It terrifies me to imagine that the 90s, the first decade I lived throughout the entirety of, are now considered nostalgic. I do not feel old. I am in fact incredibly handsome, and make tens of thousands of dollars a month laundering money through a free magazine scam that I came up with. I suppose it is time for all of us to treat the 90s with the reverence that any bygone era deserves, which we can do merrily at Ox Cart Arcade & Rooftop in St. Paul.
Arcades are becoming harder and harder to come by, so it is good to see a place that keeps so many classics in full working order. They have got Pac-Man, the radically different Ms. Pac-Man, and Big Buck Hunter, which is the most fun you can have without actually terrorizing ungulates across the country. They’ve even got that great old Jurassic Park game where you pretend to sit in a jeep and fire mounted machine guns at extinct animals. That one always scared the OshKosh B’gosh overalls off of me when I was little, so it was good to come back to it as a slightly more mature adult.
Nothing will ever beat the tactility of an old-fashioned pinball machine, though. Ox Cart has Deadpool and Star Wars machines, things that kids these days would recognize, but some of the themes selected for pinball machines are truly baffling. Were people actually banging on doors and demanding pinball themed after The Munsters? How do you even turn The Sopranos into a pinball game? What, do you have to shoot balls at an image of Big Pussy Bonpensiero to punish him for being a rat, or at Christopher to smother him to death? Don’t read that last sentence if you don’t want the show spoiled for you.
I played Golden Tee, only to discover I still have the problem of getting too into my drives and smashing my fingertips before I can roll the little trackball. It is the sort of problem that calls for strong drink. When it comes to their libations, Ox Cart doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind you of a time when Rug Rats ruled the airwaves. They’ve got the Jaws, complete with a gummy shark that is oozing grenadine blood because Roy Scheider just exploded an oxygen tank in its mouth. They’ve got That Purple Stuff and Wu Tang, both odes to the 90s’ most fortifying fake juices. They’ve even got the mystery shot, where you get whatever the bartender feels like pouring you along with a Capri Sun. Not being able to pick which booze you get to drink? That sounds exactly like childhood to me.
Ox Cart’s menu is no less true to an era. There you’ll find pizza poppers, a tribute to Pizza Rolls, the only frozen pizza product that was good enough to knock Bagel Bites out of the king’s seat once upon a time. Their sloppy joes brought me right back to Wednesdays at elementary school, and they make a heck of a homemade version of the Pop Tart. They even have Minnesota sushi, not so much for nostalgia’s sake but to make the Japanese jealous that they never combined corned beef, cream cheese, and dill pickles in their own national dish. After I’d eaten all of this stuff I paid my bill, smartly affixed to an old VHS tape, and visited the men’s room labeled “Zack” after the preppy from Saved by the Bell.
Ox Cart’s rooftop bar itself is modeled more after Miami Vice than anything that would remind you of the 90s. I wished I’d worn my white suit and Bren Ten so I could have fit in better. Up there you can play shuffleboard, just like they did all the time on Miami Vice, and look down at Meers Park and CHS Field. It’s a good place to relax and reflect on what’s going to hit the nostalgia sweet spot 30 years from now. Will we see bars popping that pay homage to Game of Thrones, Spongebob Squarepants, and Ariana Grande? Why not, I’d pay to drink something named “The Snookie.” Until then we’ve got Ox Cart, which is all we need for now.
By David Scheller