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Playground takes it to the next level

Interior of Drunken Dragon at Playground Poker. Nanor Froundjian The Eastern Door

Playground Poker is undergoing a major facelift, with a host of new amenities gradually opening up to the public. Most recently, Kahnawake is gaining two new restaurants, with the grand opening gala for the expansion held this weekend, December 14-17.

The restaurants are on the establishment’s second floor. One is a Japanese sushi restaurant, Drunken Dragon, while the other is a Mediterranean steakhouse called etc., with menu items including a Quebec Wagyu New York Strip and certified Japanese beef A5 Miyazaki Wagyu. 

“I think what makes it a little bit different here is the fact that on top of the great service and quality of the food, I think the price points are very competitive with any steakhouse you might find in the area,” said Playground co-licensee Mackenzie Kirby.

Up until now, the menu at Playground was served up by The Rail Coal Fire Bistro – the sole food provider at the complex. Moving forward, The Rail will operate independently from Playground. 

With the amount of traffic, Kirby said the kitchen had been having a tough time keeping up with the demand, a significant factor in deciding to expand the restaurant side of the business. 

Interior of one of two new private poker rooms on the third floor at Playground Poker. Nanor Froundjian The Eastern Door

“Our focus now is obviously looking to make things more efficient, optimize on some of the feedback that we’ve gotten, whether it be internally or externally.”

This expansion has been in the works ever since Playground broke ground for its six-story building in the spring of 2017.

The second floor houses the restaurants, while the third floor houses the new poker room with a total of 43 tables, including two in private rooms.

Ever since returning from the COVID-19 pandemic, Playground has been zeroing in on themes, menus, and decor, down to every last detail – like carpet design. 

“We spent about a day-and-a-half going back with two or three different options before ultimately settling on that,” Kirby said of the one covering the third floor. “It sounds crazy, but that’s just one example.”

Playground also has plans to showcase the works of local artists within its walls, not only as an opportunity for talent in town, but to educate its clientele on Kahnawake’s arts and culture. In fact, the work of Kyle Williams is already featured as a series of five illustrations in grayscale on a textured wall.

Floors four, five, and six will be dedicated to the new hotel – an opening date for that component of the building is not yet determined. 

“We are trying to always look for more reasons for people to come in and visit us here at the Playground complex,” said Kirby, recognizing that restaurants are a significant attraction. 

To further amp up the experience, two new lounge areas – Esperanto, a cigar lounge, and Babel, a night lounge – are also slated to open on the second floor in time for the holiday season, he added.

Aside from serving Playground customers – with about 2,000 walking through the doors daily – Kirby said he hopes the restaurants will also be stand-alone attractions. 

“We are confident that when people come, they’ll be able to experience not only good food, but great service as well,” he said.

And he’s definitely not alone in recognizing their contribution to Kahnawake’s food scene. 

“I believe it’s going to be really great for our local economy,” said Kimberly Cross, tourism development manager at Kahnawake Tourism, of the opening of Playground’s culinary expansion. 

Cross sees these openings as creating job opportunities for Kahnawa’kehró:non. However, there are also a good number of non-locals who work in the restaurant industry in town.

To make sure that the community’s ways and values are properly represented in customer service, Playground will be working with Tewatohnhi’saktha to implement hospitality training for employees focusing on cultural sensitivity.

“As a server or a hostess or host, they’re welcoming people in our community. They should know the basics to be greeting them in our language,” she said.

“It’s important for us as statesmanship to let people know where they are and what we’re all about here in Kahnawake,” said Kirby, adding this work will be done both internally and externally.

Restaurants in town already have a lot of non-local traffic and she believes these new restaurants offering different types of cuisine will draw in even larger crowds.

“Not everybody will be interested in the casino side, but people who are just interested in nice, fine dining, coming to Kahnawake, learning about who we are as Onkwehón:we people, learning about our history of Kahnawake, I think it’s really going to add to that experience and give a lot more options within the community,” she said.

nanor.fr@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on Friday, December 15, in issue 32.50 of The Eastern Door.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.