J. Frank Parnell: Dave & Buster’s Brings Fun, Food, Fans


By J. Frank Parnell

If you dig through the Dave & Buster’s website, you’ll find stuff about games, locations, big food and sports. Squint and you’ll see a small button in reverse type at the bottom of the page that says “HISTORY.”

Click it. It won’t tell you much, other than Dave and Buster are “real guys:”

“Back in the 1970s, Buster opened a restaurant known for its tasty food and friendly service. A few doors down, Dave opened an outrageous place for fun and games for adults.”

dave & buster'sOK, sort of. That cryptic description leaves out names and Little Rock. The fresh D&B location next to Bass Pro Shops in Little Rock features a nod to Slick Willy’s and Buster’s, the two establishments at Little Rock’s train station, not named in the D&B history. It’s right there on the wall at the entrance. It doesn’t add much, but at least it lets patrons know that this boisterous and flashy establishment has roots right here in Arkansas.

Although D&B has been spreading across the country since the early 1980s, this was my first experience. It was way more than my mind’s eye imagined, despite the big, bright games and dull bar food. It’s not for me but, then again, I’m not in the age group (20-somethings through 30-somethings) the Dave & Busters  management is aiming for.

But I know a little about the birthing of D&B because I was smack dab in the middle of that age group during the train station days. I usually didn’t have the cash to order seafood and steaks with the suits and skirts among the ferns and brass at Buster’s, but I could afford a few beers and play some pool at Slick Willy’s, which I did with a bit of frequency.

For my money, which wasn’t much, Slick Willy’s offered more than electronic games and colorful cocktails that light up. It was a local pub with familiar characters – carpenters, students, journalists, secretaries, construction workers. Seems like it was an early purveyor of the popular bucket-of-beer sales gimmick, although I’m not sure how to check that. Pool was cheap and the beer was cold – I remember that much.

But that’s not here or now. As I sampled a burger, chicken strips and even a bacon-wrapped rib swabbed with Asian-tinged barbecue sauce as the Little Rock D&B was about to open, I wondered how either place – Slick Willy’s or Buster’s – gave birth to this. Not that “this” is all that horrible; again, I understand I’m not the target audience.

For sure, it will draw a crowd because the D&B marketing team has built a brand. Some folks will marvel at the giant TVs and be thrilled by “winning” trinkets playing games; I’m not one of them. Although I won’t rule out nursing a beer and watching a game on one of D&B’s huge screens. Might even order a drink that lights up.


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