Take a downtown building that’s been largely vacant for more than a year. Add a bar and fill it with arcade games. What do you get? The Rec Room, a bar+arcade planned for the building at Massachusetts Avenue and Cedar Street that housed a Firestone tire store for many years and LkldTV more recently.
The Rec Room is being planned by a group that includes the trio that operates the Cob & Pen craft beer bar in Dixieland. The trio is also planning another venture: Good Thyme, a fast-casual takeout restaurant mixing healthy options and comfort food in the Dixieland Village spot that has held several eateries, including D’Lucas. More on that later.
“With The Rec Room coming in, it’s going to unlock that corner of downtown and Munn Park. It’s going to become a center for activities and fun things to do downtown.”
That was the enthusiastic response to news of his new neighbors from Shane Lawlor, executive director of LkldLive, a non-profit entertainment venue that will continue operating in a different part of the same building at 202 N. Massachusetts Ave.
“We do a lot of family stuff. They’ll do a lot of family stuff,” Lawlor said. “I really love those guys. We’re on the same wave-length.”
“Those guys” include the Cob & Pen trio — Conn O’Leary, 37, Jason Ellis, 42, and Corey Ripley, 33 — plus Barrett Hollis, 35, and O’Leary’s parents.
The bar+arcade concept is new to Lakeland, but it’s big in New York, where a pioneer called Barcade opened in Brooklyn in 2004 and has become a chain. Similar ventures closer to home include Player 1 in Orlando, Park and Rec in St. Petersburg and Game Time Tampa in Ybor City.
The venue will offer a full bar as well as domestic and craft beer and wines, O’Leary said. It will be open to all ages before 9 p.m. and over-21 only after 9, he said.
O’Leary said the idea germinated when the partners were trying to decide how to differentiate their next venture from other bars: “We want the place to be fun and activity-oriented instead of a place where you just drink.”
He added: “Me and Ripley play quite a few console games ourselves. The only other (gaming venue) here would be Family Fun Center. We don’t want to exclude families, but we’re going to be more of an adult playground.”
Hollis came on board after he told Sage Realty’s Grant Miller he had been pondering bringing an arcade bar to Lakeland. Miller, who had worked with the Cob & Pen trio, told him about plans for The Rec Room. “A week later I met with them,” Hollis said. “They definitely have the same vision.”
Hollis, who previously worked in advertising and as a middle school teacher, said he has been involved in gaming his whole life: “I had my parents take me to Family Fun Center growing up. I continued playing in college. Now I play with my son,” who’s about to start kindergarten.
O’Leary said visitors should expect four types of experiences:
- Legacy arcade games, such as Galaga, Pac-Man and Mortal Kombat
- Newer arcade games with cutting-edge graphics, such as Walking Dead
- Activities such as Skee-Ball, Air Hockey and Hot Shots Basketball
- Consoles, such as PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo
Also planned: multiple TV monitors showing sports and gaming competitions, and spaces for private and semi-private parties.
As for food, the menu will be “simple and focused,” O’Leary said.
Unlike some arcade bars, there will be no admission fee, he said: “The games will have a hybrid card/coin system. If you wanna come in and just grab a beer, you will not have to pay.”
Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, welcomes the new business. “It’s definitely something interesting and different, which is the kind of experiential businesses we like in downtown.”
She noted that The Rec Room will need a conditional-use permit from the city, “but I am confident it will be approved.”
The structure is best known for its curved, Art Deco canopy. O’Leary said the partners plan to replace the current parking under the canopy with a beer garden, set off from the street with a small wall.
New building owner Baron Realty, which purchased it in May for $1.9 million from LkldTV founder Randy Borden, plans to add neon or neon-looking lights to the curved overhang, as well as inside the building, in keeping with the deco theme, O’Leary said.
Baron President Cory Petcoff has commissioned design sketches showing the updated look but he couldn’t be reached today. Here is a design concept incorporating neon-looking LED lights that was approved by Lakeland’s Historic Preservation Board in 2016 when Borden planned a facelift:
The partners foresee synergy with LkldLive. “It’s a great value add for LkldLive. It’s something to do before and after the show,” Miller said.
At LkldLive, Lawlor has beefed up programming in anticipation of the changes and says he’ll have announcements soon about fall music, drama and comedy. Upcoming shows include indie music showcases, comedy and concerts featuring local musicians playing tribute to Tom Petty, Radiohead, Carole King and Joni Mitchell, Nirvana and Johnny Cash.
Interior demolition has begun in the former LkldTV studios. The partners have not set an opening date yet. They plan to use about 4,000 square feet for The Rec Room and set aside about 1,000 square feet in the rear of the building for offices that may be sub-leased.
The three partners are also planning Good Thyme, a restaurant just three blocks down the Dixieland alley that runs behind Cob & Pen.
Like former tenant D’Lucas, Good Thyme will be built around online ordering and window pickup. But the emphasis will be on healthy breakfasts and lunches with a few comfort foods thrown in.
Typical menu items will include biscuit sandwiches, breakfast bowls, house granola and yogurt, salads, fried cauliflower rice, and poke bowls, according to partner Ellis, who is taking the lead on the restaurant.
The owners are close with the owners of Concord Coffee, so diners can anticipate some Concord beverages at Good Thyme and a few GoodGo Thyme items at Concord, Ellis said.
In addition, plans are being made for Friday afternoon oyster happy hours in the patio behind the restaurant, he said.
A fall opening is anticipated.
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