Up-Down v Tapcade: A Study of KC Retro Arcade Bars

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I seriously think the “arcade” bar has to be one of the best inventions in the past decade or so. With nearly every kid in America having a video game system of some sort, or utilizing their IPad or phone for mobile gaming, the days of the arcade machine seem to be going the way of the Dodo. After all, why go to a bowling alley arcade and spend 25 cents or more a pop when you can play Call of Duty for hours on end with your mom serving you philly cheesesteak hot pockets at your beckoning? Kids just don’t know the joys these days or the sacrifices us 20-40 year olds had to go through in our teen and pre-teen years to play video game. They don’t know the effort and payoff of keeping your spot against random opponents in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or NBA Jam. Not to sound like a Goose Gossage, but things just aren’t the same with teenagers when it comes to the world of gaming. The complex beauty of the arcade machine is lost on this generation. (As well as the art of having to call a girl’s house and talk to their mom or dad and explain who you are before you got to talk to her. Mobile phones and texting ruined that agonizing but character-building process.)

But, as this current generation of youngster passes on the amusement machines of yore, retro arcade bars are starting to pop up around the nation, much to the satisfaction of 21-40 year olds’ cravings of nostalgic entertainment and beer. In Kansas City, there are two places for arcade attractions as well as craft beer selections: Up-Down and Tapcade. While both are located in the Crossroads District and both offer 80 and 90’s arcade fare along with multiple sundry selections, they are much different venues that offer distinct benefits as well as drawbacks from one another.

Let’s take a look at each place individually and what they have to offer to the video game-loving and beer-drinking crowd of Kansas City.

Up-Down

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Address: 101 Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City, MO 64108

Why you should go to Up-Down:

Up-Down, located in the heart of the Crossroads right across from Arts KC, has gotten a lot of publicity after replacing Hamburger Mary’s a little over a year ago. The arcade bar is in prime real estate in the Crossroads, as it is a perfect meet up spot, and not just for First Friday’s either. There are a plethora of different restaurants surrounding the Up-Down area (Manny’s, LuLu’s, Pizzabella, etc.), and Up-Down is the perfect place for a group of people to hang out at after a meal and is within walking distance.

Up-Down’s arcade fare is impeccable as well as diverse. Yes, you have all the 80 and 90’s arcade diversions one would expect from a retro Arcade bar. All selections are only 25 cents a game (which are in the form of neat little Up-Down tokens) and include Pac Man, Galaga, X-Men, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat 2, NBA Jam, etc. (But no Final Fight? Why the hell do we not have Final Fight? I lived off the game in bowling alleys in Spokane during my youth. Haggar for Mayor!) However, Up-Down has a surprising pinball selection (the Indiana Jones and South Park selections are clutch) as well as some big multiplayer arcade games. (Updated 4-way Pac Man and Killer Queen…which I guess is a big thing?) In the front of house,  a projector screen connected to a N64 allows people, token-free, to play four-way battles of Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers (though the waits on this can be long).  In addition, they also have four skee ball lanes, which is a nice active outlet for people that don’t like to stare at a pixelated screen for hours on end. And lastly, they have a few huge television screens (you know, like eight of them put together to make one screen like some cool 80’s night club) which they will play 80’s retro movies (like Back to the Future and Bloodsport) or old-school WWF (and I say WWF because that is when it was great) on loop. It is a nice distraction for moments when you’re waiting for your favorite arcade game to be free or if you’re in the midst of a boring conversation with a bad date or group.

Speaking of those who need breaks from the “bings and dings” of the arcade environment, the Up-Down venue itself is massive: it’s two floors and there is plenty of outdoor space and entertainment. The upstairs and downstairs patios are nice features that are perfect for sightseeing downtown KC or people-watching on the Crossroads streets (which can be a sight on First Friday) as well as engaging in conversation away from all the blaring sounds and lights inside. But, if talking isn’t you’re thing, then there are diversions such as “big” Jenga (you know with like wood blocks instead of jenga pieces; people have left their mark with all kinds of inappropriate phrases written on them; I wonder what KU frat donated them) and a massive Connect Four.

The beer selection is also pretty solid at Up-Down with the typical variety of craft IPAs as well as “hipster” cheap selections such as tall-boy PBR, Rolling Rock, Schlitz (a personal favorite) and even Modelo (one that may become my favorite; seriously, Modelo already is fire in their cool bottles; putting it in a tall boy one-ups that and then some). Up-Down also has a full bar, should you not be the “beer” kind of person, and they usually serve pretty quickly, even in the midst of big crowds, which is typical on the weekends. And though they do not have much food selection, they added a pizza shack in the corner a few months ago to sterling results. The pizza is the classic “New York-style by-the-slice” mold and is actually a pretty good slice. The crust has nice texture and chew and it is well worth the $3.50 price tag. Their slices are perfect when you get a sudden hunger craving and you need a break from all the “Time Crisis 2” play, and you want to watch some people play some crappy skee ball.

Some drawbacks to Up-Down:

Up-Down is a great place, but it can get crowded. And I mean like “Donald Trump rally in Southern Indiana” crowded. There are times when I found myself walking around for massive minute periods because a.) all the games were occupied and b.) I couldn’t get through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. And not only has taken away from valuable video game time, but it has also made me witness a lot of “accidents” in the mold of beer glasses breaking because somebody got pushed or shoved incidentally due to the massive crowd. Give it to bar staff at Up-Down: they work their asses off on the weekends.

And a big crowd is one thing, but the popularity has drawn a peculiar mix of people. The Up-Down crowd, thanks to its popularity, has drawn the “overly bro” or “young professional” types who seem to think it’s cool to get in pissing contests with people who just want to play their damn arcade games. For example, being a Giants fan, I wore my Giants World Series sweater to Up-Down on Friday night (which was from 2010, their first championship since 1954…I haven’t bought any of the other title stuff because to be honest, the 2010 championship was more than enough for me, and all the subsequent titles brought on a whole bunch of bandwagon Giants fans…to prove my fandom look here and here). As I was playing “Kiss” pinball and in the midst of a multi-ball round some guy taps me on the shoulder and says “you have a lot of balls man”. At first, I thought he was talking about my pinball round (because yeah, when you have a multi-ball round, predictably a lot of balls will be present), but then he told me I had “balls” to wear my sweater in public. I just laughed him off, but it’s that kind of obnoxiousness that Up-Down has been attracting as of late that has been putting me off the place, which is hard to say because the place really is one my favorite bars in KC. As stated before, I’m there to play arcade games and enjoy myself and some cheap tall boys, not grovel in your Royals “fandom” (yeah, because you loved them in the Jimmy Gobble era) or your KU or K State “bro”fests.

And while this is minor, the token thing can be frustrating. Often I find myself having too many tokens and see them building up in my apartment. To make matters worse, I always seem to forget them whenever I go to Up-Down and I have to buy more tokens to play (hence continuing my hopeless cycle). Yes, they are only 25 cents, but it can add up, and I think Up-Down knows the “pay for token” method is a sneaky way to get some extra coin from their clientele.

Tapcade

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Address: 1701 McGee Street Suite 200 Kansas City, MO 64108

Why you should go to Tapcade

I went to Tapcade for the first time on Saturday night and I was blown away that I had not gone there earlier. Unlike the crowded, unsavory base (obnoxious frat and sorority types as well as nose in the air young professionals) that Up-Down has been attracting as of late (hopefully it’s just a weekend thing, because I have been there other times where it’s much more chill), Tapcade’s crowd is more diverse as well as more chill. While it was a down night, there is plenty of room to roam and people tend to leave others to themselves, which is nice and refreshing considering Up-Down’s “chickens in a feed lot” atmosphere at times.

Much like Up-Down, Tapcade has the 80’s and 90’s arcade fare with games that are also available at Up-Down (X Men, NBA Jam, Street Fighter), but they also have selections that are distinct to Tapcade (NARC and NHL Open Ice). Tapcade also utilizes the “gaming system” option much better than Up-Down as they have 3 gaming systems on 3 different screens. You can play Playstation or Genesis on one screen (I played Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and manual’d for days with Rodney Mullen), N64 on the big projector or Super NES on another smaller screen. Considering I grew up with these older systems, it was refreshing to play video games on systems that have been passed over in the video game community as of late thanks to Father Time.

But the best part of all the arcade games? Free play! No tokens! That’s right. All you do is pay five bucks for a wristband and it’s all you can play for the remainder of the night. If I die in “House of the Dead 2”, no putting in another token, just hit the start button and it’s more shooting Zombies for me. I am surprised that more people don’t come to Tapcade from Up-Down on their busy nights because of this: not only do you avoid the crowd and go to a chiller place (Tapcade is more “Road House” to Up-Down’s “Modern Girls”…if you don’t get it, brush up on your 80’s films buddy), but you don’t have to wait in line at the bar to exchange tokens either. Considering my disdain for acquiring useless tokens in my apartment as well as having to scramble for some after a “game over”, this free play feature is a definite check in the plus column for Tapcade.

One of the unique features of Tapcade though is that the arcade is just a complementary feature to what is a unique bar that offers a variety of special amenities. First off, they have a movie theater where they show a variety of different films from current selections (like Batman v Superman) to indie fare (High Rises) to nostalgic classics (Enter the Dragon) to special themed movie showings (apparently they have a “Mystery Monday” where they show different mystery movies and discuss it afterward). On Thursdays, “Geeks who Drink” host a trivia night (you can bet i’ll be there) and they also have a pretty comprehensive craft beer selection (it really rivals Up-Down’s own selection, though I think they don’t have as many Tall Boy selections) as well a wide food menu that offers a lot of different specials as well typical bar food fare (burgers, fries, wings, etc.).

And that is what makes Tapcade cool: it’s not just about the arcade. Yes, the arcade machines are cool as well as the video game systems, but it seems like there is more to offer than just that (unlike Up-Down, which is all about the arcade). I have only been to Tapcade once, but it’s chill vibe and variety of different attractions make it warrant multiple visits in the future.

Some drawbacks to Tapcade:

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed in the game selection at Tapcade, but not because it wasn’t plentiful, because there was a wide selection despite its much smaller space than Up-Down. However, they has so many of the same games as Up-Down. I would say probably 80 to 85 percent of the games were the same ones you could find at Up-Down. Now, while I understand you’re catering to a crowd that may not want to go to Up-Down because of its crowd, and you have to have similar games to appease those defectors, I wish there were more unique games that you could only get at Tapcade. I still don’t understand why neither place has Dance Dance Revolution. Seriously. That would draw all kinds of good attention to their place as well as prime Snapchat material.

Another drawback to Tapcade is it’s location as it is sort of in an area in the Crossroads that is more business oriented (it’s next to a trucking garage or something…whatever is, you’ll see a lot of semi trucks next to Tapcade). There aren’t a lot of restaurants within close walking distance and I think this is a major reason why people prefer to go to Up-Down over Tapcade: it’s just a hell of a lot more convenient to throw Up-Down in your plans last minute. Tapcade is really the only attraction on the street, and unfortunately, that makes Tapcade a “one stop” destination on a night, rather than a multiple one, which you can do with Up-Down considering its close proximity to so many other different places.

And also, this is minor, but there is no pinball or other kinds of “non video game” attractions at Tapcade either. While they maybe are trying to avoid it just to focus on the arcade games, I feel like the pinball options are a nice attraction of Up-Down that gives it some good game variety, along with the Skee Ball. At Tapcade, it’s video game only, and while that is nice, it’s tough to keep people there on a normal night if they tire of arcade game easily.

So who’s better?

To be honest, both Up-Down and Tapcade are great bars and should be priority for anyone in their 20’s or 30’s that wants a different bar experience from the normal “drink and hang out” or “drink and club” vibe. Up-Down is great for nights in the Crossroads where you want to hop multiple places or find a place to settle down after checking out exhibits at First Fridays. Tapcade is great if you want to experience different themes or options and want a chiller, more laid back vibe.

Whatever your preference, check these places out. They definitely are two of the more unique and better nightlife establishments in the city.

And for goddsakes, please start requesting Final Fight and DDR on their web sites!

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