“None of us know how this is going to go,” Miller says. “I think we’re placing a safe bet, but we’re still placing a bet. I don’t think any of us really know if it’s going to be super busy, if it’s going to be just fine or if it’s going to be terrible. None of us really know. There’s no guarantee.”
Race ahead a couple of weeks to Monday, April 4, at 5 p.m. At this time, the bar has only been open to the public for one hour. And already, crowds are pouring in, excitedly tapping away on their favorite games. As the night goes on, this scene continues, with patrons young and old gliding around the room from Galaga to NBA Jam to Super Mario Brothers. While roaming around the bar, gamers also have the opportunity to indulge in a menu of beer and wine, which predominantly consists of local and regional drinks.
“For the most part, it’ll be Indiana and regional beers,” says Howard, the bar’s beer aficionado. “I think that’s what makes sense, and I actually think that’s where the best beer comes from too.”
When it comes to games, the bar features 47 cabinets with 53 unique titles (a few of the cabinets house multiple titles). These titles range from 1978’s Asteroids to 2000’s Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and are all free to play. Additionally, there are four pinball machines located in the front of the bar, which each cost 50 cents a play. This cost is due to the maintenance required to keep a pinball machine in order.
“If you’re not charging, they’re going to get played nonstop,” Moulton says, adding that he expects Tappers to eventually add more pinball machines in the future. “If they’re getting played nonstop at 50 cents a play, we’re at least getting money back that we can dump back into those machines.”
Miller points out that in addition to what’s already in Tappers, there are also several more games waiting in the wings that the bar will eventually cycle in. These switches will be gradual, however. “I don’t want to do it too often, because I want to give people an opportunity to play what we have in here,” Miller says. “I would say once a month we’ll maybe swap out one or two games, if that. We want to keep things fresh and new. And whenever we put a new game in here, I kind of want to make a big deal out of it.”
When it comes to their location, Moulton, Miller and Howard are all extremely excited about being in the Fletcher Place neighborhood. Initially, their plan was to find a location in Fountain Square to call home. After weighing all the positives and negatives, though, the trio of founders decided that their current spot at 501 Virginia Ave. was just right, especially considering their menu only features a few small food items.
“There are all sorts of great restaurants up and down here, and they’re establishments that have been here for a while,” Miller says. “We wanted to be around that.”
In addition to being close to so many neighboring restaurants, Tappers is only a 15-minute walk away from places like Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, while also just being down the street from the heart of Fountain Square. “I want us to be a destination spot for tourists, for people coming to conventions, for sporting events, or for whatever it is,” Miller says. “I think we’re very much striving to have an open and accessible type of business model for basically anybody.” With this in mind, Spencer Hooks, entertainment manager at the nearby Hi-Fi music venue, is looking forward to the impact that Tappers will have on the Fletcher Place/Fountain Square area.
“They really took their time and did it right; the location, the interior, the games, the beer selection are all perfect. Plus a topnotch, energetic staff,” Hooks says. “You will probably find me there late at night on the weekend after a concert with a beer and my head down playing Galaga.”
In looking ahead, there will certainly be many, many more crowded nights at Tappers Arcade Bar. Ultimately, though, Moulton hopes the spot can be much more than just a palace for video game nerds.
“It’s definitely more about the people than the games,” he concludes. “I really feel strongly that a lot of this is part of our culture, and people are starting to realize that we lost something by losing all of this.”
Jeff Moulton, Aaron Miller and Austin Howard sit around the corner of the U-shaped bar top in Tappers Arcade Bar. For the past month, they’ve been hustling to get their Fletcher Place location ready and in order, loading in arcade game after arcade game while also working out various other logistics. It’s been over a year since the three business partners successfully raised more than $30,000 through an IndieGoGo campaign to help get their bar off the ground. But with only a few weeks until opening day, all three can only sit and contemplate about how their bar will fare.