Nostalgia Lounge Arcade Bar in Mentor is home to vintage video games. (Mark Koestern – For The News-Herald)
I remember fondly the Christmas morning when I got my Atari 2600 console. Back then, video games were a cool new thing. As a child of the 1980s, arcade games such as “Pac-Man” and “Donkey Kong” at skating rinks and bowling alleys also were part of my youth. When I think back, there’s really no other word to use other than “nostalgia.”
That, if for no other reason, makes Nostalgia Lounge Arcade Bar perhaps the most aptly named establishment in Lake County.
Housed in the former Safecrackers spot in Mentor, Nostalgia is the brainchild of Ashtabula County native John McEndree, whose first venture as an owner follows more than a decade-and-a-half of restaurant experience at a variety of places. The concept is straightforward if not common: a neighborhood bar where you can play old stand-up arcade games, home-console games and even board games in a laid-back environment suited for actual kids and grown-up kids-at-heart alike.
I never visited the defunct 16-Bit bar in Lakewood (now part of a joint venture in Ohio City), but I’d imagine the experience was similar. Located in the end spot of a shopping strip, Nostalgia is a smallish, no-frills bar that old-school gamers probably love — sort of a smaller, non-stylized version of other places that feature video games. It has concrete floors, high ceilings and a fairly large bar that wraps around a good portion of one side.
There’s a VIP room, which you can rent for $20 per hour and have your way on a home console while indulging in group food packages that include wristbands to play all the games outside the VIP area.
The rest of the place is full of older games. During a week when Mom was out of town, my sons and I visited. It was a week that started with seeing “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” — it’s a massive hit, but I would not recommend it — so it seemed particularly fitting.
The games are all set to free play. For those 21 and over, wristbands that allow unlimited gaming are $5, and they’re $10 for those under 21. We went on a Thursday, which is wing night, and bone-in wings were 70 cents each. Without kids, an adult could get a bunch of wings and choose from a limited selection of craft beers at $6.75 per pint (domestics $5; bottles and cans $4 or $4.50) and have a pretty inexpensive night of throwback gaming.
Food-wise, it’s a tight menu of fried bar-food basics — stuff you can pick at in between games, which makes sense. And it’s priced accordingly.
We went with fries ($2.99), onion rings ($3.99), pretzel bites with cheese sauce ($5.99), and wings, both boneless and traditional, which are normally $12.99 for eight but were $5.60 because of the special. Not a bad savings.
Unlike some places, the wing-sauce offerings are pretty narrow: Buffalo, barbecue, garlic-parmesan and mango-habanero. The Buffalo was really mild (excessively so?), and while I didn’t mind the garlic-parm sauce, I would have liked a stronger profile of either garlic or parm.
My bone-in wings were less crispy than I’d prefer, but they were the right size — meaty enough without coming across as obnoxious. My teen’s boneless wings came across as almost underdone. He didn’t complain, but I think each version could have used a minute or so more in the fryer.
Perhaps surprisingly, then, the onion rings and fries were perfectly cooked. The rings themselves were above-average by neighborhood-bar standards, and the horseradish-based sauce that accompanied them was actually outstanding.
The fresh-cut, fair-style fries were also great and a true value considering what subpar fries at fast-food joints cost these days. Yeah, my 8-year-old basically had fries for dinner, which is going to happen when the boys are home alone for a week and busy with video games, but at least they were good fries.
The pretzel bites were good for that sort of appetizer, the cheese sauce much better than you’d get at, say, a sporting event or movie theater. Not great, but solid.
And let’s be honest: This place isn’t about the food. It’s about kids fighting over who’s better at skee-ball or pop-a-shot for a couple of hours rather than the usual nonsense they fight about. It’s about a teen whose gaming computer and PS5 put a parent’s childhood tech to shame and make him say things like, “Dad, do you remember ‘Pong’?”
It was about beating the little one in “NBA Jam” with the late-’80s-era Knicks’ Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing (geez, who’s handling the ball here?) versus the Cavs’ Mark Price and Brad Daugherty. And it was about them playing on an original “Donkey Kong” machine and my explaining that was how their beloved Mario first became famous.
Like many bar-and-grill places these days, the busy bartender is also your server. It can have its ups and downs during peak times, but our food came out quickly and was hot out of the fryer. I appreciate a friendly and helpful server, especially when the kids are in tow, and it was certainly the case on our visit.
It does not escape me that the former spot, Safecrackers, was likely so named because it took over the location of a former bank, a nod to the past. Now, Nostalgia Lounge Arcade Bar continues the tradition.
Nostalgia Lounge Arcade Bar
8484 Mentor Ave.
Location: On the south side of Mentor Avenue, just east of Center Street.
Type of restaurant: Arcade bar.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; noon to 1 a.m. Saturday; noon to 11 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday.
Liquor and wine: Full bar.
Facilities for the handicapped: Yes.
Credit cards: All major.
Cuisine: Bar and grill appetizers.
Vegetarian: A few options.
Special diets: Ask about dietary preferences.
Outdoor dining: No.
Dress code: Casual.
Online ordering: No.
Prices: Inexpensive — appetizers mostly $4 to $8; wings $11 to $24; gaming wristbands are $10 for under 21, $5 for 21-and-over.
Value: Very good.
Ratings (of five):