When your day starts by defending adults around the world obsessed with the supernatural adventures of Stranger Things to your boyfriend, a non-watching Demogorgon, as you binge part one of the fourth season, it’s only fitting that your night end with a deeper dive into the upside-down at Super Abari Game Bar — a place where the magical, mythical misfits of the margins can feel right at home.
Back in 2015, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Abari owner and visionary Zach Pulliam at Growlers Pourhouse to chat about all things Abari during a time when there was uncertainty about when the doors would open on his original location on Parkwood Avenue and North Davidson Street.
That’s why I and many loyal followers were stoked when the arcade bar finally opened.
Unlike other arcades I’d visited, Abari was like a lover you’ve just met but who makes you feel like you’ve known them for years; it just fit. Then COVID-19 happened and Abari was forced to close its doors.
But that’s not where the beloved arcade’s story ended. Two years later, a silver lining presented itself in a bleak landscape filled with shiny new nightlife toys, uncertain if they’ll survive long enough to become vintage: Pulliam announced the grand re-opening of everyone’s favorite arcade bar under a somewhat new name: Super Abari.
Double the size, triple the bathrooms, double the pinball machines, and double the fun, Super Abari lives up to its name for round two.
I couldn’t help the geekish grin on my face as I waited not so patiently for a membership at the door and peeped the familiar “living room” setup complete with a leather couch and four gamers excitedly playing Mario Kart on the TV in front of them.
Between that, the faint smell of Red Bull vodka that tickled my gag reflex, and “Grindin’” by Clipse playing through the speakers, I thought, “This still feels like home.”
As I sat at a high-top taking in my first sips, staring at the display case featuring the evolution of the Game & Watch (these conjured a sense of too old for me to remember, bro) I thought about when I fell in a love/hate relationship with my first arcade game.
As a kid, Galaga provided my only escape from many daunting trips to the laundromat. And decades later, I can’t help but geek out when I stumble upon one in unsuspecting places.
Standing at the top of the stairs that descend into the twinkling lights of a gamer-safe haven, I felt the childlike excitement milling about the room. It reminded me during a very difficult week, month, and couple of years, that there are still spaces where you can escape the woes of adulthood and be a kid again.
Though I knew there would be twice as many pinball machines in Super Abari as its predecessor, I was still overwhelmed (and even intimidated) by the multitude of choices. How does one choose where to start? Do I simply jump on the first one I see open? Even if one pinball machine touts a velociraptor and the classic Jurassic Park logo, is it at all that fundamentally different from its decked-out Batman pinball neighbor? See, that’s why I avoid them altogether.
I searched for my old faithful, as I wanted to dust my shoulders off, when I observed no one waiting to play “my” Galaga. I pulled over a drink stand and sat my cheese Super Hot Pocket — which in and of itself triggered nostalgia for the hotter than hell, often stale but traditional Hot Pockets from childhood that still find their way into my freezer — on the floor before settling in and popping that first quarter into the slot.
I heard the familiar clink and waited for a prompt like “PRESS BUTTON” to flash across the screen. To my dismay, there was no flash. Two dollars later, I was very hopeful that in my somewhat buzzed state I was “doing something wrong” but that was wishful thinking. And my fling with Galaga fizzled out before it began as I was told that the machine was probably going to be out of service for the rest of the night.
I settled for another childhood fave, Frogger. Am I the only one that finds there’s a negative correlation between drinks consumed and the ability to safely get a frog across the road? Needless to say, I spent more time putting quarters in than I spent successfully proceeding to the next level of play. This was my cue that this solo trip down memory lane was coming to an end. At least for that night. I’ll be back for you soon Galaga, my love.