Author: Hannah Fishbein
There are moments of semi-adulthood in college, like lying awake until 3 a.m. worrying about student loans, that invoke a longing to remain young enough to play in the sandbox forever. Then there are moments, like holding a beer in one hand and playing vintage pinball with the other, when you remember that sandboxes are more likely to contain used Band-Aids. Button Mash, located in Echo Park on the corner of Sunset and Douglas, creates a fun adult experience full of food, drinks and video games that is worthy of childlike excitement.
Setting foot inside Button Mash, Echo Park’s newest restaurant/bar/arcade, is like entering an adult playground. The brightly colored wallpaper, decorative skateboards and vintage stereos that adorn the walls harken back to the glory days of the of ’80s and instantly give the space a fun feeling. Owners Rebecca Rudolph and Catherine Johnson, who head the design firm Design, Bitches and created the look for the Oinkster’s Hollywood location, told the LA Times that Button Mash is an “homage to LA, referencing different eras.”
Manager, chef and avid gamer Nguyen Tran can be seen wearing a banana suit around the restaurant. When asked about why one would open such a unique restaurant, he said, “Why not?”
“We saw and opportunity to do something different and felt that Echo Park was a great place to do that,” Tran said.
Finding the joint may be a little tricky at first. The bar/arcade is situated in a nondescript strip mall near a beauty parlor and a Domino’s Pizza. Once inside, patrons are greeted by a symphony of bells clanging, explosions booming, tokens dropping and hands slapping buttons. People shout and talk over the numerous arcade games and pinball machines. Pinball machine themes include “Game of Thrones,” “Kiss,” “Tron” and “The Walking Dead.”
While Button Mash is not the only pinball establishment in the area — Pins and Needles on Allesandro Street also offers an array of vintage pinball machines to play — its setup is unlike either a conventional arcade or restaurant.
Diners and gamers alike may choose to sit at the bar that stretches along the center of the room, in the dining sections toward the left of the entrance or at the communal tables sandwiched between the arcade games. They can also forgo drinks or food altogether and head straight to the back of the restaurant to play “Donkey Kong” or “Pac-Man.”
The crowd inside Button Mash is nothing short of the elaborate hipster stereotype: patrons seem to have an affinity for plaid shirts, facial hair, gator skin boots, tats and everything funky. However, the population is not limited to the hipster masses. Families are welcome to eat and play before 9 p.m., but from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, Button Mash is a 21-and-over venue.
“[Button Mash] is the house of the unexpected,” Tran said. “We really welcome everyone. We just want them to have a good time with their friends and family.”
The menu includes spins on Southeast Asian dishes like Spam fried rice, shrimp toast and tamarind chili chicken wings, or as devoted customers like to say, “waaaangs.” There is also the classic burger and fries for those who enjoy more traditional bar food fare. The real star of the menu is the fried tofu balls topped with spicy orange sauce. And if the dish looks oddly familiar, it’s because the menu comes from the brains of Tran and his wife Tri, the team behind Starry Kitchen, one of LA’s most popular pop-up restaurants.
While the food is generally notable, playful and highly creative, the dan dan noodles seemed like a quirkier and tastier rendition of the Market Place stir fry. And at $14 per bowl, it seems as though the diner is paying for fun rather than flavor. Despite a few pricey items, the menu, which includes a Coca Cola-braised jackfruit sandwich, matches the overall atmosphere and also allows vegan or gluten-free customers to enjoy a snack break after playing an intense round of pinball.
The bar portion of the bar/arcade also features an extensive craft beer and wine selection, including 12 beers on tap — evidence that, at Button Mash, visitors can have all the perks of adulthood and none of the responsibilities.
Button Mash is located at 1391 Sunset Boulevard. Its hours are Tues.–Thurs. 5–12 p.m., Fri. 5 p.m.–2 a.m., Sat. 4 p.m.–2 a.m., Sun. 4 p.m..–12 a.m., and closed Mon.
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