Geek has been spending an awful lot of time in Las Vegas over the past year. As you'd expect, the reason for each trip has been pretty geeky: Star Trek Las Vegas, Las Vegas Comic Expo, and CES, just to name a few. And like any good Las Vegas revelers, when the day was done, we sought out a place to unwind or just get crazy.
Of course, the Strip has an endless array of clubs, but they all tend to blur together after awhile. The same music, the same people, the same impossibly priced/watered down drinks. And more often than not, it just wasn’t our scene. We’re geeks. Where do the geeks go when they’re in Las Vegas? When we asked that question aloud instead of just in our heads, a friend suggested a place in downtown Las Vegas, on Fremont Street. But isn’t that “old” Las Vegas, where all the old people go to get away from the young, hip, and stupid? We quickly found out how wrong we were. Okay, sure, there’s plenty of old Vegas still glittering away under the world’s biggest street length video screen, but it’s got lots more that we didn’t expect. There’s people on zip-lines, live bands performing on the street, and a growing arts district that attracts more than a few pork pie-hatted local hipsters. And amidst everything Fremont Street has to offer sits the gaming geek mecca for the 21 and over crowd, Insert Coin(s). It’s simply a bar with video games, both old and new, for people who love to play, even when a bit tipsy. There it’s not about how tiny your little black dress is or how much you can bribe the bouncer to get you past the velvet rope. At Insert Coin(s) Video Lounge Game Bar it’s all about the games… and the drinks… and maybe dancing to the nightly hot deejay sets. But mostly it’s about video games.
We sat down with Insert Coin(s) founder and COO, Christopher LaPorte, to get the skinny on this unique geek destination’s origin story, why they’re different from your average Vegas nightspot, and what they’ve got planned for the future beyond the confines of the little desert oasis they call home.
GEEK: Why bring a bar of this type to Las Vegas?
I lived in Las Vegas for about 7 years and I looked around and saw other like minded individuals (especially like the EVO tournament) where I saw 30somethings looking to party and play video games.
I was doing the nightclub scene, sitting there, getting bottle service, doing the whole Vegas thing, and I was bored. I went to a sports bar and watched tv at a bar and I was bored. So I took those two elements, saw the success of things like Barcade in Brooklyn and Ground Control in Portland and said let’s mix up all those elements, get the classic arcade cabinets for the original generation of gamers, and let’s push the modern consoles to everyone else in the country who plays video games… and drink.
GEEK: I didn’t know how well I could play while drunk.
Yes. The anxiety goes away.
GEEK: How long have you been on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas?
We’ve been open for almost 2 years. We opened in April of 2011. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success… so much that we were able to open a second location in Minneapolis last fall.
GEEK: What goes into setting up a video game bar as compared to setting up just another run of the mill club or watering hole?
Well, just the fact that everyone says that it’s not going to work. For the most part, you do the usual stuff like getting your liquor license, but you have to have the wherewithal as a gamer to know exactly what to get. I mean… We’ve had three copycats already here in Vegas. Joystick opened up at Hooters Casino. Then there’ s EA’s Sports Bar at the Cosmopolitan. And more recently, High Scores in Henderson, Nevada. And each time those were opened, I can tell you, they weren’t real gamers. The first two, not to kick rocks or anything, but didn’t do so well. This new one that opened up, they’ll enjoy some popularity because they’re new and eventually people will realize they don’t know much about gaming to really last.
GEEK: So you feel it’s important to have a history and passion for gaming to run a venue like this?
Absolutely! One of the things about the success here, we were doing this thing called “Beat the Boss”, where if you could beat me at Street Fighter, I’ll buy you drinks. Then I got pretty confident, I claimed I could beat you with one hand. But as the business got more “businessy”, my skills diminished. But for the most part, we created a culture. That “geek is chic” is kind of cliché, but it’s true. We have a 50/50 ratio guys to girls in here when everybody told me this was going to be a sausage fest. But the reality is, women play video games too. And a lot of times a gamer’s going to have a pretty good education and a job, so we end up being a pretty good pick for the females. I’m telling you, every night, I’ll find one or two girls who kick ass in video games.
One of the things that we feel is that the success of Insert Coin(s) came from is that the nightclub scene in Las Vegas has a tendency to be, I don’t know… pretentious? Here at Insert Coin(s) we’re really like come as you are and have a good time. Come in your video game apparel and dress up if you like to, wear cool sneakers, just be yourself, come in have a good time, have a drink.
GEEK: You’ve got an old school arcade, games at the bar, and bottle service with a diverse menu of console games ready to be plugged in on demand. Is there anything else you could do? Are you looking at new ways to incorporate gaming into your venues that we haven’t already seen?
I’ll give away some trade secrets, because I’m very confident, as are my partners, that Insert Coin(s) is first to market with this so we can start doing certain things and we’ll do it really big. Casual gaming, in terms of tablet gaming… you like Angry Birds? What if we would take our bar top and on the bar itself, what if you could play some touch gaming right on the bar? It would be pretty cool, right? The thing about it is for an arcade to survive in today’s world, is to not to be so niche and really cater to a large audience. And gamers are everywhere. This isn’t just the NES generation. It’s Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Dreamcast. All these kids, they play anything that’s a game. And we have a really strong 40something crowd that comes in to play the original Asteroids, but I bet you they play Angry Birds on their iPhone. So if we could put that on a bartop, we could do stuff like that. The other thing is that because we’re a bar and we’re 21 and up, we literally have people waiting to turn 21 to come here. So the generations of gamers is always going to grow and as long as we maintain our relevancy in terms of, number one, never forgetting who we are and showcasing these older arcade cabinets – Y’know, kids these days don’t even know what an arcade experience is! I remember playing arcade games in a Laundromat, in a corner convenience store, in a bodega. We have kids that come in here who are hardcore Call of Duty fans. And I say, “Hey, come here. See that game? It’s called Metal Slug. Give that one a shot.” And they’ll pump in quarters, try it out, and have a good time.
GEEK: Do you host any special events at the clubs?
One of the things we’re trying to do is tournaments. Most of the time these competitions take place at hotels or conference centers, and that’s cool, but if you look at MLG (Major League Gaming) and what they’re doing in literally creating e-sports and stadium events. So what if we had Insert Coin(s) Las Vegas versus Insert Coin(s) Minneapolis? Just to have these different locations battle each other. It would be really cool. We could sit there and literally create this new… I don’t want to say a sport, but if poker’s a sport, why can’t video games be? The challenge with tournaments is that we get the hardcore demographic coming in and they don’t want to drink, because they want to win. So as a bar, that’s our primary source of revenue. That’s the thing about arcades by themselves; it’s hard to keep an arcade running when you’re just running on quarters and dollar bills. The bar really sustains the business.
And while the tournaments are one of the things that’s fun to do, the other things we’re excited about is when we have professional athletes come in or, last year, we had DJ Jazzy Jeff. This is a guy who travels the world and does big deejay sets everywhere. And he walked in here and he’s like “I don’t even want to work tonight. Can I get that booth and just play Excitebike?” I said, “Nah, not ’til you’re done, bro.” The experience people have here, it’s just a lot of fun.
In terms of other events, we’re trying to get more participation from these video game companies. I don’t think people really know what Insert Coin(s) really is, because we’re in Vegas. So it’s either thought of as just another arcade or it’s just some nightclub. They don’t realize what it is we have to offer. Last year, there was a Resident Evil 6 release party in LA and it was a great show. It was awesome. It was a big, big event. And when I look at that and see that they took over a nightclub and put all the fixings up, I’m sitting here, saying “Hello, just come to Insert Coin(s) and just bring the game, because I have everything already set up for you. I have the stage and the deejay booth and all Xboxes and Playstation 3s at your disposal. So that’s what we’re trying to do here moreso in 2013.
GEEK: Do you see yourself expanding beyond Las Vegas and Minneapolis?
Absolutely! My eyes are on the prize right now. I want San Francisco really bad. I want San Fran bad. And San Diego because of Comic-Con. All of those areas in California would be awesome. Of course, going back out to the East coast to New York. We were only open for a year and a half before Minneapolis opened, and that’s really fast, but we know we have something special here. It’s just a matter of expanding intelligently.
GEEK: What’s next for Insert Coins(s)?
I was lucky enough to serve as the executive producer for a movie called “100 Yen – The Japanese Arcade Experience”*. Two gentlemen by the name of Brad Crawford and Bryan Verot, out of Canada, made a documentary about the Japanese arcade culture, how much of a social scene it is and how important of a mainstay it is for that country. They heard about Insert Coin(s) before we were even open. And when they were filming the question came up, “Do you think you could bring the arcades back to the States?” They know about these other places that are open and I’ll never say that we’re the first by any means, but in Japan it’s so much a part of their culture. It can be that way here, but it has to be presented in a different way, and that’s why I think Insert Coin(s) will be so successful, because we’re not necessarily limiting ourselves to this niche. These guys with the 100 Yen Arcade Experience movie showed that maybe it can happen here, because of this reinvention of the arcade here at Insert Coin(s). It’s really about the Japanese arcade experience, but Insert Coin(s) has a slight role in it because the comparison between why does it work in Japan and why doesn’t it work out in the West and can it happen because of Insert Coin(s)?
(Since this interview, 100 Yen – The Japanese Arcade Experience is scheduled to come out on DVD and a digital release for their Indiegogo supporters in May 2013. For more information, visit http://100yenfilm.com/.)
Photos: Peter Suh, Danielle DeBruno, Doug Kline