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July 31, 2014

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Insert Coins becomes latest Las Vegas business export

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Christopher DeVargas

I was smart in school and loved to play video games. That’s how I got here,” Insert Coin(s) founder Chris LaPorte said.

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

Insert Coin(s) Video Lounge and Game Bar

512 Fremont Street, Las Vegas

Las Vegas is used to the importation of expensive facsimiles of other cultures to the Strip. We have the New York-New York, Paris and Venetian casinos. Don’t forget the Rio and the Orleans.

Taking Las Vegas’ interesting local culture to other cities, however, is a fairly rare concept.

Now a downtown Las Vegas video game nightclub has gone where few Nevada-based businesses have gone before.

Insert Coins, a place to drink and play generations of video games, opened its first location on East Fremont Street in 2011. Saturday night, it opened Insert Coins: Level 2 in Minneapolis’ downtown Warehouse District.

Chris LaPorte, Insert Coins founder, partnered with Dr. Stefano Sinicropi, a Twin Cities spinal surgeon, to open Insert Coins 1 and 2.

Sinicropi, who grew up in the Bronx and is LaPorte’s cousin-in-law, said he knew from the start he wanted to “go big” with Insert Coins.

“We had a good life, so if we’re going to do it, and do all this work, I wanted to do it 100 percent," LaPorte said. "I had a big vision.”

After Insert Coins did so well in Las Vegas, the next logical step, he said, was to open one “in a city where the owners live.”

On opening night, Insert Coins: Level 2 drew 700 customers — that’s in a city where bars close at 2 a.m. Sinicropi said he and LaPorte now have their eye on Chicago, Florida, Texas and California as possible venues for future franchises.

Insert Coins joins the Griffin and the Double Down as taverns that made the rare leap from Vegas to other cities. (This doesn’t include corporate casinos, many of which began in Nevada and now have roots around the world.)

Shortly after the Griffin opened in 2007 — it also is on East Fremont Street, across from Insert Coins — it opened another one in Los Angeles.

Before the Griffin, however, owner P Moss in 2006 opened a Double Down in Manhattan. Las Vegas’ Double Down is on Paradise Road, a few blocks southeast of the Hard Rock. In December it will have been open 20 years.

“Moss,” as friends call him, is fully entrenched in the cultural fabric of Las Vegas. Two years ago, he wrote the book, “Blue Vegas,” which offers a unique view into the lives of the people who live and die here. Four years ago, he also opened Frankie’s Tiki Room on Charleston Boulevard, just west of Interstate 15. Think Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room but much more interesting, and with alcohol.

He said pride and the desire to promote the Double Down brand ultimately forced him to look to other cities instead of finding another space in Las Vegas.

Click to enlarge photo

P Moss, owner of the Double Down Saloon, Thursday Nov 1, 2012.

“If you can take a PT’s and open 30 of them around town, good for you, you’re making money,” Moss said of a chain of popular Las Vegas taverns. “But where’s your pride? What does your soul get out of this? I wanted to do something that would make me proud, and being able to open and succeed somewhere else would do it.”

He first looked at Los Angeles, but someone else got rights to a spot over him. Then he considered Amsterdam, but that plan died when a consultant told him it was against the law to fire anyone for any reason ever.

Setting up in New York was an astronomical challenge, from the permitting process to creating separation between his bar and the eight others on his block.

“Any stranger in a strange land is going to have some difficulties,” Moss said.

Pricing drinks was one of the bigger challenges. Las Vegas, especially “locals'” Las Vegas, isn’t supposed to be known for expensive services. The same holds true at the Double Down.

“The Double Down has a reputation for cheap, good drinks,” he said. “In New York, we went in with that rep and started charging New York prices and that just didn’t work.”

Several tweaks later, pricing was worked out.

“Now everybody’s loving it and it’s doing really, really well,” Moss said.

The New York move was more than six years ago, at a time when business in Las Vegas was still cruising at unstoppable speeds. The fact that he did it then, Moss admitted, makes it even sweeter.

“It was at a time when all the New York restaurants and clubs were coming to Vegas because it was easy,” he said. “But to go against the tide and into the toughest place ever and succeed, that’s what I’m most proud of.”

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  1. Good to see Insert Coin doing so well. I was one of its first customers.

    "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music" -- Nietzsche quote and Megan Fox tattoo