There’s now a circus in town, one that tips, spins, and upends reality, reminding us that our minds are the greatest playground of all. Two Bit Circus, which opens Friday, September 7, has arrived in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District with bells, whistles, pixels, a healthy take on circus food, and even a robot bartender, all providing a ton of fun in what the founders Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman have dubbed a “micro-amusement park” for all ages that’s designed to reinvent the way people play.
The vibe is carny and colorful, a little steampunk, and that’s because Two Bit Circus’ founders and their team are real STEAMpunks, rebels and outside the box thinkers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
Located in a huge warehouse at 634 Matteo, blocks from Cartwheel Art and just walking distance from Bluebottle Coffee and Zinc Café, Two Bit Circus makes technology fun and accessible with virtual reality mazes, VR rooms, and games. Want to explore an ancient tomb or travel aboard the Spaceship Infallible into deep space? Two Bit Circus’ story rooms make that possible. VR goggles and haptics take group gaming to the next level, while high tech versions of pinball and midway games allow for skill building and healthy competition.
Originally, Two Bit Circus—which was founded in 2012 in DTLA and had work spaces at the Brewery and in Lincoln Heights—created one-off spectacles and environments for special events, including their famous clouds that rain tequila. They’ve been part of Nights on Broadway and created the STEAM Carnival to excite kids and adults about science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Their new venture takes all of this and puts it in one glorious, goofy, location where the fruits of STEAM education can be seen in all their enjoyableness. It’s kinda like a Willy Wonka chocolate factory for the mind, especially because within the micro-amusement park is a series of immersive and interactive experiences, including scavenger hunts. “Each of our games is designed to encourage you to get out of your home, out of your seat and into the moment with friends or strangers,” explains CEO and co-founder Brent Bushnell.
The downtown location was a natural choice, since DTLA is a destination location and has the requisite large warehouse spaces; Two Bit Circus covers 50,000 square feet of space. Along with the main gaming floor, there is an upstairs lounge with board games and books, and a large meeting space/art gallery. Two Bit Circus’ location is also historically appropriate, since over a hundred years ago, circuses with camels, elephants, big cats, and clowns paraded through downtown to set up in what was then huge swaths of vacant land.
Since Two Bit Circus is just a few blocks from the Cartwheel Art office, a few of us strolled over for a behind the scenes tour and a look at where we’ll be taking meetings from now on (hint, hint) and bringing some of our tour groups. Two Bit Circus was brimming with excitement and final touches were being put in place as we played a wide range of games from classic PacMan to Danger Danger. CEO and co-founder Brent Bushnell gave us a tour of the midway where we played hands-on, high-tech versions of traditional games of skill before exploring the Story Rooms, Two Bit Circus’ version of escape rooms, challenging and with potentially different outcomes each time you play. Gamers will thrill to HTC Vive stations and the multiplayer Hologate games. Arcade games, including Two Bit exclusives, can be customized for special events, or set up to showcase students’ work, be they from CalTech and USC or local STEAM magnet schools.
Club 01, the hundred-player theatre, holds trivia competitions and a wine tasting game where you can compete against friends and strangers (who may soon become friends). Like other Two Bit Circus games, Club 01 quizzes can be customized for private events, like birthday parties or team building. Private gaming rooms, called cabanas, can be reserved, like suites in a karaoke bar.
Speaking of bars, adult beverages are available, and at 9 pm nightly, Two Bit Circus becomes a 21+ venue. Along with a large full-service bar in the round, there is a robot bar where a series of Rube Goldberg devices will mix you a specialty cocktail. While the bartender may be a robot, there are plenty of real, live humans who are involved with the building, designing and running of Two Bit Circus, which has hired widely from Los Angeles’ creative pool, drawing on actors and performers with circus skills, as well as engineers, gamers, and builders.
On top of this, there is another element, the Two Bit Circus Foundation, “designed to cultivate the next generation of inventors, advance environmental stewardship and spur community engagement” with programs that include maker-themed parties that utilize recycled tech materials to build costumes and rockets, summer camp, and educational opportunities.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Two Bit Circus! I can’t wait to finally master Balloon Pop and Demolition!
Once Two Bit Circus opens, admission will be free and you can buy and reload game cards for play, as well as reserve rooms online. Through August 30, there are special previews times; check the website for more details.