Bowling…the sport of a lifetime, so the slogan rightly goes.
Step into any bowling alley, take a whiff of that unique smell of grease and wood and you may be transported back to childhood. Unfortunately, the opportunity to bowl has decreased across Brooklyn, as classic alleys shut their doors at an alarming rate over the past decade or so. But there are still six alleys left – four in southern Brooklyn and two in Williamsburg – and through a combination of devoted bowlers, good prices, and fun amenities to draw new customers, they all say that they hope to stay for a long time.
When Brooklyn Bowl came to Williamsburg three years ago, it was welcomed with open arms. According to Stephen Schwarz, director of operations at the bowling alley/concert venue at 61 Wythe Avenue, the business is thriving because they are not a “traditional” alley.
“People come here specifically to bowl, specifically to eat and to specifically see the bands playing. They can do all three at once. People come here to have fun,” he said.
Brooklyn Bowl hosts a concert almost every night of the week. Upcoming headliners include Perpetual Groove, Blues Traveler and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
If you find yourself hungry, forget about cheese fries, Brooklyn Bowl serves brunch and has plenty of eats for the more sophisticated palate, such as hummus, fried calamari, egg shooters and Cajun shrimp cocktail. Besides a full bar menu, bowlers can sip on milkshakes, egg creams and their signature Bourbon Street shake – an adult milkshake with Nutella and a shot of bourbon.
It’s safe to say that Brooklyn Bowl does not cater to all ages. You must be 21 or over to bowl, except on Saturdays and Sundays where all ages can bowl between 12 and 6 p.m.
They also have leagues on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “They are social leagues, not competitive and we never shut down to have leagues compete,” Schwarz said.
A similar bowling/event setup exists over in Greenpoint at The Gutter, which is another haven for those who want to revisit a childhood activity, only with adult beverages. Patrons must be over 21 at all times to enjoy their eight lanes. The Gutter also hosts events almost every Friday and Saturday night, including concerts and comedy shows.
If you want to kick back and relax, happy hour is before 8 p.m., Monday through Friday and after 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, there is $1 off drafts and well drinks, and $3 off pitchers.
The Gutter also has “The Spare Room,” 1,000 square feet of private space where you can throw a personal party, take advantage of a fully stocked bar and spin your own tunes using turntables or a digital dock.
Moving south, in Sunset Park, Melody Lanes has been open since 1958 and it still has that old-school classic alley feel, with retro neon decorations. The customer base is “from three to 93” said Lauren, an employee. Between games on the 48 lanes, Mom and Dad can split a cheap bucket of beer and kids can play arcade games in the game room.
Prices also remain affordable, at $6.50 per two-hour game, and $4 shoe rentals; there is even a Kid’s Club membership that gives the younger generation a discount – $20 for one free game every day of the year, and $1 shoe rentals.
Lauren said that the overall bowling experience at Melody has not changed much over the years. “The pins weigh the same, the balls are the same,” she said. “Bowling is a family oriented sport and sport center.”
In Bensonhurst, Maple Lanes has been keeping bowlers happy since 1960 and it’s easy to see why. The alley really has something for everyone. Buckets of beer from the bar – which has its own area – are dirt cheap and served by a friendly bartender. The menu includes everything from French fries, drowned with cheese, to a hearty and healthy turkey club wrap, loaded with lettuce and tomato. And why does fountain soda taste so refreshing at bowling alleys?
Joe LaSpina is the proud third generation owner of Maple Lanes and the other bowling alleys it spawned, in Queens and Long Island. “My grandfather built [it]. It was a lumber yard,” he recalled, adding that bowling is in his blood. “Maple’s a cool place, it’s been there forever [and is] part of the community.”
Unfortunately, the end is near for Maple Lanes, as LaSpina recently confirmed rumors that the bowling alley would close by around 2014, when construction is slated to begin on a condominium complex that would include a synagogue.
LaSpina called it a “gut-wrenching” decision, and that he and his family would help employees and leagues find a new home elsewhere in the company and neighborhood.
He said that his customers break down to around 50 percent leagues and 50 percent from “casual” bowlers. He has made sure to keep up with the changing demographics of the neighborhood, as well as the struggling economy.
“The pendulum definitely swung. There used to be a lot more competitive, organized leagues,” he said. “The experience of bowling is important. It’s one of those things where most people have good memories of playing. Our challenge is getting them to do it more often.”
The great thing about bowling, said LaSpina, is accessible to all ages. “You can’t play hockey your whole life because your body breaks down,” he explained. “You can enjoy it as a three-year-old or a 100-year-old. It’s multi-generational – bumpers pop up and down so kids can enjoy with grandparents.”
Nearby, in Gravesend, Shell Lanes has more of that classic feel, with 32 lanes for open and league bowling. Kids are welcome here and birthday party packages are available, including a kosher option
If you are serious about the sport, Shell Lanes has tournaments every Sunday starting in October (except October 14) with cash prizes. Registration starts at noon and a $45 entry fee is required. There is also a pro shop on the upper level.
Another traditional bowling alley that has entertained generations of bowlers sits further east, in Mill Basin, at Strike 10, formerly known as Gil Hodges Lanes. Strike 10 is enjoying its third year of business – which has increased 12 percent from last year, according to general manager Lou Seda.
“We did a lot of renovating and remodeling,” he said, adding that nearly unlimited parking also draws in customers. “[Bowling] is one of the better affordable things to do in this type of economy.”
Seda noted that most of his bowlers range in ages 10 to 35 and youth and adult leagues are “very popular.”
In addition to $4.50 games, learn-to-bowl programs, and bowling leagues, bowlers can enjoy the RMR Café at Strike 10 or take advantage of the great drink specials at the sports bar. Daily drink specials are $5 for a seven ounce and $8 for a 16 ounce of your favorite blends, including gin and tonic, Malibu bay breeze and Alabama Slammers. Buckets of beer start at $9 for six domestic seven ounce brews and if you really want to party, shots, like SoCo and lime and Baby Guinnesses are just $3.
So, bowling alleys may look a little brighter and be more spread out than it has been in decades past, but they are still here. Bowling in Brooklyn remains a sport and a fun pastime for residents of just about every age and background, whether you want to party or just to kick back with some nostalgia. That’s a win for everyone, so let’s keep putting on those bowling shoes and keep throwing those strikes!
Reporting was contributed by Thomas Nocera, Heather J. Chin, Denise Romano, and Elizabeth Coluccio.
BOWLING ALLEYS IN BROOKLYN
Brooklyn Bowl (Williamsburg)
61 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Ages 21+, except on weekends
The Gutter (Greenpoint)
200 North 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Melody Lanes (Sunset Park)
461 37th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11232
Maple Lanes (Bensonhurst/Boro Park)
1570 60th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11219
Shell Lanes (Gravesend)
1 Bouck Court
Strike 10 Lanes (formerly Gil Hodges Lanes)
6161 Strickland Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11234