Pizzeria and Video Arcade Set to Invigorate the Ped Plaza

Right on Luther Moss and Tommy Connolly, let's keep Iowa City on the edge of cool:

Just a few months ago, Luther Moss' business was filled with cigarette plumes and the gurgle of brewing coffee. Soon it will be filled with steam from a pizza oven and the clanging of pinball machines.

The longtime home of the Tobacco Bowl on Iowa City's pedestrian mall has been stripped down to its bricks and studs as the business' owners transform the space into a soon-to-open pizzeria and video arcade called Forbidden Planet.

"We were an Iowa City institution, and we hope to be an Iowa City institution again," Moss said Tuesday morning amid the construction work inside 111 S. Dubuque St. "As much as I loved the Tobacco Bowl, I've invented my dream job here."

The top-to-bottom overhaul of the former tobacco shop is one of the many changes happening in downtown storefronts this summer, with several restaurants and clothing stores either opening or closing.

When the sawdust clears at Forbidden Planet, the space will be transformed into a restaurant serving brick oven and deep dish pizza, and featuring a dozen or so arcade games and pinball machines. It will be a throwback for people like Moss who grew up feeding their quarters to Pac-Man, and a novelty to today's kids who may have only played games on touch screens, he said.

"I remember going to arcades with my brother when I was 6 years old, so I actually played these games when they were new," said Moss, who ran the Tobacco Bowl and will be a co-owner of the pizzeria.

The Tobacco Bowl was an Iowa City fixture for 24 years before it closed this past spring. Business owner Thomas Connolly said that with the building in need of repair — smoke had been seeping into neighboring shops — it didn't make sense to invest in a business with a future as hazy as tobacco.

Instead, Connolly and Moss opted to shift to a new business entirely, and one they hope will appeal to a broad range of customers, from college students to families. They're targeting a Sept. 1 opening, but that depends on the construction pace.

The owners hired a smoke damage mitigator who used a fogger to clear the air, and with the old walls and flooring removed, the place smells more like lumber than cigarettes these days.

"It's a huge overhaul," Connolly said. "We took it down to the brick. ... It was a lot of stripping and a lot of hammer and chisel kind of work. We also wanted to build a prep kitchen in the basement, and we needed to dig out about 2 feet of flooring in the basement. That was about 3,500 buckets filled with dirt, concrete and debris we removed."

Iowa City Downtown District director Nancy Bird said a pizzeria and video parlor will be a positive addition to downtown's other restaurant and entertainment options.

"We're always trying to find a different mix of uses and offerings that other places don't have," Bird said. "Any new mix to the existing climate, I think it's a positive."

A number of other small business moves have occurred in recent weeks or are in the works.

-Josh O'Leary, Iowa City Press Citizen