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Fun and Games

By Candice Dyer

wrap aroundCome for a rigorous round of putt-putt, stay for the red velvet funnel cake and leave with a giant Teddy bear.

Following a trend loaded with literal bells and whistles, Atlanta is about to acquire another venue that pairs gourmet food with entertainment. Jamestown Properties has partnered with Slater Hospitality to develop part of the six-acre roof of Ponce City Market into Skyline Park, a nostalgic amusement playground for fun-seekers of all ages.

Adjacent to the attractions will be a beer garden called Nine Mile Station, which will open in August, along with a bar and concession stand that will serve snow cones, gourmet hot dogs and other easy-to-share “elevated concessions,” along with locally crafted beers.

“Our menus are still in the development phase, but we’re calling it upscale carnival fare,” says Kelvin Slater, who operates Slater Hospitality with his wife, Mandy. “It’s all about creating a unique experience that people will talk about and remember”

The 1.7-acre amusement park, set to open in June, will include 18 holes of miniature golf, a dunking booth, a steeplechase game, a three-story slide and a Heege, where riders drop free-fall style, all built on the rooftop of the hulking 1920s brick building 10 stories up from the ground. The owners are opting for low-tech, Coney Island-themed rides to emulate the Atlanta amusement park that once occupied these grounds in the 1920s.

“People will be able to win prizes like a stuffed animal or a basketball,” Slater says. “There’s an amazing panoramic view from the roof, so we’re going to have a sparkling bar so guests can toast the view with prosecco or a decent wine. We want to have good beers that you don’t see everywhere else, but we also want to offer alternatives to beer.”

In terms of cost, a day capped off with a happy hour will add up to what a family of four typically would spend at the movies, Slater says. “People will pay by loading a Skyline card with money, and then they’ll swipe the card at each ride.” The restaurant can seat 400, and Skyline Park can accommodate 500 more.

Kelvin and Mandy previously had grown Blue Moon Pizza into five locations before selling the chain and casting around for a new project. “We wanted to do something different on a rooftop,” he says, “and then we heard about Ponce City Market. It made sense.”

On a Roll

Dave & Busters pioneered the concept, but the first locally owned gaming center with fine food was Stars and Strikes, which opened its first location in Cumming in 2005 and now has locations in Buford, Lawrenceville, Dallas, Loganville, Stone Mountain, Sandy Springs and Woodstock. Another location is scheduled to open in Columbus in June. That facility will have the largest game room of all their locations so far, with bumper cars, 30 lanes of bowling and laser tag.

“We think of ourselves as three businesses rolled into one,” says Kip Lowery, director of operations. “We have the bowling alley, the arcade games and the restaurant. You can also order food from the lanes, and there’s some dining inside the arcade. The revenues are pretty evenly split among those three things.”

He describes the menu as “American grill classics with a twist,” featuring 12 different kinds of burgers, wings and pizza. Catering – wedding receptions, corporate events, bar mitzvahs – can get more elaborate, though, with carving stations and hand-rolled sushi.

“Every year we cater the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame induction,” Lowery says, “which tells you how far up there our food is. And we have a full-service bar with specialty drinks such as the Mini-Melts martini, which gets more flavorful as the ice melts.”

Each guest typically spends $20 to $25 for an evening of fun and the chance to win prizes that include candy, trinkets or even HDTVs and electronic gaming systems.

“We run a lot of package deals that make it even more affordable, like bowling with pizza,” Lowery says, noting the Kids Bowl Free program in the summer, which lets children play two games at no charge. “We like to educate younger children about the sport of bowling. We’re regarded as the No. 1 place to throw a child’s birthday party.”

The recreation is decidedly more grown-up at The Painted Pin, where you must be at least 21 to enter, except before 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. With the Latin motto “Venite Ludere” (come play), this “boutique” entertainment complex in the heart of Buckhead’s Miami Circle offers 20 full-service lanes where a concierge brings you your shoes and a server takes your order of “upscale alley fare.”

The playful menu promises snacks that include waffle dogs, pork ribs, fries with pesto aioli and fried oyster sliders, and the refreshing cocktails were developed by mixologist Trip Sandifer, an alumnus of Restaurant Eugene.

“We’re a little like a members-only speakeasy in the sense that we have minimal signage, and we don’t advertise,” says Justin Amick. He co-founded parent company Painted Hospitality in 2014 with business partner William Stallworth, who handles sales and private events. “You wouldn’t know we were back here if you didn’t already know about us, but we stay at capacity most nights.”

A complimentary vintage arcade also features shuffleboard, skee-ball, bocce ball, darts, table tennis and other games, and it is the only joint in the country that offers Southern Skittles, a game that involves hurling a disc. “About half of our demographic comes in without the intention of bowling, and many of them just stick with the arcade games,” he says.

Amick, who grew up in the industry, hails from a culinary aristocracy. His father, Bob Amick, was the driving force behind the Peasant Restaurant Group and Concentrics Restaurants. Justin completed the exacting CRAFT management training program in New York City, mastering every station in the front and back of the house, then worked as a winemaker in Napa Valley before coming home to Atlanta. Stallworth was a financial adviser and partner at Beard Shuford Financial Group.

“My partner and I were both growing tired of the lack of entertainment options for people between 25 and 55,” says Amick, who is in his mid-thirties. “We were tired of the traditional restaurant model, and there was this void in the market. People want to be entertained. We both love competitive games, so we decided this was our niche.”

At The Painted Pin, fees are measured by time; guests pay $25 per hour, per lane; food is billed separately. “Most people end up spending $35 to $40 a head,” Amick says. “During our off-peak hours, we host a lot of corporate team-building events.”

How is his current stewardship different from running a traditional restaurant?

“There are a lot of moving parts to keep in play,” he says. “The challenge most people would face is trying to be too many things at once. But we had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do, and we stuck to our guns about it. We were so firm in our goals that everything else has just flowed.”

This summer, Painted Hospitality plans to open another venue – a “distinguished drinkery,” Amick bills it – called The Painted Duck in the new Stockyards Atlanta development on the Westside. That’s right: They plan to introduce Atlanta to duckpin bowling, a funky version of the sport that is popular in Baltimore and other cities in the Northeast. “The ball is smaller, and the pins are shorter and fatter,” he explains, adding that the Duck will stay 21-and-older all the time. Then the company is hoping to expand to Nashville, Charlotte, Dallas and Houston.

Game On

While the Painted Hospitality ventures are all vintage whimsy geared for adults, Game-X in downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Park offers a more futuristic arcade experience with 60 games. Among the favorites: Nothin’ But Net; Pong 180; QuadAir Hockey or Pac-Man Smash; and the popular smartphone apps Fruit Ninja and Temple Run on a 60-inch screen.

Dining is fast-casual, with “X-Dogs,” double-stacked cheeseburgers, hot wings, and gourmet sandwiches and wraps. Game-X also employs a mixologist, Stephanie Barnett, who has devised a menu of unique craft cocktails served at the bar, which offers a pleasant perch for the adults while the kids play.

To pay for all of this fun, guests use the X-Card, an e-card which can be purchased from a server or from a kiosk, to load with money for games and prize redemptions; meals can be billed separately. However, guests get a discount if they buy an entrée and a gaming ticket together.

“The games bring in more revenue than the food, but we also host a lot of birthday parties and corporate events, which balance it out to half and half,” says Jeff Sime, vice president of operations for Legacy Ventures, parent company of Game-X.

The establishment also employs several in-house technicians who keep the games humming smoothly, and groups can get guidance from a friendly chaperone on the floor to make sure they know how to play whatever game they’re interested in.

“That’s the biggest challenge and what makes us different from a traditional restaurant – keeping every high-tech thing up to date and working smoothly so that everyone has a great time,” Sime says.

Guests typically end up spending $30 to $40 a night for both dinner and games.

Another inducement: Game-X offers free three-hour parking downtown, where parking is at a premium.

Legacy Ventures also owns Der Biergarten, Twin Smokers BBQ, STATS, Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria and Glenn’s Kitchen, all in the same vicinity.

Dinner & A Movie

One of the most logical hybrids of food and entertainment can be found at CinéBistro in Brookhaven. “For generations, people have gone out for dinner and a movie separately, so we just moved all the action under one roof,” says Fred Meyers, the company’s vice president. “You save in time and convenience because you don’t have to rush to travel from one spot to the other.”

The first CinéBistro opened in Miami in 2008 with an emphasis on luxury, and the chain since has expanded to 10 cities, with Atlanta’s Brookhaven location opening in 2011.

The most challenging aspect of running this type of venue involves timing. Guests are asked to arrive at least half an hour before showtime. “We don’t serve during the movie itself,” Meyers says, “so we need that time to take orders and deliver all of the food and drink efficiently without disrupting the movie viewing.”

CinéBistro also requires diners to be at least 21 years old. “We’re looking for the more discerning guests who appreciate a white tablecloth, good china and an elegant, sophisticated meal paired with a fine wine – not a rambunctious crowd, sticky floors and poor food choices,” he says. “We definitely consider ourselves an upscale restaurant that shows movies, not a theater that serves food.”

Entrées include Moroccan lamb chops, lump blue crab cakes, pan-seared Atlantic salmon and buttermilk fried chicken. Executive Chef Jonathan Beatty – formerly of Ecco restaurant in Midtown Atlanta – prepares everything from scratch, down to the steak sauce. “Even our sour mix for our bar is made in-house,” Meyers says.

Ordering a meal, however, is not a requirement to see the movie; some guests opt for popcorn from the concession stand. Nor do you have to watch the film – some people simply dine and leave.

“Ninety percent come for both, though,” Meyers says, and they pay separately for each service. “The food bill typically runs $25 while a movie ticket is $15, so it’s roughly $40 for a night out.

“And for that you get fresh, creative food, exquisite cocktails, pampering service in comfortable seating and a first-run movie. We’re creating a whole experience with multiple facets, and we strive to get each facet just right.”


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