While recently shopping at an Eastside store, we noticed an odd pattern in the music selection — Run-D.M.C, Lisa Loeb, The Verve, Britney and Backstreet. We started observing similar resurging trends in fashion and culture, many of which we hoped would never return, others we secretly missed. We ultimately came to a striking realization: the seeming fads, memorabilia and cultural relics of our most awkward adolescent years have now reincarnated themselves as cool and — gulp — vintage.
This increasingly noticeable pattern of 80s and 90s nostalgia amongst those born during the Net Generation (specifically 1982 – 1991) makes sense. Now creeping into our thirties and facing adult realities, stresses and demands, we’ve begun to celebrate, even relive those bygone years of hopelessly eager pop music, questionable fashion and of course, classic video games. The latter bringing us now to the real reason we’re here. Addicting, legendary, hack-and-slash, highly entertaining and retro video games.
As pre-teen, nerdy girl anomalies escaping our own metal-mouthed awkwardness and confusing lust for Nick Carter and Ryu, we turned to the world of Super Nintendo, Atari and Sega as our safe and happy place. When we heard that Button Mash and its neighboring PWNshop were coming to Echo Park, our dormant inner-teenagers screamed with glee. And both establishments do not disappoint.
After opening in October 2015, Button Mash has quickly become the talk of the town. Boasting delicious Southeast Asian eats by the legendary Starry Kitchen, hip, minimalist aesthetics by Design Bitches, 12 craft beers on tap and more than 50 vintage arcade and pinball games on rotation, Button Mash is undoubtedly barcade heaven. After almost two years in the making, owners Jordan Weiss and Gabriel Fowlkes have finally delivered a space with a vividly palpable experience. Their attention to detail aids in this — your check arrives in a 90s paperback book and games are played with custom-made Button Mash tokens designed by Joseph Harmon (also responsible for their rad – yes we said it – dog logo).
We first tested our cobwebbed arcade skills by channeling two of our favorite female characters growing up — Street Fighter’s Chun Li and Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. After some serious blows to both our faces and egos, we rediscovered our strides regardless of brutally getting pwned. Ashley made peace with her inner small-town seventh grader devouring as many pac-dots as possible whilst evading collisions with Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde in Pac-Mania. Meanwhile, Arielle remembered the moves her Dorito-stained, teenage hands knew so well as she tackled Donkey Kong’s primate frenzy.
There’s no better way to counter the inevitable heat, hormones and aggression of intensive Walking Dead and KISS pinball sessions than good grub. Starry Kitchen’s menu of Pan-Asian cuisine and American bar food classics caters to traditionalists, vegetarians and vegans alike. The Crispy Tofu Balls have already made a name for themselves, and rightfully so. Drizzled with house made sriracha aioli — with even more to dip on the side — these colorful little clusters of deliciousness seamlessly master the balance of outer crisp and inner tenderness, surprisingly underrated and ignored with many tofu dishes.
The Spicy Korean Cold Noodles is another notable dish, both in its artful presentation and unique effect on the palate. Ringing true to its name, the spiciness could have been overbearing if not for the redeeming coolness of the dish. The temperature allows the other various tastes to break through the bite, such as the oozing, creamy egg yolk, refreshing watermelon and the final smack of the house pickles.
A perfect end to the heat, salt and tang of the savory dishes is a dessert that offers the opposite effect. We enjoyed the mild, silky tastes and textures of the Almond Tofu drenched in cool soy milk and garnished with berries and delicate, edible flowers. Though we may still be partial to the Lychee Panna Cotta and Brick Toast when it comes to their desserts, the understated Almond Tofu serves as a nice, lighter alternative to culminate a meal.
Though Button Mash may hold the baton as the hot, new kid in town, PWNshop should not be missed, especially by those serious gamers out there. Their merch includes but is certainly not limited to classic Nintendo and Watch-themed art prints, potion bottles from the Zelda universe, Yoshi chapstick, video game-themed jewelry and Boo succulent planters. Owners Jon M. Gibson and Amanda White have curated an impressive selection of collectables, one-of-a-kind memorabilia and quirky trinkets making it a unique addition to the neighborhood.
Both Button Mash and PWNshop have an obvious thematic world or template, if you will, through which to offer their products and services to their eager patrons. And they do so remarkably well. But it’s more than just that. Both represent for many of us a formative time in our lives, and the simple things that brought us unmatched joy, sparked creativity and tightened our hand-eye coordination as we grew into adults. They celebrate these times with pure, unadulterated nerdiness, allowing the geek in all of us to shine as bright as Zelda’s sparkling rupees.