Game Havens: Insert Coin(s), Las Vegas
At Padinga, particularly on The Game Show, it has been said that one of our favorite aspects of gaming is the social aspect. We miss the days of Nintendo’s Power Fest, and everyone and their brother in elementary school owning an 8-bit system and talking about/trading games. It seems that, despite how much bigger gaming has gotten over the years, the close-knit fraternity that was ‘gamers’ has become diluted. (Exception: Pokemon kids)
In truth, the camaraderie still exists, but it has just changed form. What once was link cables, arcades, and game clubs has moved out into the night life. Being able to play games with people across the world online is a great boon, but eventually, you’re going to look up from your pizza-crust-littered desk and realize, you’re alone. You want a place to go get drunk with some fellow Mario freaks. Its time to change out for some clean undies, and join your brothers and sisters in one of the growing number of underground bar/arcades. (known from here on as Barcades. That is now a Padinga phrase, and you owe us a quarter if you use it.) But, where do you find these havens? Well, I’m happy to tell you where they are, and what to expect, both good and bad. I’m proud to start this series with a certain grand opening in my own (current) hometown.
Insert Coin(s), you’ve been Mauled.
It was Friday, April 15th. It was the stuff of legends, it was the grand opening of Insert Coin(s) Video Lounge (Barcade), in downtown Las Vegas. The location of this gala event was 512 Freemont Street, and for those of you unfamiliar with the area, allow me to set the stage: Freemont is an eclectic mix of all cultures. One block to the West of Insert Coin(s), you’ll find the Freemont Experience, which is the last of the old, gangster days casinos, all gathered together under the largest video-screen ceiling in the world, and turned into a tremendous 3 block tourist trap. The Freemont experience is a pathway paved with performance artists, cheesy music, cheap trinkets, equally cheap drinks, and fried twinkies. Its a singularity that begins at the classic Plaza Hotel, ends at the derelict shopping center (presumably being turned into a Star Trek interactive museum), and has a quick stop off at a strip club that uses the phrases “Zounds!!” and “Adzooks!!” (no, that’s not a typo… at least not on my part) to describe the lady-parts of its dancing girls. Class, 100%.
Meanwhile, 3 blocks East of Insert Coin(s), you will find the ghetto. In between, you’ll find the ‘Arts District’ of Vegas, where our Barcade lay, next to the Emergency Arts Center (an inexplicably hospital themed stage and art gallery), and across from both a stripper boutique and The Griffin, a bar that looks something like the interior of Hogwarts. So, now you’ve got gamers, gamblers, drunks, homeless, artists, strippers and, um, Harry Potter fans all coming together in one area. The affect must be seen to be believed.
And so it was that Insert Coin(s) opened its doors to all comers that Saturday night. And… wow. Madhouse is the only word. There were velvet ropes outside, and at least an hour wait to get in. (Happily, the owner hired a band to play in the streets that night, and they had to have put in at least a 4 hour set. Rock/Hip Hop/Game music conversion. Much appreciated) The building was packed to capacity, and bouncers were enforcing a one-man-out-one-man-in policy at the door. It was the kind of anticipation you’d expect to find outside of Club 54, not some retro arcade experiment downtown… but there it was, regardless. The crowd was a mix of gamers, hipsters, and douchebags, the poor, the rich, all fighting to get into see this exciting new hotspot. If the owner ever doubted the excitement his experiment would generate, I’m sure this quieted all the worried voices in his head. Financially, no doubt, a success. But what can you, dear reader, expect to find within?
GAMES: Alright, the thing that makes this relevant to Padinga, and not just a ‘Look, Maul’s out having more fun than you.’ overview: games. If you come to Vegas with quarters in your pocket and an itch to throw down on some classic Street Fighter, school some noobs, whatchoo gonna find?
The games are essentially divided into two halves. You look to your right, you’ll see the current generations. There is a row of booths set up against the wall, each with two TVs, and each armed with a PS3 and a 360. A stack of games lay on the table (please, don’t spill the drinks), waiting for you to choose them and throw down. For a few bucks, you can reserve one of these spaces, so no one can try to nab your couch spot, and tiny girls in tube socks and game T-shirts will bring drinks to the table for you. Retro systems are available too, one table had an NES and a SNES brought to them with a box of cartridges. Your games are displayed on a TV on the wall behind you, so others can watch and revel/laugh at your gaming prowess.
If you choose the left path instead, you’ll be taken into the coin-op section. There you’ll find a wide selection of arcade titles old and new. I mean that somewhat literally, the machines seemed to skip a generation. You’ve got the Atari classics, Donkey Kong, Burger Time, Star Wars, Tron and the like, and then you’ve got a bunch from the ‘everything is a fighter’ era, Street Fighter II iterations, Virtua Fighter, some SNK stuff, Marvel VS Capcom, but the in-between side-scroller/shooter era is a bit shy on representation. There’s a Raiden II, Simpsons Arcade, Operation Wolf, Golden Axe, but very little else from that second great wave of arcade games. Also missing are many of the simulation games from the post-modern arcade. No DDRs, no Sim-Boxing or Turret Gunner, no Silent Scope. There’s a House of the Dead coin-op, and that’s about it for the sims. I can’t be TOO surprised though, those things take up a ton of space, and the place is pretty packed with coin-ops as it is. Given the option, I’ll choose a butt-load of 80′s classics over a couple of Sim games, but I couldn’t help but wish for a 6-Player X-Men Arcade Game. Overall, its a fine selection.
Oh, and the games vary between a quarter and Fifty-cents per credit, seemingly at random.
DRINKS: The other half of the Barcade experience is served to you on the rocks in a chilled glass. How drunk you gonna get and how much is it gonna cost you? (Padinga reminds you to drink responsibly) Well, as a miser, the drinks were a bit more than I’d wanted. I’m a well-whiskey kinda guy at bars, and a single was about $6. And weak… so weak. Three drinks in and I might as well have just been ordering plain Cokes. This is really about average downtown, though. The Griffin across the street will serve you up a $17 cocktail, so I can’t really complain too much. But $7 down the street at Mermaids will a get you a football mug full of Margarita you can puke up in the morning, I suggest doing some pre-drinking up there.
If you’re a baller, though, you can get the bottle service, and its… well, its still average pricing for the downtown area (re: a bit steep), but you’re getting top shelf liquor, and its better to pay for quality drinks than for watered down Jack Daniels.
I can’t complain too much, its the norm for the downtown area. If you plan on drinking, just remember to pack a couple extra Andrew Jacksons with you. The nice bit, though, is that while you’re waiting at the bar, you can play some PS3 games on the TVs that hang above it.
ENVIRONMENT: I liked the style of this place. I think it has a little for everyone, and it should prove to be popular. Games for gamers, dancing for the ladies… and really drunk gamers. There’s video game art strewn about the walls, some of it permanent fixtures, but other pieces you can buy from local, game-obsessed, artists. The couch things are ugly as sin, but comfy enough. The bar casts everything in a lovely blue pallor, very Tron-like. Around the bar are TVs set to entertain everyone while they wait for drinks on busy nights. There are games playing, sports news on a few, and old kung-fu movies cheesin’ it up.
Most appreciated, though, was the fact that despite all these wonderful distractions, games were always front and center. At no point were you not playing a game, watching a game, having controllers and joysticks shoved into your hands, or Link shoved into your eyeballs. The coin-ops, the booths, the TVs at the bars, the art, the videos on the dance floor, EVERYWHERE, you’re being pervaded with video games. And its a good thing that there’s plenty to go around, so you can always get your hands on a joystick of some sort (giggle) despite the tremendous crowd. You’ll never get left out. The one downside: cramped. Arcade games, bars, and dancefloors take up a ton of space. Who knew?
CROWD: Since we’re talking about social gatherings, we can’t stress enough the importance of the company you keep. I can’t give a full rundown of this yet, because it was opening night. Surely, there were people there who wouldn’t show normally. The place was full, hot, and noisy. Only time, ultimately, will tell what kind of crowd will claim ownership of Insert Coin(s). Will it be simple gamers, coming out to enjoy a mellow evening with their drinking buddies? Will it be hipsters, in their fake glasses and skinny jeans from the Salvation Army, come to have an ironic good time with electronics from a by-gone era? Or will it become a new scene hot-spot, where the waiting list to get in continues, and trust-fund chumps come to blow insane amounts of money on bottles of Patron?
Either way, the scene was friendly, flirty, and fun. There were tiny nerdy girls running around, goth kids, Asian exchange students from UNLV, guys in suits, ladies in party dresses, hipsters, emo kids, country boys, hell, I even shared my table with a couple rap-lookin guys, who had a love of Street Fighter 4, and later bumped into a Macho Man Randy Savage impersonator. Even my recluse roommate had a great, great time. And he hates bars.
Ultimately, Insert Coin(s) seems like a great success. You can have fun on about any budget, and meet a plethora of different people who all have a love of video games. I hope the place cools off a little bit, because the crowd, and their body heat, can be stifling. But based on this first impression, I’d call Insert Coin(s) a must visit for Las Vegas.