Sunday, June 15, 2014

Famicom Bars: I want one.

Famicom City in Shibuya

Famicom bars and cafes are one of the few remaining awesome bastions of Japanese retro gaming culture which I have yet to try.

If you don`t know what they are.....well, basically they are about what you think they would be after hearing the phrase "Famicom bar" or "Famicom cafe".  Bars and cafes at which customers can play Famicom and other retro games.  There is a good write up about some of them in Tokyo over on 1Up here.

My main reason for not having ever been in one of these places (there are even a couple not far from where I live) is, I`m ashamed to admit, that I`m a bit of a cheapskate.  The problem is that most Famicom bars/cafes have a pricing policy that is significantly different from most bars and cafes.  They aren`t places where you can just go in, order a beer and casually down it at your own pace like at a pub.  Instead they charge by the hour, usually with a minimum total charge of 2000-3000 yen.

Given that I can actually buy a Famicom for about that much, I`ve always balked at going to one.  This is horribly cheap of me, I know.  You are paying for the experience of sitting in an interesting environment and playing games, so comparisons with the price of an actual Famicom are kind of meaningless.  Nonetheless, my mind works in mysterious and not always rational ways like that.

When I think about though I totally understand why they price things that way.  The Japanese otaku crowd is, to be gentle, renowned for not being short on people who like to linger.  Open a business specifically targetting them and not charging by the hour is an invitation to have your business swamped by people ordering the cheapest thing on the menu and then sitting there for 9 hours playing Dragon Quest 3 over and over again.

Anyway, what I really like about this kind of business, in the abstract anyway, is that it has always been a secret dream of mine to open up a bar when I retire and these places give me lots of room for daydreaming about what kind of a Famicom bar I would open if I ever got the chance.  I think I would introduce a twist on the pricing policy.  I would have a two drink minimum to avoid the lingering otaku problem, but with each drink you would get one game to keep when you leave.  So the menu would have two columns, one with a type of drink and the other with a list of games, and with each order you would have to choose one of each.  The price of the drink would largely depend on which game you wanted to go with it (Gimmick and a beer would be very expensive, Golf and a beer would be very cheap).  It would be kind of combining drinking and video game shopping in one experience, which I think would be a lot of fun.

And of course the best part about opening a place like that would be decorating it.  I would like to have one entire wall basically wallpapered with Famicom carts.  I think that would look awesome.  I would also cover the counter tops and table tops with a solid surface made up of Famicom carts too (covered with a bit of plexiglass).  They look so awesome, I`m surprised none of the existing places have done that yet.  The one photo (in the top of this post) is from one in Shibuya where they tried to do the decor in red and white Famicom colors.  I do not like the look of that one at all.  It just doesn`t have the right vibe - it is too clean and orderly and looks more like a generic fast food restaurant rather than a cool place with some character.  And using identical flat TVs is a big no in my books - my place would be decked out exclusively with old-school cathode ray TV sets.


  1. Living out in the sticks, I had no idea that these types of places existed, though it doesn't surprise me really. GameCenter CX once went to this izakaya type place that was essentially someones living room with a Famicom hooked up to a TV. But according to that map that someone compiled of all the arcades he visited, it has since closed.

    Being something of a barfly, I'd totally go to a Famicom bar at least once to check it out. Also, from what I hear, in America, "barcades" are really taking off. Basically, bars with a bunch of retro arcade cabinets in them.

    For now, I'll have to make due with stumbling into Taito Station in between stops at bars.

    And yeah, I totally agree. A Famicom bar needs to look like it hasn't been renovated since 1985. Even if it opened in the 2000s.

  2. One of the major issues I encounter at many of the barcades popping up in America is that they don't have a dedicated person for cabinet maintenance. So week after week, "OUT OF ORDER" signs spread like weeds.

    Not everyone is a gentle arcade enthusiast, some people devastate those cabinets. Add booze to the mix, and you absolutely need someone to regularly take care and repair those games (especially if you're looking for original replacement parts).

    Owners that don't know any better simply drop the cash to plop some cabinets in, then call it a done deal. I ask managers and owners who does maintenance, and most of the time they don't have an answer. And it's not like it's one Galaga in the corner. There are rows upon rows of different games.

    It's very frustrating. If the main draw of your bar is consistently broken, then how can you expect to attract customers?

  3. Nate - ah, bummer about that place on Game Centre CX closing. I`m a bit of a barfly too (or I should say I used to be one, now I`m more of a nascent former barfly) so I`m definitely interested in checking these places out. I`m planning on hitting the two that are near me here sometime and will definitely do a post on them when I do.

    NJD - that is interesting about the barcades. Actually it kind of sucks, it would be way cooler to have them run by people who are actual hobbyists and know how to take care of the machines, letting them degrade like that is a horrible waste of some beautiful gaming treasures.

    The barcade hasn`t really taken off here probably for space reasons, all the Famicom bars and cafes are literally holes in the wall that would have no room for them. The only exception would be for Space Invaders table tops, which is something I desperately want to get someday.

  4. Wow, I had no idea these places existed!

    Will definitely encourage me to make a short trip back to Japan!



  5. Hi Sohail, yes you should definitely try one of them if you do visit Japan again!

  6. (Blogger messed up this comment so ignore if there's two.) Another feature of Japan I've seen nowhere else. I think your take on the bars sounds like a very good idea!

  7. Thanks Logan! This is definitely a Japan-y type of thing.