8 Railroad St, Hadley
Open 5PM-1AM Mon, 12PM – 1AM Tue-Fri, 11AM-1AM Sat-Sun
A common criticism of Amherst social life is the similitude and frequent mediocrity of larger, public options. The Socials and larger campus parties lose their appeal about a week into Orientation. The blinding elatedness of newfound freedoms diminishes, and uneasiness with the gross, sweaty spaces and with the shallow, ritualistic performance of ‘fun’ kicks in. Looking outside the campus, all that is really commonly accessible are the several bars lining North Pleasant Street. But of course, the prohibition against anyone under 21 makes them accessible to only a fraction of students, and something about the crowded cesspools of vulgarity, over-applied cologne and harassed girls in miniskirts begs the question of why that fraction would be interested in going in the first place. To be fair, we are both very fond of High Horse, with its relaxed and comfortable atmosphere and fantastic beer selection, but it is obviously far from adequate for serving the entire student population.
The Quarters, located on Route 9 at Railroad Street, is a new venue that seeks to help fill this very void. No single term is sufficient to describe what The Quarters is. In fact, the owners don’t even attempt to provide one in any of their official self-descriptions, referring to themselves instead as “a new restaurant, bar and vintage arcade,” and a “destination for those seeking a place to enjoy some creative food, excellent drinks and 20+ vintage arcade games.”
The Quarters is the most accessible social venue we know about available to the Valley’s college-aged population. Remembering how alienated and uneasy we felt when we first started visiting the town’s bars last year, we were delighted at how pleased and comfortable a first-year friend of ours felt when we took her to visit The Quarters for the first time.
The Quarters is a relaxed, innovative blend of old-school culture (historic arcade games, gorgeous pinball machines, shelves dedicated to 80s toys) and hip, contemporary conveniences (a change machine that accepts credit cards, large hanging flat-screens advertising the food and drink menus adjacent to hot dog GIFs and bartenders sporting enormous hipster glasses). Its authenticity is confirmed by a consistent traffic of people in their 40s, old enough to have enjoyed many of these games during their original release window. True to its name, it only charges a quarter per play on nearly every machine.
Above all, The Quarters a multifaceted space that is harmonious because none of its features are independently imposing. One could go there to drink and socialize just as easily as one could go to game. Their kitchen is not to be understated either; a carefully crafted menu featuring delicious chic finger-foods like Chicken & Waffles and Sweet Potato Fries makes The Quarters a strong contender with High Horse and Amherst Brewing Company for the casual dining experience. Perhaps most unique is their selection of “Pups” — unique “local mini dogs” (vegan optional) generously carpeted with a diverse array of toppings from pickled carrots to Kimchi to good-old Mac & Cheese. Their focused craft beer and mixed drink selection won’t match the variety found in the selection at many of Amherst’s premier inebriation venues, but it’s no slouch either. And for those dissatisfied with Amherst’s lack of late night venues, you can live out every high schooler’s dream by drunk-playing video games late into any weeknight.
The owners of The Quarters are also admirably enterprising — they take advantage of the building’s position overlooking the Norwottock Rail Trail to sell ice cream directly through a window to the trail’s patrons.
We particularly appreciate the game selection for how complete the vintage collection is, making it substantially different from any arcade we have been to. One of our favorites is the criminally underrated Crystal Castles, released in 1983 as the next logical evolution of Pac-Man. They DO have Ms. Pac-Man, herself superior to her more famous husband, letting us all live out, if only for a fleeting moment, our hopes and dreams of being a yellow circular construction worker moving pellet-shaped debris off the road with our stomachs by day and then murdering ghosts by night. But the alternately turgid and lightning quick pace of Crystal Castles brings a much needed jolt of agency, and anxiety over timing every move perfectly, to the perpetual controlled reckless abandon of the earlier Pac-Man. It’s less immediately enjoyable for newcomers, perhaps, but its mechanics reveal more depth and nuance as well, especially in the risk-reward of being able to kill enemies by touching them only if they are actively eating the pellets that your brave, regal protagonist Bentley Bear so craves. If you wait a half second too long and you connect with them after they’ve finished their meal, you’ll be out a life. And if the drinks at the bar don’t satisfy you, there’s always any arcade’s premier cocktail: one part ultra-violence, on part consumerism, and one part corny humor, courtesy of Smash TV: the greatest dual joystick shooter of all time. That’s right — not one, but two whole joysticks for your pleasure time (for a little history lesson, pop on over to the granddaddy of the genre a couple machines away — Robotron). How many other games have a grenade machine gun? 1990 was a simpler time indeed.
Other fine offerings include Burger Time, in which you run on top of hamburgers to make them fall while avoiding walking sunny-side-up eggs; Joust, where you … joust, albeit on space ostriches which can glide around for short distances and of course the old standby Tetris, where you save the Russian Kremlin from falling blocks by making sure they fall in just the right spatial order. Or perhaps you’re trying to knock down a wall of some kind in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds as the blocks just keep piling up. Not that Russia has any history with walls, or falling blocks. Either way, you gotta love the primal joy that comes from the esoteric simplicity of those early 80s game concept ideas.
You really don’t see the kind of mind-boggling combination of inspired venues matched to simple yet addictive gameplay anymore. Be warned, those of you reared on modern movie theater arcade fare, with barely functioning light gun science fiction and hunting shooters, all manner of racing games and the air hockey you came for in the first place but didn’t feel comfortable hogging for the whole hour before the movie — you’ll find no such tomfoolery here. This is a classic arcade, and they stick to their aesthetic admirably. Their Addams Family pinball machine has a gorgeous aesthetic and wonderfully pure gameplay experience, but it will take some getting used to for those raised on the bells and whistles of 3D Pinball Space Cadet. But come in soon and often, for their game selection rotates surprisingly frequently. A number of classics are out and ready, but most of the other ones we inquired about were up-and-coming. Donkey Kong, Arkanoid, Double Dragon, X-Men, you name it — it’ll probably be up sometime soon. For anyone looking to reconnect with gaming’s roots, absent any of the hustle and bustle of modern gameplay visuals, narrative, and complexity, The Quarters is worth every, well, quarter.