I mostly just wanted to raise awareness about a new place that opened in Des Moines to anyone in the Midwest community, and also brag about how awesome this place is….although, I’m sure anyone on coastal areas has twelve of these within walking distance, but whatever. So Des Moines just had a barcade open up downtown, and I took the time to visit, and wanted to give my impressions.
All photos courtesy of: http://www.eatplaylovedesmoines.com/2013/10/up-down-vintage-barcade.html. They clearly went during 'daytime' mode, as it was much darker when I was there. And louder. And drunker.
First of all, their outside is trendy and hipster as all get out: you can take a stairway down, marked with their materials, but there are only 3 metal doors with no markings that you are entering an establishment as opposed to a place where a seedy man will sell and/or harvest organs. You can tell just by the doors you are about to walk into a club, as music thumps quite loudly. I walked to the street entrance, which is the same deal, but without doors (just openings to the bar).
As mentioned before, the first thing I noticed was the music - its loud. It isn’t like an arcade should sound. They were blasting music, rotating through contemporary club music, and self aware mid 80’s to early 90’s music. It is rare that you can hear the cabinet you are playing on through the music, but few games are ones that you shouldn’t have heard to bleeps and bloops of so far. Continuing with the bar side of things, they have a fairly large central bar island. Probably around 30 seats in total around the bar, with booths to the side, all of which are build on table based cabinets. Awesome! They have a pretty wide selection of beers, but they offer less mainstream stuff on tap. During my stay, I had a Fat Tire, Stone IPA, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, and a Sam Adams Octoberfest, all from draft. They had a few others on draft, and some more standard things in bottle (Heiniken, Stella, etc). They also had hard liquors, and the staff seemed pretty knowledgeable on drinks that the people were requesting. Overall, as a bar, this place ranks fairly high on my list for selection. Only downside? 15 dollar minimum for tabs. I didn’t want to stay that long, but I could manage somehow.
Next, I suppose I should talk about the actual fun part: the games. On one side of the floor, there are non arcade games. This includes a Jenga tower using blocks that are probably an inch or so thick and maybe 8 inches long….a larger set, for sure. There was also Connect 4 with chips the size of a rather small personal pizza. Pretty cool stuff. They had a projected set up, connected to an N64 which was playing Mario Kart at all points throughout the night on that side as well. On the other side of the wall was set of 3 skee ball machines, all occupied. This area was full of business men wearing ties and drinking beers. It was odd.
Rotating around the room, there are more classic cabinets lining the entire wall. Note that every single game listed here is 1 quarter per play. No slugs or tokens! Quarters! There were Asteroids, Ghosts and Goblins, Tron, Burger Time, Dig Dug, Gunsmoke, Ms Pac Man, Donkey Kong Jr, Galaga, Punch out, and several others. I managed to set the high score on Ms Pac Man on my first run, alternating between clearing boards and sipping beers. Every single cabinet has a spacer between them that has a beer shelf - a wonderful idea. Also in this room were two of the high profile token takers: The Simpsons arcade cabinet and the TMNT cabinet. In the second room, there is also the 6 player XMen cabinet, the beast that uses 2 screens. I have to say, the highlight of my experience were these cooperative machines. I started to play the TMNT game by myself, and after I had cleared a level, 3 strangers all bought in and played through 4 levels with me before expending their massive 75 cent investment. I paid attention to the Simpsons cabinet and saw 1 guy playing it, and I joined right in. Turns out he had stopped in from Philadelphia for a while, and decided to come down. People are generally friendly in the midwest, and in my brief time there, I felt a lot of that in the air as people played together. It was….well, it was an arcade!
In the next room over were the fighting game cabinets: Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter 2, Marvel Vs Capcom, Virtua Fighter, and the XMen cabinet.. Next to all of these were 6 pinball machines, including an XFiles, South Park, and Austin Powers machine. On the back wall of this room were House of the Dead, Crusin USA, and Guantlet (among a few others that I know I am forgetting). In the corner sat an SNES with Mario All Stars in. As the night went on, I saw levels 4 and 5 gets cleared out by a rotation of strangers (and myself, naturally). The final cabinet that I noticed, and had to laugh at, was the Aerosmith shooter. Just...why?
All of the machines worked great, and I never had any problems with them. Granted, this is their first week to open, and I hear drunks and machinery go together very well, but I have really high hopes that it will stick around for a while. It is odd because I don’t think I really like it for either role that it tries to be: as a bar, it doesn’t feel right to just sit down and get drinks. As an arcade, you can’t hear your game, and most of the games are bad at suckinga way money. I don’t think I would go out there regularly, but if I had a group of friends and a flimsy excuse, I would be more than willing to make the trip. One of the best parts? Because it is a bar first, there are no children running around! I wholeheartedly recommend stopping to this place if you get the chance.
There were a few realizations that I had while there. SNES controller? Much smaller than I remembered. They are incredibly comfortable, but man alive, I could have sworn they were twice as big. I beat Ghouls and Goblins on the Gameboy Advance, but those skills have aged incredibly poorly, and I couldn’t even make it past the first demon. Marvel Vs Capcom, despite being my jam years back, has also become much harder to play than I remember. The frame right on Street Fighter 2 is just plain abysmal. Simpsons arcade game is more fun than it has any right to be.
Mentioned below, Zombie burger is just down the street, and it amaaaazing
I want to end this impression with the other things that are in the area. Updown is in the East Village area of Des Moines, which has some trendy spots. One is called Zombie Burger, and it serves insane hamburgers. One burger has grilled cheese sandwiches for the buns, another has fried macaroni and cheese. The chefs aren’t afraid to try something new, and the bar is insanely good. There is also Miyabi 9, one of the towns best sushi restaurants, pretty much just across the street. You can also find a Lebanese cafe, a bar that has live bands and free open mic comedy shows, and a blood center. If you want to venture another mile or so west, there is Court Avenue, Des Moines line of bars. You can pretty much find whatever you want as far as a bar in that area (hipster dive, club, German bar, English pubs, brewery), along with another one of the cities finest food spots, Fong’s Pizza. They have Chinese pizza and tiki drinks. Chinese pizza includes things like crab rangoon pizza and kung pao chicken, along with honey alfredo, corn and bacon pizza, and other such weird combinations. Basically, I really like Des Moines as a city. There are lots of interesting and trendy restaurants, nice people, a large downtown, but without the issues of a ‘big city’...and the new barcade adds some more charm to it. I encourage you to come and visit the city if you get a chance!