Bar games: New Kung Fu Saloon spurs existential crisis in Uptown
There’s something vaguely Neverland-ish about the new Kung Fu Saloon in Uptown. The Austin import opened August 31 on Routh Street with a simple idea: put arcade games in a bar. And, for the most part, it works.
But it’s also disconcerting. Maybe it’s just me. It’s probably just me.
Unlike the usual bar layout, which pits the bar against the wall, Kung Fu’s giant, oval bar is smack in the middle of the room. Bartenders race around as patrons swarm from all sides. The back wall is lined with old-school arcade games and a four-man skeeball set-up. On the other side of the bar sit a handful of tables that are really refurbished Pac-Man and Galaga cabinets.
The layout encourages movement, which is good because classic arcade games are designed to eat quarters, and quarters can add up to dollars, and dollars can be spent on drinks.
Classic arcade games are designed to eat quarters, and quarters can add up to dollars, and dollars can be spent on drinks.
But about that Neverland part. Perhaps Kung Fu Saloon is better described as Pleasure Island. Either way, it’s almost philosophical — the idea that you can get drunk while beating the crap out of your friend in a game that you first played when you were 4 years old.
Some of the borderline schmaltz that I witnessed — and experienced — perplexes me when I think back on it. “Oh, hell yeah! Double Dragon!” I might have said that about a game that came out two years before I was born. I don’t even remember playing Double Dragon as a kid; it’s quite possible I never did. This nostalgia for the late ’80s and early to mid-’90s currently ails my generation.
And that is why I’m not sold on Kung Fu Saloon, despite its being a serviceable bar that offers an array of alcohol, including several specialty sake bombs. Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the giant Jenga on the patio, which attracted a spirited crowd when I was there with some friends. The bar wasn’t packed, but there was always a line for that Jenga, so my friends and I didn’t get a chance to play one of our favorite college games.
Regardless, I’m stuck on this idea that bars like Kung Fu and Barcadia only serve to turn its patrons into the braying donkeys of Pleasure Island or the Lost Boys who refuse to grow up. I can deal with going out to a bar and reminiscing about childhood, and I’m fine with playing a spirited round of NFL Blitz with my college buddies at an apartment. But the idea of combining the two as some sort of…Double Dragon seems like regression.
Maybe someone whose been out of college longer can better separate the realms of childhood and adulthood, but for me the two are at odds. I mean, am I supposed to feel like I’m 5 again, or should I feel like a gainfully employed grownup unwinding at a bar? Can the two coexist? Am I just bitter that Kung Fu doesn’t have the Simpsons arcade game? Possibly.
It may sound like I didn’t enjoy my time at Kung Fu, which isn’t fair. Bartenders were quick and kind, and the atmosphere felt like an artsy friend’s loft, with exposed brick walls and piping. It’s worth noting that we went on a “free play” night, and several of my friends were quick to mention they would never go to Kung Fu when they had to pay for games.
Ultimately this bar will succeed for the same reason Michael Bay made three Transformers movies and is currently bringing another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flick to theaters. Millennials are nostalgic for their childhood, without pausing to think if what they remember is good or important.
Did I overthink it? Probably. The truth is I will go back at Kung Fu Saloon, because I’m better at giant Jenga than my friends, and I have to prove it.