Chris Ellis knows people eagerly have been awaiting the Quarter Barrel's opening for months. They've been letting him know.
He originally planned to open the brewpub and arcade at 616 Second Ave. SE in October 2014. Though that didn't happen, online hype has grown in the intervening months.
When Ellis, 29, announced a soft opening Dec. 31, 2015, he and his wife Lorelle Lindo, 37, were hoping for a quiet night where they could show family and friends the space and give staff a chance to learn the computer system.
Instead, they were slammed with customers from the moment they opened the doors. The announcement on Facebook garnered over 180 likes and was shared 45 times.
The business is ramping up operations slowly before an official grand opening the weekend of Jan. 29. Until then, hours are limited. Ellis hopes to open the kitchen this week and to begin brewing house beers. For now, Quarter Barrel offers guest beers on tap and, of course, access to a range of classic arcade games.
"We're still a work in progress. We're really only open this month because we knew people were dying to play the games," Lindo said.
Ellis said he's thankful fans have been patient and stuck with them through the delays, which started when Ellis decided to pursue a historic renovation of the downtown Cedar Rapids building. The space is part of "Automobile Row," several adjacent blocks that housed car showrooms and automobile repair shops in the early 1900s. The district recently was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
Ellis talked to a historical consultant and spent hours researching the building's history. It first opened as the Barton-Ford Motor Co. in 1912 and through the 1930s housed other automobile-related businesses, including a very early recharging station for electric cars. Beginning in the 1990s, the location was a series of bars, most recently Club CO2.
Renovating the building in a historically-accurate fashion included removing a stucco facade from the front to uncover the original brick. Large plate glass windows were also fully uncovered.
"We gave a lot of attention to bringing back the original appearance," Ellis said.
Inside, he added, was "more like an excavation," than simply a renovation. Workers removed layers of carpet, linoleum and tile to reach the original showroom's concrete floor. Walls were also chipped away to expose the brickwork inside.
The finished space's industrial feel is offset by colorful rows of arcade games and bright game scene prints on the walls, which Ellis designed.
A new kitchen, brewing room and bar with 24 tap lines completed the renovation work. The goal is for half the taps to be house brews and half to be guest taps. Ellis plans to brew a wide range of styles, with a focus on lagers and German-style brewing.
The menu will focus on pizza complimented by other pub food. Chef Andrew Hoffman has been experimenting with dishes to get them just right - he's on a quest for perfect fried pickles, for example.
The games themselves were gleaned from Craigslist, eBay and elsewhere. Ellis is working to add two and four-player games to the lineup.
"We want to be a gathering space and a place to socialize," he said. He and Lindo were arcade fans in Chicago and on a trip to Brooklyn visited Barcade, an arcade bar with locations on the East Coast. The concept is growing in popularity - Forbidden Planet opened in Iowa City in 2014, and at least two such establishments have opened in Des Moines.
When Ellis began working for breweries - first Goose Island Brewery in Chicago and later Millstream Brewing Company in Amana - they thought, why not take the idea to the next level and brew the beer themselves?
"It was just sort of a flash of - I don't know if it was brilliance - but a revelation that we could combine the two," he said.
Where: 616 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: January hours vary; check Facebook for updates
Details: (319) 200-4140; thequarterbarrel.com