Monday, October 24, 2016

Storefront Report: Planned Echo Park restaurant will serve up video game nostalgia

Site of proposed new restaurant and vintage video game arcade

Gabriel Fowlkes grew up in the golden era of the video arcade. The North Carolina native played Altered Beast and Final Fight at 7-Elevens and worked in an arcade during high school. As an adult living in Los Angeles, the 33-year-old Fowlkes has collected and restored the retro video and pinball games of his youth and has been involved in events, tournaments, and exhibitions to “keep arcade culture alive and relevant.” Now, Fowlkes has teamed up with fellow arcade game enthusiast Jordan Weiss in a effort to open a combination video arcade-restaurant-bar inside a former Echo Park laundromat.

“One day we were walking by the Laundromat on Sunset and half-jokingly talked about how great it would be to transform one coin-op business into another,” Fowlkes said. “Literally a few weeks later there was a For Lease sign on the door.”

The proposed restaurant-arcade was inspired by Ground Kontrol, a Portland arcade  where gamers can play at more than  80 classic video and pin ball games and purchase beer and wine.   Fowlkes and Weiss plan to use part of their collection of vintage arcade games – which includes classics like Defender and Frogger and cult favorites like Krull and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker – in their Echo Park arcade and serve food off a menu created by Starry Kitchen, a popular pan-Asian downtown restaurant.

Fowlkes and Weiss are still in the early stages of planning their venture for the nearly 4,000-square-foot space. They have appeared before community groups and representatives of the Echo Park neighborhood council as they prepare to file for zoning variances and alcohol licenses. During a recent presentation before the planning committee of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, one board member expressed opposition to another late-night restaurant bar serving alcohol on Sunset Boulevard. Another board member voiced concern about additional traffic and parking problems caused by the new venue, which plans to hold several tournaments and special events over the year.

“We’ve been working closely with community members and leaders during this preliminary process to address any potential concerns,” Fowlkes said in an email. “We are very confident that issues that are brought up can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.  Echo Park has become a hub for classic gaming culture, being home to I Am 8 Bit, Pins n Needles, and a host of indie game creators, and we want to create something that the neighborhood will really enjoy.”

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  1. This is awesome. I live like a block away and can’t wait for something new like this. I hope they have the Simpsons game. I loved that thing. Also, good to see something totally different coming into that laundry spot. Would have hated to see it continue to sit empty or even worse become just another boring nail salon or “vintage” clothing store.

    • Echo Park resident

      Couldn’t agree more. GEPENC is the very definition of NIMBYism. What would they prefer inhabit this space instead? What solutions or suggestions do the board members have? Oh, right — they’d rather complain and fight against ambitious business owners and keep storefronts vacant.

      Has anyone seen how many vacant storefronts there are on Sunset Blvd? Not to mention, a slew of “hipster” or “indie” stores in the area have shuttered this year and a few more are slated to close in the coming weeks. (Echo Park Co. Op and Villany General Store, to name a few.) Sunset is a main thoroughfare and gets a ton of foot traffic in the evenings, so a late-night establishment is almost guaranteed to be successful. Parking isn’t that horrible in the area thanks to those large public parking lots — and most people who live nearby walk to Sunset Blvd. businesses in the first place. (At least I do!)

      The alcohol argument is also ludicrous. This isn’t another Gold Room we’re talking about. Seems like it wouldn’t attract people who like to get drunk and unruly, start fights, stab people, etc. (I’m a Gold Room fan, to be honest — but it would be disingenuous to think that the GR doesn’t cause a lot of the alcohol-related problems on this stretch of Sunset. Why doesn’t GEPENC take on these types of establishments instead?)

      In Highland Park, the neighborhood council is pretty accepting and encouraging of endeavors like this. They see the benefit to filling vacant storefronts, to bringing in new business ideas, to working with instead of against a younger crowd. HLP is backing a community arts center in the former Church of Christ that will host concerts and sell alcohol some evenings. The Church owners have remodeled and restored the historic property and are very committed to working with the HLP Neighborhood Council as well. Let’s be real — would anyone think that the old timers at GEPENC would be as supportive of this kind of historic preservation and artistic ingenuity in Echo Park? All this boils down to is GEPENC’s core problem: There are too many older, out-of-touch NIMBYs on the board and they do not recruit or include younger residents in their dealings. They’re ignoring the voices of everyone under 35 in Echo Park, which is doing more harm than good.

      • +1. Bravo. You nailed GENPEC. Most of them are out of touch NIMBYs who hate any and everything and wish they could go back 30 years to when EP was gangland. some of them openly sing the gang’s praises at meetings. gross and out of touch. Thankfully they don’t have any real power and everyone with real power tends to ignore them.

        • Echo Park resident

          really?, it’s very sad. I tried to get involved and was shut out because of my age. They didn’t think I had any real vested interest in Echo Park because I’m young (which, in their eyes, is bad because “gentrifiers”) and I rent instead of owning. Doesn’t matter that my dad lived here in the 60s when he moved to the US. Doesn’t matter that I’ve been very vocal about historic preservation. Doesn’t matter that the second I graduated from college, I moved out of West Adams and right into Echo Park.

          I mean, look at the fact that they hold their meetings at 7pm and ONLY 7pm. I mean, the only way they could make it more clear that young residents aren’t wanted is if they held the meetings at 8am at a BINGO hall during a Matlock marathon. Most young EP residents I know are still at work at 7pm every day, or are commuting home. Why the meetings can’t be on weekends or later in the evenings is beyond me.

          • I’m sorry you had to deal with their BS. I’ve seen it too.

            I work 10hr day, get home at 7:30, and then have to walk the dog. I got into work 2 hrs early in august so i could attend the gang injunction meeting, and the behavior I saw from many (not all. i think there are a FEW people on GEPNEC with their head on straight) members was bizarre grandstanding and self pandering. Not sure what Jen D was talking about with ‘younger members’, I saw mostly people between 50-70. A few forty-somethings. And maybe one person under 40. Perhaps it’s changed since august?

            There’s a reason more and more people are realizing these neighborhood councils are a waste of taxpayer money and a magnet for corruption.
            The council elections are coming up this spring I believe. A housecleaning is needed. But it’s hard for people working full time to devote the proper time and effort. So thats how the yahoos get in.

            If i know in advance this ‘barcade’ issue is coming up, I will try and rearrange my schedule to attend, but they are not friendly with the meeting times. I agree, a weekend would be great.

          • @really? and @Echo Park resident, please submit you comments via email to the website http://www.echoparknc.org. You can also submit them to [email protected] and I will personally read them at the meeting. It is difficult to make 7pm, I agree. But keep in mind that all NCs have their meetings on weeknights at around 7pm. These folks are volunteers, remember, and Saturdays might conflict for others, in the same way they are convenient for you.

            Please don’t feel shut out. Submit your comments and they will be heard. The full council is mostly made up of young people in their thirties and early forties. The Land Use Committee has a couple older folks on it who are stakeholder members, not NC council members. They bring incredible experience in local Real Estate and Architectural expertise.

            Button Mash has heard the concerns, and since they are very early on in the process, it is quite possible to adapt their model slightly to fall in line with a more restaurant-oriented arcade than full-on bar. They could pursue an agreement with the church, as you mention, to accommodate extra visitors that might be expected for special events or tournaments.

            The earlier hours suggestion was probably meant to emphasize the restaurant component and not add to another establishment on the strip with a 2 am closing time.

            I have never felt that this idea was being squelched, it is being thoughtfully shaped to serve the largest portion of the community and bring a potentially great restaurant option to the area.

        • I wish this guy would watch the Pharrell “Happy” Video a few times….before you rag on GEPENC for not passing this, learn the facts! The developer hasn’t yet submitted for permits near as I can tell, which is where the rubber meets the road. They went to PLUC for some informal advice. The problem with this developer is that they say community organizations like El Centro de Pueblo are all for the project, when that is a flat lie! That undermines the developer’s word and is definitely NOT the way to build trust in the community. El Centro would never support a project like this because of their substance abuse programs! Like I said it’s all moot until the guy pulls his permits but not a promising start.

          • I wish you would take your own advice. Everyone else here is excited for a cool new business and you’re whining about it and defending blowhard GEPNEC members. I award you this:


          • Neither myself nor Jordan have ever made the claim that ECDP is all for the project or supporting the project. We value our relationship with ECDP and would never fabricate their support to others. As mentioned, ECDP does not support new establishments that serve alcohol due to their substance abuse programs, so it would be laughable if we suggested otherwise.

          • Echo Park resident

            Call a spade a spade, man. This isn’t some Big Bad Developer coming in to destroy the unique fabric of Echo Park — this is just a venture by two entrepreneurial young businessmen. They have a great idea that will benefit and enhance the entertainment offerings of the area; calling them a developer makes it sound like they’re proposing demolishing buildings, forcing out residents and have no vested interest in Echo Park. On the contrary, the very fact that Gabriel is here engaging with the notoriously narrow-minded Eastsider comment section should be proof enough that he and his business partner truly care about Echo Park.

            Seriously, I have yet to see any naysayers propose what they thing should inhabit this blighted, vacant space. Everyone calling for Gabriel & Co. to switch this into a family friendly restaurant should, I dunno — maybe go open up your own kid-friendly place? Not every establishment needs to cater to those with children. I don’t see you all knocking down the door of the Shortstop asking for you kids to be allowed to play the pinball machines in the back room.

            I don’t see any Gymboree type businesses in Echo Park. If you’re so concerned with kids having places to play, why not open one up yourself? It can be a restaurant and have the operating hours you all are whining for. Geez. Some people are really entitled!

      • Meeting tonight at 7. Why don’t you come to a meeting and tell GEPENC and EPIA and the council offices and the SLOs how you feel this establishment would benefit the neighborhood? Public comments are first up, so don’t be late!

        I’ve been in attendance at three meetings where Button Mash presented. Just to set the record straight, NOBODY on the PLUC doesn’t like the idea, from what I can tell. And, they are not the “old timers” you think they are. Most are 35-45, certainly a targeted demographic for this bar. They “get it” don’t worry.

        From what I gleaned it was more concern that they are pursuing a full bar and a limited menu. It seemed that, especially with Starry Kitchen in the mix, it should be the other way around. Perhaps there would be more support for a retro gaming arcade and full restaurant that served beer and wine. It doesn’t seem like that would spoil the fun.

        Also, and I personally agree, there was a suggestion that the place be all ages during certain periods so that parents (like myself) who grew up with these games and would like to share them with their children could have access to Button Mash. There was even a suggestion that it should be all ages all the time, if it were a restaurant, and parents were there with kids.

        Stop sitting behind your computer and judging the folks that are trying to shape our community in a positive way. Come to the meetings and bring your comments with you, in person, where it matters.

        • Echo Park resident

          I work in a restaurant, so I’m working during the time there’s GEPENC meetings, or else I would have shown up a long time ago!

  2. Sounds cool!

  3. Another restaurant? Is that all people open anymore?

    • It’s the only way people eat nowadays. Pretty soon these flip homes will be kitchen free. 😉

      • Restaurants and bars are the only places human beings have any social, personal interaction at in our digital everything society and you are saying its a bad thing?

    • ARCADE restaurant! A R C A D E!!!

      But I hear ya. So much standard retail has either gone big box, or just disappeared like video stores. Sign o’ the times.

      I hope the buzzkills on GENPEC don’t screw this up.

    • Think about how the internet has changed our commercial life. Lots of stores used to exist that sold toys, or tools, or electronics, or books, or music, that can now be purchased just as easily online, and with better comparison shopping and reviews. However, places where you get food or drink, or do other things with your body (dance, exercise, stretch, get nails or hair done, etc.) aren’t in any danger of being replaced by online delivery services. This is especially true when the activity is inherently social. As we phase brick-and-mortar sites of consumerism out of our lives, people want some more public activities to replace shopping, and restaurants are one of the best options.

  4. As a person who enjoys arcade games and food, I endorse this project.

  5. DEFENDER! Hell yeah! I will be there opening day and many, many days thereafter!

  6. As a fellow business owner and resident of the area , I am beyond excited by this arcade restaurant-bar moving in. I think it will bring many respectable folks to the neighborhood and help to bring even more positive attention to the Echo Park area.

  7. There’s a classic arcade bar opening in the arts district downtown soon as well. Finally there will be some games around LA to play!

  8. Angeleno Heightster

    Can’t wait. Please, please include The Comet. My favorite pinball game from way back in the day (not sure I’m happy to finally be able to use that expression). I must have a roll of quarters still stashed away somewhere…

    I’m all for it.

  9. With all due respect to the people who are pumped about this, this is the last thing Echo Park needs. Downtown should not become a strip of hot spots open until 2 am. A bar and arcade – attracting kids to alcohol also sounds like great idea! And running around Echo Park telling everybody that all the community organizations are for it – smells like your voltage regulator is burning up the back of your driver board….is that burning plastic?? nope – pure b.s.

    • From what I’ve seen when visiting Family Amusement Corps in Los Feliz, 90% of the people going to arcades these days are over 21. The current surge in popularity of arcade gaming is largely the work of nostalgic adults. Kids are too busy with their mobile phones.

    • Echo Park resident

      Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park has been a late-night hotspot for many years. Where have you been, dude?

      I fail to see why this is a negative endeavor. Seems your only beef is that it will stay open past your bedtime. Unless you live on top of the proposed site for this business, how will the operating hours affect you personally? Secondly, I don’t see anything in this article that suggests that this business seeks to target children; it’s clearly an adult establishment. The arcade-bar combo isn’t a new idea in LA — see: Blipsy Barcade — so I’m not sure how all the pearl clutching and cries for someone to “Please think of the children!” helps your argument here. It’s a bar. No kids allowed, therefore no kids nursing a Corona while indulging in a game of pinball. There’s an arcade for people of all ages on Vermont/Melrose — heck, it’s called “Family Arcade.” Take your kids there.

      In your opinion, what does Echo Park need? Frankly, I’m for any business that seeks to fill vacant storefronts and clean up this stretch of Sunset. I think EP residents of all income levels and racial backgrounds can agree that the constant smell or urine and the mounds of trash have really got to go.

    • Dude, young kids don’t go to Arcades anymore. They basically don’t exist. No kid is going to want to spend money playing a game from 1988. It’s a nostalgia trip.
      Also, it rules. I’ve been to the OG (Ground Kontrol in Portland), and it is awesome. I hope they have Off Road…

  10. If you can’t wait until this place opens, I am pleased to recommend the long-standing variously renamed (formerly Miss T’s now Blipsy) Barcade on Western north of Beverly, folks. Chill place, cheap drinks, good games.

    • I wish I could agree with you, Will. I used to live walking distance to Blipsy’s and the bottled beer was $6 and the arcade games were mostly broken. Not sure if they’ve upgraded in the last two years but every time I stopped through over the four years I was there, Spy Hunter didn’t have a brake pedal ..

  11. Message to Starry Kitchen, please lay off the balls jokes already! It was funny the first 500 times.

  12. what good news for the neighborhood! more unique businesses moving in is a good sign, and there are still good laundromats around the corner. this is great too see.

  13. This article is misleading…. “planned echo park restaurant will serve up video game nostalgia”

    the council rejected the proposed hours, full alcohol license, the 21+ age restriction, the parking, nearly everything…. and the party has to return with more information and tweaks…so while it is in the works, it’s not a done deal.

  14. This sounds like a spectacular idea. How can I help?

    • yes. if the owners need any help, or show of support at future GEPNEC meetings, let us know so we can come out!

      • Echo Park resident

        I tried looking for Gabriel Fowlkes’ email online and came up short. Can someone pass along his contact information or direct us to a website where we can get in touch?

        I want to see this project come to fruition.

  15. this bar(cade) and restaurant would be such a great addition to the echo park neighborhood (and the eastside of LA in general)! i’ve been complaining about the lack of fun, cool, entertaining bar/restaurants in the area, and this would be the perfect addition. i will be waiting by the door when it opens (and i may never leave…)!!

  16. Make room for an air hockey table amongst those pinball machines! I am an “old school” Echo Parkian and am looking forward to this place opening soon. Great concept and I will be happy to sign a petition if needed.

  17. Fun on Sunday Boulevard is not allowed!

  18. Bump N Jump and Afterburner please.

  19. We here at Origami Vinyl are big supporters of this idea. Being a long time resident and business owner here in Echo Park, we need to support fresh ideas and get as many empty storefronts filled. Gabriel, if there is anything OV can do to help you out, please let us know! – Neil

  20. Altered Beast and Final Fight, in the “golden era of the video arcade?” No no no. That’s a bad lede.

    That said, this will be the pinnacle achievement of Echo Park hipsterdom if it opens, and I will own you and yo mama on Dig Dug.

  21. I appreciate all of these comments. If any residents would like to help show support or voice concerns directly, please email me at: gfowlkes @ gmail dot com

  22. If this place is anything like Ground Kontrol it will be so welcome in EP. Wish them luck!

  23. echo park needs a skatepark


  25. I couldn’t be more excited for this place. Echo Park needs more options in terms of both food and entertainment. In my experience, videogame fans are a sedate and responsible bunch. I support Button Mash and can’t wait for it to open!

  26. TED the Space Invader

    Sunset Blvd is New Yorks Broadway, this is the second largest city in the US, bars and restaurants belong on these well known and travelled thoroughfares. Peace and quiet can be found just a few miles away if that’s what you want. Silverlake, Echo Park, East Hollywood and Downtown should be busy, vibrant and atractive places for locals and visitors to enjoy themselves. This neighborhood has been too sleepy for too long. How about the city invest in some city run parking structures and reduce the red tape so this neighborhood can enter the 21st century.

    • Echo Park resident

      But there’s already a huge parking structure in Echo Park! Sadly, we all are forced to look at it and can’t use it.

      If our “neighbors” at the Angelus Temple were more neighborly, they could easily open up their monstrosity of a parking structure on days they’re not busy worshiping the Magical Man in the Sky. More money for them to praise Jesus, more parking for visitors to the area. Win-win, I say!

  27. Sounds to me like an excellent idea. You definitely have my support in this so hopefully the project is given the green light! 🙂

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