There are bars with arcade games and arcades with bars. And then there are “barcades,” establishments that Chris Ellis, co-owner and brewer of The Quarter Barrel microbrewery, believes provide a cool, classy niche where arcade game and beer enthusiasts can hang out, play classic games and enjoy brews from a carefully curated menu of craft beer.
That type of niche is exactly what Ellis says his arcade and brewery will provide when it opens in Cedar Rapids next year.
“We’re going to try to make this a very comfortable environment and a very great place to hang out,” said Ellis.
Planning to open the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day in March 2015, The Quarter Barrel will have upwards of 30 classic arcade games. So far the confirmed games include Galaga, Mr. Do’s Castle, Mr. Do’s Wild Ride, Donkey Kong, Popeye, Karate Champ, Centipede, Defender, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.
Though Ellis said he wants to focus on games from the 1978–1988 golden age of arcades, he said there will also be fan favorites from outside that era, perhaps including one-on-one brawlers from the ‘90s like Mortal Kombat and Tekken. Five pinball machines, including Terminator 2: Judgment Day, will also be available, and Ellis said he could eventually add 10 more pinball machines if there is demand and space. All games will cost a quarter.
On tap at The Quarter Barrel will be a selection of beers brewed by Ellis himself on a 7-barrel brewing system. Ellis, who has worked at Goose Island in Chicago and brewed at Millstream, said he is a big fan of lagers and wants to offer a strong selection of lagers that range from light-bodied, easy drinking pilsners to Bavarian helles and bold bocks. However, he does not want to pigeonhole himself style-wise. Half of the beers he plans to brew will be whatever he feels like brewing at the time, while the other half will be a consistent lineup with seasonal offerings mixed in. The Quarter Barrel will also feature a number of guest taps from breweries.
Though kitchen space will be limited, Ellis said he is currently working with a chef to develop a comprehensive menu that will offer comfort food and Napoletana-style pizzas. As much as the food will serve as a convenience, Ellis said it will not be an afterthought, and they plan to use locally sourced ingredients. “It’s going to be good food,” he said.
Ellis said he and his wife first thought about opening an arcade bar over a decade ago while living in Chicago. They would visit a local arcade, Dennis’ Place for Games, before going out for drinks with friends and thought it would be cool to open an arcade that was also a bar.
Years later they visited Barcade, a bar in Brooklyn featuring classic arcades and regional craft beers, and fell in love with it. Barcade, Ellis said, was similar to the type of arcade bar they had in mind and it provided a model that worked.
“It was a cool niche,” he said. “It wasn’t just booze and games. It was quarter arcade games, classic games, with, you know, a well-curated beer menu.”
Since then, a number of other Barcade-like establishments have opened, and Ellis said he and his wife thought now was the time to plug in, insert some tokens and open their own.
Though young professionals are The Quarter Barrel’s target demographic, Ellis said it will also be family friendly. “We want people to feel free to swing by for lunch on the weekends when they’re out with their kids and not feel like they’re dragging their kids into a dive bar.”
The home of The Quarter Barrel, at 616 2nd Ave SE in Cedar Rapids, is a century-old building along the original route of the Lincoln Highway in Cedar Rapids. Ellis said it was part of the city’s auto row and served as an auto shop for most of its existence. It may have even been a battery charging station for electric cars in the 1920s. Though the building itself does not qualify as historic, Ellis is trying to self-nominate the neighborhood as a historic district because many of the buildings in the area date from the same period. Ellis is currently waiting for the nomination process to run its course before beginning final renovations. He said he wants to maintain the building’s historical character even though a self-nominated historic designation does not strictly require it.
“We’re doing our best to make this a classy place,” said Ellis.