Date Night: Beat My High Score

Date Night: Beat My High Score

Written by Brandon Stettenbenz; Featured artwork and photography by Mike Pfaff

Good ol’ arcade rivalry can spice up any romance. Just don’t gloat too much or you might lose that loving feeling. My wife and I have had more than one spat over who’s the better joystick jockey, but it’s our shared passion for all things nerdy and a playful, gamer rivalry that keeps our relationship strong and spicy, just the way we like it.

Inside Zanzabar in Germantown the nostalgia is as palpable as the smell of fries and burgers. Pinball machines ding and whoosh while the juke-box controlled ceiling speakers blare classic rock, punk, metal, and hip hop. It’s no Flynn’s Arcade in terms of scale, but there’s also no brats crowding the “Space Paranoids” machine. That’s the beauty of a “Barcade”: it’s not Chucky Cheese. When we’re on a date, we want to re-live the joys of our childhood and not hangout with children.

Pinball Zanzabar
Ariel scores a lot of points while Brandon looks on with concern.

If your date plans include dinner, Zanzabar’s diner faire is on par with the best greasy spoons I’ve ever had the guilty pleasure of gorging myself on. Sandwiches, pizza, and general American is what they do and they do it well. Start with the Pterodactyl wings (nerd for big chicken) and work your way up to Magic Galaxy Tacos, Fozzie Bear’s Kimchi Pie (a spicy pizza featuring locally made kimchi), or the Mata Hari Hot Brown. Top it all off with a cast-iron skillet Death Star Cookie.

Add a good selection of rotating drafts from lagers to stouts to hoppy IPAs, a fully stocked bar with a tasteful bourbon selection, and a respectable collection of arcade cabinets and pinball machines from the 70’s and 80’s (with a few outliers made in the 90’s), and you’ve got Louisville’s answer to the world-famous Barcade franchise, originated in New York. Dinner, drinks, and arcade games make for an awesome nerd date, especially if you throw in some friendly, flirty competition.

My specialties are Galaga and pinball machines that came out after 1980. There’s just something about destroying space bugs on a CRT screen that gets me pumped. In the past, I’ve dropped some serious coin on The Adams Family, The Who’s Pinball Wizard, and Star Wars pinball. Basically, if it was made in the era of “personal computers”, has a ton of lights (Ooooh shiny), and is based on a franchise I enjoy, I’m excited to play it. If you see RAD in the high scores, it’s probably me.

My wife enjoys Joust, the original Star Wars 6-axis stick, and The Machine [Bride of Pinbot]. The latter isn’t because she’s showing solidarity with lady bots – they just happen to have that machine and it’s way fun. We’re both Rogue Jedi’s at heart but she’s way better on the joystick than I am. Even with three attack phases (chances) and two decades of modern FPS, I’m just no threat to the original Death Star. I’m also a paltry squire of an ostrich knight, while she’s deadly with a lance in Joust.

Nerdy Date Night
Ariel with a little playful trash talk to Brandon during a game of Star Wars pinball.

You’ve probably assumed rightly, that she picks harder games because she’s a badass. Her timing is way better than mine at slow paced games. She’s patient and strategic, while I’m a button masher. But that doesn’t mean we can’t play nice. We just take turns burying each other’s high score, or slide over to the Rampage cabinet and take our frustrations out on an unsuspecting populace, cooperatively.

Although we have different tastes in games and styles of play, we enjoy challenging each other to adapt. Keeping in the service of romance, not ego, we keep those challenges light-hearted. Small jabs and light gloating keep us on our toes while we quote Star Wars, Star Trek, and other fandoms. If you like to talk nerdy to your man or lady, this is the place for it. Diner food, nostalgia, booze, and your best guy or gal; what more can you ask for?

Tips:

  • Keep your competition friendly. Passion is great for romantic connections but rage quitting makes for an awkward date.
  • Avoid going on Louisville Pinball League nights (Fridays)
  • Zanzabar is also a venue, so on many weekend nights there’s a cover, music, and half the games are obscured by the stage and crowd. However, they’re expanding soon to a second adjacent building that will house the venue biz.
  • Games rotate, so be open minded about trying new games.
  • This is a real arcade setup, so bring cash for the quarter machine!
Zanzabar Arcade
Brandon trying to beat Ariel's score on Ms. Pac Man.

Date Night is aimed at other nerdy couples who are looking for fun date ideas. We hope to have more articles like this in the future. Have an idea for a date night? Reach out to us. Also, Nerd Louisville thrives on donations to bring you this content. Please consider donating to our cause using the button below.

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Brandon Stettenbenz

Brandon handles content strategy for Nerd Louisville and is part of a team of content strategists at TLH. He’s also a Sci-Fi author, literary geek, gamer, and nerd of many fandoms.