“I Saw the Arcade in a Dream”: Documentary Explores the Story of Chinatown Fair Arcade


The Lost Arcade documents the birth and evolution of the Chinatown Fair Arcade. Created in 1944 and run as a penny arcade on Mott Street, a Pakistani entrepreneur named Sam Palmer bought it when it was put up for sale in the early 80’s. At the time, he knew nothing about pay-to-play gaming; he was just chasing a dream he had had of a store that spit money onto the street.

Even without a gaming background, the Chinatown Fair Arcade under Palmer’s ownership and guiding hand became a strong and diverse community of ardent gamers, including people like Henry Cen, a CF regular from the age of 9 who eventually became a manager:

The fighters began flocking to CF in earnest after the Times Square arcades closed due to the prevalence of home video consoles and unsustainable rents (not as much of an issue in Chinatown, where rent remained cheap). Eventually, the arcade earned a reputation. ‘Chinatown Fair had this rumor go around that, like, the best players play at Chinatown,” Cen says. ‘But then, of course, the best players play at Chinatown because there’s no other arcade to play at. But then people would start coming down and they would start seeing it was true.’

[Via Bedford + Bowery]

It wasn’t just the high level of gaming and diversity of community that made CF an institution worthy of documenting — it also had Florence, a live, trained dancing chicken, a tic-tac-toe-playing creature famous enough to make it onto an episode of David Letterman. For that and more stories about this legendary arcade during its glory days, check out the documentary, now available for pre-order.


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