Mesa StarFighters Arcade expanding, adding beer | Phoenix New Times

Here’s why StarFighters Arcade in Mesa just doubled in size

There's even more room for classic video games and pinball machines at the popular spot.
The newly opened second room at StarFighters Arcade in Mesa.
The newly opened second room at StarFighters Arcade in Mesa. Benjamin Leatherman
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Just like Mario after grabbing a magic mushroom, StarFighters Arcade has experienced a major growth spurt.

Earlier this month, the popular retro video game and pinball haven at 4840 E. Jasmine St., #102, in Mesa debuted a new 4,000-square-foot room after taking over a vacant space next door. The arcade, which is located in an office park near Greenfield and McKellips roads, has doubled in size to 8,000 square feet.

It's the second time StarFighters Arcade has leveled up since it was launched in 2014 by co-owners and local game collectors Michael Lovato and Steve Thomas. In 2015, the arcade moved from its original location a few doors down into bigger digs.

Lovato says the expansion will allow StarFighters to offer twice the amenities. That means more video screens showing classic '80s films, additional display cases filled with vintage toys and, ultimately, more space for arcade games and pinball machines.

“We were kind of packed into the old place and we listened to what our customers were asking for, which was more room and a place to sit down.” Lovato says. “Those were the two biggest things that people were complaining about.”
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A row of pinball games inside the new room at StarFighters Arcade in Mesa.
Benjamin Leatherman

How StarFighters Arcade leveled up

StarFighters' expansion occurred earlier this year when an adjacent space became available. The arcade’s co-owner leaped at the chance to take over the property, which previously housed a karate dojo.

Lovato says, in retrospect, it was a move befitting the arcade’s 1980s theme.

“Replacing an old karate dojo is like the most '80s thing ever,” he says. “It’s like something out of ‘The Karate Kid’ or ‘Cobra Kai.’”

Lovato and Thomas already have plenty of arcade classics and pinball machines to spare. The pair have been collecting coin-operated games since the '90s and have storage units filled with their finds. In April, their collection grew further after purchasing nearly two dozen games from the recently defunct Recess Time Arcade in San Fernando, California.

Ultimately, Lovato and Thomas hope to have a total of 100 pinball machines and an equal number of arcade games available for play at StarFighters. Lovato says they’re already most of the way toward meeting that goal.

“We’re getting there,” he says. “At last count, we’ve got 84 pinball machines and 87 arcade games.”
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Vintage toys on display at StarFighters Arcade, which features a retro theme.
Benjamin Leatherman

Beer, punk rock and more '80s toys

Lovato says StarFighters Arcade will also have more than just arcade and pinball classics in the near future. Plans are in the works to install an indoor stage in the new room and for weeknight punk shows and other live gigs at StarFighters.

Another planned addition includes an Insta-worthy display recreating MTV’s iconic moonman video, featuring an authentic Apollo spacesuit mockup, where people can pose for photos.

It won’t be the only thing StarFighters patrons will be photographing, as Lovato says they’re upping the amount of ‘80s toys and memorabilia on display, including having dedicated glass cases filled with retro collectibles.

“We want to become a museum of sorts that’s dedicated to the '80s,” he says.
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The main room at StarFighters Arcade in Mesa.
Benjamin Leatherman
The arcade is also in the process of obtaining a series 6 liquor license to sell beer, Lovato says. A small bar area will be built near the previous entrance area to StarFighters featuring a modest selection of bottled brews for sale.

That will come as welcome news to 21-and-older StarFighters patrons who have wanted to drink while duking it out with Donkey Kong.

“It’s something people have been asking us about for years and now we’re trying to make it happen,” Lovato says.

He adds that despite the addition of beer and live music, StarFighters won’t be transforming into an arcade bar, a concept that’s become a popular nightlife standard in metro Phoenix over the last decade.

“We will still be an arcade, first and foremost,” Lovato says.
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