Bartender, marketing coordinator and pinball phenom
When bartender Kim Martinez began working at Level One Bar + Arcade in 2015, she was already well-versed in nerd-dom. She'd visited 16-Bit Bar + Arcade and Old North Arcade when they first opened. And she's a self-proclaimed “comic-book movie nerd.” But she wasn't prepared for the pinball enthusiasts who would flock to the arcade bar.
“There are these extremely tight-knit, niche communities of people,” said Martinez, who runs a pinball league of about 40 people every Monday and hosts tournaments. “I did not realize it was this competitive. I have to register [tournaments] with this International Flipper [Pinball] Association so they can get points to go on to the world rankings.”
Of course, not all Level One patrons are interested in the pinball machines. Some gamers are just as obsessed with particular arcade games — and beverages.
“We have one [customer] that comes in, and he just loves ‘Donkey Kong Jr.' and he only drinks Sprite,” Martinez said. “[And] we have one that comes in and all he gets is either an O'Doul's or a Diet Coke and he will sit at ‘Klax.'”
“It's really funny, because the people that come in and are regulars that love the games are the ones that do not drink,” she said.
It's crucial that the staff have a positive rapport with regulars, who are vital to the North Side arcade bar, which doesn't get as much traffic as its competitors closer to campus. “I have to be able to hold a conversation about the new movies that are coming out, [like] how excited I am about ‘Guardians of the Galaxy [Vol. 2],'” she said.
Comic-book movie releases have boosted business for Level One, which is located near Marcus Crosswoods Cinema. The bar, which now hosts movie nights, can anticipate runoff during movie openings or during $5 Tuesdays at the theater.
Martinez, who is also the bar's social media and marketing coordinator, said themed events have allowed Level One to expand its outreach.
“For a while … we were just this '80s bar,” Martinez said, and explained the establishment, unlike others in the city, has a traditional arcade layout and once limited its playlist to '80s tunes. “We're trying to get younger generations in here, so we've definitely … grown up a little bit.”
Events promotion has also provided a creative outlet for Martinez, who studied animation at CCAD before dropping out to help support her family after her father suffered a back injury.
“I'm able to do a lot of graphic design,” she said.
And the job has also given Martinez a new passion: pinball. She is even using her vacation time to attend the ReplayFX Arcade & Gaming Festival in Pittsburgh in July.
“Pinball is definitely my thing. I could probably take on anybody now,” she said.