Hotel X Retro Arcade

Playing Around at the Hotel X Retro Arcade

Recently I was looking at some pictures I took at Yonge and Dundas some 30 years ago, before it became a “square,” before half its name was dragged into disrepute, when it was home to a Lick’s burger joint, a giant jeans store and, just north of the intersection on the east side, Funland, a pinball and video arcade. Just to the north was another. Across the street from that one, yet another.

Toronto used to be home to scores of arcades. In addition to standalone spots downtown, many a suburban mall featured a Wizards Castle, often staffed by a wizard with a change belt, dispensing quarters. Union Station’s Amuse-o-Matic was one of the last holdouts, shuttering in 2011. Since then, “retro” arcades have started making a comeback, including the excellent Tilt on Queen West, and Zed80 on the Danforth.

All of which is to say that arcades, retro or otherwise, are vanishingly rare in Toronto these days, and the appearance of a new one is always cause for excitement. So it was with a certain glee that I attended the recent media preview of the Retro Arcade at Toronto’s swanky Hotel X, running now to March 19. And with a sense of mild disappointment, I left with two hours later.

It’s passable, not terrible. Just a little small, a little wobbly and a little pricy. A play-all-day pass will set you back $18.80 – that’s 75 quarters plus a nickel! – and gives you access to all the arcade has to offer.

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Arcade games

That would be a handful of pinball games and a small collection of video games including 1943 The Battle of Midway, Street Fighter, and Big Buck Hunter. There’s also foosball, air hockey, Dance Dance Revolution, Skee-ball and a quartet of Mario Kart racers, of which more in a moment.

Outside the arcade, a snack bar selling bevies and retro snacks (at modern prices) on weekends. Next door, a screening room where classic movies will be played Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The hours are good – 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, open to 11 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Also on weekends, Flashback Fridays with a DJ and retro cocktails. A most Instagrammable experience, even though Instagram kind of ruins the retro mood.

But on the preview night there were a few problems. Of five pinball games, one was out of commission. 1943 had a controller that had been through the wars by the feel of it, and a big-screen game that played Pac-Man or Galaga featured its own janky joystick. That said, two-person games like Street Fighter and Puzzle Bobble 2 were in good working order, as were the physical games such as air hockey.

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Plus, there’s something indefinable about just being in an arcade space, surrounded by all that electro-mechanical noise, backed by a little Madonna on vinyl. So let’s give Hotel X’s arcade a generous seven out of 10 quarters.

Two more things to know about the space. One, it’s a pop-up set to close March 19, reminding us that every arcade is at best an ephemeral zone. Second, Sundays feature a Mario Kart tournament, where participants can compete to win — a night at Hotel X. Which, if you’re a guest, comes with free access to the arcade. It’s an actual win-win.

And speaking of arcades, Calgary-based Greta plans to open Greta Toronto at King and Portland in the spring, featuring two floors of games. We may never return to the golden age of the arcade, but as long as someone somewhere is willing to part me from my hard-earned quarters, I’ll be happy.

Tickets to the Hotel X Retro Arcade are available at EventBrite.

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