Pac-Man may seem retro to you and me, but in Fred Bobrow’s world, it’s not old at all. Pac-Man came out in 1980, and nearly all of the 40-plus vintage games in Bobrow’s new Retro Arcade Museum on Beacon’s Main Street date from 1954 to 1976. Classic pinball machines and a variety of shooting, flying, and space-themed games are lined up and just waiting to be played.
“These games were feats of engineering,” says Bobrow. “An artist needed to design original, pre-CAD artwork, and an electrical engineer needed to take the concept to reality.” While some of the machines from the early ’70s do contain early hand-wired, counting machine-style mechanical computer innards, almost all predate chip-based computer technology. The electromechanical genre, Bobrow points out with amusement, incorporated motors, switches, gears, relays, weights, springs, and “virtually anything else they could use to get the parts to move.
“There are plenty of places where you can see vintage electromechanical games, but there are only about three spots in the country with such a large collection you can actually play,” says the East Fishkill resident, who opened the museum in May. Drawn by online buzz, guests have come from across the country, and from as far as New Zealand and Japan, to experience these rarities. “We have a guest coming in from Reno this week just to play our collection,” says Bobrow.
Bobrow’s museum reflects a lifelong passion. “I went through a mid-life crisis, but couldn’t afford a Corvette,” he says. He’s been collecting for eight years, fueled by childhood memories of trips to Flushing’s Adventurer’s Inn arcade with his father. His worldwide search has netted his own favorites, Rifleman (1967) and Super Shifter (1974), as well as American Indy (1967), Helicopter Trainer (1968), Sea Devil (1970), and dozens more. While he has some machines dating from the 1940s, the oldest currently at the museum is the 1954 Drive Yourself Drivemobile by Mutoscope — an early facsimile of a modern driving simulator game like the NASCAR Racing Motion Cabinet.
Child’s play: Retro Arcade Museum owner Fred Bobrow (right) at the wheel of one his classic arcade machines (two others are shown above).
More than 40 games manufactured between 1954 and 1976 can be seen — and played — at the museum
The museum also houses display cases full of smaller table games, hundreds of hand-held games, and video consoles. The oldest is the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercial home video game. Some came with custom plastic overlays which would statically adhere to a black and white television screen to give the illusion of color.
While the colors, lights, and sounds emanating from the scores of machines are stimulating enough, the time warp is enhanced by oversized TV screens showing programs from the ’60s and ’70s, like Welcome Back Kotter and more than 36,000 era-appropriate songs in the digital jukebox. The party room in the back, dubbed “Grandma’s Kitchen,” comes complete with an old dishwasher and a 1950s Heinz warmer — a precursor to the microwave which dispenses cans of food, opened and warmed with rudimentary attachments.
Most of the museum’s clientele is within the 35-55 range; the minimum age for unsupervised entry is 18. Many of the museum’s current patrons, however, are parents with teenage children — particularly dads with their daughters.
During normal operating hours, the arcade offers “no token” free play; customers pay for admission. The facility is also available for private events.
412 Main St., Beacon
845-440-8494 or www.retroarcademuseum.com
Hours: Friday 6-10 p.m., Saturday 12-10 p.m., Sunday 12-8 p.m.
Admission: $9.95 per person, per hour. Guests under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult.