column, where we discussed the state of things a year later at Downtown
Disney prompted quite a bit of reader feedback!
Below are some of those
notes, and also an update on one Downtown Disney tenant that may not be
there much longer...
|A Reader writes:
The Sunday busy ESPN Zone
Being APs, my wife and I have been there many times,
especially since last fall. On Sundays, ESPN Zone is a zoo,
and I don't mean it in a good way. We usually went to watch
football on Sundays, and unless one was sitting directly at
the bar, table service was an absolute joke. That is, if you
could get one. I never saw so many people waited on by so few
in my life. One other thing -- Raider games at ESPN Zone. It
literally gets dangerous due to the boneheaded mentality of
most drunken Raider fans, and ESPN Zone just keeps serving 'em.
The outdoor Uva Bar is rather nice, however. You're
right; one can usually walk right up and get served due to it
not being crowded, but what's wrong with that? The people who
work there have been very pleasant, every single last one of
them, and they make some mean drinks.
Oh yeah, Avalon Cove. Pretty much the only reason we go
to Disney's California Adventure. We haven't been in the
restaurant, just the bar. We're usually the only ones there
when we go, and it's kinda nice to have the bartender wait
around for just little ol' us all Sunday just to serve us.
According to the staff there, Disney forbids them to put in
any televisions at the bar. Too bad. We would have watched the
Super Bowl there and spent more than $12, but if that's the
way they want it...
Dear Reader, youāre
not the only one to encounter shoddy service at ESPN Zone (see
I agree with you that, from the
consumer side of things, thereās absolutely nothing wrong with
an uncrowded venue. In fact, itās better. Of course, if things
are permanently uncrowded, isnāt that a sign that the
establishment wonāt be there down the road?
For what itās worth, I agree with
Disney on the issue of televisions in the Avalon Cove bar. The
illusion of a bygone era of clean boardwalk amusement parks is
swept away if you have a present-day sporting event blaring
away; suddenly youāre just back in the present!
|Secret Worker types:
I just read your article and I have a few comments.
First of all, you said there have been no menu changes
in Downtown Disney. You couldn't be more wrong, at least when
it comes to the [Ralph Brennan's] Jazz Kitchen. I happen to
work there and I can report our menus change fairly regularly.
I have been there from the beginning and can remember about
five or six major menu changes and minor changes are happening
all the time. We have three very different dining experiences
to choose from: Creole Caf (fast food), Flambeaux's (casual
fine dining), and The Parlor (fine dining) all have a
different menu and kitchen. We have been consistently busy
except after Sept. 11 and after New Year's; both happen to be
the slow period for the parks, too. Even during the slow times
we are very busy Thursday through Saturday, which I think is
the same for most of the stores and restaurants at Downtown
As for your statement about Y Arriba Y Arriba,
everything I have heard is that they're not doing so well.
They are busy on Saturdays when they have their club night but
other than that they seem to be really slow. Although, I do
believe they are going to be having a club night on Fridays,
too. I think that is the only thing keeping them afloat.
All of Downtown Disney is dead during the day except
during the summer. The problem is that there are not that many
businesses nearby, and they usually account for a restaurantās
Downtown Disney at opening
a year ago
What's really working against Downtown Disney is that
lemon of a park next door. [Disney's] California Adventure has
helped bring in more tourists to Anaheim but nowhere near the
numbers promised to all the vendors at Downtown Disney. I
think that all the vendors have had to cut back from their
original plans because of the lack of tourists. All of the
surveys Disney has done found that most of the people visiting
the Downtown are locals: locals are what keeps the whole place
Just like Wolfgang and Mondavi you can bet that all the
vendors are angry with Disney for promising so much and then
not delivering. I think that all the tenants of Downtown
Disney are making money, just not in the rate they had
expected. They all put a lot of money into it and are seeing a
very slow return. I feel that if Disney doesn't do something
to improve the parks, it's going to be harder and harder for
the vendors to make money. I would be surprised to see any
major expansion to the entertainment district until guest
numbers are up at both parks, because the word is out about
how much of a struggle it is to operate in Downtown Disney.
Secret Worker, my thanks to you for the
info on the Jazz Kitchen and for your insights on the vendor
perspective. I hereby issue a mea culpa with regards to the Jazz
Kitchen -- other readers caught me on that one, too. Weāll try
to get our menu listings up to speed soon.
The real evolving story here is that
vendors were promised much, as you note, and then had to scale
back expectations to mesh with reality. Had they built Westcot
next door, would we be having discussions about which Downtown
Disney establishment would die first?
I think you are exactly right about the
majority of the crowd being locals, while Disney's California
Adventure (DCA) attempts to target tourists. At the Walt Disney
World Resort, tourists unload tons of money and are fine with
it. Here, they seem to avoid Downtown Disney after a day at DCA
(if indeed they even went to DCA). Something clearly needs
adjusting; there is sticker shock occurring at some level.
|Bill chimes in:
I, too, am surprised at the success of Downtown Disney.
On the occasional weekend evening when I drop by after a visit
to the parks, it is jammed with people. Last Saturday,
February 9th, I took my mom to dinner at [Ralph] Brennan's
Jazz Kitchen as a combination Mardi Gras and her birthday
treat. Having checked the menu on the restaurant review site,
I was expecting to pay big money for a meal I wasn't really
thrilled about. My mom is the one who loves that kind of food.
I don't care much for seafood. I was surprised to discover
they were offering a Mardi Gras buffet and discount drinks.
The buffet was about $20, drinks about $2 and $3.
The Ralph Brennan Jazz
After a visit to the parks, I checked in at about 7 pm.
They said a 45-minute wait, about what I expected, maybe even
a little less. We waited at the bar next to the bandstand and
enjoyed the music. Very enjoyable, however it was nearly two
hours before they called our name. Then they tried to seat us
outside where the winds were threatening to blow Disney back
to Kansas. It was only about 10 minutes more to wait for a
table inside. By then the band had stopped for the night. Oh,
well. The food was decent. I filled up on catfish and
jambalaya. My mom had gumbo, chicken and, well... everything.
Not a large selection of food, but OK. Another band came on at
10 and we took our time, staying another 45 minutes.
I guess the point of all this is, they said the Mardi
Gras buffet was something new they were trying. They didn't
know what kind of crowd to expect and underestimated the wait
time. Fair enough. If as you say the place is usually
underperforming, perhaps they will see this test as a way to
bring in more people. Lower prices and/or a buffet certainly
seemed to have a positive effect. I for one hope they stick
Hi Bill, as we heard above, they are
trying multiple buffet and menu solutions at the Jazz Kitchen
(the rotation of menus is itself a hint to me that they are
feeling the financial pinch, since they deem it important to try
new things). Iām certain they will heed the kinds of stories
youāre telling here, since it looks like they really want to
make a go of this.
My family and I -- and I know there are many others who
feel this way as well -- are not prone to dining in the
Downtown Disney area for the reasons that you pointed out;
part of the problem being the prices, but the other part being
that they are not catering to mainstream middle- America. Each
choice (except for possibly the bakery, Hagen-Dazs, and
pretzel place) seems to be redefining California Cuisine (or
perhaps New Orleans Style). As you noted, the crowds are
there, but they are the young, unmarried professionals from
the Orange County area; not the moms, dads, and two or three
kids there on vacation.
OK, rather than continue to beat around the bush --- we
miss the Monorail Cafe! That was the one place that Disney ran
that gave us options -- good portions, of good food, at good
Sure --- I like Goofy's Kitchen as much as the next guy
-- but it gets a little [expensive] spending not only $20 for
myself (then again for my wife), but $10 for my 5-year-old
(who does eat a fair amount) -- but who'd be just as happy
with a $5 Mickey Meal of nuggets and fries. I guess the sad
part is that since they are doing as well as they are, they
will just keep aiming above the family budget -- we'll just
have to eat in the park, or cross to the other side (along
Harbor) and eat at Tony Roma's, McDonald's, or Coco's (ok,
that's on Katella, but you get the idea). Even the PCH Grill
is "above" what we'd be looking for -- and for Mom
and Dad, Croc's Bits and Bites gets a little tiresome.
Maybe when someone of "regular" means (like
Walt -- he seemed to be much more down to earth than Michael
Eisner) is in a position of authority within the Walt Disney
Company, this might happen -- in the meantime, I won't hold my
breath -- but I will hold (tightly) onto my wallet and just
make that trek off-site.
Yes Stew, we
all miss the Monorail Caf (sniff, sniff).
Your arguments about the need for
"regular" food (and prices!) are music to my ears.
Every time I walk through the area, I hatch new plans for a
cart-run hot dog operation. Disney could charge me $500 a day
and Iād still be making profit ö thatās how big I think
the unserved public is.
Too bad theyād never allow it; that
would cannibalize the expensive dining options.
Thanks for the great overview of the status of Downtown
Disney's restaurants. I, too, am pleased that they are doing
well, despite any predictions otherwise.
However, I would have to say that a big problem my wife
and I have with Downtown Disney is the near complete absence
of reasonably priced food. With the exception of the take- out
place next to the Jazz Kitchen, there's hardly any real fast
food or even "good food cheap." (Wetzel's Pretzels
is a snack food, and not really lunch or dinner).
A nighttime line for warm pretzels and hot dogs.
Universal CityWalk has a nice food court upstairs, most
malls have a food court, even Santa Monica's Third Street
Promenade has a food court. Downtown Disney needs an area
where you can get burgers, fries, slices of pizza, tacos,
quickie Chinese food, and deli sandwiches.
I know there's probably no space for it now (although I
personally wouldn't miss the ESPN Zone), but any future
expansion really needs to include something like a standard
mall eating area.
plea for a food court? We want the Company to offer mall- type
You bet we do. Your e-mail finally
allowed me, after 12 months of thinking about this, to put the
situation into one clear sentence:
"The public wants themed
experiences in the parks and quick mall food in the mall
outside, while Disney increasingly offers the exact opposite:
mall food inside the parks and expensive options outside."
There are exceptions of course (the
failure of Mondavi and Puck to ignite the public), but these
might be symptomatic of DCAās attendance issues as much as
Thanks for your clarifying comments!
|Ken and Larry
Catal - This is the true gem of Downtown Disney
(followed closely by Brennan's Jazz Kitchen). We've eaten at
Catal five times since it opened and have yet to be
disappointed by a meal. The last waitress we had was a bit
rough around the edges and more suited to Coco's than Catal
but nonetheless our meals have been stellar across the board.
And I don't think the prices are unreasonable given the
quality and presentation of the food.
Brennan's Jazz Kitchen - We've also eaten here five
times and our experiences have been equally impressive. The
service here is more friendly and genuine than at Catal, the
food is superb (it's about time we have a true Creole / Cajun
gem here in Orange County) and again I don't think the prices
are unreasonable at the least.
Y Arriba (saying it once is enough) - Oddly enough I
don't know anyone who's been to this place who's liked it. Too
loud, poor and uninformed service, and mediocre food. Okay,
the ambiance is nice but it's a club, not a restaurant. We'd
never go back and have told people to stay away. And charging
for iced tea refills is a joke!
House of Blues - Our one time there was underwhelming
and frankly the Las Vegas location (in Mandalay Bay) is
infinitely better. Wouldn't go back here, either.
Naples - The one place we haven't tried yet. After
watching them make the pizzas I wasn't impressed - overpriced
and there was nothing on them.
The signature "aquarium arch" entryway into Rainforest
Rainforest Cafe - If you feel like paying for ambiance,
it's okay, I suppose, but if you've eaten at the one at South
Coast Plaza, why bother? The uniqueness of Catal and Brennan's
is what "makes" Downtown Disney, as far as we're
And finally (yes I know it's in the Grand
Napa Rose - So far we're waiting to be blown away by
this place. We've eaten here four times but the service has a
long way to go to catch up to the food. The servers we've had
haven't been as polished as they should for a four-star
restaurant, and frankly, given the prices, I've had more
impressive meals at equally renowned and high-brow
restaurants. The menus are interesting, but there have been
many missteps by the wait crew when we've dined there, and
they've done next to nothing to make up for it. And the people
who greet you at the entrance need some schooling in the
"first impressions" department.
Anyway, just a few thoughts from someone who's dropped a
few bucks in Downtown Disney. It'll be very sad indeed if
Brennan's is the first to go as we think it's one of the true
bright spots amongst some otherwise ordinary endeavors.
Ken and Larry, thanks for your rundown
on the establishments. Those in the know assure me that Catal
and the Jazz Kitchen are indeed worthwhile additions to the
Orange County scene. While I value those opinions, these
restaurants are out of my price range.
And the Napa Rose seems hit or miss to
me, too. My experiences were somewhat like yours. Remember that
this is true five-star dining: your $30 entre is unlikely to
fill you up entirely (I feel it necessary to say this because
many folks stumble into the place without being very experienced
in fine dining).
In fact, Napa Rose is so five-star,
theyāve recently been named by Zagatās 2002 survey as one of
the best restaurants in Orange County. Trust me, this is a big
honor. And yet, I was underwhelmed on my trip as well.
And now for some news!
A kind source, far deeper involved than I am, has let me know a few
things about Y Arriba Y Arriba. They are in deep trouble after all.
In fact, theyāve been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy for some time now. It
was recently given 90 days to become profitable or face permanent closure.
The smart money is on closure.
It seems that the long lines Iāve seen are only on Thursday nights
when they have a club, and the club, in fact, promotes more problems than
it solves. Anaheim Police donāt really appreciate the clubs. Try to
picture this one: Apparently the Arriba security forces once chased
someone down, tackled him, and cuffed him right in front of the Lego
store. Not a part of what Disney wants to sell as atmosphere here.
On top of all that, the profits and books are messy. So bad that Disney
is doing the bookkeeping for them!
Y Arribaās days seem to be numbered.
for current menu items and prices at the Disneyland Resort