What is it about the 1980s that looms so large for many not even old enough to have experienced the “Me” decade? It’s a question LA-based brothers Mark and Jonnie Houston readily explore via the latest addition to their stable of stylish SoCal nightspots, Break Room 86.
“I grew up in the ‘80s, right in this neighborhood,” says Mark Houston, gesturing towards the rush of cars motoring across Wilshire Blvd in front of The Line Hotel, Koreatown’s newest upscale hotel.
“Jonnie and I grew up watching movies like Goonies and Ghostbusters. We played standup arcade games in this neighborhood’s arcade. It’s not a manufactured thing that we are trying to sell. We grew up like this and we are more than bar owners – we like to create an authentic experience for people.”
The brothers have successfully done just that at their other nightspots, including the 1970’s-themed Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, and the Cuban-inspired cocktail den, LA Descarga. Likewise, Break Room 86 doesn’t fail to impress (or entertain).
To enter the bar, patrons walk down a Goodfellas-esque alley to a side entrance, step through a loading dock area, and walk through a retro vending machine to get inside The Line Hotel. Once inside the bar’s dark den, revelers are faced with a wild display of analog televisions and boomboxes that surround both the bar and the small but always energetic dance floor.
Live DJs pump decade-specific jams for post-work drinkers and late night revelers, spanning a mix of minted hits, from Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” to John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane.” Dancing isn’t required, of course, as the space offers a bunch of fun nooks that serve to further individuate Break Room 86 from other nightclubs who have tried to capitalize on the cheap-thrills of the the Reagan era.
In a nod to the neighborhood, there are ‘secret’ karaoke rooms, a row of arcade games (Donkey Kong and Galaga, natch), and an elevated dining area. The food is ‘80s inspired as well – think Cup of Noodles, Hot Pockets, and White Castle Burgers.
In the wrong hands, this kind of nostalgia could go horribly wrong, but the Houston Brothers manage to create a heartfelt ode to a remarkable era. It’s not cheesy – it’s the 1980s Mark and Jonnie grew up with.
“This bar is very personal for me,” says Mark Houston. And that makes all the difference for drinkers seeking something strangely familiar and yet totally different.