Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America right now. The activity, which is like a combination of tennis and ping-pong, counts about five million participants among its ranks, and according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association’s latest report, it grew by 39% over the past two years. Some of this was fueled by the pandemic, as people looked for options to safely socialize outside the house. But we’ll credit a portion of that growth to the recent proliferation of Chicken N Pickle, the delightfully named bar, restaurant, and pickleball complex that’s drawing participants to its facility for food, drinks, and friendly competition.
Chicken N Pickle opened its first location in Kansas City in 2016. That was followed by a couple more locations in Kansas and an expansion into Oklahoma City and San Antonio. DFW just got its first outpost in Grand Prairie at the end of 2021, with another in the works for Grapevine that should open before the year ends.
“We looked at how many active players and groups are involved with pickleball, and tons of people play the game in the DFW area,” says Chicken N Pickle Grand Prairie GM Chris Bohn. Part of the appeal was the city’s development plan for the area, which already includes five man-made lakes and a water park and will eventually house two hotels and several restaurants.
The Grand Prairie location spans four acres and has 11 pickleball courts — six indoors and five outdoors — which open at 8 a.m. and draw participants for early morning games.
If you’re new to the sport, Chicken N Pickle offers “newbie nights” and beginner clinics, as well as private and group lessons taught by certified instructors. So, if you want to get really good at the sport, you can. Alternatively, there are also “beer in hand” events, where you play with a paddle in one hand and a drink in the other. This helps to balance out the skill level among players, and it’s also just a really great life skill to acquire.
“It’s a very diverse crowd,” says Bohn. “Pickleball brings all types of people and age groups together. Throw in the drinks and food, and it’s a place where you can spend multiple hours.”
If you’re waiting for a court to open or want to enjoy some good weather without running around, there are also outdoor lawn games like cornhole and indoor games like ping-pong, shuffleboard, and foosball. This ensures there’s always something to do and is part of the concept’s “less tech, more touch” mantra.
All that activity requires fuel, and there’s plenty to go around, with a restaurant and four bars on site. Chicken is naturally the star of the show here. Dishes include a hot chicken sandwich, country fried chicken, chicken and waffles, and wings. But the menu also features burgers, salads and sides, from tots and fries to street corn and Brussels sprouts. Weekend brunch adds biscuits and gravy, burritos, and avocado toast.
A mobile bar serves coffee and breakfast sandwiches in the morning and transitions to a beachy Tiki bar at night; the main bar is where you’ll place most of your orders; it serves a variety of craft beers, plus a simple wine list and some creative cocktails. There’s also a rooftop bar that turns 21-plus after 8 p.m. and brings in a DJ on weekends.
On a recent weekend afternoon visit, the courts were full and crowds were spread out across the complex. The venue’s capacity is a whopping 2,700 people, but with lots of room to spread out inside and outside, plus 300 tables, seating everywhere, and multiple bars, it didn’t feel overwhelming. Bohn says that sunny days bring crowds, but even during bad weather they’ve got those six indoor courts to keep people playing.
The ambitious concept is expanding. The forthcoming Grapevine location is a collaboration with Delaney Vineyards, an 8,000-square-foot winery that looks like an old French chateau — you can expect that venue to put a greater emphasis on wine. And Bohn says the company is considering further expansion in Texas, looking at markets like Austin, Houston and the North Dallas suburbs.
In recent years, gaming and entertainment bars have sprung up across Texas, offering everything from hatchet throwing and golf to vintage video games. So, it’s easy to see how Chicken N Pickle fits into the landscape. Experienced pickleballers can dominate the courts, while casual players can take a few swings between sips of beer. And, importantly, there’s always an option to abstain from exercise entirely and just bask in the sun with a chicken sandwich.
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