Operations Are the Focus, Not Games, at Arcade/Bar Up-Down
Up-Down counts on customers drinking as they play Frogger or Pac-Man and it offers 60 tap beers.
The arcade is dead, long live the arcade!
The dizzying array of lights, beeps and boops has largely been pushed to the dark corners of bars, between terminals at airports or outright replaced by gaming consoles and Candy Crush at home.
But the desire for entertainment, nostalgia—and adult beverages—has given rise to a new generation of gaming-focused bar and restaurant concepts that bring in gobs of money for operators. Suburban Dave and Buster’s have turned the arcade into a modern neon video game mecca and report a ticket average of more than $60. The throwback Punch Bowl Social diner that features bowling, shuffleboard and other analog games brings in about $8 million at several locations—and a new St. Louis Park location in the Shops at West End is projected to do even more.
In between with a little bit of neon and a lot of nostalgia sits the newest bar at Minneapolis’ Lyndale-Lake intersection: Up-Down.
Skee ball row supplements the video and other arcade games.
The 5,000-square-foot location is an amalgamation of two former non-restaurant spaces with a small patio turned outdoor Jenga and Connect Four pavilion. Inside sits game after game that will hit anyone over 30 with a wave of arcade nostalgia. Mortal Kombat sits just up the row from the classic Frogger and dozens of other pixelated wonders straight from the arcade of yesteryear for just a quarter each. Televisions loop “American Gladiator” reruns and quintessential ‘90s cartoons like “Rocko’s Modern Life.”
For a nerdy, aging millennial, it’s a dream come true that all started with a little video game escapism for the owners, Rafe Mateer, Josh Ivey and Sam Summers, who met while working in various capacities at Mateer’s bar and music venue, the 504 Club in Des Moines.
“They bought some games for themselves because they were personally interested,” said David Hyland, an industry consultant who does marketing and PR for the company. “When you’re in the bar business sometimes it’s nice having a place to go at 3 a.m. when you’re done and not be around a bunch of other people, so they had their own collection of arcade games they could play.”
Up-Down’s pinball lineup, like the rest of its games, is rotated often.
As the story goes, the business beneath 504 Club closed, and “the landlord called and asked if they were interested,” said Hyland. “And 27 days later they opened the original location.”
The second location came to Kansas in April 2015 and the third opened in Minneapolis' Uptown at the end of June.
But despite the roots of the business, it’s not all about the games.
“Revenue wise, we’re incredibly heavy on the beer and liquor, that’s the revenue source,” said Hyland. “Everything else is supplemental.”
That means Up-Down can keep the cost to play games low at just a quarter per game. It also sells slices of pizza out of a small takeaway window, $4 for traditional, $5 for specialty, but again, that’s just to keep people around and buying drinks.
“If you have a slice of pizza, you don’t have to go elsewhere to grab dinner,” said Hyland. “It’s a marketing effort to get people in, and it keeps people around for that extra drink or two.”
Those extra perks are a big draw away from the typical bar atmosphere. Especially among groups, Hyland said that "No" vote is overcome by their unique beverage selection (60 tap beers), the video games, analog games such as skee ball, and the patio games.
“The toughest person to reach is that person in the office that hates every other bar,” said Hyland. “Restaurants and bars would be amazed to see what can be done if they could get that one person and what that opens up to, the group parties, the office party. If you can find that one person … it’s like Life Cereal, if you can find what Mikey likes, you can get the whole family.”
Pizza by the slice keeps Up-Down customers full—and onsite through dinnertime to continue buying drinks.
He said Up-Down doesn’t focus on the gaming in its ads either, which are mostly on Facebook where the brand has more than 21,000 fans. While the ads feature arcade games in the background, they’re currently aimed at committing the bar’s all-day deals to customer memory. There are no happy hours and no daypart-driving strategies.
“So many places try to fill out day parts by offering happy hour specials, we know that there’s different demos that like to come in at different parts of our days,” said Hyland, who added gamers come in early, office groups later and the service industry closes out the night. “Having something that appeals to the different audiences is a far more effective way to cover your dayparts than just specialized dayparts, because then you’re just devaluing your dayparts.”
Up-Down Minneapolis General Manager Peter Barlean agreed, adding the atmosphere of the bar is its biggest selling point, “more so than the games.
“There’s just something about the place that makes it nearly impossible not to enjoy.”
As the initial excitement and crowds die down, Up-Down will also create leagues for skee ball and a five-on-five arcade game called Killer Queen. But Hyland said it’s all about the bar and keeping operations fast and efficient regardless of the arcade backdrop.
“We want to believe that if arcade games were banned tomorrow, we’d still have a great bar,” said Hyland.