The Arlington Improv has been the place to go to see a national touring comedian and grab a late-night drink. Starting this month, it will also be the place to break your all-time high score on Ms. Pac-Man. The Arlington Improv is converting its restaurant space outside of the showroom into a retro arcade called Black Dog Pizza Arcade.
It’s a unique addition for a comedy club, but the Arlington Improv faces unique challenges being located in the Arlington Highlands shopping center. Most comedy clubs don’t turn on the lights until the sun is starting to set, but the Arlington Improv keeps its restaurant, previously Black Dog Pizza, open for the shoppers making their way up and down the retail strips.
Faced with multiple bars, restaurants and entertainment options to choose from, management at the Arlington Improv wanted to find something that would make them stand out from the pack. Improv owner Tom Castillo liked the model of the free-to-play arcades made popular by businesses such as Cidercade, and wanted to bring it as a fun option to the comedy club.
Even though there’s a Dave & Busters close by in the shopping complex, Improv manager William Cennamo isn’t concerned.
“It is a very different thing,” Cennamo says. “Because anything we have, they don’t. And anything they have, we won’t. They’re definitely more of a ticket redemption sort of thing, and we’re the classic, you come in and play Galaga. We got Ms. Pac-Man, and then we have some of the '90s stuff, too. A lot of the fighters. The Mortal Kombats, the Samurai Showdowns, that sort of stuff. They might have a Ms. Pac-Man somewhere tucked in the corner, but you know nobody touches it.”
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December will serve as a soft launch for the Black Dog Pizza Arcade, as more arcade machines are set to arrive to complete the collection of '80s and '90s throwbacks. Pricing works on a flat fee-based admission: $5 before 5 p.m. and $7 after 5 p.m. will allow you unlimited play on the Improv’s digital offerings. Specials will be offered during December, but deals are subject to change, so the best bet is to call before arriving to make sure.
The plans to convert the space into an arcade have long been in the works, with further designs to add a large selection of beers on tap for patrons. Now that the project of creating Black Dog Pizza Arcade is almost finished, the employees of the Arlington Improv are ready to plug in and play.
“Honestly, I’m most looking forward to the whole thing,” Cennamo says. “It’s like a childhood dream for me personally. We’ve got a lot of fun ideas that we want to implement into it.
"It’s not just gonna be games, it’s gonna be a nostalgia center. We’ll have the arcade games, the '80s, '90s soundtrack, movie nights, Saturday morning cartoons, board games — just all the fun things we had as a kid.”