From music venue to Midwest presence, Up-Down expands

Arcade bar franchise has three locations, two more coming

Patrons on a recent Sunday afternoon at Up-Down.
Patrons on a recent Sunday afternoon at Up-Down.

Josh Ivey, Sam Summers and Rafe Mateer started the arcade bar Up-Down in 2013 as a compliment to their live music venue in Des Moines, Iowa.

About four years later, the trio owns Up-Down arcade bars in three states, including one in the CARAG neighborhood.

Ivey, Summers and Mateer started the first Up-Down in the basement of their music venue, called Wooly’s. They got the idea at Summers’ bachelor party in Las Vegas, where they had gone to an arcade bar that they didn’t enjoy, according to David Hayden, Up-Down’s marketing manager.

“They loved the concept (of) having arcade games with draft beer,” Hayden said. “They just didn’t like the pretentiousness of the place they were in.”

The trio started collecting some arcade games, Hayden said, and jumped at the opportunity to lease the basement space. About a year later, they started looking for a space in Kansas City, and they began looking at Minneapolis shortly after.

The company is planning locations in St. Louis and Milwaukee.

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‘Eatertainment’ expansion

Up-Down is part of a recent wave of new venues in Minneapolis that combine drinks and entertainment and are at least partially tailored toward adults. Others include the pinball bar Tilt in the Whittier neighborhood, Punch Bowl Social in St. Louis Park and Can Can Wonderland in St. Paul.

Hayden said that consumers nowadays are looking for more from their entertainment dollars. He noted that some bars have karaoke or trivia but otherwise, “you’re staring at the sports game that’s on,” he said.

Tilt co-owner Carrie McCabe-Johnston said business has been brisk in the evenings at the bar, which opened in April.

McCabe-Johnston and her husband, Jasha Johnston, own a couple of bars, including Tilt. She said bar-goers want more things to do nowadays and are socializing more than in the past.

“I think bar life is just getting way more social,” she said.

Jennifer Pennington, co-owner of Can Can Wonderland, said business was strong when the venue opened in January, slowed for a bit during the summer and is starting to pick up again.

Pennington, her husband Chris Pennington, Christi Atkinson and Rob Clapp founded Can Can Wonderland to be an enterprise for the arts. The venue has artist-inspired mini-golf, food and drink, over 40 vintage arcade games, two stages with different events and free art activities, among other entertainment options.

“I think people are looking for that shared experience and something that’s really fun,” Pennington said.

Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association, said “eatertainment” isn’t a particularly new trend, noting places like Pat’s Tap on Nicollet Avenue, Pinstripes in Edina and Dave & Busters, which has locations in Maple Grove and Edina. He said it would be hard to find more than 20 “barcades” in Minnesota.

“You kind of need to put it in perspective with the size of the industry,” McElroy said. “… The industry’s big enough to have more than one trend at the same time.”

Dexter Chacko, a game tech at Up-Down, said it’s never appealed to him to go to a bar and pay a premium for drinks just for a space to talk with friends. Up-Down creates an entertainment experience, he said, where people can hang out while playing a game.

“It just gives you something to actually do with your friends so that you can catch up and hang out in your own way,” he said.

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‘Nostalgia bar’

Hayden said a huge part of Up-Down’s success is its lack of pretense. “What Up-Down is at its core is a nostalgia bar,” he said. “It’s all meant to take you back to a time you feel nostalgic about, where you feel like a kid again.”

It’s a place where you can spend $5 of tokens and “be as cool as anyone else in the room,” Hayden said.

“It takes us back to a time when we weren’t concerned about what clothes people were wearing (or) how much money people were making,” he said. “… It’s attainable entertainment for everyone.”

Chacko appeared to agree. “As soon as you walk in, you’re assaulted by nothing but nostalgia,” he said. “It’s a very deliberate aesthetic, and there’s just something really evocative and powerful about nostalgia.”

Chacko said he had never been a bar-goer before coming to Up-Down as a patron. A friend eventually introduced him to a two-cabinet, 10-player game there called “Killer Queen,” and Chacko was hooked. He said he started playing “Killer Queen” whenever he could and organizing nights for people to come and play.

Up-Down later approached him and encouraged him to apply for a job.

“It was the first bar that I ever felt like a regular at,” Chacko said.

The bar recently hosted a national “Killer Queen” tournament that includes 53 teams from 14 cities, according to Hayden. The event was streamed to bars, restaurants and arcades throughout the country and brought more than 230 people to Minneapolis, he said.

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Rooftop expansion

Up-Down recently added a rooftop and patio space to its Minneapolis location and brought in games such as bubble hockey, shuffleboard and “Dance Dance Revolution.” Hayden said the additions totaled over 2,000 square feet of new space, adding that portions of the new spaces will be open year round.

The bar appeared to be doing brisk business on a recent Sunday afternoon, with dozens of fans in Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers jerseys drinking beers and playing games after a matchup between the two teams. One patron remarked how the crowd didn’t just include stereotypical gamers but a variety of people.

Up-Down as a company has about 150 games at its three locations and between 100 and 200 in different stores and warehouse facilities. It has a core set of games that it feels strongly should be in every location, Hayden said.

“You can’t have an arcade bar and not have ‘Donkey Kong,'” he said.

Companywide, 61 percent of Up-Down’s Facebook fans are over 30 and 52 percent are female, Hayden said. The bars are popular for folks over 30, he said, for whom the nostalgia factor is particularly strong.

The company has a mandate that at least 25 percent of tap beers at any given time must be dedicated to local breweries, Hayden said. Its Minneapolis location is always over 50 percent.

Visit updownmpls.com to learn more.

To learn more:

Up-Down

3012 Lyndale Ave. S.

823-3487

Hours: 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday

Must be 21+ to enter

Visit updownmpls.com for more information

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