Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Park and Rec game bar takes over WoB

The neon sign above the bar reads, "youth has no age." That much is clear, considering the continued rise of the game bar nationwide, and the conversion of downtown St. Petersburg's former World of Beer space into a late-night hangout populated by full-grown adults rolling Skee-Balls, smashing air hockey pucks and mashing buttons on a variety of classic arcade consoles.

Park & Rec is the anchor in a trinity of First Avenue S businesses owned by Stephen Schrutt's Hunger + Thirst Restaurant Group, which also owns Kings Street Food Counter a few blocks west on Central Avenue.

Along with neighbors the Avenue and Proper Kitchen & Cocktails, Park & Rec is the final third of Hunger + Thirst's food, drink and entertainment block — a single, sprawling entity, where you might have happy hour at the Avenue, dinner and drinks at Proper and games (and more drinks) at Park & Rec.

If you liked the World of Beer, you'll probably get along fine at Park & Rec.

There's more wood than brick now, and some of the seating has been displaced by arcade consoles and an air hockey table, but the overall layout will be familiar to former WoB patrons. Some will see this as a shortcoming, but it's a smart layout, and changing too much would spoil a lot of built-in functionality. If it ain't broke, and all that.

If any updating stands out, it's the on-the-nose marketing to millennials. From the #getrecd stickers to a wall of 100 emojis — if this doesn't make sense to you, you may not be in the target demographic — and aggressively loud Top 40 tunes dominating conversations even on weekday nights, it's clear who Park & Rec is mostly for.

On weekends, that makes it a pretty happening party spot. I feel that a lower volume might be the right play on weeknights, where the bar is more modestly filled. Then again, I've never even used the 100 emoji.

The best feature at Park & Rec, save the arcade games, is the spacious front patio, bordered by a newly turfed cornhole area — a smart use of space that was once just an awkward extension of the parking lot. Lots of room to stretch out on the patio, and it extends right into the outdoor dining area of Proper.

Park & Rec is a game bar. Skee Ball, air hockey, basketball and a slew of vintage video games are available to play, including classics from Galaga to Mortal Kombat.

Unfortunately, many of the games need some real TLC. I've heard reports of the air hockey being out of order, and the multicade console's joystick flat out doesn't work. Most tragic of all, one joystick on WWF Superstars has only partial functionality, making it impossible for Hacksaw Jim Duggan to properly set up a running clothesline against Big Boss Man. That's just no fun.

On the upside, Park & Rec stocks about two dozen beers on draft, as well as some very affordable canned options. The wine list is simple and reasonable, and there's full liquor. The cocktail list is surprisingly ambitious given the unpretentious, "party" feel of the place. Some of the cocktails are prepared in bulk and served on draft during the weekends, a cool timesaver. The nine house signature drinks have range, as well as a few funny names, like Make America Grape Again, much needed comic relief.

Look, this is a full-liquor bar that slings high-end cocktails alongside rounds of Tekken Tag. The sale practically makes itself. But there are improvements to be made, and I hope the management considers them. Cut the volume down a touch on slow nights and fix up those poor arcade machines. Park & Rec has a good location and vibe to do okay with a bunch of half-working arcade games, but why not spend a few extra bucks and make the experience excellent? That, truly, would be keepin' it 100. [email protected]

     
 
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