It’s not exactly a traditional bar/arcade combo. It’s not exactly a Japanese restaurant. It does however serve sushi, Japanese whisky, and ramen while featuring an entire floor of old arcade games and pinball. So what is Misuta Chow’s? It’s one of Buffalo’s newest experiences to hit Main Street. WBFO’s Nick Lippa reports.
There is no space left unused in Misuta Chow's. Downstairs feels like a Japanese alleyway. Close-quarters with the bar upfront and restaurant seating in the back. Upstairs lies another bar with a full arcade. They’re connected by a 'Hello Kitty' sparkle-infused pink staircase.
Co-owner Christi Allen said interest in the establishment’s aesthetic is drawing increasingly large crowds since they opened this past July.
“We really just want people to come and enjoy the experience of being transported from downstairs, which is kind of inspired by the original Blade Runner, and then all the way (upstairs) to this nostalgic 80s concept with the classic games and all of the different neon,” Allen said.
“We’ve got change machines for the quarters… lots of quarters going through here.”
The games, according to co-owner Johny Chow, elicit the feeling of growing up decades ago.
“Aladdin's Castle, it was in the Boulevard Mall. That’s where my arcade, the one I went to was,” Chow said. “And of course all the pizzerias around the neighborhood in North Buffalo that I grew up in had two to three video games rotating at all times, too.”
They originally thought they were going to have to purchase all the games. After months of research, they connected with Buffalo Pinball and Arcade Company. That led to a whole line of music themed pinball machines, which you can pay for with cash or an app on your phone.
“We really wanted to embrace our love of music with pinball,” Allen said. “And the love of the 80s and the nostalgia of us going to roller rinks, the mall, your bodega on the corner to play Q*Bert, even at a laundromat back in the day. We really just wanted to bring our experience from our childhood and kind of share it with everyone.”
There is pinball and ski-ball, but also classic cabinets like Street Fighter II, Double Dragon, Tetris, and Pac-Man. Chow plans to keep rotating them.
“A lot of these cabinets you can switch the motherboard and the marquee out and have a new game in almost every other month,” Chow said. “We had 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' in here, which was doing great. But everybody was requesting 'The Simpsons.' We swapped it out and got 'The Simpsons' in. Maybe next month we’ll have 'X-Men' and then back to 'Ninja Turtles.' We want to keep it fresh and not have the same old games every time.”
It’s even become a date night location for those looking to have a night on the town. Spend some time in the arcade and it won’t take long to see some very engaged customers.
“310 points on the Skee-Ball machine,” a very happy inebriated man yelled while slapping a table. “WINNNEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRR!”
His date smiled and replied, “There’s some excellent bartenders here who have very good Japanese whiskies, as well as games to keep you entertained for hours on end.”
This is the first establishment Allen and Chow have owned themselves, but both have years of bar experience. Chow started as many homegrown restaurant owners do—as a dishwasher at his uncle’s place.
“They needed a barback one night. Then I got behind the bar then with barbacking and haven’t left behind the bar since,” Chow said. “It’ a great way to support yourself as an artist who is a touring musician.”
Chow came to fame as a musician and is currently the bassist for Stone Sour.
“Bar owners usually like it because when I am off tour, all the bands that I’m on tour with usually are still out on tour doing something like that and they are always coming in to visit me at the bars,” he said.
Chow met Allen in California. She has been in Buffalo for about nine years now. Since then, she has helped open Allen Burger Venture, Thin Man Brewery, Black Rock Kitchen and Bar, and the new Coulter Bay.
“We really feel like this street specifically with the 500 block and everything that’s going on, that we could bring something different, new, and exciting that could bring the masses out,” Allen said. “With our demographic being young kids (she’s referencing millennials) who want to play the arcade games and have their birthday parties here, to Sunday nights when we have karaoke. We’ve got 80-year-old people coming and doing karaoke with us. Our demographic is so vast. Just seeing people in the comfort level of being willing to come downtown is just really inspiring.”
One important factor in choosing a location was finding an area that boasted several bars in walkable distances. Allen says being so close to the Metro Rail is also a benefit.
“This 500 block on Main Street is the next spot,” Allen said. “With the theater district that’s happening. We’ve got Mohawk Place, Deep South Taco, Tappo, Electric Avenue, Lucky Day, Buffalo Proper, Angelica Tea Room, Big Ditch, the Curtis Hotel.”
And the masses are coming out, but oddly enough, it’s for the pink staircase.
“The girls are coming in. They’re getting their Hello Kitty drink. They’re going right to the staircase and the staircase pictures have really taken over everyone’s feed on Instagram,” Allen said. “If you hashtag Misuta Chow's or you look under places all you see is just hundreds of photos of people enjoying the pink staircase. It went viral. It’s been incredible.”
Misuta Chow's has already exceeded 6,000 followers on Instagram.
“All it is, is a way to get from one floor to the other. And we’re like, ‘Why not make it all pink?’ And then Christi said, ‘Why not make it all pink with Hello Kitty sparkles?’ Next thing you know it’s like this total Instagram selfie spot,” said Chow.
“We knew it would be different and kind of cool and weird and what not, but we didn’t think it was going to be as crazy as it’s become. To a point where, I’ll walk in some days, just to come in to the business, all of a sudden there’s a guy there with a light. Another guy with his professional camera. There’s two models and the staircase and I’m like, ‘Did you guys call and ask us about doing a photoshoot here?’ It’s pretty crazy,” Chow said.
“We’ve had wedding parties come in. They’ll just literally pull the limo in the back parking lot. Run in, take their wedding photo, and just run out. It’s a trip. We’re actually thinking about doing a donation box for the pink staircase and picking a different charity to donate that to each month,” he said.
Realistically there are a bunch of factors that played in to the restaurant blowing up in popularity. Allen credits 1980s nostalgia being recently embraced at corporate levels.
“It was just organic,” she said. “(An) accidental happenstance that has just been incredible.”
Less than a year old, Misuta Chow's continues to grow. A late night menu featuring a ramen burrito has been added to accommodate late-night city dwellers and ski-ball tournaments are soon to come.
They’re just more unique aspects to help Misuta Chow's stand out in a sea of Buffalo bars.