Being a gamer isn't what it used to be.
Video games have become so personal and portable, you could play them with a nation of people and never know their real faces or names. The controls are seven buttons or more, and bloody deaths are rendered with pixel-perfect precision—which care wear a little thin, even if it doesn't gross you out entirely (don't click that link if it does).
That would explain why the sign on Broad St. in Red Bank was causing such a stir. Soon to open in what was once the Red Bank mini-mall (at the corner of Broad Street and Monmouth Avenue) is , a retro-video arcade. People were buzzing about what they might find there—would they have Space Invaders, Centipede, Pac Man, Frogger and Donkey Kong?
Ken Kalada, the owner of Yestercades, says, "Yes."
Kalada, who grew up in Lincroft, recalled his early fascination with video games.
"I had the original Nintendo system, and then the Sega Genesis came out," he said. "I wanted it so badly but my mom wasn’t having it. She would say, ‘If I get you this, does it mean I have to get you all new games, and you won’t play those other expensive games you already have?’ I said, yes, and that pretty much ended that."
Well, not quite.
Kalada said that, at age 12, his family got Internet access at home and he found several online trading posts where he could sell older games for a better rate than he could get at the storefronts like Funcoland, which did the same. This sort of wheeling and dealing kept him with a steady supply of the latest and hottest games, and also informed his future career in insurance (sales and recruiting).
In 2009, with the economic downturn in effect, Kalada was suddenly faced with a major life-challenge. He was inspired by his father, who owned a pharmacy in Sea Bright—he liked the idea of being his own boss,
"I just really wanted to do my own thing," Kalada said.
That thing was to explore that wide world of video games, and the sort of social activity that once came with them. He pined for the experience once found in arcades, or at the old roller skating rink, or the bowling alley, and wanted to bring it to others.
So Kalada's planning a grand opening in just a few weeks, and a “soft opening” soon to work out any management kinks. Wouldn’t you like to jump back into a simpler time, when you and your friends hung out, played games and didn’t have to think about anything other than having fun?
Thought so. That’s why we've selected Yestercades for this edition of Day Tripper, a weekly look at destinations that are out of town, but in reach, and worth the trip.
DAY TRIPPER DIGEST
Why it’s Worth the Trip: If your last video game experience ended badly and you long for the time when it was just pure fun, lights and sound, then you’ve been waiting for a place like Yestercades for a long time.
How to Get There from Here: Detailed driving directions.
You’ll Probably Get Hungry: For the grown-ups among us, there’s the , , and perennial favorite the for drinks. Feel like grabbing a bite? There's the , , , , and plenty of other choices. It is Red Bank, after all, so dining options about. Check out some others in the Red Bank Patch Places directory.
While You’re in the Area: You can hit some of the downtown stores like , , or any of the town’s boutique shops. There’s also movies at the and live shows at the , and you can take a leisurely stroll by the waterside in .
Kalada has more to offer than just a single era of the video game industry, even though he sees the period of the late 1970s-through-1980s as a peak time.
“We wanted to make sure we had things people would expect, but also some things they wouldn’t,” Kalada said. “For instance, we actually have a Pole Position machine here. We also have things people would have played in the '90s like Mortal Kombat (the original, which was considered pretty bloody for its day), The Simpsons Game and NBA Jam.”
Kalada recruited a friend to install a sound system and televisions. He said there will be vintage home systems available for use too.
“I wanted to bring those great old home consoles ‘out of the basement’ as it were. Remember how you would ask your parents if you could have 12 or more of your friends come over to play games, and they looked at you like you were crazy? I wanted to provide a place where you could actually do that,” he said.
Game systems ranging from the classic Atari, Intellivision and ColecoVision to systems that stayed on the fringes like TurboGrafix 16 will have a home at Yestercades—as will unmistakable superstarts of the industry like the Sony Playstation. For the pinball aficionado, 12 games will also be there waiting for players.
Downtown Red Bank has seen many businesses come and go over the years, some with alarming speed, but Yestercade has a few things going for it. The first is that it is unique not only to town, but to the region.
“We’re not stepping on anyone else’s thing here,” Kalada said. “It isn’t like a restaurant or bar going into completion with another restaurant or bar. This compliments other businesses in Red Bank so that, after dinner, or shopping at Jack’s Music, or after the movie, they can come in, play some games and unwind before their drive home.”
With little more than the sign in the window and a Facebook page for advertisement, Yestercades has already amassed wide interest.
“It’s not only the local interest either,” Kalada said. “Without really even posting anything, the response has been overwhelmingly, extremely positive. On those days when you’re in the middle of construction, and up to your neck in the red tape, it helps you past the obstacles. It’s so nice to know that people really want this.”
Editor's note: Day Tripper is a weekly column of New Jersey day trip ideas.