LOS ANGELES “You were born knowing how to have fun. You got busy and might have forgotten. We’re here to help you remember.”
That’s point five on Two Bit Circus's nine-point manifesto. Other than “fun,” it’s hard to describe exactly what the upcoming venue in Los Angeles is. Is it a technology-driven arcade? Is it a series of immersive escape rooms and virtual-reality experiences? Is it a bar, restaurant, and event space?
The answer: It’s all of the above—and most of all, it’s a place designed to bring people together through the idea of play, a nostalgic concept that’s becoming increasingly popular in the world of live gatherings.
Opening September 7 in a 38,000-square-foot warehouse in the Arts District downtown, the eclectic venue is the brainchild of C.E.O. Brent Bushnell and C.T.O. Eric Gradman, two former clowns who built a popular Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company (also named Two Bit Circus). The pair eventually came up with the idea for a standalone venue—or indoor “micro-amusement park”—that focuses entirely on entertainment-, technology-, and community-driven experiences.
“We were really obsessed with using new kinds of technology to get people together, live and in public,” explained Bushnell during a press tour earlier this month. “But what we found is, we’d set up a bunch of stuff at Comic-Con for five days, [for example,] but then Comic-Con is over. Where does that stuff go? Most of the time, in the trash.”
The idea for a permanent venue was born, and the duo raised $15 million in early 2017 to make it a reality. The rustic warehouse now houses carnival games with a tech-inspired twist, escape room-type spaces, multiplayer virtual reality, immersive theater experiences, and spaces for food and drinks.
“Right as immersive theater and escape rooms were getting really awesome, we felt like there was an opportunity for a new kind of theater,” said Bushnell, who noted that as recently as 2013, Los Angeles did not have a single escape room—but the city now has over 100. People are craving these real-life experiences that force them to work together to solve a common goal, and to have fun doing it.
“Fun increases exponentially when shared with others.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Two Bit Circus has a variety of unique options for corporate and social events and teambuilding. In fact, on weekdays the entire park will be solely dedicated to groups, whether that’s STEM-focused school groups or corporate groups looking for an unconventional teambuilding idea. Overall, the venue holds as many as 800 people for full buyouts.
At night and on weekends, when the park is open to the public, groups can still rent a variety of smaller spaces, such as a 1,200-square-foot event room that holds 100 people and has full audiovisual capabilities, or a second-story lounge that has plush couches, old-fashioned board games, and TV screens. For smaller groups of six to eight people, karaoke-style private rooms offer all kinds of VR experiences alongside bottle service.
The escape room-type spaces, which founders call “story rooms,” are also a place for group bonding. Groups as large as seven can go hunting for treasure in a secret temple, work together on a space mission, or use multiplayer VR to fight supernatural creatures.
Perhaps the main draw for groups, though, is the Club 01 room. The 96-seat theater is modeled after a game-show set, with a stage, a host, and 46 tables. Each person gets their own touch screen where they answer trivia questions and see real-time progress on a large screen. Designated lights can automatically break the room into teams, creating friendly competition.
Another fun option for Club 01 is wine tasting—or “wine tasting with a leaderboard” as Gradman calls it. Groups can sample wine and answer questions about what ingredients they think are in it. The leaderboard displays the most common guesses.
Even the arcade—which has 27 different games, all with content that can be switched out—is designed to promote face-to-face bonding, with certain games requiring as many as six players. “People show up to events and places like this in pairs, in threes, but nobody shows up in sixes,” said Gradman. “So you’re almost guaranteed to be standing across from someone you don’t know.
“And one thing we’ve discovered running games like this,” he continued, “is that people who play together, stay together, and keep wandering around the park together. You make new friends around games like this.”
Two Bit Circus also offers plenty of food and drinks, including what organizers call “farm to circus cuisine”—fresh, organic twists on traditional circus food. Signature drinks are also designed to be an experience, incorporating elements like fire and liquid nitrogen. At one bar, a robot creates and serves drinks.
The founders note that due to all the different types of changing VR and computer technology, as well as the different options for immersive theater, groups can come back 100 times and have 100 different experiences. “We really want to reward the curious,” explained Bushnell.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the first point on the Two Bit Circus manifesto embraces that quirky, community-minded vibe: “Fun increases exponentially when shared with others. So bring a friend, make a friend, or assemble a friend using spare parts from the bin in back.”
Click through the slide show to see inside the space.