Bowling has always been a weeknight time-waster for the common man: Head out with the buds, pound a few brewskies, roll a few balls at some milk bottles, and do it all in weird-looking shoes. Nothing hip or trendy here, just a way to work off some of that booze as you drink it.
But bowling is going places that even legendary ten-pinner Earl Anthony, in his crewcut and nerd glasses, wouldn’t recognize. Namely, upscale.
“High-end” bowling is like traditional bowling except that instead of sitting in a plastic chair, gnawing on breaded chicken fingers, and slurping down PBR, you can recline on a posh sofa, feast on sushi, and sip martinis. And it’s coming to North Texas.
Splitsville, a Florida-based chain, will be opening an alley in Arlington this fall, with another planned for the site of the old Acme Brick headquarters on Fort Worth’s West Side. At around the same time, IPic Entertainment, another Florida chain, will be building its own bowling complex, in Texas Rangers’ owner Tom Hicks’ Glorypark development near The Ballpark in Arlington.
Splitsville, according to its press info, goes for “refined retro” or a “bowling alley meets nightclub” vibe. IPic takes it further, boasting cushioned sectional sofas and an elaborate menu.
There’s a Splitsville in Tampa, Fla., and in 2004 the joint was crowned the local alt-weekly’s best bowling alley. The paper’s reasoning: “Ma and Pa couldn’t get sushi, stone-hearth pizzas, and mahi mahi at the lanes of yore.” Plus, Tampa’s fancy-dancy lanes have drawn a few famous faces, including actors Jenna Elfman and Susan Sarandon, a few NFL players, and rap star DMX. One time, a Saudi prince even rented out the place for some type of after-hours party.
We don’t know whether celebrities make a place great or not, but we know a lot of local ladies who’d pay good money to wear funny shoes next to Cowboys quarterback Tony Rom-ance.
But would folks trolling for celebrities be enough to keep the martinis rolling at a high-dollar high-end club?
Most of the leisure-bowling crowd – here, in Florida, in Budapest, wherever – is made up mainly of families, blue-collar folk, and hip teens who find the, um, sport super-cool in a hilariously un-cool, retro way. You can bet that martini-sippin’, sushi-eatin’, beyond-their-means-livin’ club-hoppers comprise less than 0.0001 percent of bowling’s entire customer base. In fact, other than, say, invalids or prisoners, can you think of a less bowling-friendly target audience than clubbers?
The average club-hoppin’ chick spends entirely too much money on her designer heels to trade them in – even for one second! – for bowling shoes (flat, gauche, unflattering bowling shoes), and the average clubber dude isn’t going to risk working up a sweat after bathing himself in Drakkar Noir and gluing his faux-hawk into place. Card-carrying members of the swanky class do enough perspiring at the gym. The only thing they’re up for sweating on a night out is the tab.
Clubbers travel in packs, and one way to get them to flock to your high-end bowling alley here – or any kind of joint, anywhere – is to lure them with the promise of possibly meeting someone semi-famous. A visit during your first few weeks of business by Tony Rom-ance – or even some pathetic public trainwreck like Paris Hilton or K-Fed – would guarantee your club six months’ worth of swanky-set love, at least. (You know you can now pay a B- or C-list celeb to crash your next opening? Or fashion show? Or bar mitzvah?! How ridiculous is that?! … A’hem. The going rate for a Weekly staffer is $2 an hour.) But seeing as ol’ “Mattress-Back” Hilton is probably off getting off, K-Fed might be cutting another (c)rap album, and Mr. Jessica Simpson is licking his wounds from a pitful playoff showing, Splitsville and IPic might do well to focus their attention on a crowd sure to attract the local swanky set: the bohemians.
That’s right, kinfolk, we’re talking about the yokels who can appreciate – equally – Ciroc and Cisco, Fellini and Fletch, and Deep Purple and The Deep Listening Band, and who lend everything they touch the imprimatur of coolness. Most of the boho guys have that dirty, bad-boy, unemployed charm that just drives the daddy’s girls crazy, and the boho chicks are, well, chicks – swanky dudes will hit on anything.
So listen up, Mr. or Ms. Splitsville and IPic. Here’s some free advice. Bohos are drawn to a particular vibe: a sense of irony or a sort of self-deprecating humor that in its staunch humility is endearing. Splitsville and IPic should definitely acknowledge – in their TV commercials, print ads, or radio spots – the inherent absurdity of “high-end” bowling. Maybe they can run a picture of Cleopatra rolling a piece of sashimi at some martini shakers. (FYI: Bowling was invented by ancient Egyptians.)
Or maybe they can do a commercial where a bunch of hot people get out of a limo and sashay across a red carpet to – where? A glitzy movie theater? A mansion? A musical sex festival?! No, no, and no. They’re going to Splitsville!
Or maybe we can just run a soundbite of some Weekly staffer, like Betty Brink or Peter Gorman, demanding, “Get your nightlife out of the gutter and get your sassy self to [insert: name of high-end bowling establishment here].”
(Don’t worry. That one’s free, too.) – Anthony Mariani and Dan McGraw
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