Here’s who showed up at the may 9 gala opening party of Bar Code, Times Square’s new 24-hour arcade-nightclub: Britney Spears, Mark Ronson, and Carson Daly. Here’s who showed up on a recent, drizzly Friday night: a bloodthirsty prom date, three MTA track workers just off the graveyard shift, and – purely to see who plays midnight pinball in the Playstation era – me. Ten hours and $165 worth of Tekken Tag and Crazy Taxi later, this is what I had seen.
11:55 P.M.: Passing under the bright-blue neon bar-code sign, I ride the escalator up to the second floor. The bouncer stops me, saying, “No sneakers.” Sure enough, a sign reads dress code enforced. The South Park pinball machine requires loafers? “Sorry,” he says. I flash my press I.D.
1:30 A.M.: Bar Code has two floors – a “Galactic Circus” for the under-21 set and a bar decorated in a style that might be best described as “high IPO.” Amid the banquettes and blue-neon-rimmed pool tables, a veritable Benetton ad of New Yorkers take aim at aliens and nod their heads to “No Scrubs,” barely audible over video-game gunshots and a D.J. shouting along with the chorus. “All right,” he yells, “I’ll give a $10 game card to the first woman who takes her bra off.”
1:32 A.M.: “Okay, I’ll give you two $10 cards.”
1:33 A.M.: “All right, you can take off your bra or show me your thong.”
2:25 A.M.: Inside the sit-down Lost World: Jurassic Park game, a tough chick with a nose ring blasts away at “Female T-Rex,” shrieking, “Die! Bitch! Die!”
3:15 A.M.: Under the black curtains at the sides of the House of the Dead 2 pod, two pairs of entwined legs are grinding against each other. Flanked by two plastic guns and two Heinekens, a woman straddles her date, licking his neck as corpses explode in gruesome constellations of green pus and red blood on the screen behind them.
3:25 A.M.: Six teenage couples in tuxedos and satin dresses run into Galactic Circus, fresh from the St. Joseph High School prom. “It was either here or a diner,” one of them laments. “We don’t have fake I.D.’s.”
3:35 A.M.: Like a debutante in Class of Nuke ‘Em High, a sequined senior blasts away at terrorists on Time Crisis. When the screen flashes CONTINUE?, she screams at her date, “Gimme two more dollars!”
4:25 A.M.: In the bar’s men’s bathroom, three guys dressed in FUBU and Avirex are smoking a joint. “Yo,” one boasts, “I got bitches that make 2G a night.”
5:10 A.M.: Another hour, another couple: Is House of the Dead 2 the Chevy backseat of the new century?
5:30 A.M.: A man standing by a pool table tells me, “I can’t talk wit’ you – I’m supposed to be at work.”
6:10 A.M.: A guy who says he’s a judo fighter taps me on the shoulder and hands me a flyer for “Assault & Battery,” an “underground combat league” event. “It’s like a human cockfight,” he explains. “No rules.” He tells me he prefers Pac-Man to violent video games.
6:30 A.M.: Three MTA workers wearing work boots with Kevlar toe guards come in after a shift maintaining the tracks on the 1 and 9 lines. That makes four customers, including me.
7:50 A.M.: One of the MTA guys wins eight straight games of air hockey, destroying both of his friends and me. Watching him smack that puck is like admiring a condor in flight.
8:05 A.M.: Five on-duty staff members race one another in Rush 2049.
8:45 A.M.: The MTA guys and I pay $5 each and pile into Morphis, an eight-seat virtual-reality roller coaster that looks like a seventies concept car. As we spin through an intergalactic loop-de-loop, one of them looks down at the Martian floor projected below us and observes, “Man, I’d hate to have to work on those tracks.”