Now Open: Player 1 Arcade, a Retro Game Bar in Surprise

You can pound beers and mash buttons at Player 1 Arcade in Surprise.
You can pound beers and mash buttons at Player 1 Arcade in Surprise. Player 1 Arcade's Facebook

When Player 1 Arcade owners Phil LeMieux and Kevin Ehlers were considering where to open their retro game bar, the pair set their sights on the one area of metro Phoenix where the concept hasn’t been tried: the northwest Valley.

“No one’s ever done anything like it out here yet,” LeMieux says. “So we leaped at the chance to do it before anybody else had the idea and beat us to the punch.”

After more than a year in preparation, the grand opening of the 3,000-square-foot beer and wine bar, which is located off Grand Avenue and Bell Road at 17239 North Litchfield Road in Surprise, is today — Friday, February 19.

Inside, more than 20 classic arcade games and close to a dozen pinball machines are available for play, all of which come from the personal collections of LeMieux and Ehlers, both longtime gamers.

“We’ve installed a lot of the arcade games we’ve played for years going back to childhood,” LeMieux says.

Player 1’s selection includes such arcade favorites as Spy Hunter, Sinistar, and the first three Mortal Kombat games. Among its pinball offerings are both retro and modern titles, ranging from the ultra-popular Addams Family to more recent hits like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Universal Monsters. The pair also tapped Maggie Keane, the local artist behind downtown Phoenix’s famed Prince and David Bowie murals, to create retro-themed murals inspired by Ghostbusters, 1989’s Batman, and A-Ha’s landmark music video for “Take On Me.” Other amenities: custom tokens and separate HD screens located above each pinball machine showing a live feed of the playfield.

click to enlarge One of the 10 different pinball machines at Player 1 Arcade. - PLAYER 1 ARCADE'S FACEBOOK
One of the 10 different pinball machines at Player 1 Arcade.
LeMieux’s background in coin-op gaming dates back to the '90s when he managed the much-beloved (and long-defunct) Wunderland Nickel Palace in Glendale. "Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with arcades and games and have been dreaming of what I’d do with my own place,” LeMieux says.

It led LeMieux to start buying and collecting arcade classics, eventually expanding his collection to more than 50 games. His enthusiasm rubbed off on Ehlers, who began collecting pinball machines.

“Between the two of us, we had dozens of great games,” LeMieux says. “So I told him, ‘We should probably do something, and that was the birth of what’s become Player 1.”

As recently as five years ago, the arcade bar concept was virtually nonexistent in metro Phoenix. Travel through the warp zone to today and they're in almost every part of town, save for the northwest Valley.

“That why we knew we had to do it now, while the opportunity is there,” LeMieux says.

LeMieux says they’ve spent the last several months equipping Player 1 for operating in the pandemic.

“We're following all the COVID protocols like we're supposed to, constantly consulting the county and state, asking folks to social distance and have masks, staying at half-occupancy, and keeping sanitary items everywhere so people can clean the games themselves," he says. "We’re as ready as we’ll ever be right now.”

Player 1 Arcade grand opening. 7 p.m. is today, Friday, February 19. 17239 North Litchfield Road, #60, Surprise, 602-350-8159, Admission is free.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.