After a week of alternating rumors and denials from staff, New York City's last and best arcade has snuck up on us-- just when we thought it was safe-- and closed. If you've ever visited CF, click on that link and take a good look at that picture. It's heartbreaking.
We used to complain about Chinatown Fair: it was seedy and filthy, it stank (though as DDR has finally started to die out, the smell had... improved? Still plenty of guys who don't bathe, and the DDR/anime con kid crowd is always present to loiter, even though they don't play anything anymore), and it was our only option. But hey, it was our only option. We would have liked a place with decent lighting, the financial resources of the Japanese arcades, and maybe an air freshener or two, but this was what we had and we stuck with it to the end.
If we're to believe the staff, this was over fights with the landlord. I assume that this was always going on: the most memorable was when CF had a huge "for-sale" banner placed over the sign out front for months, against the business' will. For years straight, I really doubt that CF was at all financially viable.
After all, there was a very long stretch of this decade during which the arcade fighting game-- which had glutted arcades everywhere in the 90s and were really the only new arcade games being made anymore, another terrible decision of the arcade era-- was effectively a dead genre. Capcom Japan had effectively given up on Street Fighter as of 2001's Capcom vs. SNK 2 (the rights to the franchise have actually belonged to Capcom USA for years now), SNK was stepping slowly towards the grave with yearly King of Fighters updates. The 3D games continued to be released, but they had smaller followings: Virtua Fighter was kept in the place (didn't stay long, mind) solely by the efforts of my friends, for example.
This was around the same time I was getting to the arcade for the first time at all, as a teen about ten years ago. I had loved fighting games since I was a little guy, but it was really CF that introduced me to the idea of actually thinking about the game and legitimately trying to win. The first time I played Street Fighter III: Third Strike (still kind of recent) there, I flailed around and got laughed at by some dude. I went home, I did my research-- which usually entailed searching around the internet for hints as posted on fighting game forums-- and I practiced. I came back and I kicked their asses. For the first time, I got better.
After that, there was no going back. When I worked in the area, I'd go buy $1 dumplings and spend my lunch hour training on Third Strike and King of Fighters 98. Eventually I'd get caught up with the Virtua Fighter crew, and probably put more time into VF4 than any other videogame I've ever played. It's nostalgic and a little sad to think about it. Despite the fact that I still play plenty of games, I will probably never return to the point in my life when I was still willing to passionately throw so much of my time into some videogame. When I went to CF in the last couple of years, I still felt like I was visiting a part of my life that had already ended.
I admit that it's been an entirely meaningless pursuit that's earned me little to nothing in life (kind of like all the writing I do), but somehow it's been incredibly rewarding anyway. I met a lot of people via CF and via fighting games that I still keep in touch with. People say that the consoles have made the whole idea of the arcade obsolete, but they only do this if you leave out the element of human contact (and the issue of online lag, which hampers Marvel 3 quite a bit). Meeting a total stranger face-to-face over some game is a potentially wonderful experience that you're not going to ever have in your home, online.
(Well, even if he won't stop talking to you, clings to you, and tries to tail you out of the building, like the last time I was at CF.)
My fondest memories, by contrast, are of the times I made guys slam the panel of the arcade machine in frustration and storm screaming out of the building. The best thing anybody ever said about me was, jeered from behind as I played, "You have to play stupid to beat this fuckin' guy!" One time a guy I didn't even know held a lifelong vendetta against me over Arcana Heart. Ah, memories. Rage quitters online don't give you the same satisfaction.
I tried to be there the first time I heard the place was closing, but all we heard that day was "It's a rumor." After hearing that, I assumed the rumors were true... and now they are. The word is that the location will move "to Williamsburg", but without concrete when-and-where details I'm going to have to hold my excitement. Plus, you know how long it takes me to get out there? Man. It's a bummer, alright.