Parties, video games, alcohol and kicking back with his friends — these are a few of Recess Arcade Bar owner Paul Chokota’s favorite things.
Recess opened in February, just in time for the SXSW Sixth Street rush. After buying the space that was once a Hard Rock Cafe, the Aces Lounge, Venue 222 on the corner of East Sixth Street and San Jacinto Boulevard, Chokota wasn’t sure what to do with it. All he knew was that he wanted it to be a bar with a retro vibe that Sixth Streeters would flock to. To Chokota, it seemed like the perfect time for Recess.
“In Austin you can go to like 20 bars a night, but I wanted to make a bar with such a cool concept that you actually want to stay there all night,” he said. “Almost like when Coyote Ugly first started and the movie came out, that fun party atmosphere is what I want.”
Chokota’s plans to renovate the venue started with sketches on a cocktail napkin. The result: walls were torn down to create an open space where a heavy hand-carved, wooden, circular bar takes center stage with a mountain of shiny glass liquor bottles in the center.
Almost 20 arcade games, including throwback games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and San Francisco Rush, line the walls. Hot-pink ‘80s inspired ski ball machines light up a corner nook. There are also multicolored spotlights that pulse to the beat of the music, ranging from dubstep to hip-hop, producing an almost trance-like effect if you look at them for too long.
“I didn’t want to leave any detail to chance. Like with the DJ booth on stage, I walked out of the booth like 20 times to make sure there was enough room to get by and turn the corner without slipping,” Chokota said.
Recess’ free arcade games provide the bar-goer with an alternate option to dancing or standing and drinking, a rare commodity on the Sixth Street bar scene where drinking and dancing tend to be the only activities on a typical night’s agenda.
“The games are just something else to do and they’re a great way for someone to break the ice with a date,” Chokota said. “Like, yo, let’s go racing.”
Senior finance major and Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) social chair Graham Brown has been to the bar with his friends and is planning a FIJI bar tab at Recess in the coming weeks.
“The bar has a lively atmosphere and the games are good for when you want to do something other than small talk. Instead, you can get competitive with your friends,” Brown said.
One of Chokota’s hobbies is traveling the country and hunting down the coolest parties, nightlife and concerts. From Los Angeles and New York to Miami and New Orleans, Chokota has been taking notes as he takes shots to keep his Austin bar on the cusp of what’s cool.
“When I was at a club in Miami, they brought us a bucket of sunglasses. Everybody put them on and it was like everybody goes in their little dream party world,” Chokota said. “So I started making Recess sunglasses.”
Junior nursing major Monica Patel said she could see her crowd of friends making Recess one of their go-to bars when they go out.
“All of it, the really good music and DJ’s, the cheap drinks, free games — it’s a totally social and fun vibe,” she said.
Recess Arcade Bar’s intricate lighting fixtures and custom-built bar are far cries from most of its neighboring bars and bring a taste of what’s typically considered West Sixth Street’s contemporary and upscale style to what many students fondly refer to as “Dirty Sixth.”