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If he builds it, will they come? If Perry Thomson takes a seemingly cursed site, enlarges it by 1,000 square feet and slaps a sign on it that reads The Field House Restaurant and Bar [4527 Lomitas, (713)526-5260], will sports fans fill the seats that have for so long remained essentially vacant?
Thomson seems confident, though we should note that he's wearing something of a rally cap. The owner of Timberwolf Pub [2511 Bissonnet, (713)526-1705] is betting on suds and sports to level the playing field at the property near the corner of Kirby Drive and the Southwest Freeway, which has already beaten up Thomson's previous contender, Scottsdale's. When the American eatery closed last fall for, ahem, remodeling, it joined a short list of pretenders that have dared to challenge the formidable site, including Pico's and Gator's.
"I don't think the site is doomed," says Thomson, pointing instead to management mistakes, service problems and an identity crisis caused by Scottsdale's Southwestern name. "We understand why it didn't make it before, and we're making sure we don't make the same mistakes."
In addition to improved training techniques, the Field House is also relying on a free agent, a PR firm that will help market the restaurant and generate special occasions around local sporting events.
The restaurant is even shifting its infield, so to speak: It's relocating the main entrance, which once faced sleepy Lomitas, to the Southwest Freeway. The former entry was trapped behind the Kirby line of scrimmage dominated by Bennigan's, Taco Cabana and Cafe Japon. "One of the biggest mistakes we made with Scottsdale's was leaving the entrance where it had been," Thomson says.
Still, Thomson knew he needed to develop a winning game plan. So he reviewed game films -- er, the competition -- and put together his playbook.
"Restaurants do real good, sports bars do real good, and entertainment places like Dave & Buster's do real good, so I thought if I put them all together, there's a tremendous opportunity."
He's hoping fans will flock to what he calls a "sports restaurant," one that will no doubt be welcomed in a part of town surprisingly devoid of such manly places. Thomson doesn't consider nearby bw-3 in the Village or Hooters on the other side of the Southwest Freeway to be in the same league with his place. "No, we're not the chicken-wing capital of the world," he says with a laugh. "We're in a different room. From the check average to the decor to the food, we're running this more as a restaurant, and if we do high beverage sales because people want to watch the game, great."
With 40 televisions placed throughout the main dining room, bar, billiard room and patio, it's virtually impossible not to watch the game. Or should we say games? Several satellite dishes will virtually assure that just about every game played in the world will be shown at the Field House, as will the popular NTN (National Trivia Network).
All these attractions, designed to make patrons linger, would seem to run counter to a restaurant's need to turn over tables, but Thomson's got that worked out, too.
"That's the reason for so many rooms," he explains. "In the dining room, we'll turn over the dinner tables, but let drinkers linger in the bar."
The Field House even sports a DJ, who cranks up the volume later in the evening when the tables are cleared and the patrons are ready to dance off all that beer, food and boob-tube lethargy. Dancing suggests the presence of women in a place seemingly teeming with testosterone; even Thomson admits that his 25-and-older crowd will probably skew at least 60 percent male. "I wish it would be 60 percent female, but I know it will be males."
It would seem food is not the primary focus, but Thomson has fine-tuned a menu that attempts to be all things to all people. Grilled bruschetta is served alongside standard sports-bar starters such as stuffed jalapeños and -- what's this? -- buffalo wings. Entrées are manly, but I like them, too: steaks, meat loaf, burgers, ribs and the more demure grilled salmon and yellowfin tuna.
Thomson promises a family-friendly atmosphere, too, driving the point home with a kids menu and a Sunday brunch. In his attempt to please all the people, however, Thomson has overlooked the fans of Scottsdale's jalapeño corn bread. Even though he had said earlier that the corn bread would return, it didn't make the final cut on his menu.
That gripe aside, it will be interesting for us sideline watchers to see how the Field House fares. Thomson himself may be too distracted to notice anything but the bottom line. He's in the middle of converting Timberwolf Pub into Timberwolf Pub & Grill, which is already scoring big in Tempe, Arizona. Shooting for a May opening, the new Wolf will compete directly with Hooters and bw-3.
It would appear the local sports-bar scene is expanding as rapidly as the leagues that inspire them.