A few weeks back in my "shopping in Japan" post, I mentioned a retro video game bar called Space Station Osaka. Now I am going to talk about it!
Space Station Osaka is located in Amerikamura, located not too far from the Shinsaibashi and Namba stations in Osaka. It's right down the road from the huge Mandarake Grandchaos store and is roughly next to Tako Tako King, a ridiculously friendly takoyaki joint with a large octopus above it - keep an eye out for the puyos (those blobby things with the eyes) on the door sign. (The map points to the Sun Bowl, one of the bigger landmarks in the area, but just walk down a block or two - when walking south, it's on the right side on the second floor.)
I had run into the proprietor, Matt Bloch, at PAX East earlier this year, where he had laid out the concept. Rather than solely focusing on Japanese retro games, it pays respect to both Western and Eastern classic gaming. There are a number of TVs hooked up at the bar, each one with two connected systems, the American system and its Japanese counterpart, consisting of a NES and Famicom, a Super NES and a Super Famicom, as well as a Genesis and a Nintendo 64. There's a healthy selection of cartridges for all systems located nearby - roughly 40 per region/platform, as a guess - including most of the essential titles for the platforms, and some generally goofy stuff as well. In one of these pictures, you can see me "enjoying" a game of Super Back to the Future II. Amusingly, they also have a NES copy of Dragon Warrior IV, in case you want to pull a very, very long all nighter. Prior to my visit, I had never actually played a real Famicom, having just played cartridges with a converter on my NES, so I got to have a more authentic experience. There's also a TV behind the bar running footage of various NES games.
There is also a small library consisting of some English and Japanese books and magazines (including the HG101 Guide to Graphic Adventures, awesomely enough!) as well as larger TV in the corner with all of the current gen systems and a good selection of recent games. The place is nicely decorated with boxes from all manners of 8 and 16-bit titles too. It's not too large, but it's a very cool place and well worth checking out. Since the owner speaks English it's also a bit easier to navigate and relate to than the standard Japanese retro bar. Doors open at 8 PM. There is no official website yet, but you can check out their Facebook page. Here are a few more pictures, though these were taken from my iPod instead of my regular camera, so they're pretty crappy and blurry. Still, they show off the color dark neon color scheme decor:
I also discussed with Matt some of the issues of running a video game bar. Namely, the cafe Famicom City in Shibuya, which recently (and mysteriously) closed down a few months back. While they are in the processing of relocating and setting up, no one is entirely sure why they were shut down to begin with, but people we conjecturing that it was either because (A) it openly used "Famicom" in its name, or (B) because you had to pay to play the games. Most bars/cafes (including maid and cat cafes) charge you to hang around for a certain amount of time, in addition to paying for drinks, so maybe there was some kind of legality issues when it came to games. There's no cover charge at Space Station Osaka, so there's no issues with that.
It also made me wistful that such a place would open up in the US. It might be able to function in New York City, and I'm surprised something like this hasn't already popped up amidst all of the trendy Japanese spots around St. Mark's Place (and no, Barcade in Brooklyn or the new location in Jersey City doesn't count, since arcade games have been part of the bar scene since practically the inception, but consoles haven't), but the distribution of liquor licenses here in New Jersey can make it difficult for a regular joe to set up shop. I'm not sure about the rest of the USA, but the number of liquor licenses is limited to each municipality, which is usually based on the number of residents. You cannot simply apply for one either - you have to obtain it from someone who already has one, which usually requires going through a broker and paying a substantial amount of cash. (By substantial, I mean often in the six digits.) There have been cases where corporations come in and have tried to bully location establishments out of their licenses - like the world really needs another Applebees - and as such the startup costs make it extremely difficult to pull off. I've seen places like this pop up in London too, like LOADING, and it's a shame that various liquor regulations have drastically reduces the viability of such operations. Beer and sports have long gone together, so the concept of liquor and video games isn't that far off - why should it be so difficult to be able to hang out with a bunch of friends in a common place, play video games and get sloshed?