Chinatown Fair Arcade Reopens with Family-Friendly Vibe

By Julie Shapiro on May 7, 2012 7:11pm 

Matthew Bermudez said he likes the variety of games at the new Chinatown Fair arcade.
Matthew Bermudez said he likes the variety of games at the new Chinatown Fair arcade.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

CHINATOWN — When the Chinatown Fair arcade shuttered in February 2011, it was dark and gritty, packed with shoot-'em-up games and a late-night crowd.

The new Chinatown Fair, which opened its doors on Mott Street for the first time last Friday, has candy-colored floors, two air-hockey tables and a wall of prizes players can purchase with the tickets they win.

"The old one was basically a place for fighting games," said Lonnie Sobel, the Jersey City amusements entrepreneur who revived the legendary arcade. "Now it's more of a family place."

Sobel, 60, a Jersey City resident, isn't entirely turning his back on Chinatown Fair's past. Refurbished versions of the popular old games will return soon — including "Street Fighter III: Third Strike" and "Marvel vs. Capcom 2" — but they will stand alongside new games like basketball and Skee ball.

Sobel hopes to draw both the arcade's former clientele and an entirely new, younger group of customers, along with their parents.

Players now use rechargeable swipe cards, rather than tokens or quarters, to play the games. Many dispense tickets as a reward, rather than just the glory of beating your friends. Players can redeem the tickets for prizes that will soon include an iPad, TVs and bikes.

One game that many of the old regulars miss is the live chicken that played tic-tac-toe.

"A hundred people must have asked about it," Sobel said Monday afternoon. "I'm trying to get one."

The chicken that once challenged Chinatown Fair's customers to games of tic-tac-toe has died, and Sobel needs to invest in a $25,000 computerized machine — which works with the chicken to pick the moves — to re-launch the popular attraction.  A visiting chicken will likely make a temporary appearance within the next month, Sobel said.

Missing chicken aside, the new arcade is winning positive reviews from the gamers who have visited so far.

Matthew Bermudez, 16, who lives near the arcade, said he was thrilled to see it reopen. He says he's been stopping by almost every day.

"Back then it was a lot more crowded," Bermudez said of Chinatown Fair's original incarnation. "Now it's better — there's a lot more space."

Bermudez said he likes the variety of games now, and all he misses of the old arcade was the staff.

Patrice Laud, 22, a Bronx resident, stumbled upon Chinatown Fair Monday afternoon and quickly won the 1,000 tickets needed to get a large Magic 8-Ball.

"The games are good," Laud said. "You don't see a place like this nowadays."

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