Dave & Buster’s, the much anticipated dining and entertainment operation, officially opens today, more than a year after it was first announced that the Dallas-based company would build here. D&B occupies a new purpose-built structure on the site of the former Race Rock (nee Caruso’s Palace), which was razed last year to make way for the new construction.
It’s a huge cube of a building, technically two levels, although the first level is for parking, conveniently covered by the actual building on stilts above.
Accessed by elevator or via the grand staircase at the southeast corner of the building, the 40,236-square-foot complex sports an open floor plan that is separated into two areas, the entertainment/arcade side and the restaurant/bar side.
The look and feel of the place is similar to a small casino. The ceilings are high, and there is a constant ring from the video games. Although I’ve not visited a Dave & Buster’s before -- there are around 60 now -- I’m told that the decor for this one is the first to have a more modern bent, with glass walls, LED lighting and artistic accents like a 42-foot mural reminiscent of the WPA era.
Let’s be clear about this: you come to Dave & Buster’s for the arcade games, and while you’re here, you may decide to have something to eat. I seriously doubt that anyone would make a special effort to come for the food alone.
Despite an informational sheet that touts D&B for upscale dining, the food is more along the lines of a TGI Friday’s or similar chain. Appetizers include such things as the Mountain O’ Nachos, wings and “bar burgers,” similar to sliders. There is also an array of salads and sandwiches and entrees of fish, ribs, mac n’ cheese and the like. I thought there would be more of an array of basic steaks and potatoes, but there was nary a one. My server, who came from another D&B as part of the opening team, said that the most popular item used to be the Fire Grilled Salmon but is now one that featured chicken fingers. Sorry, but you may not feature chicken fingers on your menu and still use the word upscale to describe yourself.
I sampled a couple of items during one of the preview events last week. I went with the salmon, which was a perfectly acceptable piece of fish, nicely grilled with a crisped outside and a moist interior. It was served with sauteed spinach and a rather indescribable rice mixture. For my appetizer I had the Philly cheesesteak rolls, a fusion mashup of chopped steak and cheese inside wonton wrappers and deep-fried. They were served with mustard and a spicy ketchup. Interesting idea.
Reservations must be made to eat in the dining room, or you can just grab one of the first-come tables in the lounge, or sit at the bar. If you put your name in for a table in the dining room, the restaurant employs a new tactic to notify you when your table is ready. Instead of giving you a beeper to carry around with you, D&B figures you’re already carrying one -- your mobile phone. They’ll simply call you when your table is ready.
I’ve never been all that attracted to arcade games, so I didn’t play any on my visit. But they seemed pretty elaborate to me -- all 170 of them -- and most of the people in attendance appeared to be having fun. Games are activated with special debit cards -- no need for quarters or tokens -- that can be refilled at ATM-like machines throughout the arcade.
By the way, Dave & Buster’s is more interested in an adult market, 21 to 34 years old, than kids. Families are welcome, but children must be accompanied by an adult, so there will be no dropping the kids off at this arcade while mom and dad lay by the pool back at the hotel. (I might make the argument that 21- to 34-year-olds are kids, too, but let’s not go there.) Attracting groups is a big part of the business plan, too. Think Chuck E. Cheese’s for grown-ups. One innovative device in the bar area is sure to attract some groups. It’s a high-top table with beer taps in the middle where guests can dispense their own beer using another debit card. I was told there is a safeguard in place to prevent a guest from over-serving himself, but we’ll have to wait and see how well that works.
Although Dave & Buster’s is based in Dallas, its roots are in Little Rock. That’s where Dave Corriveau and James “Buster” Corley had neighboring businesses, Corriveau’s restaurant and Corley’s billiard and games operation. When the two began to notice patrons moving back and forth between the two businesses, they decided to join forces. They moved to Dallas and opened the first Dave & Buster’s in 1982.
Dave & Buster’s newest complex is at 8986 International Drive, Orlando. It is open daily at 11 a.m. and stays open late -- 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Here’s a link to Dave & Buster’s website. The phone number is 407-541-3300.