Downtown Pomona bar and arcade is a throwback to the ’80s, ’90s

Owners and married couple Evelina Gamboa and Sabrina Gamboa of Pomona own The Paradox Arcade+Bar which features pinball machines, upright arcades as well as console games tap beer and some wines in Pomona on Thursday, January 31, 2019. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Owners and married couple Evelina Gamboa and Sabrina Gamboa of Pomona own The Paradox Arcade+Bar which features pinball machines, upright arcades as well as console games tap beer and some wines in Pomona on Thursday, January 31, 2019. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

By LISET MÁRQUEZ | lmarquez@scng.com | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
PUBLISHED: February 4, 2019 at 12:35 pm | UPDATED: February 4, 2019 at 1:29 pm

One step inside The Paradox Arcade+Bar in downtown Pomona and you’re immediately transported back to the 1980s and ’90s.

On the right, there are upright arcades like Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man. To the left, are pinball machines: Attack from Mars and the Addams Family.

Just behind that is a blank screen where period movies are projected. “Coneheads” was showing on a recent Wednesday afternoon. The screen is surrounded by a massive mural of iconic album covers from the era, such as Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Evil Empire.”

The throwback arcade for adults — there’s a bar that serves alcohol, thus the snappy portmanteau “barcade” some use — is the brainchild of Evelina, 36, and Sabrina Gamboa, 35. The married couple were sitting at a communal table recently as they shared their inspiration for opening the business.

“It’s a little of everything that we enjoy,” Evelina Gamboa said.

The oldest child growing up, Evelina Gamboa wasn’t allowed to go to arcades alone, so she’d find arcade games at the laundromat, liquor or grocery stores and play whenever she had the chance while the family shopped or cleaned clothes.

Sabrina Gamboa, on the other hand, would sneak into her older brother’s room and play their console games.
The arcade games are all still coin-operated. In all, there are 26 machines as well as Atari, Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1 consoles played on a flatscreen.

“We wanted the experience to be like what it was back in the day,” Evelina Gamboa said. “That’s all you and your skills in front of everyone, just like it used to be.”
The couple’s attention to detail didn’t just end in the gaming section. Beyond the machines is the bar and a communal table. The wooden bar top was made by Evelina, and the beer taps are held up by a bright green pipe, resembling one of the main modes of transportation in the Mario Bros. games.

The ceiling just above the bar mimics Donkey Kong, with the steel beams painted like the red platform in the game and blue ladders painted on the ceiling.

Fourteen beers are on tap, all off which come from California craft breweries.

“With everything we do, we want to keep it local,” Sabrina Gamboa said, later adding, “It’s all something we would want (to drink) if we were somewhere else.”

Evelina Gamboa always knew she wanted to start a business in her hometown. Over the years, she bounced ideas off her wife until about two years ago, when they decided on the bar and arcade concept.

“I knew this was going to happen, I just didn’t know how,” she said, adding they didn’t own any arcades at the time.

Soon enough, Evelina Gamboa was working her phone, constantly checking various websites and apps to see if anyone was selling their upright arcades or pinball machines. The first one they purchased in April 2017 was a Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of 1981 arcade gaming cabinet.

“Our living room was full of games, even the backyard. Most of them worked but needed some TLC,” Evelina Gamboa said. “We like to keep it rough; they are old games. They were from decades, so we only replace the guts — like buttons that don’t work.”

After amassing a collection, the next struggle was finding the right downtown location.

It was about 1 1/2 years ago when the building’s management told them about a 1,350-square-foot space at 396 S. Thomas St. — a retail shop at that time — that would become available soon. After visiting the space, the couple signed a lease and then the waiting began; they had to work the city approval process. The City Council approved the business last February.

As soon as they got the OK, the Gamboas went to work making major improvements to the interior, relying on friends and family to help paint the floors and walls. They were finally able to open in October, Evelina Gamboa said.

The Gamboas both served in the U.S. Army and then the National Guard. Evelina Gamboa works full-time at Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos while Sabrina Gamboa is overseeing the day-to-day operations of Paradox.

The two, however, are both there Thursday through Sunday, running the business with the help of two bartenders and a security guard.

As a tribute to their military service, the patches they earned during overseas deployment hang just above the beer taps. The couple said they encourage other veterans to bring their patches in to help adorn the wall.

As female owners of an arcade, the Gamboas acknowledged they weren’t sure what kind of reception they would receive. Some patrons express shock, especially female customers. But they’re also the ones usually giving them high-fives or words of encouragement. One even suggested they add more purse hooks, said Evelina Gamboa, with a laugh.