The arcade games will always be the main focus for the owners of the retro bar arcade Free Play Arlington.
The bar comes second.
After collecting a vast amount of arcade games such as “Pac-Man,” “Discs of Tron,” “Donkey Kong” and “King & Balloon,” which started to fill four warehouses, co-owners Corey Hyden and Richard Tregilgas decided to create a place where they would want to hang out that “captures the true ’80s feel.”
“It’s for people who want to come and relive the glories of the ’80s or someone in their early 20s or late teens who want to experience it for the very first time,” said Hyden, who serves as company president.
About a year and a half after opening their first location, Free Play Richardson, they brought more than 90 arcade games, 130 craft beer and pinball to a new location in downtown Arlington near UTA. Many Arlington customers had traveled to the Richardson arcade.
“We like to pull people to us and become a destination,” said Tregilgas, who serves as chief operating officer. “We want to bring more of the Tarrant County business to this area, which is so up-and-coming and awesome.”
Arcades died around the early 2000s once home consoles, such as the Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube, started to surpass the technology in arcades, said 36-year-old Matt Johnson of Arlington.
Johnson, who has gone to Free Play Arlington at least once a week since it opened, said the business flips the switch for the time machine in his brain.
“To me, it is an amusement park to my childhood,” Johnson said.
Although Free Play has the games, a bar and food, the community is what makes it really shine, Johnson said. The social and community aspect was lost after home consoles and online gaming started taking over.
Johnson participated in one of Free Play ’s Tuesday Night Fights where he finished in third place in “Tekken Tag.” He was surprised to see his performance and other customers high scores posted on their social media.
“It gives the everyman the chance to do something great amongst their peers,” Johnson said.
With Arlington lagging a little behind when it comes to bar arcades — with Dallas having Cidercade and Barcadia and Fort Worth also having a Barcadia — Hyden said the difference between their retro arcade and others is Free Play has better games in better condition with the highest arcade uptime in the country.
To make sure their games work perfectly for customers, Free Play began its soft opening April 26 with the grand opening coming in about three or four weeks because the games are being put through hours of play they have not experienced for some time.
“When we are open, if you see an out-of-order sign, you know there are at least three employees scrambling to fix it,” Hyden said.
Their desire to take good care of their games and the nostalgia are some of the reasons Michael King, 45, traveled to Free Play Arlington from Euless.
The other reason is pinball.
Hyden said the reason many arcades do not have pinball is because they are six times harder to maintain than arcade games. King, who has three pinball machines, said Free Play has one of the largest pinball collections in the area.
Although Hyden — who can tell you the history of just about every game in the arcade — and Tregilgas — who has the high score in “King & Balloon” and “Ice Cold Beer” — have found success with their retro bar arcades, they have one regret.
“The only thing we regret about opening Free Play is we will never be able to experience and enjoy the games the same way as the customers,” Tregilgas said.
Arcades in the Metroplex
Where: 1730 E. Belt Line Road, Richardson, TX 75081
Where: 811 Central Expressway South, Plano, TX 75075
Cost: $9.99 gives you access to more than 50 games set on free play; $29.99 for a one-month pass; additional $5 to enter tournaments.
Where: 2777 Irving Blvd. Dallas, TX 75207
Where: 1238 Belt Line Road Suite 300, Garland TX 75040
Cost: $3.50 admission and the games take nickels
Where: 4530 Keller Hicks Road, Keller, TX 76244
Cost: Free to enter the snack bar and Token Zone, where you pay to play ticket-redemption games; $13.50 to enter the Free Zone.
Where in Fort Worth: 816 Matisse Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76107
Where in Dallas: 1917 N. Henderson, Dallas, TX 75206
Cost: Free; games 25 cents per play; on Tuesday, most of the games are set on free play.
Rafael Sears: 817-390-7657, @searsrafael