Yesterday, famed video game arcade Chinatown Fair reopened after shuttering last year due to a rent dispute. But lovers of old school CF, beware, because the times and token machines have changed. While the Chinatown Fair of yore was known for its extensive collection of fighting games—and, famously, a live chicken skilled at tic-tac-toe— the new CF is stocked with more family-friendly gadgetry. Like skee-ball, hoop basketball, Guitar Hero and air hockey. And while slaying your opponent at Street Fighter II at the old Chinatown Fair mostly rewarded you with a reputation as a badass, the new CF's game machines dispense tickets that can be redeemed for stuffed Scooby Doo dolls and string bracelets at the cash register.
"We're kind of a cross between a Dave & Busters and a Chuck E. Cheese," Lonnie Sobel, the arcade's new owner, said of the changes. "We're trying to do the best of both worlds." (In the hour we were at the arcade, approximately zero people were stabbed, so the comparison to Chuck E. Cheese is still up for debate). As for former loyal patrons, "it's going to take a lot of acceptance of change," Devon Harris, the assistant manager, said. "When you say Chinatown Fair, CF, people immediately think, 'Oh, fighting games.' CF was where all the best New York, East Coast fighting gamers came. Now, it's more directed towards families."
When the arcade opened briefly yesterday, it was flooded with gamers and fans who used to frequent the old CF. Some flocked to the Dance Dance Revolution and Terminator fighting games (seriously, it was the most intense DDR gaming we've seen), but a number of them seemed thrown by CF's new style. One wailed, "they changed it!" when he walked inside. Filmmaker Kurt Vincent, whose upcoming documentary Arcade focuses on the closing and reopening of Chinatown Fair as well as on the changing nature of New York arcades over time, spoke with a few old CF enthusiasts who were milling outside after stopping in briefly to check out the changes. "They say they're just happy it exists," he told us.
Fans might be thrown by the changed arcade, but Sobel promises it won't be all Fruit Ninja and Hoop Fever forever. He purchased two flat screen televisions for virtual street fighting fans, and XBox games like Call of Duty can be rented for a small fee. In addition, a few favorites from the old Chinatown Fair are in the process of being restored, and Sobel says they'll be back on the arcade floor soon, along with new games he expects to purchase over time. "The bottom line is, there's just no really great fighting games out, so that's why we don't have any" he said. "But we want to have more fighting games, too, and we will get more fighting games. If it's a hot game, we'll get it."