There are plenty of other theme restaurants that survived and are still alive and kicking. And with two children in tow and desperate for birthday party ideas, I have had the "pleasure" of trying them all at various times over the past several years.
The Harley Davidson Cafe came and went quickly in NYC, but is thriving in Las Vegas. (I'm starting to see a theme-restaurant trend...note to self, failed theme restaurants in NYC thrive in LV - is there a business model in the making?) You can probably imagine what this cafe/restaurant/shrine looks like, and for any half-way serious rider, it's worth a trip to the website for the virtual tour, and to the restaurant for an look at the over sized replica of the HD Sportster and the custom motorcycles on display, and any Elvis fan will want to see his signature bike. Oh, and the food is what you'd expect -- super-sized barbecued ribs, burgers, nachos grande, and the ever-present chocolate lava cake. I'm not sure what "biker food" is supposed to be, but since the Fashion Cafe didn't serve baby carrots and poached chicken, I'll give the HD Cafe a pass.
The Hard Rock Cafe is one of the oldest, and probably one of my children's favorites -- but mostly because they liked walking under the car that appeared to hang out over the sidewalk at it's former location on west 57th Street. That location closed a few years ago, and re-opened in tourist central, aka, Times Square. Yes, it's a big touristy place, but it's also lots of fun. Make sure you read the history of the Cafe -- and you can be wowed by the fact that there are now over 70,000 guitars on the walls at the over 163 cafes, hotels and casinos around the world, or you can just go to the HRC and enjoy the music videos, the atmosphere, and the high-caloric food. Nachos, potato skins and chicken fingers abound for starters, but skip them and go to the entrees -- the "legendary burgers" have some surprises, and the smokehouse sandwiches are a treat. If you want to be more calorie conscious, try the goat cheese salad sandwich, or the salmon. In NYC, chain restaurants have to post the calories, and the HRC has a nice selection of dessert "bites" that are much lower in calorie than the full-fledged versions, and still delicious - the chocolate mousse "bite" is a favorite of mine. The overall atmosphere is fun, loud and over-the-top. Don't forget to buy some souvenirs on the way out!
Mars 2112 -- I was excited to write about this one, as it was my son's favorite place to go for friends' parties, or when cousins were in town. Then I looked it up online and realized it had gone the way of the Fashion Cafe, and is now a defunct theme restaurant. This one stuck around for a long time, maybe partly because of the video arcade, as well as a pretty prime location just blocks from Time Square. You entered via a simulated spaceship ride that would "fly" you to Mars. When you left the ship, you'd enter a red-rock cavern and work your way either to the game room, or directly down to the restaurant. Alien characters would come to your table to visit, and you could eat funky-shaped chicken nuggets or burgers and french fries. Sometimes we skipped the restaurant part and just went for the video games -- Dash plays a mean game of air hockey.
I almost forgot about American Girl Place and the now-famous (or infamous?) dolls. I have to admit that this is an amazing idea for a store, and for a period of time, we spent many a Saturday visiting the store to buy accessories for Kate's doll. We went to several birthday parties at the restaurant, where your doll actually has her own place setting and high chair seat. Didn't come with a doll? You can ask for "loaner", but be prepared to spend on a doll on your way out! The restaurant has much lighter fare than the other theme restaurants -- poached salmon, lemon chicken, and roused beet salad are all on the menu, along with tic-tac-toe pizza and mac and cheese served with fruit skewers. The chocolate mousse flowerpot dessert is cute and completely fits the theme. You can skip the restaurant and take in a live theater production or a special movie screening. Or you can sign up for special events, such as a backstage tour of Radio City, or American Girl at Mary Poppins on Broadway.
Dave and Busters -- I think D&B helped cause the demise of Mars 2112. It's hard not to like the Vegas-style game room, and the restaurant food is surprisingly not terrible -- on a recent visit I had a steak salad, which was pretty good. Dash is quite the burger connoisseur, but opted for the make-your-own taco for his main course. There are fish choices mixed in with BBQ Chicken and Ribs and the Fried Shrimp platter, so there is definitely something for everyone. For dessert, we ordered the fondue, which came with a variety of fruits and other dipping-options, although the chocolate was ho-hum. We saw several kids parties going on, and could even imagine some adults having a good time. Plan your visit, though, for time in the game room -- but wear a watch, otherwise you could lose track of how long you're there!
Dash and his friends sitting on the tank and bridge.
It's easy to find the big yellow building. No one was harmed in the making of this birthday party.
I have a whole year to plan next year's birthday activities. Who knows what will be around by then?