Scott Davids and Noah Sutcliffe have been friends since they were in the first grade. When Sutcliffe's family moved from Pasadena to Washington, D.C. for a year, young Davids from Highland Park came out to visit with a briefcase of Nintendo video games. So, it didn't seem so far-fetched that now in their early 30s, they are opening a classic arcade games bar, EightyTwo, together in Downtown L.A.
Is your inner child jealous? Well, you should be.
Nestled in the the heart of the Arts District, around the corner from newer institutions like Wurstküche and The Pie Hole, is a spacious and empty one-story building with a concrete parking lot. The walls outside are adorned with vibrant graffiti art from local artists — something that was already there before they bought the building. Although it's still a work in progress, Kevin Costner's words echo: “If you build it, they will come.” The two are in the middle of renovating the space with Sci-Arc architect Darin Johnstone and plan on opening it in Jan. 2014.
They envision that the space will be minimalistic, with polished concrete floors and open exposed beams. The games will be featured like works of art within a museum. (Don't worry though: the games are meant to played, not just looked at.) They will connect two rooms spanning 2,000 square feet with a 1,700 square-foot outdoor patio — complete with shrubbery and trees. (Imagine if the back area of Little Tokyo's Far Bar expanded and was coupled with the liveliness of game-centric Golden Road Brewing.) Not only will EightyTwo be a full-serviced bar, but it will also be a place for events, music, and an arcade league.
“I want my parents to go in there and think it's really awesome to play a game with an ice cold beer,” said Sutcliffe, an entertainment lawyer. “Super hardcore gamers should be able to come to our spot and play in front of people and show what a crazy high score they get. Also, we want random people who just want to come in and sit and just hang out and be inspired to play a game.”
The name of the bar is an homage to the year 1982, which is referred to as “The Golden Age of the Arcade.” EightyTwo will have over 40 arcade games and pinball machines in rotation — from foundational classics like Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Street Fighter 2 to the rare Missile Command cockpit. All of the arcade games are from Davids' personal collection; up until this point, he had been keeping them at his and his friends' homes and in storage.
Molly Atkinson, 35, had been doing the same with her pinball machines before she opened Echo Park's Pins and Needles pinball arcade four years ago. Now, she will be playing a major role in EightyTwo as manager and resident technician. In addition, she will bring over some of her personal collection to the joint and hitting up websites like Craigslist to source more games for the bar. Even with lending out her games, she still has enough to keep operating operating Pins and Needles. She met Davids years ago through his girlfriend who convinced him to join Atkinson's pinball league — which she runs with popularity on Tuesday nights at her shop. She has to turn folks away on some nights as it gets too packed. Who knew pinballing would be so popular in our city?
“It's [EightyTwo] going to break the word 'arcade' out of the old sort of dodgy, seedy, underground neon cage it's been in,” said Atkinson. “It's a fresh, clean, open, warm museum type of space [where] the creativity and history of the games are celebrated –more than just designed to pump quarters.”
What makes EightyTwo so special is how passionate the people who are running it feel about gaming. Even Davids' visual effects company for feature films is named Level 256 VFX. Level 256 is what he calls a “geek video game term” that refers to how every older game ends at level 255, thus making level 256 the end. His childhood memories link as far back as he can remember to video games. He reminisced how his family was different and didn't sit around watching football together. “We watched Twilight Zone and played Space Invaders,” he said.
Although Davids' vision of his arcade bar started when he was a child, he was especially blown away when he went to an event at iam8bit's gallery in Echo Park, where they were giving away a Galaga arcade game to the person with the highest score. He recounted how there were 100 people in line hoping to win the game. The competitive matches were being projected on the walls, people were drinking, a DJ was spinning music and everyone was cheering on the players.
“It's like performance art,” said Davids. “It's insane the level of mastery of this game.”
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