When I first walked into Up-Down a few years ago, around the time it opened, I felt an instant nostalgic attachment. I noticed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game and nearby, an unused X-Men arcade cabinet. Both sat beckoning me to reclaim my youth. I was flooded with memories of a local pizza shop and arcade in Appleton, Wisconsin, where I spent birthdays, Friday nights, and the celebrations after stellar report cards. I would rapidly scarf down the terrible pizza just so I could spend my parents’ hard-earned cash trying to conquer these arcade classics. I felt a pure, unbridled joy at the memories, and I wondered if more people felt this emotion when going to bars like Up-Down. It drove me to understand what makes bars like these so successful.
As I described this experience to David Hayden, the communications manager at Up-Down, and asked him why retro gaming, and specifically arcade bars, incite this feeling of joy and nostalgia, he explained, “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten as excited as I did when I was 13. I think we get cynical and jaded as we get older because we have to be cool or we have to hide [our geekiness].” This is why the creators of Up-Down have intricately designed their bar to reflect this pivotal age, focusing on what it was like to play video games as a kid. The owners wanted to recapture this feeling of being 13 through their movie choices, the reruns of wrestling, and the variety of arcade games available.
One of the most ingenious designs of the bar was based on a cultural truth that I think we all can relate to: waiting for pizza. Up-Down carefully crafted a location in the back that sells pizza by the slice, because they believe our generation all shared a common frustration: waiting to game until we finished our pizza dinner. Hence, pizza by the slice that is ready to be served as soon as you walk up to the window. The team that runs Up-Down also makes sure to pick arcade games that were popular back in the day (the 1980s and ’90s, mostly) or that have the highest likelihood of sparking that youthful glint in the eyes of their consumers.
I believe this deep emotional connection back to a period of youth is what makes it so remarkable for people of our generation, and what makes us want to keep coming back over and over again. What makes the Twin Cities unique and attractive for locations like this? I believe it’s the same reason that likely made the Twin Cities a destination for the Super Bowl, the X Games, and March Madness. According to a CNBC article published last June about US cities that are most popular among millennials, Minneapolis ranked fourth in the country for the amount of millennials moving in. Minneapolis and St. Paul have become hubs for younger talent. With this high concentration of younger people, it’s no wonder that a bar intended to evoke a feeling of youth for a specific age bracket does so well in this market. When I asked David about this fact, he admitted it wasn’t even a consideration when they picked Minneapolis for the bar. He picked the neighborhood, wanting to be in Uptown due to the nature of the Lyn-Lake neighborhood. He detailed a few reasons, like the coffee shops and bike shops, but to me, these are further indicators of a higher proportion of younger consumers living in the market area.
Our generation grew up with gaming. It’s in our blood and our heritage, one of the quintessential things about being an ’80s or ’90s kid. Most of us remember our first Super Nintendo, NES, or Nintendo 64, and that unbridled joy that we experienced cements positive memories in our psyche. Bars and experiences like Up-Down look to cultivate this positive memory and bring us back to when life was simple, when it was homework and gaming. I, for one, hope that this is the beginning of many more experiences in the Twin Cities that look to reclaim our youth. We live in a world right now that is full of negativity, so maybe more of us should spend more time with our buddies, beer in hand, bashing a few foot soldiers.