Game over? Insert Coin(s)’ closure might not be permanent

Insert Coin(s) in April 2011
Photo: Beverly Poppe

Fremont East bar, nightclub and arcade Insert Coin(s) closed on July 8, after its landlord filed for eviction in late June. Despite its reputation as one of the most popular and well-known Downtown nightlife venues, the business had been struggling greatly over the past year, owner Christopher LaPorte says. Despite those challenges, he’s hoping to reopen Insert Coin(s) as soon as possible, maybe even in the same location.

“I hold myself accountable for this temporary closure,” LaPorte tells the Weekly. “I personally wasn’t prepared for so much competition [Downtown] exploding in such a short period of time and it was a challenge to maintain crowds and excitement when there is so much popping up around us every other month. But regardless of this stumble, I still plan to see the expansion and continuation of our brand.”

Armed with a unique combination of classic cabinet arcade games, modern video-game systems playable on high-def screens at the bar or in VIP booths, diverse musical programming and a geek-chic vibe, Insert Coin(s) opened in April 2011 at 512 Fremont Street. It was one of the biggest bars in the burgeoning Fremont East party district, an area that has grown and changed considerably with the arrival of numerous bars, restaurants and entertainment options.

Christopher LaPorte, owner of Insert Coin(s).

“It was something of the carriage before the horse in the area because as more businesses came, did the local residential scene also grow? Maybe, maybe not,” LaPorte says. “There are so many other amazing attractions in Las Vegas and Downtown and when you’re a small business owner with no casino funding you, it’s always been a challenge.”

Insert Coin(s) wasn’t among the first wave of bars opening on Fremont, but it was a pioneer in a different way—it was one of the first Downtown destinations east of Las Vegas Boulevard to draw considerable tourist traffic. Today, you’ll see cabs dropping visitors at Eat or Atomic Liquors, and Container Park attracts people from all over, including international tourists. LaPorte estimates 35 to 40 percent of his weekend patrons flashed out-of-state IDs.

He’s meeting with potential financial backers who could help him reopen Insert Coin(s) at its Downtown location, he says, and it’s also possible the venue could find a new home. Rumors of expansion to a casino location have been circulating for years, and LaPorte says he has been speaking with casino groups on the Strip. “Ideally we return Downtown. That’s where we started, and we created a reason for people to come Downtown,” he says. “But if you take the personal feelings out of it, if you put it on the Strip it would do gangbusters if done the right way.”

If it doesn’t return, Insert Coin(s) will be remembered as one of the most diverse venues in the city, a place that set itself apart in the fast-moving Fremont East Entertainment District with a lot of different kinds of music, ways to have fun and people partying there. Other “bar-cades” have popped up around the Las Vegas Valley, too.

“We kind of went out like a comet, because we just refused to change our brand identity,” LaPorte says. “We kept pushing it and kept doing what we believe in. I hold myself accountable for not doing certain tweaks that might have allowed us to flourish ... but I’m proud of how community-oriented we have been and how many different cultures we tapped into. We’ll have to come back with the same model. That’s the only way I’ll do it.”

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Brock is an award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently leads entertainment ...

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