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We check out three entertainment spots so you don't have to


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The Franchise Times crew aced Escape the Room’s challenge with time to spare.

You can’t help but feel a little like royalty when a server silently crouches through the darkness of a comfortable theater to bring you a beer and some fancy cheese curds. That’s the unique service model of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the movie theater franchise that has grown to 24 markets across the country. Outside, it looks like any standard movie theater. But as a lifelong movie fan, I believe Alamo evokes the feeling of the micro cinemas filled with film nerds watching their favorite cult classic—and it’s intentional, but doesn’t feel forced. The theaters even host quirky events around those cult classics and modern films alike, giving every movie the “Rocky Horror Picture Show" treatment. But unlike those micro cinema haunts, with their small screens and cushions that hold the history of butts innumerable, I enjoy the amenities of modern theaters. Access to a full bar inside the theater, a decent gastro pub menu with food ferried in by near-ninjas, and great seats, sound and screens are something I’ll crave until Alamo arrives in my market.

The upshot: Alamo seems to hit the center of the Venn diagram for moviegoers: Families can come for an affordable movie night at about $11 a ticket, suburban aficionados can come for a beer and cult classic experience outside the urban core, and couples can get their dinner and a movie in an upscale environment. —NU


The bromance crowd dominates the bays at Top Golf, with chilly temperatures out front yet cushy, heated couches well behind the swing line to keep warm on a below 30-degree day. Those dudes were absolutely crushing their drives, one after the other, although not necessarily hitting the targets, and in one case were filling about six bays for a bachelor party. It doesn’t really matter, though, if your group is less robust, as my family of four for my son’s 20th birthday party was, since you’re competing against each other in fast-paced games for $35 an hour plus a $5 per person membership fee the first time each person plays. I found the price to golf more than reasonable and highly addictive; when your time is up, you’re warned several minutes in advance and can add another half hour or hour with ease, and we did that a number of times. The soaking comes in the food and drink prices—not necessarily outrageous for delicious fried chicken sandwiches, tasty flatbread pizzas and disgusting mini donuts that you could infuse with strawberry, chocolate or other flavors (the flavors were disgusting, not the donuts) but the costs quickly add up.

The upshot: The add-on food, friendly servers (called “caddies”) and tech-enabled golfing (each ball has a chip and your score is displayed on the screen as soon as it lands) look like a gold mine for the franchisees, which is good since a Top Golf reportedly costs $18 million to build.—BE


No matter how much you like your coworkers, there’s a certain dread that comes with being locked in a room with them and forced to do a series of puzzles. That feeling is never more palpable than when the door to your escape room closes and a 60-minute timer starts ticking down. During a trip to Escape the Room, a non-franchised escape room location, that trepidation was amplified with an additional hopeful escapee: some lady named Karen. The first minutes were a bit awkward. Five Franchise Times employees and Karen were stuck in a little room with a stained glass window, a bench, a locked confessional (yes, like the Catholics use) and a big sliding puzzle. With every minute lost from the big timer on the wall, the apathy grew. At least there was a bench. But once we heard the first telltale “click” of some gizmo opening, it got a lot more interesting. And quickly small groups and duos had formed to tackle the various challenges in the room and the following two secret rooms hidden behind the confessional. It’s fascinating to see what kind of personalities emerge during this kind of experience. Leaders, note-takers, tinkerers and brainstorming traits all push forth and create the true puzzle: getting six people to agree on something. With eight minutes to spare and for $28 per person, the team successfully defeated both the physical and personality puzzles. One can only hope your team is as smart and as collaborative as the Franchise Times team (plus Karen).

The upshot: It’s no wonder the escape room phenomenon has exploded among corporate team builders and romantic couples alike. It’s a great way to peel back the personalities and glimpse how they think in just 60 minutes.—NU

Ever wonder how consumers feel about your franchise? Editorial staffers Laura Michaels, Nick Upton, Tom Kaiser and Beth Ewen check out three brands in a different genre each issue, and report back.

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