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Restaurant Combines Food, Fun

Entertainment: Operators of Entros succeed by helping diners socialize through sophisticated games.


SEATTLE — In the city that produced cool music, big jets, tasty coffee, a ton of software and even a championship-caliber basketball team, some new ideas about people and games are coming out of an old bakery.

Seattle's next export may be Entros, a unique restaurant with a trademark upside-down red chair on the marquee, and creative games inside to bring people together.

Founders Stephen Brown and Andrew Forrest have mixed the best elements of a dinner party, salon, art commune and Kiwanis Club with sophisticated game theory for a night out that is comfortable and lively.

They also design custom games for corporations, conventions, even a museum installation.

Ventures to put games in places like airplanes and other restaurants are being explored. And this fall, Entros will team with Microsoft Corp. to provide an online game that requires a player to interact with other people both through the computer and away from it.

"If you have a little red chair on whatever you do in the future, it will be stamped as a very social experience," said Brown, managing director of the company.

Their restaurant, which they call an intelligent amusement park, on a hill above Lake Union remains the best advertising vehicle and testing ground for Entros' broader services. They will open a second one this fall in San Francisco.

The games and restaurant are designed as an antidote to the isolation brought by career and time pressures, technology and even some other forms of entertainment.

"We think, with the exception of very few people who are sitting in their home and do not want to come out, that the world is a very social place and people need to get social fixes in all sorts of different ways," said Forrest, who is creative director and chief game designer.

"Some people get it talking on the telephone and some people get it going to school," he said. "But in general, there are things that are happening that are making it harder or putting limits on how people try to fulfill their social needs."

Their solution is similar to what makes Club Med stand out from other resorts or Southwest Airlines distinguish itself among airlines--the addition of structured fun to everyday experience.

"We thought if you offered food and drink, an unstructured mingling experience, and coupled that with more social activities, that was the best package to engage adults with each other," Brown said. "From the very beginning, that's been our focus."

Some people come to Entros just for dinner or a drink. But most buy $12 or $15 tickets to participate in a handful of games that change every few months.

Each game requires interaction with other people and some use high technology. For instance, one game combines a hunt for puzzle clues around the restaurant with visits to a "time portal," where clues are given through special video eyeglasses.

There's also a simple crafts room, which may be set up for candle making one visit and T-shirt printing the next.

Entros attracts people of all ages but has become most popular with time-pressed adults. Typical are couples who have known each other for a while, perhaps too well. The husband in one couple may not like a particular habit of the wife of the other couple or vice versa and so their socializing has fallen off.

"They come to Entros and they play a game together and he rediscovers that great sense of humor that he once recognized she had and she remembers how clever he is at solving problems," Brown said.

"They re-meet each other. They inject some social energy into their lives because they don't have the frequency of contact nor do they have the energy to create that great social venue at home. Our biggest competition would be a world of fabulous dinner party hosts."

He and Forrest, both 35, became friends in college in Toronto and, after graduating, opened a restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., called Pearl's Oyster Bar. It was based on a restaurant they liked in San Francisco where watching the cooks and talking to other customers added fun to the food.

After marriage and graduate school, they got back together in Seattle four years ago to try a bigger concept that is now Entros.

Entros' popularity among Seattle's burgeoning technology community has given rise to the perception that the place is technology-driven. But many of its games have nothing to do with computers.

"We're interested in using technologies if they can drive social interaction. If not, then we're not interested," Brown said.

The key is simply to give people a chance to exercise their intelligence.

"Our games have choices in them," Forrest said. "You're turning to your friend and the fun is your friend thinks you should go this way and you think you should do this and you work it out. It's not spoon-fed at all."

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