a not a brand new concept. Places like Barcade in New York have been pushing the craft beer and classic arcade combo for a decade. In Maine there are few places where the two marry so well. Video games are still 25 cents, and old-school Nintendo is free.
After crowdfunding more than $25,000 on Kickstarter last summer, the partners knew they were onto something.
“The nerd community is underrepresented here,” said Aceto, who has a passion for board games like Dominion. On any given night, at a center table, he teaches customers the intricacies of Settlers of Catan, which he calls “the gateway drug” to board game nirvana. Around 15 different games are on hand for guests.
“I was a camp counselor,” said the affable Aceto, who grew up in Lyman. “This is like going from kids to adults.”
On a recent Thursday night, two men seated on a couch are glued to Super Mario Bros., playing on Nintendo Gamecube plugged into a TV. A shaggy-haired 20-something steps in and asks if he can join. They slide over. Across the way a post-grad with joystick in hand makes a Hail Mary pass on Madden NFL and lets out a yelp.
“We attract a demographic you might not see in the Old Port,” said Aceto, adding that gamers feel comfortable coming to Arcadia because they can let their freak flag fly.
Master pinball wizards will make appearances here from time to time and classes on how to improve your skills across the board are in the works.
A wall of pinball machines, from The Addams Family to Lord of the Rings, are in perfect vintage condition. Classic arcade games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong join with PlayStation 4, Sega and Nintendo, inviting intergenerational play. “We have a solid collection of games here and we want to show it,” said Aceto, who changes the mix periodically.
But it’s not just gameheads who file into the L-shaped bar looking to shrug off a long work day, meet new friends and worthy opponents. “Everyone plays games, even grandma plays cribbage,” said Aceto, who says this is not a den for collegiates on a bender — but a few beers might improve your skill.
The owners, seem to have found a niche in this youthful, low-key spot that glows and buzzes with the excitement of game night in your friend’s basement.
“We are both super high on the nerd scale,” said Aceto, 30. And, it would appear from the jam-packed room, super smart.
To compete in Portland’s hard-charging food and drink scene, the entrepreneurs needed a hook. “I don’t think we would have opened a bar in Portland. We wanted to do what no one is doing in Maine,” said Culver, a 32-year-old from Seattle.
With the lights and sounds of an arcade, it’s tempting to see Arcadia as a family place, but a word of caution: leave the tykes at home. “We are a bar, not someplace where you bring your 6-year-old,” said Aceto.
“We have beer and arcade games,” said Culver, with an innocent glee. “I think it’s fun all the time.”
Arcadia National Bar is located at 24 Preble St., Portland. Hours are 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. during the week; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 12 to 8 p.m. Sunday.