You must see it to understand it. That is the mantra of Brooklyn Bowl: See it, get it.
The name itself doesn’t quite tell the entire story of the dexterous entertainment venue. The “bowl” is not to indicate a giant stadium. It’s not the Rose Bowl, but games are played there.
Nor is it a purely music enclave, one built especially and exclusively for concerts. It’s not the Hollywood Bowl. But it is a formidable live music venue that has booked performances by such artists as Kanye West, Adele, M.I.A., the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Bruno Mars.
The “bowl” refers to bowling. The sport and recreation activity and all amenities therein: Long lanes fashioned of wood, balls of varying weights and colors, and shoes designed in textured red and blue.
Brooklyn Bowl is based in Brooklyn, having taken over a 120-year-old building that was originally the site of an ironworks factory. The precise location is in Williamsburg, near where the Williamsburg Bridge connects the region to Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Before Brooklyn Bowl opened a little more than three years ago, nobody walked past the building unless they were hoofing it somewhere else.
You walk in, nodding toward a long line of hipsters and assorted alternative-styled adults at the club’s entrance. You are met by diners in a restaurant setting, and off to the side are long rows of furry creatures usually used as targets for softball-toss games at the county fair. Around the corner, you see what all the hubbub is about: a hip-high stage bedecked with amps, guitars, drums and mics. The stage overlooks a long dance floor leading to a DJ booth and a long bar opposite the performance platform.
And as you face the stage, to the right sit 16 regulation-size bowling lanes. You hear the heavy crash of bowling balls slamming into pins and wonder if this configuration can work, this collision of music and loud sport. But when the night’s entertainment, the Olympia, Wash. indie-rock band Gossip, charges into its opening song, you feel that it does work. The sound of bowling is overwhelmed by the volume emanating from the stage. Those occupying the lanes aren’t just bowling. They’re dancing.
Dancing, then bowling, then dancing some more.
Soon someone turns to you who knows you’re visiting from Las Vegas and shouts, “I can’t wait to see this in Vegas!” And that will happen, as Brooklyn Bowl is moving to Las Vegas as the primary entertainment tenant at Linq, set to open in the fall or winter of 2013. The first collection of tenants at the $550 million project just to the north of Flamingo and across from Caesars Palace was released Sunday night.
A look at what Brooklyn Bowl brings to what Caesars Entertainment happily describes as “the 50-yard line” of the Strip:
A strong rep: Brooklyn Bowl has drawn such visitors as President Clinton, who in September 2010 hosted a Millennium Network fundraiser at the club. He planned to hang out for 30 minutes and wound up staying for 3 hours. In November 2010, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended a New York Public Schools party at the club. Zagat has named it New York City’s top music venue three years in a row.
Experienced and impassioned helmsmen: As most Las Vegas nightlife observers recognize, Linq Vice President and General Manager Jon Gray has an extensive history in nightlife amenities and venues, having been hired by Caesars from the 9 Group, where he was the overlord of the clubs, restaurants and pools at the Palms. He was appointed by Caesars Entertainment in May.
Brooklyn Bowl co-founder Peter Shapiro is an ever-excited sort who has produced documentary rock films (including a chronicle of Grateful Dead fans while he was a student at Northwestern and the film “American Road,” his tour of all 48 states in the continental United States). Four years ago, he produced “U23D,” the U2 concert film that was the first live-action movie released in digital 3D. He publishes the rock music magazine Relix and before opening Brooklyn Bowl operated the environmental-activist New York City club the Wetlands.
Shapiro’s co-founder in Brooklyn Bowl is Charley Ryan, onetime Dartmouth undergrad who traded precious metals on the floor of the Commodities Exchange before (as he puts it) the practice began taxing his soul. He pursued a career in food and beverage and live music and was hired by Shapiro to run the Wetlands. Ryan found the shuttered Williamsburg building that would house Brooklyn Bowl by walking the neighborhood with his dog and succinctly describes the venue’s objective as, “We’re looking to draw a lot of different people over a lot of different hours for a lot of different reasons.”
The link between Linq and Brooklyn Bowl has been Jim Woods, who is president and CEO of the Bowls, which is the parent company of Brooklyn Bowl. A recent partner in a private equity firm specializing in investments in lifestyle properties, Woods has been an executive with Starwood Hotels and Resorts who helped launch the Aloft and Element brands. He also helped with the development of W Hotels.
Woods and Gray fine-tuned the details on the contract that brought Brooklyn Bowl to Vegas. As Shapiro noted, Linq was not the only entity calling on the company Ryan and he founded. “Three major places on the Strip — I’m not saying who — had major execs visit us here in Brooklyn.”
Size and scope: The business’s Vegas outpost is to cover 77,000 square feet over three levels in the middle of the Linq project. Thirty-two bowling lanes are planned (16 on the ground level and 16 upstairs), and the capacity for live music is about 2,500.
The venue is not in direct competition with any existing bowling lanes already in play from many Vegas hotel-casinos, almost every one appealing to locals. “This isn’t for league play, where you would see guys wearing bowling shirts,” Ryan says.
The most recent bowling-themed nightlife venue to do business near the Strip was Lucky Strike at the Rio, which closed about three years ago when it became apparent bowling and bottle service was a tough sell in Vegas (and no offense to Drink and Drag in downtown’s Neonopolis). When asked about the comparison between Brooklyn Bowl and Lucky Strike, Shapiro shuddered. “Oof, oof, be careful with that. You can’t call us the same as Lucky Strike and can’t say we have the same feeling with what we do,” he said. “I went to Lucky Strike at the Rio, and I don’t think that after being at that one and ours, it’s the same experience. … The location and concept is different, it’s a different scale with the openness we have, the feel, all of the different ways you can be entertained.”
Mass appeal: This is in terms of pure numbers, along with several demographic groups. Numbers dancing in his head, Gray says an internal Caesars Entertainment charting of the pedestrian traffic at the front of what was then O’Sheas in 2009 showed that 20.4 million visitors crossed the entrance of what is now Linq. That number, today, is estimated at 25 million to 26 million.
As Gray says, “That’s with nothing going on. (Brooklyn Bowl) will be a destination that’s within a destination, which is the Linq. We’ll be visible from everywhere in the city, with an observation wheel that’s 550 feet tall. I can only imagine what that traffic would be compared to 2009 to the year we open, or the year after we open.”
The execs say the venue will be open during the day for families who want to just go bowling or eat, then offer live acts each night, with late-night DJs during the weekends (?uestlove has performed weekly Thursday-night sets after live shows in Brooklyn), which means you could conceivably spend several consecutive hours in the venue and not fall prey to boredom.
An array of live acts: Shapiro drops some names readily: “We can imagine seeing (John) Fogerty, Kid Rock, Prince, Green Day, (Bob) Dylan, whoever — fill in the blank. But people will go there. Period.” He says that the venue’s sound, lighting and sight lines will be superb. Artists who have families will like the bowling and restaurant options.
“We’re going to notch it up,” Shapiro said. “We think we’ll have some of the biggest acts in the world, and we’ll do a combination of one-off shows, and we expect to see some bands play runs. I would expect that with the capacity we have.”
One of those acts, Kid Rock, has been mentioned at other venues as a rock act who could be featured in a mini-residency, similar to Motley Crue and (beginning on Halloween) Guns N’ Roses at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel.
As Ryan said, “(In New York), we have hipsters who are looking to get onto the latest thing before anyone has heard about it. That’s not going to fly in Las Vegas. We want really entertaining bands, but we have no interest in somebody who is just about to break. We want big, mainstream bands.”
Shapiro says the venue’s ability to draw resources from its restaurant and bowling lanes will help keep ticket prices down, contending, “Here in New York, because of the bowling and food, we can charge less at the door and give the band a higher percentage. We can charge less because we have those other revenue streams. For the big star, instead of charging $165 or $170, it can be -- for the general admission, at least — $80 to $85. That’s better for the walk-up crowd coming in from the Strip.
Good food: Brooklyn Bowl’s culinary partner is familiar to Las Vegas visitors: Blue Ribbon Restaurants. The company founded by brothers Bruce and Eric Bromerg is represented at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas by Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill. The menu is comfortably laden with such offerings as egg shooters (halved eggs served with pickled peppers and olive oil mayonnaise), French bread pizza, Cajun shrimp cocktails, fried chicken dinners (served with mashed potatoes and collard greens with bacon and honey), fried catfish, oyster po’ boys and blackened salmon.
It is an all-encompassing experience, where the bowling is a party zone in the middle of a swirl of activity. You might not throw a ball for five minutes, or ever. If you don’t keep score, that’s fine, too. The folks who run Brooklyn Bowl are doing that already.