The Playhouse and Swillburger

Combination arcade and burger joint invites locavores to stay and play



From left, Jeff Ching and Brian Etten are the new co-owners of Rochester's new "barcade."

JR Kraus

Since the preview party held in December 2014, Rochesterians have been salivating for a burger smothered in Swill Sauce and served with a side of video games. The Playhouse and Swillburger, two distinct entities housed in one loca- tion at 820 South Clinton Avenue, is the latest stay-and-play concept created by The Owl House owner, Jeff Ching, and its founding chef, Brian Van Etten.

The Playhouse and Swillburger is housed in a newly renovated church built in 1890.The church also served as a machine shop and home to the Rochester Community Players at different points in time. Renovating a building this old has been no small feat, but co-owners Ching and Van Etten are confident the results are well worth the wait. The Playhouse offerings include a variety of arcade games, a pinball room, and two upstairs balconies that overlook the main floor and bar. One balcony is available for private party rentals. Ching and Van Etten have engaged local and sustainable b-corporation Staach to design the furniture and create a contemporary look and feel for the main bar, seating, and tray tables that accompany the arcade games.

The idea behind the restaurant, Swillburger, is a quick-service “old-time burger joint” where patrons place their order at the beginning of the line. By the time they move through to the end, their order will be ready. However, speed and simplicity will not interfere with quality. ChefVan Etten has been working closely with Headwater Foods, Inc. to procure locally grown ingredients wherever possible. The streamlined menu includes burgers sourced from cows fed with no hormones or antibiotics—a blend Van Etten is proud to say, “is more sustainable and reduces waste by using eighty percent of the animal.” Lovers of white meat can enjoy a chicken sandwich on a house bun baked by local favorite Flour City Bread. The plethora of toppings will satisfy many palates: lettuce, tomato, onion, vegetable slaw, grilled mushrooms, and Dad’s Pickles—house pickles made em by Van Etten’s father. The condiment list features some remarkable choices such as the aforementioned Swill Sauce, strawberry hot jam, and the chef-named BVE BBQ M sauce.The usual suspects (ketchup, mustard, and Frank’s Red Hot) are also offered. 

With all of this quality meat talk, vegetarians need not to be alarmed.This team is accustomed to serving clientele with 5 mixed preferences at The Owl House, and Swillburger is also offering a flavorful beet burger, onion rings, kale salad, and two types of french fries, all made from regional ingredients. Additional rotating m sides will be based on what is fresh and available. For those with a sweet tooth, Rochester’s market creamery darling, Eat Me, is providing the ice cream in Swillburger’s milkshakes.Van Etten is offering classic flavors as well as one rotating flavor to showcase the female-owned business’s creative blends.

The thirsty can enjoy Playhouse and Swillburger’s full cocktail bar, complete with twenty draft lines for local craft beers and favorites. Several lines are reserved for draft wine and one draft cocktail collaboration with Black Button Distilling. Ching says that while the bar will operate on high volume,“the plan is to have an experience in a glass.” Other fun additions to the bar include cool retro-inspired toys as well as a Japanese ice shaver for frozen beverages.

As game lovers, Ching and Van Etten envision a relaxed family environment during the day. Parents can enjoy sharing a nostalgic experience with their children with a few modern creature comforts. The two large screens behind the bar will display one popular selection (such as a sporting event), while the other screen might display a person’s gaming skills (or lack thereof). The arcade will be open seven days a week and operate on Playhouse tokens equivalent to twenty-five cents per game to keep the fun affordable and to encourage customers to spend a few hours enjoying themselves. Opening date TBA. theplayhouseroc.com

Stacey Rowe is a Rochester-based freelance writer. 

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