3926 30th Street, North Park
There must be something in the air, because exciting new bars and restaurants have been opening up left and right all over uptown San Diego. Coin-Op Game Room (3926 30th Street) might be the most wild and novel idea to hit North Park in a long time. Like Waypoint Public, Coin-Op took over a space made vacant by the shuttering of Jay Porter’s micro-empire in San Diego. The new owners, who also operate the Lion’s Share, made short work of Hubcap, flipping the old restau in record time. To create the game room, they installed a series of vintage arcade games and pinball machines along half of the available wall space. After sunset, the glow of backlit colored plastic panels paints a vision of video arcades from the days before every tweenager had his own PS3, XBox, Gamecube, and PC.
The wild thing about Coin-Op’s video arcade gimmick is that it’s designed to appeal to a crowd with a mean age of thirty or older. The games are Mortal Kombat, Joust, and Streetfighter II. “Kids these days” all play photorealistic wargames, not, like, Frogger. The wise minds at Coin-Op picked a bunch of games that appeal to the nostalgic pizza parlor memories of 35-year-olds who couldn’t afford the “luxury” of an SNES back in the day and still carry sweet memories of feeding quarters into the Double Dragon machine at the local arcade.
And it is rad.
A few dollars’ worth of quarters buys a surprising amount of entertainment on the old school arcade games. It would be better if they were free, but the upkeep on the old machines is notoriously costly, so forking over a few bucks here and there seems a fair trade for a triple dose of nostalgia.
The concept and execution is so cool that it takes a full 300 words of raving to get into talking about the food, which is mostly unexciting bar food anyways. The coolest thing on the menu is popcorn ($3/basket) with either mole or maple-bacon topping. Protip: see if the kitchen will mix a 50-50 batch of each. The mole corns are too intense on their own, and maple-bacon doesn’t exactly stand out in a crowd at this point in culinary history. Together, on the other hand, we are talking potential magic.
The rest of the menu is “food on a stick,” sliders, and some sandwiches. The tastiest idea is probably the Cuban “croquettes,” which ensconce the ham and cheese goodness of a Cuban sandwich in a deep-fried crust.
Roast beef comes on a roll with brioche qualities and some potato chips on the side. Sliders, that bar food favorite, don’t get anything to dress their little selves up as of yet. It’s really a rundown of the usual suspects in terms of bar food, and nothing to write home about, which just goes to show that there’s more to restaurants and bars than just the food and drink. Coin-Op remains cool despite underwhelming food, which will probably stay that way since drinks will no doubt make up the vast majority of the business’ revenue.
And, speaking of drinks, Coin-Op’s are remarkably girly. In addition to sugary mixtures, the bar has a few punch bowls on the menu, which smack of the Downtown club scene and large parties of half-wrecked ladies in heels and dresses, not the surly, tattooed North Park women of record (who probably just want a PBR anyways).
Odds are good that this is a concerted effort to bring more females into a bar which is overwhelmingly geared towards guys. Between the elevated number of high-gravity beers on tap and the geek-tacular assortment of games, it’s a perfect playland for the 21st-century manboy. Prettying up the booze is one route to gender equality, although maybe not exactly Jezebel-approved.
All snark aside, Coin-Op is still the niftiest idea to land in North Park this year, and it’s no surprise the place was packed to the gills on opening night. It’s not always just about the food and drinks, and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of that sometimes.