Play Back

I t might seem brazen to name your business The Only Game in Town, but it’s pretty much true. The North Haven complex, with three mini golf courses, an outdoor go-kart track, a golf driving range and an indoor arcade, is the only place in greater New Haven where you can find all these features in the same venue.

A group of kids in matching camp T-shirts was putting their way through the 18 holes of the “Thriller” indoor glow-in-the-dark mini golf course one recent afternoon while the two outdoor courses stood idle. It was a hot day, and the indoor course has air conditioning. With black lights that make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a velvet painting, the horror-themed course showcases some seriously scary elements. A huge skull with angry red eyes spits out a red, tonguelike ramp, while a larger-than-life green monster with vicious blue teeth reaches his sharp-nailed fingers toward the players.

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Out in the warehouse-sized arcade (which, unfortunately, is not air-conditioned yet), another group of kids was wandering with cups of quarters, trying their luck at vintage games like Time Crisis and Sega’s SCUD Race. The arcade also offers Vegas-style casino games, basketball toss, a shooting range, a monster crane and a few kiddie rides.

Meanwhile, a couple of outdoor features were getting some use. Three men were concentrating on their swings at the driving range, and a couple of intrepid drivers were twisting around the go-kart track. Also outside, a nine-hole golf course for little kids features dinosaurs at nearly every stop, some of them posing surprisingly difficult barriers to sinking your ball in the hole, while The Only Game’s most challenging mini golf course, an 18-holer, winds around a little hill topped with a lighthouse and back down again.

In an age when online gaming and virtual reality coexist with nostalgic odes to yesteryear amusements like Stranger Things and local vintage adult arcade Barcade, The Only Game feels retro and, as a result, fresh in its own way. “It’s kind of like a thing of the past,” 24-year-old owner Erik Golinowski says, who started out working the go-karts as a teenager after his father purchased the complex in 2008. Following his father’s passing in 2015, Golinowski has been running the place on his own.

He remembers the days when kids used to ride their bikes over after school to play the arcade games and ride the go-karts. But entertainment is changing. The arcade games all have a beep and ping of nostalgia to them—nostalgia that may just look old-fashioned to kids. But driving a go-kart online is nothing like driving it around the track, and driving a golf ball across the screen is nothing like driving it down an outdoor range. Golinowski thinks younger teens would still enjoy The Only Game if they gave it a try. “It’s a great place to come for an inexpensive time,” he says. In the summer months, he says, several hundred people visit daily.

The Only Game in Town packs a bigger bang for the buck compared to newer entertainment complexes. Five-minute go-kart rides on the twisting outdoor track are $10, with a price per ride as low as $7 if you buy in volume. The adult price for mini golf ranges from $7 to $10 ($6 to $9 for kids), depending on the course, and the golf range will run you between $6 and $18 for balls (from 40 to 180 of them). Arcade games operate on quarters and spit out tickets that can be redeemed for prizes. The menu offers the usual suspects, including jumbo hot dogs ($3), chicken tenders ($5), French fries ($3), mozzarella sticks ($4), onion rings ($4) and fried dough ($5) plus sodas ($2) and slush puppies in a variety of flavors ($2.99). Birthday party packages start at $20 per person and include mini golf, $5 worth of arcade games, pizza and soda.

Since taking over the business, Golinowski has been incrementally upgrading The Only Game with new fencing, a revamped mini golf course, go-kart track repairs and new go-karts as well as heat to keep the indoor arcade and mini golf open year round. Next year, plans call for new sidewalks and new greens on the mini golf courses.

Golinowski is thinking as well about winter ice skating or some other new feature. Big ideas “come and go,” he says, and even in this old-time venue, it’s his job to keep coming up with the next new retro thing. Whatever that is, it won’t involve sitting at home in front of your TV or computer screen.

The Only Game in Town
275 Valley Service Rd, North Haven (map)
August: Mon-Thurs noon-10pm, Fri-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-8pm
September & October: Mon-Thurs noon-7pm, Fri-Sat noon-8pm, Sun noon-6pm (go-karts Fri 3-8pm & Sat-Sun)
(203) 239-4653

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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