Block Excellent

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January 6, 2003 // UPDATED 4:11 pm - April 27, 2007
By: Stephanie Watson
Stephanie Watson

A second look at Downtown's chain palace

When I first heard of Block E, the fresh-out-of-college idealist in me was totally annoyed. Did we really need another shiny, plastic-smelling gathering of chain businesses? Why couldn't a cooperative have opened up a nice vegetarian buffet instead, or a shiatsu center? Or at least, couldn't the mall space have been sold to less "evil" corporations than Starbucks and Borders -- how about a Whole Foods?

Well, the idealist eventually tired of thinking up P.C. alternatives and took a nap on her organic cotton futon. Meanwhile, the rest of me took a second look at Block E and realized that it wasn't all that bad.

As a Downtown resident who's had to schlepp to a mall to see a movie, I saw that having the Crown Theatres so close was great. Between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., tickets only cost four bucks. As if that wasn't enough, the theater is tricked out with stadium seating. This is good news for people with backoftheheadaphobia; the rows of comfy seats are set at a steep enough slope so that even the tallest person won't block your view.

While the movie complex is definitely my favorite part of Block E, there are other cool places there, too. I like to go in Border's, sit on the floor and read entire books. That's the biggest plus about big bookstores - you can flip through books for hours and the staff doesn't seem to care.

The Hard Rock Caf -- so it's 20 years late, and it even missed last year\'s wave of '80s worship, but that\'s okay. The two-story guitar is so cheesy and lame, it\'s actually cool...it's craptacular. I like all the memorabilia too, especially the case of Prince stuff bordering the second floor entrance. I must've spent 10 minutes studying his tiny lace gloves, fluorescent high-heel boots, and doll-sized frilly shirts trying to figure out who was tinier: me at 5'2", or him. I kind of like hanging out in the Hard Rock store too, not because I want a leather logo jacket but because I like to play the game called "Find the Most Random Thing to Have a Hard Rock Emblem on It." So far, the paperclip holder wins.

Starbucks, ah, Starbucks. I'm tired of beating up on them. Come on, it smells good in there, and the drinks are cheaper than at Caribou. And when it gets warmer, it will be nice to get some tea and sit out on the back patio, which is graced by those amazing BOSE speakers.

Last but by no means least, there is GameWorks, the arcade/bar/buffet/bowling alley. I wandered in there on a Friday afternoon last month, when the place was hoppin' with people in business clothes. I checked out the central bar, which is classy yet fun, and paused to look at a few video games.

But I was really there to see DDR, or Dance Dance Revolution as nonaficionados call it. In case you haven't seen it before, DDR is a Japanese-born game that you play with your feet, stomping on large buttons to the beat of techno music. My older sister Lisa, a DDR junkie, got me interested in checking the game out when she admitted to going on a $20 DDR binge during a lunch break from work. I found the GameWorks DDR machine tucked into a corner of the arcade, which is thoughtful for people who don't want to have everyone staring as they make their DDR debut. So that Friday, there was a guy in a suit sans jacket working DDR, taking breaks between songs to sip his orange martini. He wasn't an expert, but he was having a great time, and after about $10 worth of turns, he walked away, quite obviously a new man. He and my sister seem to have discovered the new feel-good drug, which when all's said and done is probably a lot cheaper than Prozac.

(P.S.: I don't plan on dropping a lot of dough on the GameWorks DDR because my crazy sister just gave me the PlayStation version of DDR for Christmas. Right now I'm a big uncoordinated dork, but maybe if I get really good, I'll invite everyone to a showing at Block E.)

Face it: Block E is FAN TABULOUS. Hey, Applebee's opens this spring, and though I've never been a fan, I have a sneaky feeling that just being a part of Block E will make those rubbery tater skins and Bahama Mama drinks taste classy.

Stephanie Watson is a Downtown renter. Feel free to e-mail her about her column at stephaniewatson2002@yahoo.com.