What a great thread! I've enjoyed reading through everyone's recollections. I have a lot of great memories of ye olden dayes, so I might do multiple posts.
One of the first arcade games I remember seeing and playing was the original Monaco GP. It was a sit-down cabinet and it was in a small room in a hotel that I went to with my parents. I was probably about 6 years old and it was 1980, so the machine wasn't new at that point, but it was amazing to me. I remember being stymied by that ambulance that comes up from behind. Of course my game was over in no time, but as a car-loving kid I had a blast and I was hooked on video games already. I don't remember any other games being in that room. Maybe it was next to an ice machine or something.
Soon after that, my big brother came home one day raving about playing Asteroids on the 2600 at his friend's house. And I think in relatively short order following that, I went to my first real arcade and he showed me the coin-op Asteroids. This was in Nashville. There were several arcades we went to regularly, but the one we went to most often was in the Hillwood shopping plaza a few storefronts down from the Winn-Dixie grocery store. So while our Mom was shopping for groceries, sometimes she'd give us a couple of quarters or maybe even a whole dollar and we'd run over to the arcade. This arcade didn't have much in the way of interior design. They just rolled out some thin carpet that was dotted with cigarette burns, kept the lights dim and the music loud. There were huge plate glass windows in the front like every other store in this strip mall, but they were heavily tinted. It was two big rooms, and I'd guess there were about 30-40 games in there. They had cushioned metal stools to sit on and there were a few narrow tables with ash trays in between some of the cabinets. In my early days I really enjoyed Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, Joust, Frogger, Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Jungle Hunt, Space Invaders, Galaxian and Galaga. The tech advanced so fast back then and it was always a thrill to see what new machines showed up. I remember being blown away by Turbo one day, and then soon after that my brother came running to get me at the grocery store, saying there was an amazing new racing game called Pole Position that I had to come see immediately. One particular memory I have of this arcade has to do with that carpet that I mentioned before. Around this time, my brother and I frequently zapped each other with static electricity... first accidentally, as it just seemed to build up particularly in the Winter time; later on purpose as we discovered we could build up a charge by vigorously rubbing our shoes on carpet. Well, one day I noticed that the Berzerk machine had metal coin slots and I wondered if I could possibly get a free game by zapping it with a static charge. So I scuffed my shoes back and forth on the carpet for a minute, zapped the coin slot, and was amazed to find that it actually worked! It didn't work every time, but it did work occasionally. I reckon I wasn't the only kid who figured out this trick, because it wasn't long after that that Berzerk had new plastic coin slots like every other game in the arcade. Most of the time we went there in the middle of the day, so it was usually not very crowded and we almost never had to wait to play any games. But with little or no money, and not being particularly good at any games, I really spent most of my time just watching the attract modes. This arcade lasted a long time and I remember seeing wave after wave of new games coming in. Some of the ones I remember in particular... Satan's Hollow; Sub-Roc 3D set up next to Punch-Out!!; the deluxe sit down Star Wars cabinet; Dragon's Lair and later Space Ace, and some other laser disc airplane game with sprites displayed over live action backgrounds; Zaxxon; Popeye. I also remember that after a while they changed the coin machines so instead of four quarters for a dollar, they dispensed four tokens, then five, then six. One time my Mom got mad at me because she sent me down there with a dollar and expected me to change it and bring 50 cents back; but the machine dispensed tokens and the attendant refused to change the tokens back to quarters. They must have been hurting for cash by then.
Another arcade we went to regularly was on the ground level of 100 Oaks Mall, tucked in the back behind the escalators. Another dark, atmospheric place, cleaner than the Hillwood plaza arcade, not quite as big but still probably had about 20-30 games. This one was cool because they kept some older games for quite a while even as they brought in newer ones. It was here that I first played Stunt Cycle. I remember being interested in the technical evolution of these games and thought it was interesting that this older game had decals applied to the screen to represent the tunnels that the motorcycle went through.* There was also one of the black-and-white Atari football games; later on it was positioned next to Cyberball. Other games I saw for the first time and/or played there - DigDug; Shinobi; Rolling Thunder; and Double Dragon, which I beat with the help of my friend and a ton of quarters to continue (by this time I was about 13 and had a little bit more spending money). I was also getting really tall and I remember starting to get wrist pain while I was playing Shinobi - my first lesson in ergonomics!
Those were the two main arcades I frequented. My brother told me about another arcade that was somewhere along West End Ave., but it was 18 & over or maybe 21 & over as it had a bar in it. I thought it was unfair that I couldn't get in there to play the games, and of course by the time I was old enough, it was long gone. There were other arcades I knew about in Hickory Hollow Mall and Rivergate Mall, but it was almost impossible to convince my parents to drive me that far (about 20-30 min. drives) other than a couple of times a year. Those were by far the most crowded arcades I ever got to visit. So the other places I found games were in pizza parlors and in the lobbies of grocery stores and department stores. I found a Quartet cabinet in the lobby of a K-Mart. I was blown away seeing Out Run for the first time in the back of a pizza parlor - I distinctly remember taking the first left turn and then approaching the stone column tunnels and having a total startle/adrenaline rush reaction. It seemed like some of the bigger Sega cabinets would often show up in these random places.
*One other cool Stunt Cycle memory. Some 25 years later I was in my mid-30s and went to the Northwest Pinball and Arcade show. (This is like being in an arcade in heaven.) I was waiting for a turn to play Stunt Cycle while an older guy in his 50s or 60s was playing it, and we were chatting about what a cool game it is. Then it was my turn to play, and as I was playing, a kid who was probably about 10 years old came up and asked me what my high score was in the game and told me what his high score was. It was just a simple little moment but it was so cool that we were these three people of a wide spectrum of ages, all digging this classic game.