I’m scaling my way up ladder rungs in the mouth of a toothy, inflatable dinosaur before zooming back down the prehistoric creature’s oral cavity. It’s my warm-up for the humongous roller coaster-themed inflatable ahead of me that has a series of bouncy chutes and ladders with dual lanes and a timer should you want to race.
“This place is like the birthday party you dreamed of going to when you were a kid,” I tell my boyfriend as I’m catching my breath. “You know? At the house in the neighborhood that always puts on the best fireworks show for the Fourth of July and rents bouncy castles for birthdays?”
Thankfully, though, you don’t need to wait for an invitation to head to Bounce Empire, 1380 S. Public Road, which is Lafayette’s best new restaurant (more on that later) that also happens to be a giant playground of inflatables.
I’m here on a Monday night and there’s a mix of families and couples on dates in this convivial warehouse. At check in, we get a brand new pair of Bounce House-branded socks with grip pads on the bottom that are required for executive-level monkey business.
We also get smart wristbands that unlock our lockers and can be used to charge food and drinks to our tab. Access to the bounce attractions is $20 per hour (or, rather, 33 cents per minute) and you can check in and out of the area with your wristband so that you’re only charged for the time that you’re, you know, bouncing off the walls. Also, the $20 entry fee comes with a $20 credit to spend anywhere in Bounce Empire (so consider those $4 socks and warm-up bounces to be “on the house”).
The indoor park has 50 or so themed attractions and bills itself as the world’s largest indoor inflatable amusement park. If you’ve ever watched “American Ninja Warrior” and thought “I could do that,” this is prime training turf.
There’s also a 360-degree hydraulic, 13-foot stage that’s set to host superstar DJs, which is a vision of Bounce Co-Founder Bradley Roulier, the founder of Beta Nightclub. (The Bounce Empire is open until 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, by the way).
With 50,000 square feet of space, Bounce Empire looks like a futuristic convention for all the latest and greatest bounce house structures. You can wear a Velcro suit and toss yourself at a wall. You can play volleyball on a bouncy court. You can sit on bouncy king or queen thrones; leapfrog across giant spheres, falling into a springy abyss if you miss your mark; and zip down lots of themed slides. (Here’s where we make an important PSA: Wear long sleeves and pants so that you don’t get any rubber burns, and if you’ve got long hair, tie it back in a ponytail).
After slogging through the marquee obstacle course—climbing ladders and maneuvering through tunnels—I’ve successfully tapped into a level of childlike glee. I’m craving a trip to a soda machine where, with unfettered access, I fill the soda cup with every flavor from the machine. Instead, we ascend to the second-level, 21-and-up Rubbish Bar where there’s an Italian geode bar top, a Western terrace with views of the mountains, and a menu full of craft cocktails. Even better. I order a tequila cocktail with horchata and it’s a tasty treat.
But here’s probably the biggest surprise of the night (and there’s been lots): The menu at the in-house Bison Bistro is like one you’d expect at a high-end farm-to-table Main Street restaurant. The culinary director, Michelin-trained Jorge Pedrianes, eschews amusement park fare like pizza and corndogs and presents, instead, dishes like an ahi tuna bowl that’s served over a creamy avocado-yuzu mousse and garlic-maple miso chicken skewers.
But the pièce de résistance of the “foothills fresh” menu is the $29 “Flavor of the Rockies” board. In our traction socks, and at a kinetic art sand table with a marble that draws its own labyrinth-like patterns, my boyfriend and I are gnawing on Colorado bison ribs that are drenched in a guava barbecue sauce. The board is also stacked with elk sausage that we’re dipping in an herbaceous chimichurri sauce and yuca sticks that are superior to French fries. For dessert, the shareable board also comes with a giant slab of prickly pear cheesecake.
After we’ve polished off dinner, there’s one more thing we’ve got to try out: The high-tech massage chairs cost as much as a standard car. Free to use, we slip into the customizable chairs for a 15-minute session and they start kneading away.
My parting thought as I’m being lulled to a state of relaxation in the chair: This place would make the coolest sleepover spot.
Bounce Empire is open Thursday through Monday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday.