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A Showdown in Brooklyn
by Paul Kermizian
When you think of bowling in New York City, you probably decide your choices are limited to Bowlmor, Chelsea Piers, and "that sketchy place in the basement of Port Authority". For Manhattanites, this is true.
Bowlmor is a ridiculous night club. A cheesy lounge scene nightmare that happens to unfold inside a bowling alley - a bowling alley with six dollar games and eight dollar drinks that is. Plus, to get up to the lanes you have to ride in a crowded elevator with strangers. Strangers suck. It's a fact.
Bowling at the Port Authority is a pain in the ass. Convenient only if you've been sleeping on a bench upstairs. Otherwise, why would you be there or anywhere near it in the first place? Save this spot for when you've got an hour to kill while waiting for your bus to Altoona, Pennsylvania.
And finally, Chelsea Piers is just stupid. There really isn't anything else to say about it. Sadly, these locations are the only spots in the city where you have a chance of throwing a turkey - or a four-bagger for that matter. Sad but true. However, those of us in Willamsburg have a few other options. And recently, a few friends and I decided to explore those other options.
Our first stop was Glendale Bowl, just over the border in Queens and probably the geographically closest bowling alley to Williamsburg. Located in a dingy basement, this no-frills alley has ten lanes with automatic scoring, a well-stocked bar, and a jukebox to die for. The friendly owners greeted us as we came down the stairs and entered the alley. We saddled up to the bar and placed our order for shoes, bowling, and drinks. Rolling Rock bottles are three bucks a pop. Bowling is three fifty a game. As for the shoes, it's strictly a self service operation as we chose our own in a small closet off to the side. There's also a large selection of food at the bar. Sadly, the burgers were cold and mushy and the chicken nuggets left me with an unusual longing for McDonald's (that's bad). In all fairness, we didn't come here to eat, and I'm not the type to judge a bowling alley on the quality of their hamburgers. We had more important things to do, and decided to get on with our game. As there were only two other groups in the place (a buff dad practicing his game while his two kids watched and a group of flirting teens bowling gutter balls) they gave us our choice of lanes. We headed over to lane eight and got started. The lanes were smooth and well cared for and we ran into few technical problems. Our only glitch occurred when a ball got stuck on it's trip back, but even then, someone came over and quickly solved the problem. They were fast and friendly.
During the two hours of bowling, we practically owned the jukebox. Some
of the fine selections available include Judas Priest, Black Sabbath,
Queensryche, Motley Crue's "Shout at the Devil", Bon Jovi, Journey, "G
N' R Lies", and three, yes, three Iron Maiden albums. Perhaps relieved
that we weren't bowling to the sounds of some faceless drum n' bass
d.j., we basked in the glory of the heavy metal, with many of our
scores coming close to 200. Late in the game, we selected "Showdown" by
Electric Light Orchestra and acted out scenes of Roy Munson taking on
Big Ernie McCracken in the classic film "Kingpin". On our fourth round,
the bartender bought us back a beer. We nodded in thanks. Later, as we
left, the owners thanked us for coming, exclaiming that they liked to
keep their place open to "nice people" and "families". Since none of us
are related, I'm guessing we're nice people.
Glendale Bowl is open from one p.m. to midnight during the week, and from three p.m. to two a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Friday and Saturday nights feature "Star Light Bowling" from eleven p.m. until closing. I'd explain what that is, but if you don't already know, then you're missing out on a valuable part of American culture and I truly take pity on you. The lanes are also available for parties, but rates vary. If you're in the mood for some post-bowling action, there's a few decent options. The 11th Alley is a local bar just a few doors down from the lanes. For dinner, you can head over to the dark and homey Zum Stammitsch, which Zagat called "The best German food this side of Munich". If you're in the mood for something simple there's always The Fresh Pond Diner, conveniently and logically located on nearby Fresh Pond Road. We had the gravy fries. They were solid.
A few days later, my friends and I made our way to Melody Lanes, located on the corner of 37th Street and 5th Avenue below Park Slope and right near the N and R subway stop on 36th Street. The Melody is much more clean and modern than Glendale - spacious, brightly lit, and with more than twenty lanes split into two sections. This is more like the bowling alley next to General Cinema 6 in your suburban hometown mini-mall, with just a few minor differences. First, security seems to be an issue in this place. We arrived around nine p.m. on a Tuesday night. Despite the activity of about twenty bowlers inside, the front door was locked. We were forced to bang on the glass a few times to get someone's attention. After a few minutes, we were buzzed in by someone at the front desk. Then, at the front desk, we were told we had to pay in advance (a requirement previously reserved for the notorious high school hang-out AMF Lanes in Santa Monica and other, more low-rent dives located out by the wharfs in the seedier sections of Los Angeles). Trying to be agreeable, we paid up front for two games a piece, and were assigned lane five. After choosing from the wide selection of balls and shoes, we attempted to navigate the bizarre computer system (instead of punching in names on a keyboard, the lanes have their own joystick which, acting like a mouse, allows you type in letters on the monitor - very difficult). Finally, we began our game.
We immediately ran into problems. While the other bowlers around us
seemed to have little trouble with their lanes, ours was a disaster
from the beginning. Pins were not racking properly, the re-rack feature
was misbehaving, and balls were getting stuck on their way back - every
other time! I'm not exaggerating. We must have asked the front desk at
least fifteen times to help us retrieve our ball. Despite all these
problems, they couldn't, or wouldn't, move us to a new lane because
we'd already paid and been programmed to that computer. Ah, technology.
Does anyone else miss the days of manual scoring?
On the plus side, they had a nice, well stocked bar where beers were two dollars and fifty cents a piece. If you ordered four, they gave you a bucket of ice to bring with you to your lane. There's also a nice pro shop and a few video games, including a Pac-Man/Galaga combo. On the minus side, the jukebox was loaded with hip-hop, r & b, and disco compilations stamped "as seen on t.v". Curiously, there was no Electric Light Orchestra and more specifically no "Showdown" to bowl to. How unfortunate. And the snack bar serves the expected garbage. Stay away from the "nachos" - they'd been sitting next to the popcorn machine for so long that they actually tasted like popcorn. Gross.
As for their hours, Melody Lanes claimed on the phone to be open everyday from nine a.m. to midnight, although the night we went they inexplicably closed at eleven. Games are four dollars and twenty five cents a piece. They also have leagues quite often, so it's a good idea to call for availability before you head out there. As for nearby attractions, Lenny's Pizzeria is fifteen or so blocks down on 5th Avenue, and serves some of the best damn pizza in town. For a quick drink on the way home, The Gate is a great spot for beer lovers, The Mambo Lounge is a great spot for a brawl, and Ginger's is a great spot for lesbians. We stopped at all three.
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