Hit the Reset: The Games are Back On at Happy Valley Arcade Bar in Beacon | Bars | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Hit the Reset: The Games are Back On at Happy Valley Arcade Bar in Beacon 

Last Updated: 05/06/2021 3:13 pm
click to enlarge DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre

Johnny Coughlin and Alyssa Follansbee were living in Chicago when Emporium Arcade Bar opened in their neighborhood. “That was the first time we’d ever been exposed to an arcade bar, and we just thought it was a great pairing of alcohol and games,” Follansbee says. “We loved the business model.” When they moved to New York City, they kept drinking and playing, seeking out arcade bars. And then, in 2018, when they moved upstate to Beacon to start a family, it dawned on them that the “barcade” concept would slot nicely into their new town. “We wanted to make it for multiple generations,” Follansbee says, “Rather than just young people chasing the nostalgia of their childhood, we wanted it to be a place where families with kids could come too. The town has a bunch of different kinds of people.”


So the public school teacher and the cinematographer started real estate hunting. “To be completely honest, when we were looking in spring 2019, it was just kind of a dream,” Coughlin says. “Then, the more and more we looked at spaces and the more we looked at the finances, we thought, ‘Let’s see if we can do this.’”

click to enlarge Johnny Coughlin and Alyssa Follansbee - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Johnny Coughlin and Alyssa Follansbee

They found their spot at 296 Main Street and set about designing the bright, happy space of their dreams. “We didn’t want to be Chuck E Cheese and we didn’t want to be a dark bar,” Coughlin says. “We wanted it to be something different, something for everyone.” Former art teacher Follansbee took the lead on the design. “The atmosphere was really important to me,” she says. “That led to me doing a lot of things myself. I couldn’t find the furniture I wanted, so I learned how to build it. I did murals on all the walls, colorful bathrooms, a colorful painted patio. I learned how particular I was.”


After a COVID delay, the Happy Valley Arcade Bar opened in early August 2020 with the intention of bringing the best of '80s and early '90s arcade gaming back to Beacon: NBA Jam and Ms. Pac-Man, a Salt-n-Pepa-themed vending machine with the words "Push It Real Good" painted on the dispensary flap, and enough Day-Glo graphics on the walls to make you feel as if you've stepped inside your favorite Trapper Keeper.


But for the past few months, the vibe has been less Fast Times at Ridgemont High and more River's Edge. Just a week after opening, at 1pm on a Friday, Coughlin and Follansbee got a call from the SLA saying the arcade games would have to be unplugged because of the pandemic. They had gotten the greenlight from city and county officials and had gone above and beyond with pandemic precautions, so the call was a huge and unexpected let down.


"It was a bummer," says Follansbee. "Everyone who walked in would ask us, 'Are the games broken?' Having to explain, 'No, they're shut off, and you have to buy a food item' just killed the positive energy." And so the Happy Valley Arcade Bar had to operate without its arcade. And consequently, without its happy.

click to enlarge happy_valley_arcade_bar.png

Still, a bar is a bar. And a bar blessed with an ample outdoor courtyard, not to mention a kid-friendly menu, still had much to offer the pandemic-weary families of Beacon who wanted someplace cheery to sit outside so that the kids could eat tater tots ($2/$7) and pizza (it’s $12 for a 10-inch margherita pie) while the parents enjoyed cocktails. Happy Valley is not angling for a Michelin star; the limited food menu is focused around low-brow fried favorites like jalapeño poppers, chicken nuggets, and curly fries to fuel the next round of gaming.


The cocktails don punny names like The Bloody Mario, Sex on the Koopa Troopa Beach, and The Gin Blossom, but despite playful appelation, the craft cocktail program is serious. It was developed over the course of several weeks with the help of an old high school friend who manages bars in the city. “We really wanted to have fun names and bright cocktails without being too sweet or too kitschy,” Coughlin says. “We wanted to use finer, fresher ingredients. That’s the whole vibe of the place—very bright and colorful without being too cheesy.” They also have wine, sake, and more than a dozen beers on tap, mostly local. And you can always order a can of PBR for $4, because, duh.


The biergarten, right on Main Street, is a rare commodity in Beacon. “The courtyard has really been a godsend,” Coughlin says. “That wasn't a must-have for us when we were looking. We loved the idea, but we didn't realize how crucial it would end up being—it ended up saving us. It’s definitely a magical little space.” All throughout winter, the community bundled-up and made the trek to support the fledgling Happy Valley, sitting in the patio beneath the heat lamps, come hell or high snow drifts. “People made a point to come and support us, even though there was not a lot going on,” Follansbee says. “It was really uplifting—emotionally and financially.”

Then, at the end of March, Happy Valley got a 1-UP. The state told them they could plug the games back in. "It's been so nice to hear the games on and hear people groan and cheer," says Coughlin. "It's like something from the Before Times. We haven't been this busy since we opened, so it’s a lot of kicking things into high gear but it feels really good.”


The arcade bar has everything from Mortal Kombat II (‘93) to Donkey Kong (‘81), Frogger (‘81), Missile Command (‘80), and a dozen others, all in their original dedicated cabinets. Games are 25¢ a pop, like the good ol’ days, except for pinball, which is 50¢. It’s not a huge money maker—most of the revenue goes right back into repairs—but they’re OK with that. “We like the idea that you can come in with a handful of quarters and play for an hour,” says Coughlin, who’s looking forward to the days when Happy Valley can host video game tournaments.

click to enlarge DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre

“I would say the silver lining of COVID for our business was how, even when the games couldn’t be on, people loved to be in our space with Alyssa’s murals. That was a revelation—in a great way,” he says, to which Follansbee adds, “It all kind of felt like a big dress rehearsal.”


If COVID was a big bad Boss in the high-stakes game of Business, then Follansbee and Coughlin seem to have beaten it out and leveled up. Happy Valley is open 12pm-12am Monday through Saturday and 12-11pm on Sunday.


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