When Carrie McCabe-Johnston, the owner of Nightingale, a Minneapolis cocktail and small-plates lounge, debuts her new restaurant this week, she’ll keep the same fresh and local culinary focus — but with a twist.
Wine will be served, but in a can. Instead of bone-in rib-eyes and grilled octopus, hot dogs will take center stage. And in place of banquettes and chandeliers? Look for retro pinball machines.
Tilt, which opens in Minneapolis on Wednesday, is the Twin Cities’ latest “eatertainery” — a restaurant/game-room mashup.
With diners seeking experiences rather than just sustenance, and cheaper, more casual options, many restaurateurs are deciding to give them both — launching recreation emporiums that also boast from-scratch kitchens, craft beers and innovative cocktails.
“People aren’t just looking to have a beer and some chicken wings anymore,” said Annika Stensson, director of research for the National Restaurant Association. “People are looking for more of an experience when they dine out, and that trend is sort of branching out into a lifestyle environment.”
The gaming-food combo isn’t new.
Stensson said entertainment-themed restaurants — most notably chains such as Hard Rock Cafe, which hosts rock-inspired events, and Rainforest Cafe, which mimics the jungle, complete with life-size animatronic animals — had their heyday in the 1990s. Both have outposts at the Mall of America in Bloomington.
Minneapolis has had its own versions of those concepts for years. Bryant-Lake Bowl took the town by storm when it opened in 1993, with a multilane bowling alley and a small theater. It still draws a crowd. Others, such as the Chatterbox Pub — a south Minneapolis bar stocked with pizzas, burgers and video and board games, which once had three locations — have persisted, as well.
But now the concept is making a comeback in a big, bold way.
Up-Down, a raucous arcade bar offering craft beers on tap and pizza by the slice, opened in south Minneapolis last summer.
Punch Bowl Social, a national chain, welcomed customers at the West End in St. Louis Park in November, cramming a 24,000-square-foot space with bowling alleys, foosball, darts, arcades, pingpong, Skee-Ball and bocce ball.
Games aren’t the only draw. The food and drinks pack a punch, too. The menu was designed by Hugh Acheson, a nationally recognized chef with a James Beard award and a “Top Chef” pedigree; the bar boasts playful punches with house-made shrubs and syrups and stirred classics such as the Old Fashioned and Boulevardier.
Owner Robert Thompson opened his first Punch Bowl in Denver in 2012. “I started thinking about what was missing in the market,” he said. “A lot of people were opening game bars, but no one was doing this from a scratch-kitchen and craft-beverage approach. I wanted to flip that on its head and focus on food and beverages first, with the entertainment as the hook.”
The folks behind St. Paul’s Can Can Wonderland had similar thoughts when opening the giant warehouselike bar in January. Instead of introducing an extensive food menu, the creative cocktails made by Bittercube — a cocktail consulting and bitters production company — are the draw. Can Can bartenders whip up adult malts, slushies and off-the-wall cocktails. Oh, and there just happens to be a larger-than-life, art-inspired mini-golf course, too.
McCabe-Johnston and her husband, Jasha Johnston, are the latest restaurateurs embracing an interactive, fun-spirited hook with Tilt.
Just don’t accuse her of seeking out the trend. It turns out that what’s hot is also just good, plain fun.
“This wasn’t some drawn-out decision where we tried to come up with something we thought would hit the broadest market appeal,” she said. “We’re kind of just doing our thing the way we would want to do it.
“It’s fun. It’s somewhere I would want to go when I go out.”