The 2up Arcade Tavern
23 April 2013
by Paul Demarte

As an adult, like most people, I mentally dip back into the past here and there. One way or another—I believe it is safe to state—your past shaped who your are today. Focusing on the positive, perhaps it highlights some current interests. Maybe it helps in the process of raising children. Hopefully, some of your childish innocence remains.

I was born in Illinois, and I have fond memories of the places I would go as a child. Zoos and especially museums have always interested me. Going to amusement parks or miniature golfing (shout out to Haunted Trails in Illinois) were amazing places. But the one place that I can still visualize most vividly is the arcade. My mom and/or grandmother would take me and my older brother on occasion. We would hop in the car and Grandma would drive us over to Lincoln Mall in Matteson.

I hated going to the mall. Running errands as a kid was the worst. But, fortunately for parents, the arcade was a temporary daycare system and a reward. I still remember those special occasions that my grandma would give each of us five dollars. Five dollars! As a kid, that was like winning the lottery! Even better, the arcade had a special system where cashing in five dollars at once actually gave you an extra dollar worth of tokens. They were even placed in a felt sack, not unlike a pirate’s booty. So, my brother was in charge of watching me, and we were both in charge of attempting to dominate some video games.

Back then, going to an arcade was the equivalent of going to Vegas. Blips, pops, beeps, explosions, and lights flooded the room. Redemption machines dispensed streams of tickets you could trade in for cheap toys. I still remember the red carpet of the floor and smell of junk food and soda. I would often lose myself in the seated Star Wars game. I would fly the X-wing through the Death Star, and when Obi-Wan said, “Use the force,” I might as well have been on stage being directed by George Lucas.

Since that time, most arcades have disappeared, and you can even find documentaries devoted to this subject. Console games killed the arcade star! There seem to be a handful—at best—of games in movie theaters or a variety of games at places such as Dave & Busters. But, it really isn’t the same. And many of these games are very expensive to play. Five dollars would be a joke, and it would buy you a few minutes of playtime.

Luckily, some cities throughout America have resurrected some of this electric nostalgia. Some of the most popular include the Barcade chain; the original opened in Brooklyn, and now are throughout New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. My hometown of Chicago has the Emporium in Wicker Park, which I plan to write a future review of when visiting my family. Portland, Oregon has Ground Kontrol. The list goes on and, fortunately, continues to grow.

Luckily for me, as a longtime resident of Denver, Colorado, I have options, too! Two amazing places are The 1up (located in the heart of downtown) and The 2up Arcade Tavern (located in Capitol Hill)—the latter conveniently closer to my house. So you can guess which one I'll focus on.

2up is how I imagined the future of arcades when I was a kid. Walking in is what I would imagine getting into a speakeasy would be like. The doormen quickly ID you at the small brick entrance, and once in, you are transported to the past—mostly the 80’s and mid-90’s. There are dozens of games: Mario Bros., Tron, Pac-Man, Street Fighter II, The Simpsons, Mortal Kombat II, Spy Hunter, Tetris, NBA Jam, Asteroids, Kung-Fu, and many more. Games even rotate like beer drafts—more on that later. I was delighted to play Rolling Thunder, one of my all-time favorites. The best part of all is: five dollars will get you tons of play with any of these games. Almost every game is still only a quarter and the pinball machines are fifty cents. I find that ten dollars is usually enough for an extended night of entertainment.

There is a lot going on at 2up! I learned I was and continue to be terrible at pinball. It didn't matter if I was playing The Who’s pinball or Spider-Man; I was awful at both. I did watch my girlfriend dominate a carnival-themed pinball game. Whether you're skilled like her, or are lucky at best like me, it’s all super fun. You can also take a break and relive some fond memories at Skee-Ball, or try you hand at the very popular four-player version of Pac-Man.

But what makes 2up and places of the like different? How do they enhance those nostalgic moments now that you are an adult. Booze! There is an extensive bar with a friendly staff constantly dishing out beer and hard liquor. There are also many drink specials on any given day of the week. And, in many ways, I feel this is genius. I like doing things and having a beer. Sitting in a bar can become tedious, but playing games is a great way to be social with friends and strangers.

The selling point for me is the friendly staff and bouncers and the atmosphere. There are no set rules at 2up. People of all types and styles walk in. I’ve heard White Zombie and Nirvana played there. I’ve heard techno and 80’s pop. The place is slightly dark and the mood is super chill. Every time I've gone to 2up, I’ve had fun. And, it might be partially because of the location at 717 East Colfax. This isn’t your downtown crowd; this is a broad collection of over 21 years-old people, economic factors and social interests. There are two major music venues nearby, and people slip in and out before or after a show. It makes for a great evening out. And, nicely enough, if you want a bite to eat, walk across the street to Sliceworks for some solid late night snacking.

If you're a skilled retro gamer, then 1up and 2up have you covered, since they host events and competitions. One of the bouncers, Matt Montgomery (as seen in the picture of him playing NBA Jam), recently set a new documented world record at one of these events, Kong Off. Matt beat the computer by 20 points. And, if you have ever played the arcade version of NBA Jam, then you know this is no easy feat.It’s nice to have a fun place to go, have fun and order an affordable drink or two. I hope some of my favorites games will rotate into 2up – Shinobi, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so on, but, in the meantime, their selection is stellar, and I look forward to going back.

As I check out some of these other barcades, I will most definitely write up some reviews, but for now, if you are in Denver, make it a point to check out 2up.