TORONTO — Nestled under the CN Tower, across the street from the Rogers Centre and Ripley’s Aquarium, sits Cineplex’s latest bid to diversify its entertainment empire.
The Rec Room is a man cave on steroids — 40,000 square feet of big-screen TVs and video games plus ample food and drink. It also features The Void, a virtual-reality experience that puts you in the Ghostbusters world, as well as live entertainment and an impressive patio.
The Toronto Rec Room — a similar space opened in Edmonton in September — has proved to be a hit out of the box since its June 27 opening.
David Terry, vice-president and general manager of the Rec Room venture, says more than 6,000 people came through the doors on Canada Day.
Cineplex plans to open 10 to 15 versions of the Rec Room, each ranging in size from 40,000 to 60,000 square feet. Plans have already been announced for Mississauga, Ont., London, Ont., Calgary and Vancouver, as well as for an additional location in Edmonton at West Edmonton Mall.
"They're all either in design or construction phase," said Terry, whose background is with the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood. "Almost all of those should open by the end of 2018."
Each location will be a little different. Edmonton, for example, also features bowling and axe throwing. The new Toronto location is in Roundhouse Park, adjacent to a locomotive roundhouse that is home to the Toronto Railway Museum. So the outdoor patio looks out to the CN Tower and train cars.
Housed in a heritage property, the Rec Room has all its electrical, plumbing and other wiring clamped to the existing pillars "to not change anything." One opening was allowed at the back of the hall but the bricks that were removed had to be numbered and warehoused so they could be restored in the future.
While the high-ceilinged space is largely open, the bar, restaurant and gaming sections are sufficiently apart to avoid the feeling of a jumbo arcade. It's well appointed and well thought out. For example, when there is live entertainment — Canadian singer Coleman Hell played opening night — private rooms off the entertainment/bar area have a balcony space to watch the show.
The venue's enormous screen will no doubt be popular come the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup playoffs.
There is no admission charge. Capacity in Toronto is 1,400, which includes 850 for eating, and there are 500 people on staff.
The video games work on credits which you load up on via a wristband. Ten dollars will buy you 40 credits while $30 gets you 200. Like everything else, the games are high-end, be it blasting aliens or shooting the walking dead with a crossbow. For those with a need for speed, there is an impressively high-tech race car simulator (32 credits for one race).
Other games allow you to earn credits that can be redeemed at the in-house store, from candy to drones.
The Void, suggested for ages 10 and above, turns you and as many as three others into Ghostbusters. Equipped with a VR-style helmet, proton pack and weapon, you find yourself blasting ghosts and other supernaturals in a quite remarkable virtual experience. It will cost you $24.
There is an upscale feel to the Rec Room, from the menu to pool tables and large entertainment/bar area that would not look out of place in Las Vegas. The menu ranges from poutine and wood-fired pizza to steak. A custom doughnut bar, complete with liquor-flavoured filling if desired, offers decadent dessert options. There are 24 kinds of draught beer as well as bottled and draught wine. If you're feeling flush, how about a $45 Johnnie Walker Blue Label scotch?
"There's just so much to do," said Terry. "When you handle 6,000 guests in a day, it's a big operation."
The Rec Rooms are just part of Cineplex's diversification projects. Others including national gaming competitions and a digital media division.