Our journey into the heart of Pasadena hit us hard with the nostalgia hammer where we explored the Neon Retro Arcade.
If anything can be said about this place, Neon Retro is indeed an arcade. It’s not a bar. It’s not lounge. It’s not an urban fusion hipster joint meant to be ironic for millennials who pretend to know what Joust is, but really don’t.
Neon Retro is an Arcade. Period. It never tries to be anything more or less than a single story, one room building crammed full of classic cabinets, and a handful of pinball machines.
There’s also a couch in the back sitting in front of a pair of huge flat screens for some console gaming. That’s it. Despite it’s simplicity, a great deal of this place’s charm is tied to the location.
If you brave the ubiquitous traffic on a Saturday night headed for Neon Retro, prepare to do some light time-traveling. If you’re not already a part of it, you’ll notice a retro feel long before you even enter the arcade: having found yourself surrounded by the early 1920’s neo-art-deco buildings. It’s a part of the city that has recaptured that fictional golden age Americana vibe. As you walk over towards 28 South Raymond from any of the nearby parking garages, your mindset should already be well in tune with the past.
Neon Retro’s facade appears like any other store front window. Only the bright neon title suggests that the contents within are of a different era than any of the other shop on the street.
Then you enter.
80’s music is pumping through the air. Familiar theme songs play; Street Fighter II to your left, The Simpsons in front of you, Tetris somewhere in the distance. Before frolicking through the rows of cabinets with all your past favorites, you’ll need to line up for your sticker. What sticker you ask? After only a ten dollar entry fee, the employee will slap (or kindly hand you) a name tag with a time stamp.
For the next hour, you’ll be playing all the games you want for free. FREE.
Again, it doesn’t get much more simple than that. There’s games, games, and more games. After an hour, you can either go home or wait in line to buy more time. Be forewarned that if it’s a busy night, there can be a line. The few times this field report checked in on the property however, there wasn’t, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
One of the special touches that this place has can actually be found on its website: the High Score chart. It’s an invitation not just to return to the property, but to consider yourself part of the Neon Retro community: “Here’s my score, come to my place and try to best me.” It draws you in, and invites others to come down to see what you’re made of. OR, you can simply use it to brag about how you’re hot shit. Either way, there’s an overwhelming sense that the management who cares for this arcade, cares about the community they’ve cultivated around gaming.
The space is clean, there’s a restroom on sight, and the front desk has snacks. This place is definitely rated ‘E’ for everyone so bring the kids. If you really forgot to feed yourself, or need a drink, there are more than enough local pubs and coffee shops in the area to satisfy.
If there was any real criticism about the place, it could be argued that it is on the small side. It doesn’t boast the spacious rooms of Eighty Two, or the sheer quantity of games jammed into the hallway of the One Up. However, with a rotating selection of arcade cabinets, and a guarantee of an hour worth of FREE games, this place sits in the Goldilocks Zone of Arcades in the greater LA area.
It’s not too big, nor too small, Neon Retro is just right.