A Visit To Musee Mecanique in San Francisco

Musee Mecanique from entrance

I’ve been hearing about this place since forever but I never got around to checking it out until recently … I guess owing to it being down in the midst of Fisherman’s Wharf, an area I never have any reason to go to and actively prefer to avoid. I figured a weekday in November (the start of the tourist off-season here in SF) wouldn’t be too bad if I went down early enough, and I was right – even though it was a clear and temperate day there was hardly anyone milling about the Wharf before noon and this place had only a handful of people inside.

It’s definitely more “museum” than “arcade” as the name might indicate, but just about everything is in working order, and retrofitted to take quarters (even in the case of the penny and nickel machines.) Most machines are a quarter a pop to check out, with the exception of a few of the more elaborate arcade cabinets, like the sit-down San Francisco Rush.

Not limited to games, there’s a lot of mechanical novelties and curiosity pieces, which was basically what an arcade consisted of before video games … if you’ve seen the “penny arcade” at Disneyworld, or a similar one anywhere else, it’s a lot of those sorts of machines.

Not long after you enter you find … Strong Bad waiting to give you a fighting and a challenge? This actually works and is playable, but I passed on it due to working out recently and still being all sore in the arms and shoulders … well OK I was scurred. The pic of Strong Bad doing the Back Brain Kick on the cabinet is intimidating, and the way Andre the Giant seems to be caressing his head at crotch level is just disturbing.

The arcade machines are mostly clustered together in the back corner, though a few like Moon Patrol and Pole Position are on their own up near the front. This pic shows about half the total games present, as you can see there’s not a huge collection. There is some good stuff here, though. One thing I should say is that they keep these things really well-tuned … almost TOO well-tuned, with hair-trigger controls on a lot of machines. If you’re used to abused and neglected arcade machines of days gone by it’s a little surprising and takes some adjusting at first.

Death Race baby! Not exactly the most fun game to play but certainly an important piece of gaming history. And that cabinet just looks metal, srsly. I’d never seen this one IRL before.

Now HERE’S the showpiece for me. Star Wars is one of those games that MAME and home console ports just can’t do proper justice to regardless of how advanced they get. You need the unique cabinet and X-Wing control device, and the booming sound coming from the cabinet (also maintained to perfection.) Took me right back to 1986.

As pointless as this seems to be, I bet it’s one of the top money-makers at this place, just for the “WTF does this do” factor. It managed to get a quarter from me on that basis.

There’s a whole bunch of these “love testers” here … there’s even an Addams Family one where a lightbulb in Uncle Festers mouth lights up if a person or a couple generates enough static electricity or something. Anyway, this one is great, look closely at the “violent” rating –

Takes you right back to a more innocent age, huh?

A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one … apparently drunkards dream about dragons battling it out in their basements? Who knew.

What? Have I found … Sexual Wizard?

Yep, it’s for reals working, playable Pong … or at least a reasonable facsimile

This is awesome, it looks like something out of an RPG, and then there’s apparently an infrared motion sensor in it somewhere or something, so if you stand in front of it then move away, he yells “STICK YOUR HAND IN MY MOOOUF!”

The Wharf is really the ideal place for this … the smell of the sea air makes you feel like you’re back in the early 1900s as a sailor on shore leave or something, being tempted to blow your cash on mechanical novelties and amusements. I can’t imagine this place operates at a profit, though. It takes up a pretty huge space right in Grand Tourist Central, the rent has to be outrageous … the family of a private collector who passed away in recent years owns and maintains this, I’m guessing they are independently wealthy and do it as a labor of love.

Anyway, thanks for a fun morning Musee Mechanique, it was totally worth the walk … I’ll be back at some point to at least play some more Star Wars … just not during the summer 🙂

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