The Lost Arcade is part documentary and part eulogy for the iconic New York video game arcade Chinatown Fair in all its messy, beloved neon glory. People would embark on pilgrimages there to play the games they loved in a community that some described as family. Battles were fought through classic fighting games like Tekken, and rivalries were born. When Chinatown Fair shuttered its doors in 2011 after nearly 30 years, it felt personal for a lot of people.
And it was personal — then-owner Sam Palmer was reluctant to sell and said that the arcade was where he belonged. Filmmakers Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin captured the emotional fallout in an intimate way in The Lost Arcade. They also showed that the arcade business is not what it used to be and — despite the sentiment some people attach to it — at the end of the day, it’s still a business.
Though arcades are still very much alive in Asia, they underwent a slow extinction in the U.S. A handful have survived, and a few new ones have sprung up but not without adapting to the times. Gone are the arcades that survived solely on spare change and the newest Street Fighter cabinet. Most modern establishments now count on revenue from more than just video games, and a few different business models have sprung up. Under new management, Chinatown Fair has now rebranded as a family fun center. Barcade marries retro arcade games with craft beer and features brewery-centric events. Even Next Level, the spiritual successor to the original Chinatown Fair, has changed with the times and now incorporates live-streaming events.
“When I first took over, when we first changed management, it was extremely difficult for the first two or three years,” says Lonnie Sobel, one of Chinatown Fair’s current owners. “It took years to change it around because word of mouth takes time.”
Sobel took over Chinatown Fair in 2012, rebranding it as a “family fun center” and catering to a…