Stepping through Button Mash’s doors feels like an instantaneous jaunt back to the eighties. Lining the walls behind the bar are trinkets that, while not wholly anachronistic, cohesively promote a “West Coast in the Eighties” vibe. Obtrusive, rectangular boomboxes and a skateboard flipped onto its side catch the eye as one sidles up to order.
A dream five years in the making for co-owners Gabriel Fowlkes and Jordan Weiss, Button Mash finally went live four weeks ago to a stunning reception.
To the left of the entrance is the dining room, where, beside booths and a long wooden table suitable for multiple parties, a gang of pinball machines reside, their familiar beeps bouncing off the walls. Here patrons get to savor the Asia-tinged flavors of a Starry Kitchen- produced menu. “We didn’t want to be the typical bar that just serves hamburgers and chicken wings,” says Fowlkes. “Although, our hamburgers and chicken wings are fucking great – they’re my favorite.”
The beer selection, though not handled by Starry Kitchen, is no less wanting in quality. It’s a menu of the finest craft beer vendors in Los Angeles, rotating based on how much stock they have left. Many of the more popular brews dry up as quickly as two days in. For more of a sure thing, however, you can always grab a canned beer from their unchanging drinks menu.
Moving right, we step into a sleek, minimalistic room stocked on three sides with arcade machines, the most popular of which actually make up an island in the center of the room. The selection ranges from the immensely-popular, like the six-player X-Men classic, to the mostly untouched, like Berzerk, its place in Button Mash driven by warm nostalgia as Fowkles’ favorite.
Directly beside the gaming island are a repurposed picnic table and a couple benches, redesigned to better fit Button Mash’s aesthetic. Looking up from here, you’ll see hanging lights encased in glass bowls. Orbiting the light bulbs inside the glass cases are action figures, standing vigilant over Button Mash’s patrons. They’re not the most notable, coming from a line that failed to make it as a cartoon and thus, their mark in pop culture was decidedly brief, impact-less on Button Mash’s millennial customers. But, like Berzerk, their inclusion is due to the fond memories of the owners.
“Jordan and I had these action figures from our childhood that we wanted to implement into Button Mash. We didn’t just want to put toys of Mario and Luigi – something strictly video game-related, but things that mean a lot to us and give off that 80’s vibe,” says Fowlkes.
In time, you might even see tournaments transpire at Button Mash. Many other arcades may have high-score leaderboards for their games, but Fowlkes wants to take it a step further.
“With our fighting games, I’d like to have an Olympic-style tournament. Like, four weeks all leading up to the final match type-of-thing.”
Button Mash is doing what it can to separate itself from competitors, whether it be its diverse menu, captivating design, or all-star selection of games. “We’d like people to come back not necessarily for the games each time, or the food each time,” maintains Fowlkes. “We’d like to excel in all aspects so that maybe someone who had a great time with the arcade might come back just for the food.”
Weeknights, the barcade is packed by 7:30, and finds itself busiest between 8:30 to 10, and on weekends it stretches even further. “Sometimes it’s hard to find a place to stand, it gets so packed in here,” says Fowlkes.
Not a bad problem to have.