As I entered the establishment, I was overwhelmed by a sweet, sweet rush of nostalgic overload. Rows of arcade cabinets, their screens emitting a heavenly glow of 8-bit opulence. The beautiful, busy noises of monaural explosions, laser beams, and Ms. Pac-Man’s wakka-wakka-wakkas. The clink-clanks of pinballs smacking bumpers and flippers, and the frustrated groans of players who lost their final lives. Truly, this was Gamer Country.
If you have a niche for retro, ‘80s-era arcades that are all but extinct in this age of MMORPGs, first-person shooters, and downloadable content, then you can scratch it at Rusty Quarters Retro Arcade & Museum. Located right next to the Bryant Lake Bowl in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood, Rusty Quarters got its start last December, founded by the husband-and-wife team of Sage and Annie Spirtos, who originally owned a gift and novelty shop before discovering a couple of vintage arcade cabinets in storage. Testing out the waters by placing them in the kids’ shopping area, the Spirtoses finally had enough financial success with the games to invest in buying and fixing up over 20 classic arcade games. Ever since, it’s been a hotspot for old-school gaming aficionados, attracting both newbies and seasoned pros (local and out-of-state, even out-of-country).
For yours truly, it was simultaneously refreshing and jarring to step into an honest-to-God arcade parlor, since they seemed to have died out 10 to 15 years ago. And when I say “honest-to-God arcade parlor,” I mean the kind where you aren’t forced to buy a cheeseburger or overpriced “game cards” in order to play. Instead of being a glitzy, corporate behemoth whose sole intent is to max out your wallets, Rusty Quarters serves as a vintage throwback to those places where kids and teens would take a load off after a long day at school. I mean, there’s a fridge with classic Coke bottles, framed photos of ‘50s-era toy robots on the walls, and wall cubbies plastered with “Space Invaders” decals. This was the place for me.
I loaded my pocket with quarters and cracked my knuckles. It was business time.
Primed and ready to slay the electronic beasts that stood before me, I started with the pinball machines (my ultimate Achilles’ heel when it comes to gaming), specifically with Indiana Jones pinball. Let’s just say that I wasn’t going to break any high scores anytime soon. Normally, you’d think that 57 million points was an impressive haul, but NOOOOOO! I caught my second wind, however, when I absolutely dominated “Space Invaders” (thanks to years of experience playing it in the waiting room of my old family dentist’s office), not to mention childhood favorite “X-Men: Children of the Atom” (my strategy for that one? Always play as Iceman). I won’t even get into what happened with “Frogger”.
By the end of this game-boy’s journey, my wrists and forearms were stiff as hell. My eyes, still readjusting from the flashing lights. Pockets, cleaned out. My mouth was sore from gritting my teeth in both suspense and frustration. But I still felt like I had accomplished something truly special. It was that sense of a true challenge only felt when the stakes were high and the quarters were limited–something I can’t really say for my experiences in modern console gaming. Sage–better known to Facebook fans as “The Rube”–would agree, pointing out the palpable sense of social interaction that only an arcade can foster.
“When you’re playing something like an Xbox, you do have social interaction, but it’s not the same,” said Sage. “When you play with your friends online, it’s not an event. You’re not calling people and saying, ‘Hey, you wanna get a slice and hit the arcade?’ And that’s what people really like.”
Luckily, the community’s proven that there’s still a place in the world for good ol’ fashioned arcade games. This past April, the Spirtoses were in dire financial straits, amassing debt that they attributed to lost weekend revenue during the shaky springtime weather. After informing online fans of their dilemma, the Spirtoses were overwhelmed by a massive outpouring of community support, receiving donations exceeding $3,000 in 16 days.
“Since we’ve had that back-debt cleared up, business has been booming,” said Sage. “It’s really cool, really exciting, really touching. I can’t thank those people more than enough that we have this place and that we keep on going.”
And yet, Sage acknowledges that there are still challenges ahead. Some places– such as a new Las Vegas-style “barcade” called Insert Coin(s) possibly hitting downtown Minneapolis this winter—have the financial high ground, calling into question how much of Rusty Quarters’ business they’ll take. But the Spirtoses have high hopes nonetheless.
“We’re hoping that we’ll still be your neighborhood arcade,” said Sage. “We’ll still be that place where you’re gonna want to bring your kids and experience the joy of yesteryear.”
He didn’t need to tell me twice. Simply put, if you want an oh-so-delicious taste of gaming’s kickass glory days—whether it’s buying or selling classic game cartridges, renting out the establishment for private parties and events, or simply bathing in beauteous marvels of “Donkey Kong,” “Centipede,” and “Rampage” with your buddies—put down your Xbox controller, head over to Rusty Quarters and drop some serious coin.