A Sip of Nostalgia
The new Coin-Op Game Room may have a bouncer at the top of the stairs, but this is not a typical posh downtown bar. The wooden staircase winds down into a patio, where people are sipping drinks and playing a giant version of Jenga. Inside, the space strikes a nice balance between a trendy dive bar and a friendly neighborhood pub, with neon beer signs, slices of pizza served on brightly colored Frisbee plates and beer lists printed on chalkboards decorated with pictures of Mario and Luigi. A few people are gathered around the actual bar, but everyone else is clustered around the various arcade games that line the walls—about 40 in all. After Burner, Spy Hunter, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, an entire row of pinball machines—this barcade is sure to stir up some feelings of nostalgia.
Originating in San Diego, Coin-Op Game Room offers adults a place to play the games they loved while they were growing up while enjoying a craft cocktail or microbrew. According to Evan Louis, one of the managing partners: “We like to explain it as a place that you can play nostalgic video games, get your Pac-Man on, or your Dig Dug or your Street Fighter on, and get a proper Old Fashioned.”
Coin-Op Game Room is a joint operation between Louis and partners Hassan Mahmood and Roy Ledo, owners of the original San Diego location. They also own Lion’s Share, a San Diego bar and restaurant that specializes in craft cocktails and exotic game meat like antelope, wild boar and kangaroo.
When they decided to expand to a third establishment, the original plan was to open another Coin-Op Game Room in Chico. Mahmood and Ledo stopped in Sacramento on their way up to Chico. They explored the downtown area and ended up liking what they saw, especially with the prospect of the new Kings arena on the horizon and all the development that has been happening in Sacramento over the past few years.
“We think in the next five to 10 years Sacramento is really going to move,” Louis says. So they made an executive decision and chose Sacramento over Chico, and settled on the building that used to be Marilyn’s on K. Evan feels they made the right choice in opting to set up shop in the capitol.
“Chico is a college town and nobody wants to pay $6 for a beer. The video games would definitely attract, but you’d have to have some really low prices,” he says.
The Sacramento Coin-Op Game Room is double the size of the San Diego location, but the concept is identical.
“We definitely expanded on that location but it has the same vibe. Craft beers, craft cocktails,” Louis says.
The location ended up being pretty ideal because K Street will become the gateway to the new arena. In San Diego, Lion’s Share is near Petco Park, the baseball stadium, which has been a big draw for getting customers. Louis hopes that the downtown area will soon be picking up.
“Midtown is a little bit more happening, but we definitely think that we can draw some of that midtown crowd to the downtown area and make downtown what it used to be, a little more fun and hip,” Louis says.
Coin-Op Game Room has the potential to draw in a more fun and lively crowd to downtown Sacramento. The bar will host regular tournaments and competitions for the more popular arcade games, such as pinball and Street Fighter.
“There’s actually a huge following of pinball. There are pinball associations across the United States, and we’re already on their radar,” Louis says.
They’re also looking to work with one of the liquor companies, possibly Jack Daniel’s, to do a special Big Buck Hunter competition, offering monthly or bi-monthly specials. The person who gets the highest score over a certain period would get to fly out to Tennessee for a tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. And keeping with a San Diego tradition, the last Sunday of every month is free play, and all the games are free. “It’s a really good day for us in San Diego and also a way to give back,” Louis says.
They’ll also have DJs on Friday and Saturday nights. “There’s not too much room to dance but at least you can have some cool ambiance and vibes,” Louis says. They’ve partnered with local DJ Shaun Slaughter, who will be at their grand opening on May 28, and hope to have more local DJs on a regular basis.
The food at Coin-Op Game Room is perfectly suited to the casual, nostalgic feeling the arcade games impart. You can get a slice of cheese, veggie or pepperoni pizza if you just need a quick bite while wrapped up in playing Street Fighter. If you come with a group, you can order a whole pizza pie for a greater variety of toppings, like pesto, prosciutto or the “carnivore.” They also serve appetizers, including typical bar food like hot wings, or more unusual options like meatballs or an olive plate. Food is served until 1 a.m., and unlike many of the bars in the area, the bar stays open until 2 a.m., every night of the week. Louis says he has really enjoyed the crowds they’ve had on the weeknights since they’ve been open. “Sunday was a good crowd. We got a lot of industry people, and that’s like what we get in San Diego,” he says. “We like to cater to the late-nighters.”
The beer menu is impressive—18 beers on tap, with a range of styles and breweries—varying in strength from session ales to a triple IPA, coffee stout, hard cider and even a sour. Some of the breweries featured at the moment include Alpine Beer Company, Green Flash, Deschutes, Dogfish Head, Track 7 and Knee Deep Brewing.
Their cocktail menu features creative concoctions priced between $7.50 and $9.50, and the names are as intriguing as the ingredients: the “91 Unleaded,” which contains rum, Temple cold brew coffee, cinnamon and black walnut bitters; or the “Tangerine Speedo,” rye, tangerine, tarragon, lemon and ginger beer. For something a little more classic, try the “Leggy Blonde,” a refreshing blend of vodka, pressed ginger and lime, cucumber and mint. For a group, Coin-Op Game Room also has punch bowls, which serve eight.
“It’s nice and communal and that’s something we definitely strive for here,” Louis says. But punch bowls are not meant to be enjoyed alone—in fact, the establishment won’t sell them to groups of less than three people. “We don’t want anyone getting sauced up carrying around a punch bowl by themselves,” he adds.
Despite the complicated cocktails and an overwhelming selection of draft beers, Coin-Op Game Room doesn’t have an exclusive or pretentious vibe. “This is a place where you can come by yourself, or with a group of friends, or come to make friends. You never know who you’re going to play Street Fighter next to. Next thing you know you’re having a beer at the bar together,” Louis says. “You can be in a comfortable environment and still get delicious drinks.”
Travis, the bar manager, chimes in: “We’re bringing the cocktail to the people.”