a, Out on the Town, Student Life

Montreal’s first arcade bar, North Star, opens on Boulevard Saint-Laurent

A familiar location for many McGill students—the former home to the infamous Korova—is ringing in a new era with the opening of an arcade bar called North Star. Gone are the days (or nights) of artist-themed sets at Korova—a venue where the floor is said to have literally fell through. Ironically, Mondays are now the one night of the week that North Star is not open.

Walking into the restored bar, to the right is a simplistic seating area with five wooden tables and one more intimate booth. The seating area is accentuated with a large disco ball on one side of the room, and a silent projection of scenes from old movies that somehow incorporate pinball on the other side. The place inspire a sense that you have travelled back in time to your neighbourhood arcade, which now happens to serve beer.

To the left of the entrance, the bar occupies one wall and directly across from it is an impressive lineup of vintage pinball machines maintained to have an almost new feel. Playing pinball on such well-made machines is truly a blast from the past for those who haven’t sought out places to enjoy the game since they went out of popularity, likely around the rise of home video games. 

As everything that was once in fashion has its return to the forefront, pinball is also having its comeback. This comes at a time when only one company in all of North America, Stern Pinball, still makes new machines. The ones found at North Star are therefore becoming increasingly valuable and hard to come by. 

The various pinball games, Jukebox and photo booth all operate on a coin system. Naturally, the coins sell on an enticing model of “the more you buy the more you save.” To experience all North Star had to offer, it is best to go for the big deal—purchasing 25 coins for $20. 

Twenty-five coins comes out to exactly enough for two people to play each game once (except for one machine that was being monopolized by someone taking their pinball game very seriously). With coins, patrons can also go home with a printed strip of four photo booth pictures, and engage in the hard-fought decision for a single record request on the jukebox. 

Each game requires one North Star coin to begin, and games are designed with engaging themes apt to given names such as Harlem Globetrotters, Pin-Bot, Dragon, or Black Hole. Every game allows five chances to save the ball from plummeting into a cavernous black hole of no return. 

Following from the venue’s nostalgic feel for the past, the wall behind the bar exhibits an impressive collection of vinyl records that the bartenders can choose songs from when patrons are not occupying the sound system with record selections from the jukebox. 

As fun as the entertainment is, North Star is still a bar, and one that seems to encourage a sit-down vibe between your gaming; however, the drink selection could certainly be expanded if the owners hope to encourage longer periods of play and drink purchasing from each visitor. 

Although the drink menu does offer a humourous distinction between the ‘cheap shit’ and the ‘expensive shit,’ the content remains focused on beer or wine. Apart from a few options of wine or beer under each heading, there is one price option for ‘simple mix drinks’ at $7. A must for students enjoying a night out—the pitcher—is evidently missing. One would assume that such a distinctly themed bar would parallel the drink menu with fun, themed mix drinks. Thus far, however, North Star has kept to a plain-and-simple approach to its drink options. 

The lacking drink menu was truly the only imperfect part of an evening at North Star. At every moment, as at any good arcade, interactive elements present themselves. Having visited the bar on a Wednesday, it was a quieter evening playing host to a predominantly male crowd seeming particularly well practiced in the sport. The weekend would likely welcome a rowdier, more diverse crowd. It was a refreshing break from the traditional bar experience and certainly worth heading there to work on your pinball skills or relax any day of the week.

Whether you are a self-identified pinball fanatic, or you are just looking for a novel break from the traditional Montreal club scene, North Star promises to provide an experience you are set to enjoy. But keep in mind; pinball is harder than it looks!

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