Forbidden Planet: Video arcade and pizza parlor opens in downtown Iowa City

-- photo by Adam Burke
Forbidden Planet holds its grand opening, Thursday, Nov. 6. — photo by Adam Burke

Craft beer, pizza and video games, oh God!

Forbidden Planet — a pizzeria and video arcade — held its grand opening Thursday night in downtown Iowa City, serving up pizza and beer (at last!) in the space formerly occupied by the Tobacco Bowl. The opening comes about seven months after owners of the cigar and smoke shop announced plans to shut down after 25 years in business, only to re-open as a pizza parlor specializing in craft beer, pinball and video arcade games.

Games and pinball

  • Judge Dredd pinball
  • Doctor Who pinball
  • Neo Geo machine
  • Twilight Zone pinball
  • Wizard of Oz pinball
  • TMNT: Arcade Edition
  • Track and Field
  • Street Fighter 2: CE
  • Pole Position 2
  • Miss Pacman
  • Asteroids
  • Centipede
  • Smash TV
  • Tetris
  • Rally-X
  • Galaga
  • Gorf

Dozens of patrons showed up last night to peek at what co-owners Luther Moss, Cory Ingle and Tommy Connolly have been cooking up since they began renovations in May. The result? More than a dozen arcade cabinets and pinball machines line the periphery, while bartenders serve up cocktails, wine and craft beer with an emphasis on local breweries. In the kitchen, cooks prepare deep dish and Neapolitan-style pizzas. Former Tobacco Bowl regulars will also be happy to note that coffee and espresso have made their return.

If the opening took you by surprise, you’re probably not alone. Moss says he and his business partners decided to host the Thursday-night opening earlier that same day.

“It was great!” said Moss, who used to manage the Tobacco Bowl alongside former owner Connolly. “It was of course hectic and stressful, but we had to jump in at some point. It was everything I expected, and the turnout was fantastic.”

The concept of a barcade (or in this case: a barcade with a pizza parlor), has grown in popularity in recent years, first arriving in larger cities like Chicago and New York before making its to Iowa by way of Up-Down in Des Moines and the upcoming Quarter Barrel Arcade in Cedar Rapids.

-- photo by Adam Burke
Ah yes, the barcade features a Neo Geo machine. — photo by Adam Burke

It only seems fitting that entrepreneurs in Iowa City would launch their own coin-operated venture, and if last night is any indication, the pursuit appears to have paid off. The answer to the burning question, “Will they play?” turned out to a resounding yes (grand opening caveats aside) with patrons lining up for a chance to play classics like Super Street 2: Championship Edition, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Arcade Edition and Twilight Zone pinball — one of the most acclaimed pinball machines of all time according to the Internet Pinball Machine Database. In the basement, meanwhile, work-in-progress cabinets like classics Burger Time and Tempest await the technical expertise of Moss, who pulls double-duty as Forbidden Planet’s in-house technician.

Moss, who considers himself a “child of arcades,” says the idea for Forbidden Planet took root a few years ago while talking to longtime friend Cory Ingle.

“[Ingle] and I started having conversations about getting a little cocktail table and putting it into the Tobacco Bowl,” Moss said. “And in the mean time, Tommy and I were starting to talk about opening up a restaurant.”

The two concepts merged and grew from that point on, Moss says, and although the arcade games featured at Forbidden Planet are largely classics from the ’80s and ’90s, he says the premise involves far more than nostalgia alone.

“There’s senses that we no longer have because we don’t have arcades anymore. There’s tactile engagement. There’s the actual design of the cabinets. These are more than just video games — they’re the most interesting furniture ever made,” Moss said. “One of the things that we expect to see, and something that has already happened today even, is that we expect to see people our age bringing their kids in here.”

As far as what patrons can expect from Forbidden Planet in the future, Moss has plenty of ideas. He’s well-integrated with the Midwest cabinet collecting community, and plans switch up Forbidden Planet’s arcade cabinet selection as often as possible. Staffers will attend an arcade auction in Des Moines later this month to add to their collection.

Forbidden Planet is open 11 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays. Check out their Facebook Page for continued updates.

-- photo by Adam Burke
Pizzas rule the day at Forbidden Planet. — photo by Adam Burke

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