Up-Down barcade is a nostalgic utopia10/16/2013
Kurt Cobain was a social blessing bestowed upon teens across America in the 1990s. The Seattle grunge-rock movement gave kids permission to be… well, grungy. I have a special gratitude. Finally the ratty T-shirt, torn jeans and cotton flannel hand-me-downs I’d been wearing my entire life were now “in style” and perfectly within my single mother’s budget. Thank you, grunge rock, for granting the misfits of middle school the opportunity to finally feel “cool.”
What teased mullets and leopard-print spandex are to the 1980s, grunge is to the ’90s, defining the decade. Stoner rock from the dark minds of heroine junkies — whose fans would soon come to both outgrow and outlive them — were important components defining the generation. But it wasn’t just a fad. Something about it stuck with those of us who associate the acronym T.G.I.F with “Family Matters” more than with a family restaurant, and now the generation has its our own reunion hall in Des Moines.
High on nostalgia, patrons clip-clop down the stairs to the basement barcade oasis. Once inside, the bar is nearly unrecognizable compared to the former Underground and with a utopian atmosphere where Generation X and Y cohabitate harmoniously. The walls are decorated with black-and-white murals of period icons — Pee Wee Herman, Ferris Bueller and Jem, to name a few. And somehow, among a bar full of strangers, a collective feeling of home overwhelms the senses.
“I could watch ‘American Gladiators’ all day long,” one 30-something patron said to another between frat-boy-like gulps from a frosty mug. And at Up-Down he can. The ’90s hit show plays on low-def TVs on every wall.
“We’re not really trying to sell this place as an arcade. It’s more about the nostalgia,” said co-owner Josh Ivey, who, along with Sam Summers and Rafe Mateer, also owns Wooly’s. “We want to bring back that feeling that arcades gave you, back when arcades were more social.
With more than 40 arcade games, which Ivey said will rotate in and out of circulation with others, the lure of the arcade lights is sure to become a beacon to concert-goers upstairs. If the Oct. 11 official grand opening is any indication, then Up-Down is well on its way to complement to the owners’ lucrative corner spot at Fifth and Locust. A young couple’s friendly game of extreme Jenga became a barroom spectacle as the two opponents out-did each other block by block. As the shifty wooden Jenga tower grew, so did the crowd proportionately, eagerly awaiting that inevitable, clamorous collapse. Social, indeed, and with limitless drinking-game potential.
As for the drinks, Up-Down — which is named from Nintendo’s famous “Contra” cheat code that only people who remember rotary phones will get (up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A for endless lives) — offers 20 handles, each representing an Iowa craft beer, and a menu of cleverly-christened cocktails: Super Mario-garita and the Double Dragon bomb among them.
Up-Down is worth more than a look. In the words of Kurt Cobain, “come as you are” with a flannel pocket full of quarters. (Each game costs 25 cents per play.) CV
Up-Down 500 E. Locust St. 243-4322 HOURS: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. daily HAPPY HOUR: TBA CAPACITY: 200