Plans are in the works in Lake Geneva for a restaurant and entertainment center that would immerse customers in a fantasy world inspired by the popular 1970s tabletop role-play game Dungeons & Dragons.
Described as an "immersive fantasy restaurant and amusement experience," The Griffin & Gargoyle would include a 350-seat tavern, with servers and bartenders as actors in fantasy character; Curated Curiosities retail shop, selling handmade items from Etsy artists; The Gnome Alchemist, an upper-level "molecular mixology" bar, serving unconventional and dry-ice infused beverages; and the Barbarian in the Basement, a 12-lane axe throwing bar on the lower level. There would also be a separate building to host weddings and special events.
The 38,000-square-foot venue would be developed on 26 acres along state Highway 120, just north of U.S. Highway 12, with an opening slated for March 2024. That would mark 50 years since Dungeons & Dragons was first published by Lake Geneva-based Tactical Studies Rules.
The Griffin & Gargoyle is the brainchild of founding partners Michael Paylor and Daniel Colwell, who says the $11 million project is poised to draw visitors from far and wide.
"There's a growing population looking for entertainment as they come to Lake Geneva," said Colwell, adding the area draws tourists year-round with its resorts, golf courses and fine dining.
And Griffin & Gargoyle has already generated its own buzz on social media.
"As we've seen on our Facebook posts, there's a hunger for something like this across the country and even internationally, so we're expecting to create a new tourism market looking for that cultural tourism," he said.
Colwell's background in performing arts and degree in art management has led to management positions at several local arts and entertainment companies, including Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and Marcus Theatres. More recently, he served as general manager at Burlington Plaza and Lake Geneva Theater, overseeing the venue's $2.3 million renovation in 2017. His current day job is senior manager at Troy, Michigan-based Emagine Entertainment. He helped lead the company's $5 million remodel of the former Showboat Theater, now known as Emagine Geneva Lakes in Lake Geneva.
Heading up those endeavors left Colwell wanting to create something of his own.
"That entrepreneurial bug had bit hard, and so I was thinking about what would it look like to meld my love of tabletop role playing and the region's history as the birthplace of Dungeons & Dragons with the entertainment industry that I've grown to know and love," he said.
The fantasy genre in recent years has become a high-grossing industry thanks to the popularity of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, giving way to immersive entertainment like Disney's Star Wars Galaxies Edge and Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But Colwell believes those attractions are missing the mark when it comes to giving the customer what they want: a way to fully participate in the story.
"Dungeons & Dragons offers a solution that we can celebrate at this entity, which is a way for the customer to come in and develop their own character and storyline within our world and enter in to a living, breathing space," he said.
Griffin & Gargoyle's 26-acre development site was part of the property Emagine Entertainment purchased with the former Showboat Theater. Colwell in 2019 approached the chain's owner Paul Glands about purchasing the property for his fantasy concept.
Glands agreed to donate the land to Griffin & Gargoyle if Colwell could secure the funding to develop it. Emagine Entertainment now holds a minority equity position in exchange for the land.
"That has really helped us leverage the bank funding and the SBA Loan that we'll be getting to get the project where it needs to be," said Colwell.
Construction will break ground in May or April 2022, pending local approval.
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