You gotta hand it to these Dave and Buster boys: They know how to throw a party.
At the Jan. 11 grand opening, a flashy bartender blew a whistle, twirled bottles and flung cherries overhead, catching them on a toothpick between his teeth. A man on a unicycle navigated the capacity crowd. Adults wined, dined and giddily lost themselves in a Vegas-like cacophony of noise-, light- and ticket-spewing arcade games.
Like, where am I? an acquaintance half-shouted with an incredulous smile. The Wheel of Fortune theme blared next to us.
Thats the thing. We knew exactly where we were: Boise.
Once the honeymoon period dissipates for Dave & Busters, 546 N. Milwaukee St., well be left to ask ourselves: Can the Treasure Valley sustain all this new fun?
Not so long ago, our entertainment choices were limited to the mostly pretty ordinary. (Remember when a theater opening with stadium seating was unbelievable news?)
But with Big Als arriving at 1900 N. Eagle Road in Meridian last year, then Dave & Busters showing up unexpectedly and lets not forget Wahooz Family Fun Zone in Meridian and the Boise Spectrum it suddenly feels like mega-arcade-sports-pub-good-times oversaturation.
I think we can handle it.
Big Als, which also has locations in Beaverton, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., did intense research before deciding to open the Valleys first new bowling alley in a quarter century. (Doh! Pinz Bowling Center at Wahooz then beat them to the punch in 2011.) And dont think for one second that Dave & Busters plunged into the smallest market in its 61-unit chain without studying the risks and rewards.
Despite obvious similarities and lets include Wahooz in this conversation for a moment each has a potential niche: Wahooz skews young, Dave & Busters skews a bit older, Big Als skews broader.
Location will play a factor, too. Its hard to imagine everyone in Meridian driving past Big Als to go to Dave & Busters or vice-versa.
And even though youll find many of the same hot arcade games (Connect 4, Speed of Light, etc.), each newcomer offers nuances that could win diehard fans.
At Dave & Busters, maybe you dig the South Philly Burger. Or a new, exclusive arcade title. Or prefer a certain prize in the ticket-redemption store. (No, you dont have enough tickets for the Xbox 360. How about that giant wine glass that holds an entire bottle instead?)
At Big Als, maybe you love escaping to the adults-only lounge for eight free 80s arcade games. (Joust! Dig Dug!) Or the outdoor patio with bocce ball. (Coming soon.) Plus, obviously, bowling is a major draw.
Both places are family-friendly. But Dave & Busters makes a point to market itself to adults.
I think that the tremendous misconception is that its a kids place, says general manager Derek Robinson, who has worked at 38 locations in his 14 years with Dave & Busters.
Rugrats can still run wild at Dave & Busters. After all, its next to Boise Towne Square. But patrons under 18 must be accompanied by a person 25 or older. After 11 p.m., you have to be 18, period.
Late at night, Dave & Busters caters to what Robinson calls play-together young adults.
The 20- through 30-something that goes out in groups of three to nine, he says. They want to have a gathering place, watch the sports, play the games, have cocktails.
Sports viewing has become a bigger focus for Dave & Busters. The Boise location a small-city prototype at just 25,000 square feet has three 130-inch, side-by-side projection screens. (One thing you wont find, though? Pool or shuffleboard tables, which take up a lot of space.)
Big Als prides itself in having a little something for most everyone. Theres a titanic, 55-by-15-foot screen in the sports bar that youve probably heard about. Youll find two pool tables and one shuffleboard table in the upstairs lounge.
Because of its 67,000-square-foot size, Big Als is able to compartmentalize the wide swath of activity choices, COO Todd Moore says.
What we try to do is when you go in the sports bar, you dont hear or see the bowling alley, he says.
Still, theres no getting around it. Big Als and Dave & Busters are alike in a whole lot of ways. And they are only a few miles apart.
Even though Big Als stands to benefit from development of The Village at Meridian which Moore says is going to be phenomenal it will need to stay focused.
Am I confident? Moore says. Im confident were going to get better. Because were going to have to, which is really cool to have to say.
But how this shakes out? I dont know. I think thats the nature of business that no one does.
Michael Deeds column appears Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life.