Remembering Scallywag Tag East

Hannah WilsonMiscellaneousLeave a Comment

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We all have something expensive we begged our parents for as a child with no concept of money. Mine was a membership to the Fifth Grade Scallywag Tag East After School Club. On Wednesdays when the school day ended, it was anchors away to the pirate themed laser tag down the road.


Membership into the Fifth Grade Scallywag Tag East After School Club was an amount of money. How much, I didn’t know or care, I just knew I needed to be in that building. It was my happy place. I couldn’t care less about playing laser tag. I never checked my score, and when I did, I was losing.


In fact, my fondest memory of Scallywag Tag East features no vest at all – middle school New Years Eve, my friends convinced the teen attendants to let us go into the arena with no laser weaponry just to goof around and dance.


Dancing was maybe an odd choice. The soundtrack had a distinct vibe, and was hand controlled by the teens who worked there. Scallywag Tag Easts employees were sort of a Hot Topic or Spencer’s extension – if you were just a bit geekier than those establishments, you were perfect. “Sandstorm” by Darude featured as the opening and closing acts of near every game, graciously letting Weezer or My Chemical Romance share the stage between plays.


Once you donned your vest and heard your “Sandstorm” entrance music, there were a few choices. Appropriate to any laser tag arena, the space was darkly lit, illuminated only by dayglo paint across the obstacles. The space was arguably small for a business of this venture, being built in a former Chinese buffet, so it made up for size in atmosphere.


The red team had a base to the right of entry, with a climbable pirate ship looming over all who enter. It’s unclear if this is a shipwreck, or a ship anchored to water that we can magically traverse. The blue team had a base in some sort of town, one not necessarily plundered, but obviously messed with. What felt like endless corridors twisted through the blue side, with a few options to get to higher ground. If you’re thinking it’s contradicting to call the arena small and then reference a full town and boat… it is exactly as crammed as you’re picturing. But when strobes are flashing to “1985” by Bowling for Soup, and your brain is still squishy, it feels like this room covers the tri-state area.


I see Dave & Buster’s criticized for being a “child casino.” Well, I’m here to propose that laser tag was a child nightclub. Whether your spot of choice was the barrels in the ruined city, or the jail cells and their skeleton, or even the squid tentacles hanging from the ceiling in a passage too narrow for comfort — the music was loud, the lights were flashing, and the Sprite was flowing.


“I tried Monster for the first time at Scallywag Tag in middle school, and I felt like I was drinking alcohol because (of my parents)” remembers Maddie.


But it wasn’t just about what our parents didn’t want us to do. The building featured a decently large arcade, plus a snack bar and seating area. Isabelle remembers these non-laser spaces: “The pizza was awesome, the Jones soda was a must … the hollow sounding floors and arcade machines blaring, always having Pirates of the Caribbean playing on the TV.” Fountain drinks were served in plastic pitchers, the snack bar teens a Dionysus of soda, kids gathered in ritual as they await the next game. Sitting in the red, cracked leather booths and feeling the sticky floor while your friends cracked jokes was how we imagined adulthood going to a bar. We felt grown up in this pirate themed candy store, ultimately young in our thinking that it would never end.


“Over the years, the locally owned business has been a supportive partner of community groups and non-profit organizations donating free games and providing fundraising opportunities to schools, churches, sports teams and under privileged children and more” notes the Cincinnati Enquirer in the article about its closing in 2017.


It would be hard to find a kid who doesn’t want to play laser tag if invited. But what formed was a crowd of usuals, be it from Fifth Grade Scallywag Tag East After School Club and its equivalents, kids with money to spare from chores, or those who put all their raffle tickets in for a chance to return. The kids who started going to Scallywag Tag in elementary grew to be teens, either working there or continuing to patronize, some all the way up to young adulthood. I spent my junior prom in the arena instead of our school gym, and I was not the only teen that dropped anchor there for the night.


The usual crowd even got some perks over the first timers — “requesting specific music was a must, getting the staff to let us play King of the Hill or Capture the Flag instead* was the highlight of the week” Isabelle reminisces.


When asked about the connections made there, Brian remembers – “I feel like it might have had to do with [our township] being kind of cliquey… the preps and jocks were NOT hanging out at Scallywag Tag.” Scallywag Tag thus acted as a common ground for people of all ages and identities who strayed from the crowd. Sure, we pretended drink and would joke about our “sugar high,” but we were far from that path.


Scallywag Tag East was a Third Place for the youth, offering a healthy outlet.


“Your third place is somewhere you can connect with others, share your thoughts and dreams, and have fun. A third place is an anchor of the community… a powerful antidote to isolation and exclusion. It restores connection, gives us an identity, supports us, and allows us to be our genuine self.”


Thinking of Scallywag Tag as an anchor is almost too fitting.


“The last time I went was freshman year of high school for a Latin Club social event” remembers Joshua. “I was painfully shy back then, so going to an event where I wasn’t close friends with many people was a big risk for me. I had the night of my life. We played the laser tag, I played the Guitar Hero machine in the arcade, and I had Monster for the first (and last) time in my life… Latin Club ended up being where I made a lot of my closest friends in high school, so that night has a special place in my heart.”

At the time of this article, there is still a Scallywag Tag in Cincinnati, known as Scallywag Tag West. If you have the chance, check the venue out and support the man who made our childhoods, Zach Leopold. Scallywag Tag West is significantly larger and even features real, non-pretend alcohol all wrapped up in that sacred pirate theme.

You can also visit Leopolds other business, The Rook, a board game bar in the Over The Rhine neighborhood (also with real alcohol.)

*King of the Hill and Capture the Flag were different modes that came loaded in the laser tag vests, but had to be requested.

Note: edits were made after posting to include more quotes.

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Hannah WilsonRemembering Scallywag Tag East