With its neon green paint, rows of video games and carefully selected beer list, Hi Scores in Henderson epitomizes the concept of a “barcade,” a combination bar-arcade.
It’s much like a high-energy living room for gamers.
“Immediately, you’re brought back to a time of your life that was positive, that was fun,” Assistant General Manager Alfredo Delatorre said.
And the concept is proving so popular that there is talk of expanding the business to five other locations in the Las Vegas Valley, and of exporting it out of state as well.
The Henderson venue, which opened Sept. 21, is the latest attempt to replicate the success of Insert Coins, downtown’s hybrid bar-and-video-game-joint.
But unlike Insert Coins, which has a clubby feel, Hi Scores, whose website will soon have a Mario Bros. theme, hopes to brand itself as laid-back and more focused on gaming.
“I’m a little nerd when it comes to this kind of stuff,” Delatorre said. “I dig it.”
Another difference between Insert Coins and Hi Scores: the latter doesn't charge to play the games, but instead uses them as a lure to bring customers into the restaurant and its sister operation next door.
The owner of Hi Scores, Richard Ditton, also has a love for gaming and technology. Ditton worked as a software engineer for NASA before founding Illinois-based Incredible Technologies, the largest manufacturer of amusement games in the United States and the company behind such video games as Golden Tee Golf and Silver Strike Bowling.
Both Ditton's pedigree and dedication to gaming have helped build the barcade’s fan base.
“We’re catering to the misfits, the nerds, the outcasts,” Delatorre said.
Delatorre proudly shows off a light-up beer pong table and maze of arcade games. Crowds of people watch players in action.
“The sound that resonates here is not a DJ,” he said. “It’s them cheering.”
Red lasers outline game screens that feature titles from a variety of eras. A Ms. Pac-Man game sits nearby a South Park pinball machine. Hi Scores features almost two dozen standalone games displayed both inside and outside and another 22 games that are kept in storage and rotated into use.
First-time visitor Brian Bethel praised the bar's atmosphere.
Bethel grew up in Chicago and said he’s used to bars where people feel comfortable interacting with one another. He said Hi Scores seems friendly — more like a neighborhood pub or an ‘80s arcade than a bar on the Strip.
“I don’t really like bars with casinos in them,” he said.
Hi Scores has only a few video poker machines, and they are relegated to a small area at the bar.
Beer is served in large flutes, and the menu includes items like Chinese Meatballs and Dead Guy Ale Steak. Employees send customers who prefer a more formal setting next door.
The building that houses Hi Scores is split in two. The other half is The Player’s Club, which has a modern look with an old Las Vegas theme and Frank Sinatra-style tunes.
“It’s a Jekyll and Hyde feel,” Delatorre said.
The Hi Scores staff manages both.
The Player's Club allows people 21 and older to kick back and play (it, too, has a room filled with video games) while Hi Scores is open to people 18 and older.
Ditton and Delatorre wanted to divide the space to create different atmospheres where people feel comfortable eating, drinking and playing no matter what type of mood they're in.
The barcade’s biggest attraction — and its biggest difference from Insert Coins — is the fact that its video games are free.
Like many things at Hi Scores, that decision was unplanned.
Delatorre acknowledged that charging for games would have provided a steady stream of income, and he said the decision to give that profit up was nerve-wracking. But the free play keeps gamers at Hi Scores. The average customer stays for an hour or more and spends money on food and drinks, Delatorre said.
The business has proven itself to be so successful that Ditton is planning at least five new locations in the valley, Delatorre said. The company also hopes to expand to other “fun cities," such as Seattle and Austin, he said.
West Las Vegas customer Florencia Gianinetto said she'd love to see a new location closer to her home.
“Video games are getting a lot more popular,” she said. “Local things are becoming more in demand."