Burgers, beers, and (arcade) battles at The Playhouse/Swillburger 

As anyone who has opened a business knows, the best-laid plans often go awry. This held true for Brian Van Etten and Jeff Ching, co-owners of The Playhouse/Swillburger (820 South Clinton Avenue).

"We've both opened restaurants. We thought we had anticipated all the pitfalls and delays. We spent two years planning this," says Van Etten. But followers of Playhouse/Swillburger's plans know that it was supposed to open last year.

Both Ching and Van Etten had experience opening restaurants. Ching, with help from Van Etten, opened The Owl House. Van Etten relocated to Boston and assisted in opening a few places there, and then, after moving back to Rochester, he and Ching started scoping out potential spots for what is now The Playhouse/Swillburger.

They happened upon the abandoned former church on the corner of South Clinton and Meigs and saw a diamond in the rough. "The place was beat up," says Van Etten. "It was bad."

They both really liked the concept of a burger joint, but wanted to up the ante when it came to the quality of the ingredients. With the space being so large, however, a burger joint alone was not going to fill it.

The concept of a bar with an arcade is not a new one; Barcade in Brooklyn and Emporium Arcade Bar in Chicago have been around for years. And being children of the 80's and 90's, Van Etten and Ching grew up in arcades at the mall.

"I thought, where do I want to hang out?" says Van Etten. "This was something that we thought we could do and do well."

When it came to the menu, Van Etten started with more options, but found that simplicity worked best. Patrons can choose from a beef burger made with 100 per cent New York State beef or a veggie burger consisting of beets, brown rice, and black beans. A myriad of toppings are available for free, from standard lettuce, tomato, and onion to more complex toppers like hot jam or Van Etten's father's homemade pickles.

Shoestring French fries or Vampire Fries, covered in garlic and parsley, are available as sides, as well as milkshakes. When Ugly Duck Coffee sets up shop on Fridays and Saturdays, espresso milkshakes are made to order.

The building has no parking lot, so if you park in a nearby lot, you're gonna get towed. About 40 spots of on-street parking are available on the Meigs Street overpass, and there is also parking on surrounding streets. Just be sure to pay attention to parking signs.

The Playhouse/Swillburger is located at 820 South Clinton Avenue. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 2 a.m.; burgers are available until 10 p.m. The bar is currently open Monday evenings, but no burgers... yet. 442-2442. Information: theplayhouseroc.com.

Quick bites

Whether you are pro or anti-Valentine's Day, there's no point in denying yourself the fun food and drink events going on around town. Treat yourself!

Mullers Cider House (1344 University Avenue) is hosting a Pre-Valentine's Day Weekend event with cider and truffles from Kaneb Orchards and Affaire de Chocolat on Friday, February 12, from 5 to 8 p.m. Right next door, Joe Bean Coffee Roasters (1344 University Avenue) will host an Ommegang Valentines Food Pairing on Saturday, February 13, at 6 p.m. Sample Cheese and Black Pepper Ravioli, or Sardine Mousse on Crostini, among other selections, paired with beers from Ommegang Brewery's extensive roster.

Both Black Sheep (280 Exchange Boulevard) and Lux Lounge (666 South Avenue) will be hosting anti-Valentine's Day parties. On Saturday, February 13, Black Sheep will have (Anti) Love Potions like a Bleeding Heart Cocktail. Lux's party is on February 14 at 9 p.m. and will feature Shots Through the Heart drink specials and snarky sugar cookies. I'll be spending Valentine's Day with Andie and Duckie since they are re-releasing the 80's teen drama Pretty in Pink in theaters.

Black Button Distilling (85 Railroad Street) will offer its three-day course "The Craft Distilling Experience" February 26 to 28. Black Button's head distiller, Jason Barrett, will share his knowledge on how to make the jump to commercial distillation. Participants should have a basic understanding of spirits and distillation. The course will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and the cost is $950 per person. Sign up at blackbuttondistilling.com.

Pour Coffee Parlor (23 Somerton Street) has officially changed its name to Glen Edith Coffee. Same owners, same coffee, different name.

Correction from the last Chow Hound: The Blossom Road Pub (198 North Winton Road) will hold its grand opening on February 24 – it is not currently open.


Brown Hound Downtown, an offshoot of Bristol's Brown Hound Bistro, has opened in the Memorial Art Gallery (500 University Avenue). The restaurant will serve lunch Wednesday through Friday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday, as well as running a bakery from Tuesday through Sunday.


Constantino's Market in College Town announced last week that they would be closing. Developers are currently reviewing replacements for the 20,000 square foot space. Texas de Brazil and Bar 145 will be opening in College Town soon.

Aladdin's Natural Eatery at Park Point (200 Park Point Drive) has closed.

Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to [email protected].

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