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New Fremont Street business to marry video games, bar scene

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Sam Morris

Insert Coin(s) founder Chris LaPorte stands outside his arcade bar and lounge that is under construction on Fremont Street on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011.

Insert Coin(s)

The gutted interior of a Fremont Street storefront is being transformed into an arcade bar and lounge called Insert Coin(s), shown Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Map of Insert Coin(s) Video Lounge and Game Bar

Insert Coin(s) Video Lounge and Game Bar

512 Fremont Street, Las Vegas

Chris LaPorte is hoping to plug into an untapped market by taking video gaming out of the basement and into a bar.

Into his bar, that is.

LaPorte's venture, Insert Coin(s), is set to open in April in downtown Las Vegas. The bar and lounge will cater to gamers by having video game systems from every era available to play in what LaPorte describes as a space that will be "Tron meets Blade Runner."

As he peers inside the gutted building that soon will be home to his bar and lounge, he sees beyond chunks of concrete strewn across a jackhammered floor. He sees the possibilities -- this is the 21st century, after all, and the concept of a bar integrated with video games doesn't really sound that far-fetched. Video games and booze. LaPorte is confident the concept will fit right in with neighbors Beauty Bar, the Griffin and The Beat coffee house in the up-and-coming Fremont East district.

"Video games are about as American as baseball," said LaPorte, 33. He explained that he sees the lounge as "an evolution of the arcade" with something to offer both dedicated and casual gamers.

The scope is impressive: the 7,600-square-foot space will be almost completely open with a gigantic square bar in the center, surrounded by arcade cabinets with all of the classics. Outlandishly huge couches will line the walls, and "every video game console ever" will be offered, LaPorte said.

To keep the gaming social, the sofas will face toward the center with the television attached to a pole. Another screen will be installed behind the couches so bystanders can follow the action.

And, although LaPorte plans to include almost every element of video gaming at Insert Coin(s), the lounge will be missing one thing: "gaming," as in slots and video poker. That's a deliberate choice, LaPorte said.

"I don't know many bars this big without video poker," he said. "It feels good."

LaPorte envisions Insert Coin(s) as "like a karaoke bar," where guests can rent a couch for $10 an hour while enjoying affordable bottle service. The lounge will be outfitted with a tech-noir flair, as conceived by LaPorte's interior design team, and he plans to recruit local graffiti artists to paint the floor and hopes to attract video DJ's to provide a soundtrack.

"We want to make everything a spectacle. It's that larger-than-life experience," LaPorte said. "We don't just want a bar that has video games in it. We want to make it 'Vegas.'"

As much as it's centered on fun, Insert Coin(s) will also cater to the serious gamer: LaPorte said Insert Coin(s) would supply headphones for those who need to "get in the game" and each gaming station will have soundproofing elements.

Being a proud gamer himself -- his favorites include Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Super Street Fighter 2 -- the idea for Insert Coin(s) began to emerge after LaPorte attended the Evolution World Finals, the world's largest open competitive fighting game tournament, at Green Valley Ranch three years ago.

Video games are a $50 billion a year industry, LaPorte pointed out. And gamers range from the hardcore fanatics who will pay tens of thousands of dollars for equipment and games in their lifetimes to the average young professional or family with a Wii or Xbox.

In other words, everyone plays video games: 70 percent of Americans or more, depending on the source, and experts project the industry will nearly double in value over the next five years.

With the largest video screen in the world just yards away, the location on Fremont Street seems to be a natural fit.

Mayor Oscar Goodman has made the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas a top priority during his three terms in office. Projects like the construction of Symphony Park and a new city hall, Zappos' plans to relocate downtown and the local businesses that have popped up along Fremont East are breathing new life into the area.

Goodman said he couldn't be happier about the new bar. He credited such smaller endeavors with bringing "energy" to the area, one of the reasons Zappos gave for its move, he said.

"I think the combination of a bar with classic video games will be a home run," Goodman said. "Smaller ventures such as Insert Coin(s) … are key to the city's redevelopment efforts. These businesses are leading the way."

LaPorte has watched this new growth with interest, he said, and he's excited to become a part of it.

"People coming to Fremont Street are coming to bounce around. There is a culture of a city that I love," he said. "I've seen what this has become. People are seeing the potential of this district. They'll embrace it."

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