Favorite Lil' Dive Bar: The Coin-Op Arcade

Favorite Lil' Dive Bar: The Coin-Op Arcade
Words by Caleb Chancey
Photos by Kyle Carpenter
Arcade games are in Brian Hennen’s blood. His parents owned a bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when he was growing up, and to entertain their patrons they placed a few classic pinball and cabinet games in the back of the bar. Brian spent his adolescence at the bar playing games like Stun Runner, all the while watching as his parents created a sense of community within those walls. During his 20s, Brian moved to DC and started his career in video production. He kept late editing hours, and would take breaks by walking to some of the local bars. He became good friends with the bartenders, and just like when he was a kid, he witnessed the community those bartenders created.

The idea to open a bar began to work it’s way into Brian’s heart, but it wasn’t until he moved back to Chattanooga in 2010 that it fully took hold. He was passing by a music venue he had gone to for years when he paused. Next door to the venue, there was an abandoned building. He had seen this space a hundred times before, but that was the first day he saw it. A vision of what could be began to work it’s way through his mind like Ms. Pac-Man after eating a bonus cherry. His imagination began to fill each square foot: this is where the bar will be, that’s where the projection screen will hang, and that’s where the first cabinet game will go. 

I told myself, “If I don’t do this now, I never will.”

The Coin Op Arcade opened its doors in August 2015. The bar has a loyal following of patrons who enjoy $2 Bush Tall Boys and local craft beers. Seven pinball machines, and eight classic cabinets (like Tetris, Legends, and NBA Jam) make the nostalgia factor run high, but Brian is most excited about the bar’s two independent cabinet games. In a day when most people are sitting by themselves playing the latest iPhone game, there are still independent game developers designing games to be played with other people in classic arcade cabinets.

The Coin Op hosts two of these independent games, and on Thursday nights the bar is flooded with players competing in 5-on-5 competitions. Over the years, Brian has seen something incredible grow. It’s the same thing he saw in his parents’ bar, and in those bars he loved in DC: community. A community that wants to play together, challenge each other, and re-capture those childhood feelings of just managing to beat level 10. 

So next time you’re in Chattanooga, join the fun—and bring some quarters.