The Velvet Revolution, Tiananmen Square protests, the World Wide Web, the Exxon Valdez, Voyager 2 reaching Neptune, and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game by Konami. The one thousand, nine hundred and eighty ninth year of the common era was positively heaving with momentous events, but only one served as the inspiration behind Sydney’s first arcade bar, 1989.
Before 1989’s inception, owner Ben Campbell was working in film and TV in London. While on a trip to the US, Ben heard about a little place called Barcade, a venue run by three mates who installed a bar in a warehouse and filled it with arcade cabinets. While this seems like an obvious combination now, 15 years ago it was a revelation.
Looking for a change from editing shows such as Peppa Pig, Ben was eager to combine his own longstanding loves of beer and arcade games in a bar of his very own. While he couldn’t quite make it happen in London, before moving to Sydney Ben made a pact with his wife: if Sydney didn’t have an arcade bar, he was going to build one.
Sydney didn’t. Ben moved there. Now it does.
Choosing Newtown for its vibe, Ben set about converting a former vegetarian butcher into the bar he’d want to drink at. Easier said than done, right? When it first opened in 2016, owing to difficulties in sorting a liquor license and getting development approvals 1989 started out as a café before evolving into a day/night café/bar hybrid, then finally settling into the haven you’ll find today.
On the ground floor is the main bar with all the neon signage, posters and kitsch you’d expect from a locals’ dive bar; out the back is a small sort of Japanese alleyway packed to the gills with games; and upstairs is a more laid-back, moody, 70s lounge type affair complete with a rug that really ties the room together.
It might sound weird, but despite the name and preponderance of arcade cabinets throughout the two-story venue, 1989 is first and foremost a craft beer bar. The bar’s six taps offer a constant rotation of predominantly independent local brews along with a permanent Reschs tap (it is Newtown, after all) and a fridge full of tinnies.
Ben has a real soft spot for local brewers of no fixed abode, so you’ll almost always find beers from Reckless, Little Alchemist and fittingly, Pixel. Of the other local offerings, it’s a cavalcade of inner west mainstays like Grifter, Wayward, Young Henrys, Akasha, Willie the Boatman, Batch, Yulli’s and Philter, among others from slightly further afield. There are also six specialty-themed cocktails, should the punters want something a bit special. The kitchen may have been removed to make way for more games, but the staff will happily whip you up a couple of jaffles too.
With a beer in hand, there’s no hiding the fact that 1989 is a shrine to arcade gaming. Ben has obtained and lovingly restored a range of original and absolutely iconic cabs. First and foremost is the 4 player TNMT original that Ben brought with him from the UK, plus Galaga, Ms Pacman, Mario Bros, Time Crisis 2, Frogger, Point Blank 2, The Simpsons, Metal Slug 2, NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat 2 and Street Fighter2: Champion Edition, to name just a few.
If drinking an ice-cold schooner in between pummelling Mr Burns’ henchmen with a vacuum cleaner or destroying the Chicago Bulls with an on-fire Shawn Kemp tomahawk doesn’t hold any allure for you, you’ve clearly lost all concept of joy and should probably reassess the life decisions you’ve made that have led to this point. At the very least, if arcade games aren’t really your jam, there’s a few classic pinball machines, consoles, and board games available too.
It’s through 1989’s absolutely chock-a-block schedule of events that the beer and games combo really comes into its own, however. Ever wished you could taste beer with the person who brewed it and then, immediately afterwards, get tips on playing Metal Slug 2 from the game’s world record holder?
Once a month the venue hosts Coin-Hop, an opportunity for a local brewery to host a tasting of four beers with a Q&A session, followed by a masterclass and mini tournament on a particular cabinet; merch and beers are always up for grabs and free play is activated on all the other games for the duration.
Add in the weekday happy hours, fortnightly pop culture and gaming trivia nights, weekly standup comedy, a retro video game market and The VHS Fleapit cult VHS trash movie screening nights, and it’s clear ’89 is running more fun and quirky events than you could poke a joystick at.
But for all that, at its core 1989 is a bar run by a team of people who want everyone to feel welcome. Whether it’s a few friends having a low-key drink and a chat, parents introducing their kids to the games of their own childhood, a cutthroat Super Mario Kart grand prix or a Time Crisis date night, Ben has created a space devoted to nothing other than allowing people to have a good time. Oh, and saving April O’Neil from Shredder, of course.