- Skee-ball at Lucky's Bar & Arcade (All photos by Dana Vindigni)
The Boozin' on a Budget crew is back, this time hitting four of the city's best bars for playing games, because that's what we do best.
Along with CL staffers and BoB veterans Ryan Pitkin, Justin LaFrancois and Dana Vindigni, this time we've brought along our intern Sophie Whisnant, who just turned 21 and gets quite an education in gaming, and one of our favorite Charlotte comedians, Carlos Valencia.
First stop: The Blind Pig,
453 E. 36th St.
- A frog at the Pig.
We start things off with Sharknado shots, a special served in celebration of Shark Week, before heading upstairs to the game room, where we set our sights on The Boxer, which involves a punching bag that rates the strength of your punch.
Ryan Pitkin: This is basically a big-dick, pissing contest, and I used to be very good at it.
Carlos Valencia: I'd rather negotiate with the punching bag, talk things over with it.
Justin LaFrancois: 898, pretty pathetic.
RP: I like that you can use cards on almost all of these games, despite the fact that I just got $10 cash from the bartender.
We move on to basketball, where Sophie and Ryan face off
RP: So I had 47, you had 34. In the postgame interview, can you tell me what was going through your head?
Sophie Whisnant: I was better than I expected myself to be so early on in the drinks. I feel like I will get better with more.
RP: Oh so you believe in the bell curve, that you get better at gaming as you get more drinks in you?
SW: I do.
RP: We'll just have to wait and see if that's the case.
Dana Vindigni: I would like to have participated in this game but I'm not tall enough to, so I'm just going to fake it.
RP: I was worried you might have to jump to hit the punching bag.
DV: If you have an award for someone who can climb into the game and sit in the fucking thing then that would be me.
Carlos beats Justin, 51-45
- Carlos and Justin ballin' out
RP: Carlos, how are you feeling after getting the new high score?
CV: Like a winner. I feel like I should just quit now.
RP: Justin, you were even banking shots most of the time and you lost.
JL: Yeah, I found from working in an arcade that banking is the best way to get it in on hoops, but then I spilled my beer all over myself. And I lost a ball because I tried to pick up my beer after it spilled and play one handed. And the ball came bouncing over the glass and tried to attack me, so now I'm all wet.
CV: I try not to be cocky but I do have the high score of all time on this machine.
RP: No, I think it's a daily thing, and the bar just opened at 5 and we're the first ones in.
CV: No, it's forever.
We move outside to the cornhole boards
RP: We're already running into problems with keeping our beers straight because we're all drinking PBR and putting them on the bleachers — and yes, there are bleachers pointed at the cornhole boards. I have to admit that I used to play in cornhole tournaments here and there, and actually played a couple of them here. So this might not be fair.
- Justin on the struggle bus
SW: Well dammit.
CV: I had a childhood cornhole injury so don't hold that against me.
RP: Did you tear your rotator cuff?
CV: Sure. Is that the one that's essential for cornhole? Whatever that is, that's the one that I injured as a child.
Second stop: Abari Game Bar, 1721 N. Davidson St.
Dana and Ryan begin with a game of the classic shoot 'em up, Area 51
DV: Shoot the boxes, because sometimes they give you gifts and stuff, like Santa.
RP: Can Santa even fly over Area 51?
DV: Maybe. It's more like War Zone Santa who brings gifts of bombs and bullets and toys and guns. They're trying to get us to go on board something, but we don't know what that means. We only know how to shoot.
RP: Your accuracy is not looking too good.
DV: Seventeen percent? So that means that most of the time I was just shooting at damn boxes.
RP: That Michael Jackson motherfucker keeps popping up, lookin' like "Thriller."
DV: They all look like janitors to me. [laughs] Or jail prisoners. Just shoot anything that looks cool and hope that it's a bomb.
RP: That's why your accuracy is 17 percent.
The crew meets back up at a wall of pinball machines and starts playing a few before rallying at the bar to discuss
DV: The pinball scene is sublime, some really solid games.
SW: I've never played pinball before, not in real life, only on the computer. I don't know how it actually works. It was a little confusing at first. I didn't understand the rules.
JL: I just learned how to play pinball not more than a year ago.
RP: I went through with [owner] Zach [Pulliam] one time and he taught me how each one has its separate rules and strategies and walked me through a couple machines and I ended up killing it. That's when I learned that I really sucked at pinball for the first 30 years of my life.
The crew begins to focus its collective efforts on one newer pinball machine, taking turns playing Dialed In
JL: There's some kind of phone on here that's showing the destruction of the planet around it, and I don't get it. This game is 100 percent about the world ending. It seems like you download apps on your phone by causing superstorms that kill people. That's all I'm getting from this.
RP: I just won a participation trophy. I'm seeing now that this is very millennial-themed.
JL: Oh, you know what, this whole thing is a metaphor for millennials.
RP: That's what I just said,.
JL: They're destroying the world with their technology.
SW: I don't know how I feel about that.
RP: You're not even a millennial, Sophie.
JL: I'm right at the end of the millennial tag, but I disagree with all of the millennial attributes.
RP: Bullshit, you just disagree with all attributes.
SW: I think disagreeing just makes you more of a millennial. They all disagree.
JL: Ouch. Unfortunately I do not have an argument to that, which is not something that a millennial would say. Therefore, since I don't feel offended by your direct attack at me, I win. This [game] is actually hilarious. Since we pieced it together, it's really funny.
RP: Yeah, like you're basically destroying the world so your phone doesn't die.
CV: If you do something it doesn't want you to do, does it write a blog about it, too?
DV: This game is stupid, like a weird sci-fi movie, but a watered-down version of everything. Look at how accurate — my phone's at 20 percent. C'mon man, let's go, I'm trying to fuck up the future here and it isn't working. We're having an alien invasion but I guess we're also coming to terms with the low-battery situation.
SW: Both are terrifying.
JL: The most fun I've had since I got here was figuring out what this game means.
DV: What it means? It's an homage to our shithole generation. Done. They're putting fake phones in pinball machines. We're fucked.
Ryan and Carlos begin a game of Slugfest, a low-tech, pinball-esque baseball game
RP: This is how I imagine people who think baseball is boring think it looks like when they see it on TV.
CV: I think this is way more exciting, actually.
RP: I feel like Dwight Gooden, playing as drunk as I am.
CV: I feel like Darryl Strawberry because I'm high on coke.
RP: Well, we should be on the same team then.
CV: This is a lot more fun than a lot of video games out right now, to be honest with you. It's very simple. A lot of the video games now you'd have to press all these buttons for a switch-screwball-curve.
We hang out on the front patio before heading to the next spot
- Sophie, Carlos and Ryan take the wheel
JL: If you're not a die-hard arcade gamer, you're not having more than 30 minutes of fun in this place. Every game that's not pinball is so classic to the point where you have to walk in here and be like, "Oh shit." But if you don't know those games, it doesn't matter to you at all.
CV: I used to play arcade games, so when this shit opened up I was like, "Oh, I gotta check it out." And then I was like "Oh this is why arcades sucked back then, too." They suck coin after coin after coin so they can make as much money off of ya as possible, as opposed to console games.
RP: They do have free play during some special events and whatnot, but I think the main thing is that it's just a nostalgia fest.
CV: Even the music was old school.
RP: Area 51 was pretty fun.
DV: Oh God, yeah it was. The thing is, truth be told, if you haven't at some point in your life spent a little bit of time in an arcade, the appreciation level isn't going to be there. So you have to have gone into an arcade and remember playing games that you don't know and you just learned because you burned money through the game. So on that level it's successful. On the level that is it necessarily approachable for all levels and all people... ummm, that's maybe a B minus.
CV: This was like bringing Sophie to a museum.
SW: I've learned so much. I didn't know most of these games existed.
Third stop: Lucky's Bar & Arcade, 300 N. College St., #300
After a round of shots, Justin begins to make his way toward another punching bag game
RP: So you already swiped your card at The Blind Pig punching bag so many times that your bank temporarily shut down your account. Are you really wanting to do another punch beause you're mad that I beat you?
JL: Let's not forget that, even though it took me three tries, I beat you by 30 points eventually.
DV: Most of these games are newer, so we'll give them that. They're not as retro as the other places' games. This is definitely more suited for larger crowds, not as intimate as the other spot, but it also has a disco ball, which is cute.
CV: Already it seems like a mix between Blind Pig and Abari. It's like Abari but with some new stuff.
SW: I think it looks more fun. I feel like I could dance here. It's not as cramped.
CV: I don't feel as comfortable at this place because I feel like I might have to dance. The other places, there was no room to dance. I like that.
DV: I'm going to say right now, if you want to get down and dirty, you're going to do it here, because the music is good. I feel more comfortable that I can probably get weird in this spot because it's bigger.
CV: I more like the cramped places where I can't get weird, because then it's going to get too weird.
RP: Let the record show that Sophie just pronounced Galaga "Guh-lah-guh." And there are a lot of banker bros in here, and they're all wearing the uniform.
CV: The white-person, uptown-Charlotte banker uniform.
RP: There's a lot of them here, not that there's anything wrong with that.
CV: But they're all waiting on Jurassic Park. Everyone in this place is waiting to play Jurassic Park.
Justin and Sophie finally hop into Jurassic Park while Carlos and Ryan play Star Wars: Trilogy next to them
RP: I don't watch Star Wars so I'm not even sure who to shoot at.
CV: Usually a good strategy is to shoot the people who are shooting at you. I usually go with that. All you have to do is say, "I felt my life was threatened," and that's the only excuse you need. You say, "Ahhh, they resisted arrest," and then you just shoot. That's the way it works.
DV: It's not really specific as to what you're supposed to do.
- Carlos gets spacey
CV: This is the first game where you shoot all the white people [Storm Troopers]. That's a revolutionary thing. And now we have a Yeti in this bitch. And of course, we have to destroy the mythical creature that we've been trying to find for a millennia.
JL: We captured the T-Rex and it was fucking amazing.
DV: Jurassic Park is at least worth coming to Lucky's for.
JL: This game is the only reason you need to come to Lucky's.
DV: Yes, Jurassic Park is the shit.
SW: It was pretty awesome. I'm not going to lie.
RP: This is a modern-day arcade, so this is more up your alley than Abari.
SW: Yeah, I like it. This is where I would bring my friends to actually go out, maybe start the night. I feel like we could hang here. We couldn't hang at the last place.
After a failed attempt at Recess Charlotte, we decide to head down the street to finish the night playing Mario Kart at Hattie's
Fourth stop: Hattie's Tap & Tavern , 2918 The Plaza
CV: As long as nobody takes Luigi, you're all going down.
JL: I don't care who I got, I'm going to get second place.
CV: Are we playing Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, or what?
RP: Mario Kart 64
CV: Damn, that's the one I'm weakest at.
RP: That's the classic.
CV: No, the classic is Super Mario Kart, what the fuck! What are you, 22?
RP: No, I'm 31.
CV: I'm 38 motherfucker, and that's the classic.
RP: There's quite a generational gap going on here. What do you think, Sophie?
SW: I didn't know there was a Mario Kart before Wii.
RP: Well you're about to play the one that's as old as you, and Carlos is over here saying it's not classic.
CV: It's basically the pinball version of Mario Kart.
SW: I'm very confused. This looks old as hell. I thought it wasn't Mario Kart. I didn't think it was real. I didn't know anybody ever played it this way. But I'll do my best. Somebody teach me how to play.
CV: I thought we were going to play Super Mario Kart, which is older than this. You guys think this is old school. We should be playing on this motherfucker right here [points at Super Nintendo next to the Nintendo 64]. That's where we should be playing. But they don't have Mario Kart for that.
After a couple races...
JL: I just want to say for the record that I never thought I was going to win and I won both races.
RP: What went wrong for you out on the track, Sophie?
SW: The sheer fact that I've never played on anything before Wii.
JL: That's not a bad excuse.
SW: I'm going to use it, because it's true.
JL: Hattie's is a great place to play games.
RP: Yup, out back they have the mid-sized Jenga. It's not quite the huge one that could fall on a baby and kill it, but it's a good size for a picnic table.
SW: I thought the band was great.
RP: There's also a ton of board games that are funner to play when there isn't a band.
JL: Yes, if the band wasn't playing we'd be able to play whatever the fuuuucck we want.
From there, a few members of the team catch an Uber out to Thomas Street Tavern and then Smokey Joe's in an unsuccessful search for an open ping-pong table while the rest do the smart thing and find rides home. Another successful Boozin' on a Budget tour in the books.
Side note: Catch Carlos Valencia on Twitter at @carlos_valencia. His second album, A Temporary Solution to a PErmanent Problem, is due out in August.