Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Look Inside Des Moines's Retro Arcade


I am not a huge fan of arcade games, but I love arcades! The atmosphere of being surrounded by people having fun, hearing the sounds of old electromechanical gizmos, it's just a delight. My favorite place in Pittsburgh is an arcade - it's the place I got married. Needless to say, it was the hardest thing to say goodbye too when we had to move to Iowa last year. Luckily, we had Up Down to keep us entertained.


Up Down is a chain of arcade bars with locations throughout the midwest. I generally avoid these kinds of establishments since they tend to just have a few pinball machines and maybe a broken Donkey Kong shoved in the corner of an otherwise normal bar full of loud, drunk people. I like Victory Pointe because it's inclusive - that means all-ages - and because gaming is at the core of its mission.


Luckily for us, Up Down was more than just a bar with arcade machines. Retrogaming culture is literally plastered all over the walls. Across its two floors there are over 40 arcade games from the 80s and 90s including Ms. Pac-Man, Dr. Mario, Joust, The Simpsons, not to mention plenty of pinball.

There were also some popular favorites including the 6-player X-Men, the ultra-rare Ninja Baseball Batman, Fix-it-Felix Jr., a four-player Pac-Man, and even a giant Hungry Hungry Hippos. There's even six lanes of skee-ball - no tickets or prizes though.


If classic games aren't your style, there's also an N64 set up with a massive projector and a rotating selection of multiplayer games. There's also a giant Jenga game!

The atmosphere really sold this place for me. Decor on the walls feature all kinds of retro artwork featuring video game characters as well as other pop culture icons and imagery from the 80s and 90s. Dozens of TV screens played old cartoons like Transformers and He-Man, as well as old movies like Rambo and the Terminator. They were even playing old Hulk Hogan matches.


The bar side of Up Down is pretty solid. In addition to having over twenty craft beers on tap, there's also a selection of retro-inspired cocktails. If you're looking for something to eat, Up Down also serves pizza, which tastes excellent.

All games run on tokens and are set to 1 token per game. Tokens run the usual 4 for a dollar with machines on each floor, but you can also buy some at the register and get discounts. There are different daily specials too - they just handed us a bunch of quarters when we first walked in!


It was nice to be able to enjoy classic games and even though it was technically a bar I didn't really mind that. I felt like most people were there to play games and not get drunk. The few times we went, no one was visibly/annoyingly hammered and no one was even sitting at the bar if they weren't eating.
Everyone was playing games and having fun. And that's what I love about arcades. Compared to Pittsburgh, there's not a lot to do in Des Moines, but Up Down was a fun surprise. In addition to Des Moines, they also have locations in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Nashville. So if there's one near you, check it out!

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