Unleashing the kid in us all

The normal restaurant routine of eating, drinking and paying the tab while sitting at a corner table drumming up conversation with a first date can get old.

But have no fear, computer-aged generation, dining is beginning to take on a new spin. Arcades, virtual reality and even 16-foot televisions are appearing at several interactive restaurants around D.C.

As employee Eman Hishmeh describes it, Dave and Buster’s in Bethesda, Md., is an adult Chucky Cheese that attracts kids, college students and adults alike. Only a few blocks from the White Flint stop on the Metro’s Red line, Dave and Buster’s offers students a place to shed a few inhibitions and revisit their childhood, according to Dave and Buster’s Web site.

In 1982, Dave Corriveau and Buster Corley, founders of D&B’s, thought of the idea to combine food and entertainment under one roof. More than 20 branches started with one small location in Dallas, Texas. Now the restaurants span the country from San Diego, Calif. to Providence, R.I .

Reading a place mat while waiting for food is a thing of the past. The arcade is definitely the eye-catcher of the place. For the electronically weary, the place houses finely crafted pool tables and shuffleboard tables. There is the Chicago Shootout, an old fashioned shooting gallery modeled after a 1920’s speakeasy. The Mystery Dinner Theater is another attraction that puts guests on the scene to solve a crime in a three-act play, while eating a three-course dinner.

But for electronics lovers, the games are endless. The 19th Hole golf simulator allows guests to tee off at exotic locations around the world. The Turbo Ride Iworks Theater is a moving simulation theater that provides a virtual reality experience. Movies include Secrets of the Lost Empire, a dramatic ride through ancient Mayan temples, and Superstition, which offers a trip through the House of Superstition in none other than car number 13.

D&B’s, which houses several bars, closes its doors to the under-21 crowd at 10 p.m., making the atmosphere more geared to adults. Hishmeh said the busiest times occur Friday and Saturday nights and Saturday afternoons. Families usually come for food and fun on Saturday afternoons, while Saturday night is a popular time for college crowds, she said.

“It’s so crowded on Saturday nights you are practically bumping into people when you’re just walking around,” she said.

ESPN Zone, a restaurant with similar entertainment themes, is a little closer to campus on the corner of 11th and E streets. As its name suggests, the restaurant is based on a sports theme. The place is made up of three sections: a restaurant, screening room and sports arena.

The menu is not the regular sports bar menu one would expect. Main meal dishes such as filet mignon and grilled salmon accompany the burgers and fries.

In the screening room, 12 televisions surround a 16-foot screen with ongoing sports coverage for viewing pleasure while dining. After 5 p.m. only people older than 21 are allowed in the screening room.

The Sports Arena is where the fun is. It is littered with 10,000 square feet of 200 interactive arcade games from snowboarding to racing Harley’s. The Daytona Special is a four-player game that takes its players around three different tracks in a NASCAR racecar.

ESPN Hoops is a basketball game in which player try to sink as many baskets as possible in 60 seconds. NFL Sunday Night Football Countdown tests football skills by having moving receivers block field-goal attempts. The point of NHL 2 Night is to score goals past a constantly moving goalie as many times as possible within 90 seconds.

Marketing Manager for ESPN Zone and GW alumnus Chanter Camack said there are similarities between the ESPN Zone and places like D&B’s, but ESPN Zone receives live national coverage.

Washington Post journalist Tony Kornheiser broadcasts his show live from D.C.’s ESPN Zone location every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., except on Tuesdays. David Aldridge broadcasts “NBA Tonight” live, and ESPN News also broadcasts from restaurant.

“We get national exposure, it is more than just TVs, an arcade and food,” Camack said.

Although a bit far from D.C., Jillian’s is another place with the same kind of restaurant-arcade theme. There are two Jillian’s locations, one in Annapolis, Md., and another in Hanover, Md.

The Annapolis chain includes a Video Caf?, which is a restaurant that provides 15 TV screens with sports and other media coverage. The Nine Ball Lounge houses pool tables, and the Amazing Games Room is an arcade with the latest electronic simulator games.

Jillian’s in Hanover a few more attractions. Jillian’s Hibachi Grill is a Japanese steakhouse with a rock ‘n’ roll theme. The Groove Shack is a club that plays a wide span of music, ranging hits from the ’70s to the ’90s. Jillian’s also has two bowling alleys, the Hyperbowl and the HiLife Laner, which features video imaging on giant screens, a video disc jockey, a theatrical light show and a Retro Lounge.

Jillian’s is also restricted to people 21 and older after 9:30 p.m.

The trend of theme restaurants that combine food and entertainment is growing. After a wholesome meal at a nice restaurant, there is no need to uproot to a different location for entertainment.

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