For many, it’s the sound of childhood. The repetitive, upbeat melodies of arcade games on auto, layered one upon another in a siren song that beckons, “Give us your quarters. Give us all the quarters.” And when we put a five dollar bill in the change machine, those 20 coins glinting back from our cupped hands represent seemingly endless potential for fun. These are the feelings Rapid City restaurateur Tony DeMaro was looking to evoke when he opened Press Start in December 2015.
Press Start, located in the basement of Kōl, another DeMaro establishment, is an arcade bar with a unique twist. It’s not about the newest, flashiest games. It’s about replicating the authentic arcade experience of the 80s and early 90s – but with booze. To bring this concept to life, DeMaro teamed up with Marc Linn, a local filmmaker and game collector.
To merely refer to Linn as a game collector seems to do a disservice to the amount of time, energy, and money expended in amassing his vast assemblage of fiberglass and metal and electrical parts, but it’s the best our language allows. He began procuring games right out of college with the perennial favorite, Ms. Pac-Man. From there, it was Galaga, and now, nearly 200 others have joined their ranks.
Gathered from several states in all states, restored, refurbished, and once again revered, there was just one problem. For years, most of the games sat in storage, with just a few at a time rotated into Linn’s garage for his personal use. The opportunity to share “his babies” with the public at Press Start felt much like a great art collection finding a home in a museum.
“A lot of these games, you can’t find anymore.”
“Now I can play any game I want,” said Linn, smiling. “Come down here and enjoy it and watch other people having fun. Nothing makes me happier than seeing this place full and seeing the smiles on people’s faces. A lot of these games, you can’t find anymore.”
After seeing friends open bar arcade Bonus Round in Sioux Falls, manager Colter Clements knew he wanted to be part of this venture. “You see people my dad’s age and older, all the way down to fresh 21s, and on family day – Saturday – we let people bring the kids in. The look is the same across the board. Like, ‘No way!’”
The subterranean space holds roughly 60 games at any given time. While a core of old standards remains in place all the time, some games are rotated out in intervals to keep things fresh for patrons. Management also listens to requests. They’ve found that multi-player games like X Men and The Simpsons do exceptionally well, as does the recently added Pac-Man Battle Royale.
As one’s eyes adjust in the large room, illuminated mostly by the glow of the games, the attention to detail becomes startlingly apparent. The tile floor laid in Tetris shapes and the bathroom doors marked with Mario and Princess Toadstool are just the beginning.
“We went that extra mile when putting everything together. We painted the water pipe green, so it looks like a Mario tube. We did the Lite Brites,” explained Clements, motioning to the backlit designs above the bar, and the Space Invaders constructed from Legos. “So it’s the little touches, you might not necessarily see the first time you’re in, but little things start to catch your attention.”
DeMaro’s other establishments, Murphy’s Pub & Grill and Kōl, are known for their premium liquor offerings. At Press Start, the vibe is “dive bar by design.” One can certainly get a cocktail or a craft beer (served in a Solo cup), but they can also order a 40 of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and set it on the tiny tables between machines while they play. And when a player earns 50 tickets from Skee-Ball, they don’t get a bouncy ball or plastic ring, they get a free drink – as do new high score earners.
Since most of the games cost just a quarter to play, DeMaro says if you’re any good, 10 bucks can go a pretty long way at Press Start. It’s part of an effort to bring patrons back to a time when things seemed simpler. “People feel like they’re transported to the ’80s. They come down here and say, ‘Wow I feel like a kid again.’”
For more info, visit facebook.com/pressstartrapidcity.