Little more than two years ago, a small group of gaming enthusiasts came together to give Amsterdam something it had been lacking for years – an actual, bonafide amusement arcade. With a lot of planning, investment and a little bit of crowdfunding on the side, they created TonTonClub, a 250sqm big Barcade in the heart of the dutch capital. The response was astonishing, and little over one year after their opening date, they announced plans for a new and bigger location in the Amsterdam Westerpark. Finally, TonTonClub Westergasfabriek opened its doors on the first November weekend. Needless to say, we immediately headed over to find out if their slogan “C’est Bon chez TonTon” holds up.
Just like its older (but smaller) brother, TonTonClub Westergasfabriek is a genuine Barcade, meaning it’s an arcade with an adjacent bar for drinks and snacks (or the other way around, depending on your priorities). Either way, the idea behind it is to appeal to casual visitors more by offering them more to do than just play arcade games – an idea that TonTonClub takes and goes completely insane with, as their location in the Westerpark not only offers the usual drinks and snacks, but also traditional Japanese food, American-style lunch, and a wide selection of Milkshakes and other cool things. Add to that a wide range of imported games from Asia, and you get something that’s very rarely seen in Europe – a gaming center focused primarly on Japanese games and culture.
The way TonTonClub realizes this symbiosis of arcade and bar is very interesting, as it’s facilitated by the fact that the Westergasfabriek is, well, a “fabriek”, i.e. a factory (or rather a collection of many old factory buildings). The entirety of the bottom floor is reserved for the bar/restaurant section (save for one room, which we’ll come to later), while the first floor, reachable by a steep metal staircase, is basically little less than one of those metal platforms you commonly see in production facilities, stacked to the brim with arcade machines. It’s really a quite good arrangement, as it neatly separates the gamers and restaurant-goers while also keeping noise levels from the arcade section to a minimum. The original location in central Amsterdam doesn’t have this luxury of a two-storey separation, so things can get quite noisy in there when you’re not playing games. But then again, why would you go to a Barcade if you didn’t want to play?
If the two locations of the TonTonClub were brought together in one building, it would easily qualify as the biggest arcade in the entirety of the BeNeLux states. While the TonTonClub in Amsterdam City houses most of the smaller, non-imported cabinets (like Metal Slug, Virtua Tennis, etc.), Westergasfabriek has a selection of over 15 machines, most of which are either novelty cabinets or have been imported straight from Asia. For us rhythm gamers, there’s a very well-maintained pop’n music 18, as well as an older DDR Supernova downstairs, but the other Japanese imports (THE Bishi Bashi, Table Flip, and Mario Kart GP 2) are definitely worth checking out as well. There’s also a few generic cabinets running classics like Raiden III, Street Fighter 4 and Bomberman, as well as a few pinball machines in the corner.
Let’s come back to the DDR for a bit though. Even though it’s just a Supernova and would definitely benefit from an upgrade to X or even X3, TonTonClub Westergasfabriek offers what is perhaps the most amazing setup I’ve ever seen for a dance machine.
You know how people always complain that DDR is too loud? And how DDR players always complain about kids dancing on the pads next to them while they’re playing doubles? Well, TonTonClub’s got you covered, with what’s probably the coolest possible solution to these problems: Just give the DDR machine its own room! That’s right – there’s an entire room dedicated to nothing but playing DDR and watching other people play. It’s literally the perfect solution. Whether you just want to have a quick game or come here with your friends to fight over highscores, you’re gonna have an entire room all for yourself, and nobody’s gonna get mad at you for stomping around and ruining their romantic dinner (even if they’re sitting right next to you, thanks to the magic of soundproof glass). You can even rent the room for a certain period of time and pay less than you would using individual credits! It’s really a quite unique solution, but it shouldn’t stay that way – at least concerning audio quality, this is probably the best available machine in the Netherlands. Which is not to say that it’s badly maintained (I didn’t notice a single pad miss during my 3 credits).
The other stuff
I’ve already talked a bit about the other major selling point of TonTonClub Westergasfabriek – that is, the bar/restaurant aspect. While it’s done really well and has an amazing choice of Japanese snacks and food, the downside of it all is that many menu items are only available at certain times. For example, the chicken teriyaki is only available from 5PM onwards, even though it makes for a great snack for inbetween gaming sessions. Other snacks are available a bit earlier (from 4PM), but if you visit Westergasfabriek any earlier than that, be warned that your choice will be limited to only 14 menu items, many of which are overpriced (like pork ramen for 13€) or slightly… experimental, to say the least (like the ramen burgers for 7-11€). Therefore, you’ll get the most out of TonTonClub Westergasfabriek if you visit in the late afternoon or early evening. Be advised though that it tends to get very busy from around 6PM, so you might have to wait a few turns for your credit on most machines.
Both the TonTonClub in central Amsterdam and the one in the Westerpark show that the concept of the modern Barcade can work, even in 21st century Europe. It’s very encouraging to see new places like these take off and do well, especially in the context of building an environment for rhythm game players in Europe. With the opening of its new location in the Westerpark, TonTonClub has entered the rows of the big players, standing alongside ArcadeStreet Paris and VEGA London. All of them are, to varying degrees, community-run arcades that help preserve and foster the rhythm gaming community around them, and they are very well aware of that fact. In fact, many of the staff members at TonTonClub are arcade gamers themselves and genuinely care about preserving both the games and the culture – and what better way to do that than with an active, thriving business?
TonTonClub is one of the places that has found the answer to the question of how arcade gaming can work even in the 21st century. And they’re already planning their next step – a giant factory hall, converted into an arcade. The once-per-year event is scheduled to take place just east of the Westergasfabriek, during the second and third weekends of March. They promise more than 200 machines, all on freeplay, for 50€ a night. If that’s the amount of games they still have in stock, they could open another 10 locations around the Netherlands and still have machines left over – let’s hope we’ll see more of that in the following years!