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It’s time to play at Area15 with Todd English, Emporium Arcade

Updated February 9, 2021 - 9:27 am

Area15’s ascent to indulgence continues. We can now partake in gobbling up sliders. And, we can navigate vintage video-game characters gobbling up white dots, cherries and aliens in hot pursuit.

The Beast by Todd English and Emporium Arcade (where Ms. Pac-Man is among its inspired collection of video games) are two just opened recreation outposts at Area15. The 200,000-square-foot entertainment district sits just west of Interstate-15 on Rancho Drive. You can’t miss its looming visage facing I-15.

English’s language

English’s imprint is evident throughout the wide-open, food-hall styled eating space. He’s conceived a pair of bars in the middle of the room.

“It’s a lounge in a kitchen,” is how English himself described the space during a walk-through last week.

English had been designing a beach club in the Greek island of Mykonos when the pandemic forced him to return to the United States, where he has spent much of his COVID downtime mulling new ideas at a friend’s ranch in Ojai, California.

“I have used this horrible thing that’s happened to give myself a chance to pivot, which has happened for a lot of us,” English said. “It kind of let me look at things differently, a chance for some re-invention.”

English has been busy conjuring such inventive menu items as vegetarian barbecue (a line of carrots done up like baby-back ribs), chile-lime watermelon salad, a series of English’s famous sliders, and even an edible $100 made of hard-flattened sugar (this delicacy is so convincing, I refused English’s offer to taste it, so he tore it in half and ate it himself).

English is certainly a Vegas sort of chef. He’s also reopening Olives at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, returning that concept after a long run at Bellagio. His Todd English P.U.B. enjoyed a few years as a hot spot at the Shops at Crystals. He’s essentially the go-to chef at Area15, serving Five Iron Golf, The Portal, the ElectroRoll pop-up roller rink and Oddwood Bar.

English says he feels a kinship with those fellow businesses, including Wink World and Museum Fiasco and incoming Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart.

“I’ve always been kind of out there a little bit, seeing the world in a different way and willing to try different things,” English said. “For me, this has been refreshing. I like the wild stuff.”

Tokens of affection

Daniel Marks remembers playing NBA Jam every day for nine months with his brother, Doug, while developing Emporium Arcade Bar in Chicago.

So, yes, NBA Jam is one of the more than 40 games presented in the two-story, 10,000-foot destination.

Along with the many games indicated in its very title, Emporium Arcade plans an active music program (leaning in with DJs, initially), a cocktail menu with locally crafted beers, and murals from several Vegas artists.

“This kind of brings the world together,” Marks said. “It was important for us to really involve Las Vegas artistically and in our beer line.”

Marks has worked with the Unravel Artistic Consulting company for 13 artists, most of them from Las Vegas, to furnish the venue’s murals. Thus, the collection includes features work by UNLV students Brian Martinez, Sam Rose and Sonny Tsoi, as well as UNLV graduate Chris Mempin and adjunct professor Erik Beehn. Other Las Vegas artists include Pasheone, Krie, Cerissa Lopez, Mr. Gums, Bronson Taylor and JW Caldwell. Two notable non-Las Vegas artists, Allison Bamcat and Rif Raf Giraffe, also have work displayed Emporium.

Also important to locals (and really anyone visiting Vegas), there is no cover charge for the business. You cash in cash for tokens in what is really the Olympics of bar and arcade games.

The Emporium space is larger than it looks from the entrance, covering 3,500 square feet downstairs and 6,500 upstairs. Dozens of pinball machines shares space with Killer Queen, Space Invaders, Mortal Kombat, Tetris, several pool tables, foosball, NBA quick-shot basketball, Skee-Ball and shuffleboard.

“Where we are in Chicago is in with a lot of underworld buildings, so this is very different for us,” Marks said. “This is our first new building. It’s as new for us as everyone else here. We couldn’t be happier.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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