THEY’RE BOTH IN MALLS. They both roll up the dining room and roll out the dance floor once the dinner crowd has sloshed away. They’re both louder than the screamin’ ’80s, with a near one-to-one ratio of pulsing video screens to hours that are happy. And they’re both undiluted shots of Vegas, emptied directly into the bloodstream of a Northwest populace, which—judging by the weekend waits—are clearly thirsty for their charms.
But there the similarities end, for Bellevue Square’s frenetic Munchbar—an actual Vegas export, modeled on an outpost at Caesar’s Palace—aims lower, demographically and gastronomically. Clad in graffiti art and video screens and packed with giddy Millennials, it’s the sort of joint that reminds those over 30 how hopelessly aged they are. Even if they could get their 12-year-old server’s attention they wouldn’t be able to hear her, and certainly shouldn’t be eating any of the fried pub fare she peddles, and don’t in fact want “da-bomb burrito” or the “best hangover pizza”—and really won’t want the fries they’ll probably order but immediately regret as tough and unsatisfying. (Pssst: Stick with a burger and some fine crunchy yam fries, and choose a draft microbrew over one of the candy-bar cocktails.) And will they care that Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola from Jersey Shore will be in the DJ box tomorrow night? You get the idea.
Across the bridge throbs another joint with a DJ stand: Pnk, on the fourth floor of Pacific Place downtown. What it lacks in vowels it makes up for in throwbacky opulence—a groovy melange of ’60s design and ’70s white leather and ’80s fiber optics that cast an otherworldly glow upon the circular bar. The demographic here is indeed more sophisticated; and, though the glamsters descend in packs for office parties and bachelor throw downs (it’s rentable for private events by day), the sprawling room accommodates with long sight lines and unmatched people-watching.
Best, the food—though flawed—is real, a little higher up the food chain than Munchbar’s, with global starters and munchables and dinner plates (including a surprisingly feisty lobster pad thai). A lettuce wrap holds moist shredded pork with cabbage and Mama Lil’s peppers; beef sliders, sweet and overcooked, recall Dick’s burgers. And while the cloying cocktail list seems oddly skewed not just to twentysomethings, but kindergartners—bubblegum vodka?—the place itself displays as unexpected a sense of self-assurance as those strategizing secretaries on Mad Men.