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Over the span of the last couple of years, two particular places showed up in pretty much every neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Burger joints and bars with crafted beer became such a hit in the city that owners began to innovate; happy hour and fries soaked in cheddar became the standard, but a few particular places managed to stand out among the rest by adding arcade machines and retro games into the mix.
Arcade bars began to stock up on everything from small nodes to games like Wonderboy, Super Mario Bros., or Pac-Man, covering walls with geeky posters and crafting menus around them. Even speakeasies have gotten in on the rush.
Burgertify started as a small burger joint, with just a couple of tables and a few nods to retro games. While there was a screen showcasing gameplay, it was the menu that stood out. Customers could order a Triforce in tribute to The Legend of Zelda, or a massive BFG-9000, the powerful and iconic weapon from DOOM.
Over time, as the fans of these classics and modern gamers alike started to get to know the place, it began to host tournaments, starting with games like Mortal Kombat X and Mario Kart. Burgertify began to become a hub for people to gather around with friends to play, rather than just a quick stop for dinner. And it didn't take long for the owners to notice.
Gerardo Salazar, one of the owners, says most of the customers are between 30 and 60 years old, but you can see students and teenagers during lunchtime on weekdays as well. "I envision it as a place where you can just sit down, have a burger, and enjoy retro games whether or not you had experienced them before," he adds.
Initially, he envisioned Burgertify as a light spin on Silicon Valley, with hamburgers like the Jobs with an apple chutney in reference to Apple, or the Miyamoto, which had a shiitake mushroom in between to honor Nintendo's Mario. But Salazar noticed that, when designing the menu, he would always add some detail of the 8-bit era thanks to his everlasting love for video games. The new direction was clear.
Last September, he opened up a second venue, which fully realized his vision. There are arcade machines running emulators of retro games, lining the walls on two floors and in a quieter backyard. The menu is also geek-themed.
"We don't see it as a way to make a profit out of it," Salazar says. "People can just come, order a beer or something to eat and stay for as long as they want. Some will even refuse to leave until they've finished a game, even, but we don't mind."
As people became regulars to watch and participate in tournaments. Salazar and his kitchen staff came up with a new line of "classic" hamburgers, homages to four iconic games: Contra, Wonderboy, Pac-Man, and Ice Climber.
"The hamburger has to make me go back to a memory from my childhood, which was filled with games," Salazar explains. "This era of nostalgia … it's almost cheesy to sound so romantic about it, but it takes me back to a time where things were more simple, without anything to worry about."
If you walk ten blocks from the tall and highly decorated burger joint, you'll find yourself in El Destello, an arcade bar that announces itself from afar. The facade has Star Wars murals, and the door is plastered with the iconic aliens from Mars Attacks! Step inside and you are awash in neon lighting, the result of a massive tribute to Space Invaders on the ceiling.
An E.T. figure waits for you at the counter, arcade games provide the soundtrack. This aesthetic, as co-owner Santiago Idelson tells me, is inspired by the '80s vibe that has been becoming more present nowadays with Stranger Things and Ready Player One.
But, there's also a modern touch. Along with the nostalgic look and feel of El Destello, the owners focused on seeing the bar as a place for gatherings related to the local independent video game scene, underground chiptune artists, and hosting audiovisual galleries. Recently, they invited artists to showcase their portrayal of Black Mirror's "San Junipero," which has similarities with the theme that Idelson wants to evoke in the bar.
"From the beginning, we wanted the bar to be in between both worlds: Showcasing this '80s revival, underground artists and self-managed video games, while also broadening the audience, since the doors are open to everyone and it's located on a very populated area of the city," he adds. "I think it creates an interesting artistic hub that goes beyond just having a beer."
And while both of these places are open to the eyes of the public, one in particular decided to take a different approach from the get-go. Arcade Club Social showed up one day from the shadows, the address only provided by word of mouth. The word got around real fast, thanks to social media.
The bar hosts a total of 27 arcade cabinets, including The Simpsons' beat 'em up and Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.
Their official social channels never were very active, which created a mystique. In fact, it's shut down at the moment and rumors abound about when it might open next. Whenever that happens, there will clearly be an audience.