The bar glows a Tron-esque shade of blue and serves beer and sweet, colorful game-themed mix drinks, Classic coin-op arcade machines such as Space Invaders, Golden Axe, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 line the walls, and a plush VIP lounge has huge couches and consoles set up for parties. Patrons mingle amongst the stand-up cabinets, drinking beer in between rounds of Dig Dug, or sit at the bar and play games displayed on TVs overhead, like an interactive sports bar. A dance floor blasts the sounds of local DJs and guests from around the world, such as Talib Kweli, Anthony Valadez, Stretch Armstrong, and Lefto, mixing melodiously with the sounds of Mortal Kombat and Mario Kart. Insert Coin(s), the Las Vegas-based nightclub/arcade simultaneously realizes the ultimate hang-out for adult gamers and obliterates the stereotype of it as a children’s pastime. And now it’s opening a new location in Minneapolis.
On Las Vegas’ neon-lit Fremont street, you can gamble at the many casinos such as the Golden Nugget or the Four Queens, see street performers hypnotizing the crowds 24-hours, watch a giant overhead TV screen, hear vacationers scream as they ride a zipline over the heads of pedestrians. Nestled at one end of the Fremont Street Experience, just across the road from the Heart Attack Grill (where patrons over 350 lbs. eat free) is Insert Coin(s). The bar seems to fit right in on one of the world’s premier playgrounds for grown-ups. But at Insert Coin(s), gaming has a much different meaning than it does everywhere else in Vegas. You won’t find any video poker at the bar here.
Insert Coin(s) was started a little over a year ago by Chris LaPorte, who left a career selling medical equipment to pursue his real passion, gaming. He co-founded the bar with his business partner, Stefano Sinicropi, whom he met while working in health care. In even such a short time, his venture has been successful enough to expand.
“My passion comes from the EVO tournament,” LaPorte says, referring to the massive annual fighting game championship. While competing at EVO, he saw the strength of the community surrounding it. He saw thousands of people at EVO who would go out and party when they weren’t playing Soulcalibur. LaPorte felt that a hang-out built on that foundation would be a great place for gamers to congregate.
LaPorte says he looked to existing game-themed bars that had come before, like Barcade in Brooklyn and Ground Control in Portland, and added a mix of nightlife culture to create an atmosphere designed to tailor to gamers, but with the familiarity to bring in people who just want to listen to pulsating beats, drink, dance, and hang out with friends.
“The negative connotations of gaming are pretty much dead,” he said. LaPorte adds that he’s had middle-aged patrons who come in and play the coin-ops, then wind up sticking around to find out what their kids are playing.
You won’t any of the Las Vegas nightclub pretensions at Insert Coin(s). No velvet ropes. No dress code. This more democratic approach provides for a diverse crowd—clubbers, gamers, and curious tourists mix together, something that you don’t always find in Vegas nightspots. Also, no opportunities for scantily-dressed women to jump to the front of the line.
“Come in wearing your sneakers. Come in as you are,” LaPorte says.
The bar mixes up a variety of sweet and colorful drinks to match the atmosphere, with names like the “Punch-Out!!” and the “Starman.” Soon, Insert Coin(s) plans to ply a new libation: a Hennessey Black offering called Hennessey Black Ops.
When Insert Coin(s) was first starting out last year, LaPorte would challenge patrons to “beat the boss” at a round of Street Fighter for free drinks. But with the success of the bar, and even with hired help, he spends more time running the business end and has less time to actually play. (For the record, he plays Fei Long in Street Fighter.)
LaPorte has big plans for the future of Insert Coin(s); Minneapolis is just the beginning. LaPorte chose Minneapolis for the next bar because it’s where Sinicropi is located and because he thought it would be a good fit for the nightlife scene there. But LaPorte envisions an Insert Coin(s) in every major metropolitan area.
“Picture this: A tournament between one Insert Coin(s) in Vegas and the other in Minneapolis,” he says. “Right now, the e-sports movement is hosted out of hotels, but Insert Coin(s) could become the new e-sports stadiums.”
And with the explosion of gaming in mainstream culture, he might just realize that dream.