Durham Bulls

DBAP’s new concessions are a hit with fans

durhamsports@newsobserver.comApril 7, 2014 

Shortstop Cole Figueroa knocked a double off the Cuban Yunesky Maya, starting what became a 3-run frame that helped polish the first game of the season into the Bulls’ first win.

The seats erupted, but among a crowd of fans bunched around the new open-air bar at Jackie’s Landing, not a half dozen took notice of the commotion enough to turn their heads in the direction of the field.

They were not deep into their cups, not visibly. Some looked like floor traders hailing for beer over the “42 Bar,” (named, like the porch, for the man who broke Jim Crow in baseball). Others were busy conversing and did not stop to note the occurrence of cheering.

“Where are the TV screens so you can see the game?” someone asked.

“It’d be great if they could get a couple of flatscreens out here,” said Jason Storey, when the evening settled into late innings.

The open-air bar, four-sided and colored like a picnic table, is the most visible aspect of the ballpark’s $20 million upgrades.

It is set back far enough that only a few get a partial sight of the infield, and not everyone sitting can see outfield grass. Thus, the need for television.

Still, the bar was so popular that the wait for a beer was three deep, even after the credit card system was down and they began accepting only cash.

That glitch and others, plus heavy Opening Day attendance had stadium workers playing catch-up.

Food and concession upgrades are foremost among improvements to the stadium. New food options include pheasant sausages, elk brats and shrimp sandwiches.

The old elevator (still sluggish) opens upon the PNC Triangle Club pavilion, where you see the big diamond through a wide fan of glass panes. Before, the elevator reached a concrete breezeway that looked upon nothing but the back of skyboxes and facility doors.

This new concourse has been dubbed the “Crown Jewel” of the $20-million stadium renovation by team press, but it will only be enjoyed by members of the PNC Triangle Club. That’s a stepped-up season ticket option, heavy on the ordinary pocketbook.

Here, prime ticket holders feast on a cut of pork, pasta alfredo, chicken wings, or a summer salad of berries and caramelized pecans, and might enjoy the game with the privileges of a stocked bar and the “full glass view” of the field.

Executive chef Bryan Dahlstrom the company he works for, Centerplate, handles some food for the other concession sites around the stadium. A taqueria set to open near the left foul pole still awaits some permits, and was not open through the weekend.

Down on the main concourse, where general admits are used to buying snacks, a mass of fans was ringing in the season with overwhelming food lines, while the second and third innings rolled by.

Brian Choi works across Blackwell Street in the American Tobacco Campus, and said it has been interesting to see work scrambling at the ballpark. Emily Kochy, Choi’s date, said the 20-plus minute wait in line wasn’t all that unusual.

“Last year, when they would do dollar hot dog and popcorn night – whatever it was – those lines would be super long. This is nothing new.”

They jumped ship to another line, but stayed together. There were a thousand people on the concourse, under the shadow of the grandstand and in the sidewise light of evening.

Below deck, Storey and his friend jostled through the “fan section,” and his name was put on a waiting list for a sausage. “They took names, and saved it for me,” he said.

Afterward, at the new Wurst Shop, Scott Secor shed some light. Late deliveries meant, “It was an hour before we could serve hot dogs.”

Secor and the others at the Wurst booth are volunteers from Tri-Force Jump Rope, working food service at the DBAP about 42 games a season, to benefit their organization. Last year, the volunteers worked at Moe’s, which has moved off-site to Blackwell Street.

Austin Casselbury will travel to Hong Kong later this summer to compete jumping rope. He says he can jump more than 180 times in 30 seconds. On Saturday he served wursts.

The long lines were equaled on Jackie’s Landing, the pavilion above the right foul line seats, where they lined up to try the new Smokebox Barbeque and Triangle Fish Fry.

The décor for the new concessions, including the Smokebox Barbeque and Triangle Fish Fry, can be summed up as “Country Bear Jamboree.” In the same way that Br’er Rabbit evokes some illusory version of the Old South, the new barnhouse-style facades evoke the vintage minor league ballparks of North Carolina, which author Mark Cryan calls the “Cradle of the Game.”

Never mind why the Bulls’ fan base was massed under the bleachers during the second inning of the season opener. As Septimus Severus said, you’ve got to feed the army.

Those televisions came to the 42 Bar, by the way. By Saturday they were mounted, but not illuminated. Patrons of the Local 42 can soon watch the game on tube, or presumably something else if it’s on.

There are wrinkles to iron. A room adjoining the PNC Club is unfinished. And on Saturday, when the 42 Bar ran out of register paper, bartenders could accept only cash tips or none at all.

Two good Samaritans refused to yield to technology, or an opportune excuse not to tip: Phillip Thomas and Tallie Johnson, sipping an Aviator and a Blue Moon on their date from Fuquay-Varina, insisted the bartender add $4 to their sales total.

That’s a $2 per beer gratuity, which exceeds today’s standard.

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