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ATLANTA — The world of boutique bowling unfolds here in the midst of an in-town hipster district, wedged between a noveau Northern Italian restaurant and a big-box chain store.
Past the suited door guy and the velvet rope, a flight of stairs takes you up and away from the buzz of consumerism to Ten Pin Alley, a dramatic space that opens in the most unexpected ways: Floors carved from subtle leather patches. Chandelier sconces bursting from brochade panels. Vintage columns wrapped in mesh. A reading nook chock with titles by novelists Irving Wallace and Robert Harris.
Just steps away, Robert Denford of Houston and friends, here to take in this Southern cosmopolitan city, are sipping drinks and throwing the occasional gutter ball.
“I had heard Atlanta had this bowling alley that was like a club, so I wanted to check it out,” says Denford “It’s cool.”
This is bowling 2.0, the reinvention of one of America’s most kitchy, quietly enduring pastimes. Laverne and Shirley have slipped out the back door, making way for superglam alleys where bowling sometimes seems besides the point.
Travelers have now added designer bowling alleys on the must-do list, much like “it” boutique hotels, chic restaurants and afterhour joints.
“The whole idea here is to give locals and tourists an alternative to the club, a place they can relax and let off some steam,” says Lonnie Moore, of the Dolce Group, which owns the 12-lane Ten Pin Alley at Atlantic Station. “We wanted to take bowling to the next level.”
Actor Wilmer Valderrama (of That 70s Show fame) visits Ten Pin Alley as much for the lobster corn dogs (fried and served with honey mustard dipping sauce) as the game. Maroone Five’s Adam Levine and Usher are among the celebs who have also rolled a few frames.
Hipsters and jet-setters, always on the search for the next big thing, have found an opportunity to strike: Sales of bowling balls alone are up more than 13 percent between 2000 to 2007.
So the lowly bowling alley — think bobby socks, jukeboxes, hot dogs and draft beer — has been refashioned and now offers a luxury experience with the same dazzle as any upscale club or lounge.
Part of the appeal: Price. A game can cost as little as $3 — though gourmet sushi or a seat in a VIP room will raise the tab. Even better, there’s no cover charge to hang out.
Today’s swanky bowling alleys, often attached to resorts or hotels in popular cities, feature designer decor; deejays, club music and wood dance floors; flat-paneled projecter screens and plasma televisions and cozy retreats for snuggling. They have glittering bars with top shelf booze and champagne, dress codes and marquee chefs charged with creating gourmet menus — such as shrimp tempura with sesame seared ahi tuna, parmesan and truffle fontina macaroni and cheese and vegetarian enchiladas.
And perhaps most importantly, bowling alleys now peddle ambiance, the sense that this is the place to be in the cosmos of studied cool.
The concept for Splitsville, a 12-lane bowling alley opened in Tampa five years ago: give the traditional bowling alley a modern makeover as an “original bowling parlor,” starting with the notoriously bad concession stand menus.
“We wanted to take the idea of warm beer and cold hot dogs and blow it out of the water,” says co-founder Guy Revelle. “We wanted to turn the alley into a lounge.”
Splitsville’s chef, Tim Cushman, named a 2008 Food and Wine best new chef, was asked to create a gourmet menu with the panache of a supper club. His decidely upscale choices included sirloin topped with crab meat, asparagus and hollandaise sauce; chipotle pork tenderloin; chicken ceasar quesadillas and from the sushi bar menu, tempura spicy shrimp roll topped with sesame seared ahi tuna and wabasi mayo drizzle.
Over the last five years, the Tampa venue has attracted A-list celebs including Rihanna, Pink, Derek Jeter, Susan and Sarandon, and will be among the hotspots for the upcoming Superbowl.
In October, Splitsville opened at The Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami with a Miamicentric menu that includes the Cuban Rueban (cornbeef on cuban bread). And coming soon: three Texas locations in Dallas, San Antonio and Arlington, which promises the first permanent outdoor bowling lane.
“The new bowling alley is an upscale place to have fun,” Revelle says, “with or without actually picking up a ball.”
Bowling alleys have evolved into chic destinations for games, gourmet eats and a sexy lounge scene. Among the bowling hotspots:
615 Channelside Dr. #120, Tampa
5701 Sunset Drive, Suite 202
The alleys feature a sushi bar and gourmet menu including grilled mahi mahi with voodoo shrimp, spicy edamame and parmesan chicken breast tenders. Adults from $4.95 per game.
[The Miami Herald, December 28, 2008]