There has been many famous and iconic duos over the years; Karl Malone & John Stockton, Joe Montana & Jerry Rice and Mario and Luigi. Some shot baskets and dropped dimes, some connected for an absurd amount of touchdowns and some even did their best to fix pipes and squash goombas all in the name of saving the princess. Yes, they all have their own claim to fame, but none have been quite as impactful on the arcade bar industry as as longtime pinball and craft beer aficionados, Austin Howard & Jeff Moulton.
Austin and Jeff opened Tappers Arcade Bar in 2016, a lively Indianapolis, Indiana hangout that offers delicious beverages, free-play classic arcade games and pinball. I recently had the opportunity to ask them a few questions to gain insight into an industry that has been picking up steam over the past few years.
NJB: Tell us a little about yourself, what made you want to open an arcade bar and why did you choose Indianapolis?
Jeff: We chose Indianapolis because we live here and both grew up here! I had always wanted to own a pinball machine since I was a kid. I eventually ended up buying one and fixing it and that got me started buying arcade games. I ‘caught the bug’ as they say in the hobby of arcade collecting. I saw an arcade bar in Chicago, I’d heard of them, but actually seeing a real arcade again left a big impression on me. I’d been traveling to places to play pinball at conventions and while I was at one, I decided I wanted to open my own place. I started buying and restoring games and after awhile I thought to ask Austin if he wanted to be a part of it. He loves beer and is just good at a lot of things. Ever since then it’s been both of us working together on it.
Austin: I am a lover of all beverages, but mainly craft beer. I was focused on creating/being a part of a business that would involve my passion and Jeff brought this idea to me. Pairing beer and other beverages with classic arcade games turned out to be a match made in heaven!
NJB: Arcade bars have started popping up everywhere. Why do you think that is?
Austin: I think the timing is everything. I mean it’s perfect that people who grew up playing arcade games are now of drinking age and in a position with some disposable income. I also think the popularity of craft beer has also contributed to this opportunity and made it financially feasible. It would have been a little more difficult selling enough Miller Lite to keep this machine running.
Jeff: I honestly don’t know why they ever went away. People act like this is a new concept, but it’s as old as the games themselves. Pinball machines have been in bars for decades. The real question is, why did they ever go away?
I think the popularity of pinball machines took a hit from the emergence of video games. More competition for the quarter drop. Arcade video games sort of took over, you could find them just about anywhere people hung out, but the industry over inflated and crashed. Home video game consoles caught up to the technology of arcade games and made it so you didn’t have to leave the house. Asking people to pay a quarter to play a video game lost its appeal since they could play the same games at home. Also, the gameplay for many arcade games obviously became about getting as many quarters as possible and I think people got wise to that. I think pinball got taken down with video games and are now coming back again because there are a lot of people that miss them.
We’re now living in an age when everything is accessible from anywhere digitally, but not physically. By losing the arcade, we also lost a kind of social environment where people could play games together. I also think that people these days yearn for authenticity. You can play Ms. Pac-Man on your phone or a thousand other ways, but there’s no better experience than playing one that was built in 1982 and has had generations of players try their skill at that same machine.
The arcade is a social space. It shouldn’t have ever died off in the first place.
NJB: You have all of your games set to free-play. How and why did you arrive at that decision?
Jeff: It’s more fun! Plain and simple.
Austin: I think it widens the audience. Obviously serious gamers wouldn’t have a problem with a couple of quarters, but free-play offers other people, who may have been hesitant to play, no risk in giving it a shot. It’s a way to make the whole family, group, party or date happy and having fun! Also we heard coin mechs are a pain in the ass.
NJB: You obviously have limited space for what games you can have at your establishment. How do you pick what games are selected?
Jeff: It’s a constant struggle. There are many games I’d love to rotate out but I want to have all the games that people expect to see. Call it a greatest hits of arcades. So for the most part, if a game isn’t getting played much, we might take it out for something people having been asking about. But there are also games where I have to just say, I don’t care, we’re keeping it. Ghouls N Ghosts for example isn’t super popular, but I insist on having it. It’s a classic game and has a cult following. It belongs, but it’s definitely too hard for most people haha
NJB: Old arcade cabinets are surely getting harder and harder to find that are in good working condition as well as issues with finding CRT monitors that properly function. Can you comment on that? Do you have any employees that are trained on tuning up and fixing old machines?
Jeff: I don’t think they’re getting harder to find, just more expensive. As far as finding them in working condition, that’s getting easier! There’s more people working on them again! Nobody can keep them all, and you get tired of some games after awhile, so you’ll see just about any game pop up for sale. But seriously, I find a game every day that I want to buy.
The CRT well on the other hand is unfortunately going to dry up one day. We’ll keep fighting the good fight as long as we can but yes, parts are becoming obsolete, but also the more people that get into the hobby means more demand, so many parts are becoming available again.
We’ve just been learning as we go and I’m determined to keep going. We have a few employees interested in working on them as well and their skills keep improving as well!
Austin: Both of us have gotten pretty good with repairing monitors and power issues. Honestly, there aren’t a lot of things that can’t be fixed, bought or read about online. There’s also some amazing people in the arcade community that have really helped us out when we get stumped. The game boards do sometimes need to be sent off for repair. It took us a few years and a lot of reading/watching videos, but most things can be fixed and we do 90% in house.
NJB: What are some of the most popular games you have on your game floor currently?
Jeff: Galaga, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac, NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, Mortal Kombat II, Street Fighter II, Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and just in general, pinball.
NJB: What games do you get requests for the most?
Jeff: Dragon’s Lair has been the most requested and I’ll be bringing out one soon! Missile Command and Robotron are also ones that have gotten lots of requests, once again, I’ve got them and will be bringing them soon!
NJB: Have you ever thought about expanding to other locations or moving to a larger space?
Austin: Why yes we are. We are adding almost 2,000 more square feet to the current space in the next month. We are really excited to make the place more comfortable and add some more games! Since we opened we have been super grateful for the success and popularity of our place. I’m not sure we expected that. Since then we have been working on improving and exploring ways to grow. After some thought, we decided that we would rather have quality over quantity when it comes to locations and decided to expand and be the best we can possibly be where we are.
NJB: What does the future have in store for Tappers Arcade Bar and the “beercade” industry as a whole?
Jeff: I’m hoping to help promote more local communities and see them grow. There’s many different forms of competitive gaming and those different aspects of gaming are steadily growing. Pinball, fighting games, speed running, you name it and there’s a league or tournament for it. Other countries are already treating gaming as a sport and we’re slowly getting there.
I’m also hoping to help local indie developers showcase their new games and play test them at our place. I’d love to see more of that! It’d be cool if every place had different, bleeding edge games that aren’t available on the internet yet.
Pinball machines are also coming out all the time now. I think the best pinball machines ever are still yet to be made!
Austin: We hope great things!!!
NJB: I know that you host many events such as trivia nights. Has that been an instrumental part of getting repeat business?
Austin: Trivia nights have been great for us! I think being able to take people that are passionate about a particular subject or franchise and let them create a fun event with other people who are just as passionate about the subject is great! It allows us to get fans together to meet, have fun and be a little competitive! It’s definitely given us a great way to get new groups and show them what an arcade bar is all about.
Jeff: We work hard every week to put on fun events and keep coming up with new ideas. We love doing our pop culture themed trivias! Also our weekly tournaments have a pretty regular group of people and those are always a lot of fun. We do a ton of other events as well, tap takeovers, parties, special gaming events, charity events. We just try to keep coming up with ideas that we think are fun and learn from each event we do.
NJB: Who and how are the beer related decisions made? You have a very wide selection of beers on tap.
Austin: We sample a large amount of beer. I made each of the 12 beer lines dedicated to a particular style. This way we can have a wide variety and hopefully something for most drinkers. We like to keep it all fresh and rotating to make it fun and unique. Since we have opened we have had over 1,000 different beers on draft. I think that’s pretty neat. Also we added liquor last April and employed a fine man named Lance to manage that. We have 4 seasonally rotating craft cocktails and a frozen drink. This has really allowed us to be more and more creative with drink items and really have something for everyone!
NJB: Where can people find out more about Tappers Arcade Bar and where are you located?
Austin: Check out events on Facebook! Also a lot of great info can be found on our website!
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by: Dennis Burkett