Nobody walks into a Dave & Buster’s looking for a mellow meal out with friends.
Patrons of the restaurant and entertainment venue are of a particular ilk. They like to eat, drink and play. They like their food in nacho form or bacon-wrapped, their sports soaked up in raucous group settings, their games flashy and instantly gratifying and, if they happen to leave with a giant stuffed gorilla under their arm — well, it’s been a good day.
“She’s begrudgingly along for the ride,” said Helene Sobelman, a hint of malicious jest in her voice as she nodded toward her friend Saturday morning.
Maureen Hopper, of Fultonville, had never been to a Dave & Buster’s until Saturday, when a new, 33,000-square-foot location opened next door to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Crossgates Mall.
“It’s overwhelming,” Hopper said. “Lots of lights, lots of sounds, lots of games. I played one that was kind of cool, but, whew, this is something.”
Sobelman and Hopper were a familiar pairing at the Saturday grand opening. Sobelman grew up in New York City and remembered the thrill of an afternoon spent at Dave & Buster’s. When the company announced last month it was coming to the Capital Region, she joined the bandwagon of other D&B fans counting down the days until its arrival. Hopper, on the other hand, played the reluctant friend — the one who’d only ever heard of Dave & Buster’s and thought maybe it was the name of a men’s clothing store.
“When I go down and visit my family in the city. I will stop in at one,” said Sobelman, who moved to Albany for college 15 years ago. “I took it for granted all those years. It’s just something fun to do other than going out to bars and drinking or going out to clubs and dancing.”
In addition to its restaurant, Dave & Buster’s boasts an impressive lineup of arcade games. The new location has more than 170 games. The arcade area flashes in neon greens and blues and laser reds. It’s easy to get lost between old-school games like Skee Ball, Pac Man and Connect 4 and popular new games like Temple Run, Dark Escape and Dizzy Chicken.
“The closest thing to it, which actually isn’t really the same at all, but if you’ve ever been up to Saratoga at the Racino, it’s like that,” said Sobelman. “But here, you just hang out and play video games with no chance of winning money, yet somehow that’s more fun to me.”
It’s fun for children, as well, who can easily spend an hour or more glued to bright screens and consoles. The big thrill is, of course, the easy stream of prize tickets each game spits out.
“I like that you can win a lot of tickets on these games,” said Sara Williams, 12, who had just run over to her father with a bucket full of them. “You trade them in for prizes, and they’re actually good here. There are stuffed animals and big prizes, too. Like, other places you get like a Tootsie Roll for like five tickets.”
Williams’ parents, Ellen and David, took she and her siblings to Dave & Buster’s in New York City once when they were younger. They weren’t exactly counting down for the venue to open its doors in Albany, but they said it’s only right they take the kids on opening day, since it’s only five minutes from where they live.
“You’re at the mall, you can go and have dinner and the parents can relax while the kids play some games and give the parents a chance to talk,” said Ellen Williams, of Guilderland.
Gary Passardi, director of new store openings, said more than 200 people had already passed through in just the first hour. Many patrons were brand new to the Dave & Buster’s world, he said.
“There are some folks coming in who have familiarity with us, say, from other cities that they have visited,” Passardi said. “But in this market, it seems to be a lot of first-time guests coming in and seeing the facility and going, ‘Wow.’ ”