Let's all agree to agree on this one thing: This is the greatest state in the union, with the smartest women, the best-smelling men, the best-dancing cats, and so forth. After that, though, let's also agree: Sometimes this place just gets ridiculous. A straight week of 90-degree days, nine million percent humidity, summer television, and, indignity of all indignities, official ozone and pollution warnings that recommend what you knew already (namely, that the entire outside is currently hell-bent on your collapse) all combine to sometimes make this feel less like the land of 10,000 lakes and more like the land of two million individual prisons. It's enough to make you shoot someone. Or yourself.
So I drove to Maple Grove. Because I knew there were zombies there to shoot.
Well, I didn't exactly know there were zombies, but I knew that Dave & Buster's had opened there last fall, and I knew they had 32,000 square feet of air-conditioned arcade I'd never seen, and 32,000 square feet of air-conditioned anything was sure to have some ghosts or zombies or something to shoot, and that sounded good to me. Once I got there, however, I found that Dave & Buster's has got so much stuff to shoot I feel obliged to divide this article into the topics of shooting yourself, and shooting others:
The first time I went to Dave & Buster's it was a blistering and humid weekday afternoon, the place was all but deserted, and a dude was standing at the door, looking official.
"I've never been here," I ventured. "What's the deal?"
"Okay, have you been to Gameworks?" he asked, citing the exceedingly similar downtown Minneapolis arcade. I said I had. "We're like Gameworks, except cleaner. And we have better food. And I like to think we dress better." Fair enough! He then explained that this food could be had throughout the entire 32,000 square feet, in the dining room, in the TV lounge, or, as is your wont, whilst you perch upon a faux snowmobile and fly through flaming skies.
What he neglected to say is that the real point of difference between Dave & Buster's and every other arcade with some nachos is that the former has far, far stupider drinks—and I don't necessarily mean that disparagingly, because they aren't just stupid drinks, they are brilliantly stupid drinks, gloriously stupid drinks, stuck-with-your-frat-brothers-in-a-cabin-under-an-avalanche-with-the-entire-DeKuyper-line-of-flavored-alcohols stupid drinks.
Like the Over & Under™ signature shot series. For these, Dave & Buster's had special shot glasses constructed with a little well crouched under a little vase, the two connected by a small opening. The idea is that you put a different beverage in each of these areas, and then when you shoot them the top alcohol glides across your palate tracing upon it merely the faintest veil of flavor, so that you can really taste the Red Bull. Or something like that. A lot of the Over & Unders feature Red Bull—the most popular of them, said our server, was the Bull Blaster, with Jägermiester up top and Red Bull below. The Cherry Bomb has 3 Olives Cherry Vodka up top and Red Bull below. The Fruit Chew ($7) has, up top, SKYY Melon and a banana liqueur so brandless that one can only presume, darkly, that the manufacturers didn't kick back any advertising money; and, down below, Red Bull and DeKuyper Island Blue Pucker. I tried that one and, holy cow, it's like being shot by a paint-ball gun loaded with skittles and baby aspirin. You are warned.
If you don't want to do an Over & Under shot, you are advised to consult one of the bar menus' two solid pages of old-fashioned shooters. You could try the Bubble Gum Shooter, made with Southern Comfort, Disaronno Amaretto, banana liqueur, half and half, and pomegranate syrup. Or the Alien Secretion, a bright-green concoction made with Midori, Malibu rum, blue curacao, and some juice. Or the Lethal Weapon, which has, of course, Bacardi 151, Stoli, Jägermeister, Rumple Minze, cinnamon schnapps, and Midori melon liqueur. Sound sweet? Hell yeah! Dave & Buster's puts the sweet tooth in plastered, with high-octane blended ice-cream drinks, chocolate martinis on which float a pie-topping's worth of whipped cream and chocolate syrup, and, hold on to your molars, a full-on booze snow cone in a glass, called, of course, the Snow Cone ($6.80; half-price during happy hour, which is 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. weekdays, and after 9:00 p.m. every night but Friday and Saturday.) This Snow Cone is a glass packed with shaved ice, into which is layered, like a bomb pop, various colors of sweet hooch, including DeKuyper Watermelon Pucker, Malibu rum, 3 Olives Cherry Vodka, blue curacao, Sprite, and pomegranate syrup. I got one, purely in the public interest, of course, and it tasted exactly like an Icee, making me wonder if I had mistakenly gotten a nonalcoholic one, but then I nearly fell off a faux snowmobile, so I knew we were good.
Dave & Buster's is very much like a Las Vegas casino; as soon as you get a few steps from the front door, you can't see whether it's light out anymore, and so the world falls away. Once it does, you realize it's time to shoot. You could shoot pool, for instance; I didn't, but I did notice that the place prides itself on its solid mahogany billiard tables with rosewood rails. Me, I'm more about shooting zombies—like the ones in House of the Dead 4, who are as relentless as nagging suspicions about your personal worth, yet cost so much less to dispatch. Fun too is shooting mean terrorists—like the ones on Sega's Ghost Squad, who occasionally hide in a room with a lot of wine bottles, giving one the opportunity to shoot cabernet sauvignon. (I'm guessing—it was red, anyway.)
Shooting bears was more of a downer: In Sega's Extreme Hunting 2, there seems to be an effort to make the bears look peaceful, loving, and adorable as they frolic with their cubs and families; for me, I really have no interest in shooting happy, frolicsome, loving bears. I kind of thought they'd be more like zombie bears. However, as someone who owns a home that horrible dumpster squirrels are constantly trying to gnaw into so they can deposit dumpster pizza, I really did enjoy a bonus round of shooting squirrels. I neglected to write down the name of the game in which I climbed into a round plastic ball and spent some time shooting asteroids and enemy spaceships, but that was grand too. When my trigger finger wore out from too much Red Bull-fueled electronic mayhem, I moved on to shooting basketball and skee-ball, and a half-skee-ball sort of steeplechase.
All the traditional midway games eject tickets proportionate to the degree of your success at said games, and, when you are done, you can take your tickets to be weighed and trade them in for any number of gimcracks and whoozigigs. I won't tell you how many tickets I amassed with my great skills, though I will reveal that it was far fewer than the 15,000 required to win an iPod, and many more than needed to score a "mini-frisbee," of which my date noted, "Yeah, I have those at home, they're called lids." Okay, okay, if you must know, I'll tell you. I got 200 points, and took home an ingenious device, which both holds keys and cleverly mimics sounds from the terminus of the digestive system; it's called "The Dr. Fart"—not Mr. Fart, not Dr. Fart, The Dr. Fart, and I'll tell you honestly, it has not failed to make an impression on anyone in my social set.
There are some things at Dave & Buster's that have nothing to do with doing shots or shooting, but I would argue they are tangential to the experience.
Like, they totally have food.
However, after eating a bunch of it, I would say that only a fool would order food at Dave & Buster's that doesn't come with a game card. Happily, most of the good stuff does. For instance, if you go to Dave & Buster's any time at all except Friday or Saturday night after 5:00 p.m., you can get a $20 game card with any of eight entrees for $23.99 (a $20 game card on its own usually costs $22, because you pay two bucks for the refillable card itself. (You can also get a $10 game card, for $15.99, but why, once you've come all this way?)
Among the best game-card options is the fried shrimp and fries, which really is good stuff—the shrimp are frothily breaded and light as air, rivaling the best local tempura shrimp, and the fries are fine. The cheesesteak is another game-card entree, and it's truly good—I mean that. The ingredients, said my server, are all imported from Philadelphia, and they were indeed just right: The meat was dark, heavy, and devourable in the exact way that only razor-thin beef griddled hard with onions can be, and the bun that enclosed the onions, peppers, gooey cheese, and beef was soft enough to smash the filling into but resilient enough not to disappear beneath the strong flavors. I have been, on and off for the last 10 years, working on finding the best Philly cheesesteak in Minnesota, and this one is definitely in the running. Whatever you do, however, do not get drunk enough that you think it's funny to order the Philly Steak Rolls ($7.99), which are egg-roll casings filled with thin sliced beef. They taste like grease made flesh—they were the one thing in Dave & Buster's that needed shooting that didn't get shot.
All in all, I had a lot of fun at Dave & Buster's, but that is only because my heart has many mansions, and within it there is evidently quite a bit of room for stupid drinks and shooting zombies. Essentially, it's $30 or $40 for a couple of hours of air-conditioned diversion; it's a little trip to Vegas hard by I-94; it's 32,000 square feet of games where very nice servers will find you by whatever it is you're shooting, and bring you a ridiculous drink—or, you know, a perfectly normal beer. In short: It is what it is. However, on days when it's both the heat and the humidity, and the prison where you hang your hat is closing in, sometimes a little shooting spree is entirely necessary.