There was a time in the not-too-distant past when late-night options in Las Vegas were either bottle service and bump-and-grind at a nightclub or fast-and-furious gambling action in the casino.
Now, however, a new trend has taken the town by storm: arcades for hipsters.
Unlike traditional arcades, which feature a steady diet of video games, these new attractions mix Pac-Man, air hockey, Pop-A-Shot, and other classics with games like giant Jenga, foosball, and pool. And booze. Lots and lots of booze. Some even have beer pong with vending machines for new balls.
The latest example of this trend opened in December at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Dubbed “Level Up,” the offering, from Hakkasan Group, is by far the largest of the new approach, occupying the site of a former Rainforest Café and measuring 12,000 square feet in all.
The new joint prides itself on having more than a dozen beer pong tables, an arm-wrestling table, and the first-ever indoor laser golf course. It even offers gambling components, with the coin-operated horse-racing simulator game Sigma Derby and a mini-theater full of individual terminals that deal virtual versions of blackjack, craps, roulette, and baccarat.
Prices for these games vary from $1 or $2 per try on some of the most familiar video games to $75 for 30 minutes of laser golf (which, yes, is a thing). Beer pong is free, so long as you and your cronies are drinking, and most pitchers run between $20 and $30 apiece.
During a visit last weekend, the place was jam-packed with 20- and 30-somethings. Most dudes in the house had serious facial hair. Many were snapping pictures of themselves having fun. Some were competing so intensely that there was sweat on their faces. A bunch were gathered around “The World’s Largest Pac-Man,” cheering a buddy to victory.
Level Up certainly isn’t the only hipster arcade attraction in Sin City. Elsewhere on the Strip, game-lovers can find cornhole, shufflepuck, and similar backyard games at Beer Park in Paris Las Vegas, Beerhaus in The Park between New York-New York and Monte Carlo, and the Player’s Club in Encore Las Vegas. (Interestingly, Wynn’s own nightlife microsite refers to the Encore Player’s Club as catering to “the millennials’ version of gaming.”)
Technically, this trend toward hipster arcades started about two years ago at a downtown Las Vegas hot spot named the Gold Spike. The attraction used to be a casino but has reinvented itself as a place where older “kids” can come to play. Games here include life-size Twister and giant beer pong with garbage pails and a soccer ball. Many of the games are out on a back patio. None costs more than $20/hour.
The “Spike,” as locals call it, still is ahead of the times. Under the leadership of Bill Kennedy, who works for the Downtown Project, the hot spot recently added a number of ski-ball lanes, an authentic New York–style deli, and a Tiny House (out back) that guests can book just like they’d book a regular room upstairs.
Whatever is driving this new trend (ahem, millennials!), Las Vegas suddenly has a boatload of new nightlife options. Considering how quickly a party of eight drains a $500 bottle of Grey Goose, perhaps beer pong or Pop-A-Shot is the way to go.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.