2 Bits of Fun on 8 Bits of Screen

Recently I had the very good fortune of visiting Salt Lake City’s nerdiest bar, Quarters. When I walked through the door I simultaneously stepped backwards, forwards and outside of time. For those who don’t know (I’m looking at you Dave & Busters aficionados), Quarters is like your favorite Nickelcade, combined with a good coffee shop, masquerading as a dive bar. All of this is tucked below street level, creating a wonderland you have to descend into like Persephone entering the underworld. Or Norm going to Cheers.

“Welcome to Quarters, such a deal we have today.”

I knew I was going to like this place when the doorman almost gave me my ID, took it back, looked at me again and said he thought I was about 15 years younger than I am (which coincidentally was probably the last time I was in an arcade). The one in my hometown was an Aladdin’s Castle. It was the kind of arcade that makes you buy the tokens knowing you’re always going to have one or two jangling around in your pocket when you leave at the end of the night.

Quarters isn’t like that. After all, it’s not called Tokens (and this being Utah, it would probably be a very different and problematic sort of hangout if it were). It’s like a Chuck E. Cheese where the prize counter has been replaced by a bar, and really isn’t a counter full of tasty booze in the end the best kind of prize? Just remember, if you spend all your money here, you won’t have anything left for the games.

And oh… games there are. There are ample choices for not only Gen X kids like me (Toobin’, Dig Dug, Super Mario Bros), but also Millennials (X-Men, Area 51) and there’s even a few for some young boomers. My particular favorite of those choices was Asteroids, the original black and white vector game that probably causes an epileptic seizure if you’re not careful with it. I meant to try it for one game, but my new best friend Paul kept pumping in quarters and screaming “You gotta survive man! Do it for Mexico!”

This barely scratches the surface of every game Quarters offers. If you like skee ball, it has you covered. If you’re into pinball, there’s a wall of machines. Run out of quarters? There’s a Gamecube and a shelf of board games. The place has not only plenty of table space to sit and play these games, but thoughtfully placed small tables next to most of the games, so there’s a place to set your drink down. In true nerd fashion, the owners seemed to have really thought of most everything. Is it perfect? Of course not, what kind of a question is that? But it’s pretty good.

The minor flaws strike me as being evidence of a small business doing its best on a shoestring budget. Maybe some of the board games aren’t the best for a bar. I can’t see a credible campaign of world domination required for Risk being attainable in such a hectic environment and there could maybe be a few more games for two players to be played in a faster manner, but those games are specialized and expensive and Quarters games have the feeling of having been lovingly culled from family closets and thrift stores. There are a few arcade games that are maybe not the A list version of the game- Rampage is the later Rampage World Tour version and not the original Rampage that still plucks my heartstrings, but again when it comes to classic arcade games, beggars can’t be choosers.

One of the only aspects of Quarters that struck me as cool that I didn’t make use of was how many options there were for a crowd out on the town. If you have a lot of friends with you, you can stop in to play Pac Man Challenge or X-Men (four players), skee ball or even their crown jewel Killer Queen, an epic 12 person arcade beast sprawling across three screens. I may have to stop in on one of their league nights just to see what that looks like.

I don’t know how on earth the owners of Quarters managed to achieve the impossible, but it seems they’ve created a space in which both extroverts and introverts can simultaneously have a good time. I’ve yet to go in on a night where it’s filled to the brim (I found it nicely buzzing on a Thursday night), but I could easily see myself going there on a weekend, which I have said in the past about no bar ever. If you’re a bit of a shy Sally like me, you could do a lot worse for fun a night out. And if you’re one of the blessed normals with no social anxieties whatsoever, you could do a lot worse for a fun night out.

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