Making Friends the Old-Fashioned Way at Up-Down Minneapolis

Mast True

A mural glowing in purple with Prince and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage at Up Down Minneapolis.

I couldn’t tell if I was stabbing Shredder or not. His pixellized figure was shaking, splitting into clones, turning strange colors and … wait, did he just turn me into a baby? Wht’th’fck?!

We were at Up-Down, the shiny new arcade/craft beer bar/pizza oven in LynLake. It was Joe Giambruno, a buddy of his, and myself against 2, 3, 4 Shredders and it was not going great. I was getting hungry, too, and I needed a beer. I couldn’t turn away from my fellow turtles, though. I was desperate in so many directions. The whole thing felt forlorn.

I died one last time (SHELL SHOCK!) and stepped away sheepishly. Sorry guys. I’m going for pizza. Raphael would have wanted it this way.

That’s when it happened.

Can I step in?”

I turned around and was faced by a total stranger. I just stared at him blankly, briefly, like he was a bus about to explode me. I don’t even remember what he looked like. I looked back at the increasingly dire situation on-screen, then again back at him.

I stepped aside and said, “Sure.”

He set his beer next to his joystick at Raphael’s control station, slid in a coin, and went to work. When I returned with my pizza, Shredder was toast.

It was a pleasantly unexpected moment, especially for those of us who grew up with the first Nintendo and still game today. Up-Down seems to capture something we’ve abandoned in our modern world of cell phones and usernames, and I don’t just mean the machinery.

The fact they’ve got 60 craft beers on tap and serve a decent slice just adds to an already mondo evening of gaming.

Gaming tokens go for 25 cents at Up Down in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Basics: This is the third Up-Down in the U.S., following locations in Des Moines and Kansas City. Here’s the website for the Minneapolis location.

Up-Down is loaded with old-school arcade games, Skee-Ball, and a giant screen on which patrons were playing Mario Kart. Outside, human-sized Jenga towers swayed precariously, and coaster-sized red and black dots were plunked into giant Connect Four boards. It’s a lot to take in; do you play Killer Instinct, or Mortal Kombat 4? The answer to that, of course, is always Mortal Kombat II. But anyway.

I want to go back to that Ninja Turles moment. When was the last time you had a genuine, positive interaction with a stranger while gaming? If you play League of Legends, Madden, Call of Duty, etc., you know what I mean. Forget your opponents: in my World of Warcraft days, I had alternate characters I played secretly on occasion to avoid in-game friends.

Gaming has became synonymous with suffering the lowest common denominator, and the rubbish they spew freely under the veil of a screen name. At Up-Down, it was different. There were people, and they were pretty nice folks. The stranger assist we got at Turtles wasn’t an oddity; I saw that happening all over. People just wanna slam a joystick around and mash buttons, y’know?

It was reinforced by the servers. As I stared blankly at … it might have even been a TV, a woman in a beanie cap offered to bring me a beer list. Marissa was her name.

She brought the bar to me, and much more. When my phone died, she tried finding a plugin for my charger; when I barely undershot on the credit card minimum, she gave me a pass.

It wasn’t just Marissa, either: staffers constantly checked in as they passed us or as I passed the bar. They were all proactive, not reactive, and that’s key when you’ve got blinking lights and digi-noise turning your attention every which way. When you’re just getting started, you want your customers to have faith in your staff. Up-Down’s did that.

Marissa kept us with full beers and full phone batteries at Up Down.

Marissa, the real MVP

It’s craft beer? It must be expensive. It’s Lyn-Lake? It must be expensive.

Nope!

Each play is one token (far as I understand; I’m mostly if not completely right). Each token is 25 cents. That means, if you’re like me and you buy $5 in tokens, you’ve got enough to keep everyone busy for nearly an hour … and have five tokens left to spill down the side of your car’s center console.

The pizza slices go up from $4, and craft beers go up from $5 per pint (Hi, Schell’s Hefe!), which goes favorably against almost every other bar in the area.

I loved it. Like video games themselves, though, I could see the possibility of burnout for customers who can’t exercise moderation here. Editor’s note: On the other hand, I doubt people are coming here to conquer every arcade game.

Up-Down gives you more than just old-school video games. They give you the entire old-school experience, but it’s modernized properly and put together in a way that should have you finding or trying something new every time you come back for a long time.

STILL GOT TIME? Dana and I tried virtual reality a couple of months back, and here’s a beer that pairs well with an Angry Bird. Clean-up edits were made to this piece shortly after publication.

A Metallica pinball game display at Up Down Minneapolis.