Over a year has passed since I first met with Greg Cox and Kevin Rice and talked about their bowling alley concept. They detailed plans and said they hoped to open by the end of the summer. That would be 2015. A range of issues and obstacles prevented that goal from being reached, but the description they gave me that day of the lay out and plans for the bowling alley were remarkably close to the impressive facility you’ll see as they open next week.
Greg pointed out that, for them, it’s been a four year journey, starting with when they first had the idea and started looking for a location. He pointed out that, “the roof was on the floor when we first entered.” They had to wait on the construction above them, both condos and Babalu, to really get started. Kevin said they are more than ready to begin, saying, “Let’s get open and see how we do.”
I met with them again this week to get details and started by asking them about the rumor they would employ pin-boys. They laughed and admitted they were uncertain where that rumor had been generated. The truth is they have “GSX pinsetters, a new technology from Sonoma, California.” That’s not to say there aren’t retro aspects, such as the ball racks and tables. Both the racks and the table tops (built by Seth Thomas of Johnson City) come from Chapman Lanes which closed about twenty-five years ago.
You’ll find cool modern features like a modern scoring system which allows for specific pin placement for practice and competition between lanes. It will also set for children’s games which are designed to be fast-paced, delivering ten pins for each throw. The screens also allow greater customer engagement than you might have experienced before.
It’s a great mixture of new and old, with customers greeted as they enter by a large wheel the two discovered in the basement when they leased the space. Purportedly a part of an ancient air-conditioning system, they told me it would be re-purposed as a chandelier – and that’s exactly what they’ve done. It’s amazing and an example of the thought the owners put into the space.
Everything touch is very deliberate. Sound panels, for example have been added to mute the noise, though they pointed out the pins do not sit below, but rather behind Babalu’s space above. As we talked, they discussed placement of logo stickers on the sides of coke machines – no detail too small. Joy Lauderdale of Lauderdale Design Group selected furniture and colors, R2R Studio prepared the architectural plans and Christopoulos and Kennedy did the construction.
Freshly polished, multi-colored balls wait as you enter the lanes, shoes at the foot of the stairs as you enter. You’ll find comfortable couches at the heads of each lane. It’s a warm and welcoming space intended to be social. Bowlers, by design, will likely interact with groups from other lanes. The other extreme is that two, more private, lanes are offered for group rental and may be reserved for private parties or events.
If you remember (or have just read) the original article, however, you know the plans extended beyond bowling lanes and those plans have also been realized. A full bar serving a range of cocktails and offering six taps is available to those so inclined. The polished cement bar is the beautiful work of Justin Paulk of Paulk and Company.
One of the six taps will include a “bowling” beer – Miller High Life – and the other five taps will be stocked by local craft beers. Cocktails, such as The Dude, Walter’s Whisky and the Maude offer a tip of the hat to The Big Lebowski. I assume you’d be able to request a White Russian. A list of non-alcoholic cocktails is also available. Four white and four red wines will be offered initially.
Food will also be provided, served by a full commercial kitchen (yes, they got the monster grease interceptor) under the direction of Chef Alex Bomba of Johnson City. Dishes will be light, but nicely executed. Appetizers, salads, sandwiches and flatbreads will be augmented by something they are (currently) calling “stacks.” Prices are still being set, but will range from just below to around $10. Gluten free options are available and some of the dishes are vegetarian friendly. Personally, the pulled pork and gouda has my name on it.
And there will be music. Plans are still being formulated, but a stage occupies one corner, just as I was told would be the case. With seating for 140, including bar seating along the center lanes, there’s plenty of room for bowling, eating, drinking and listening to bands. Live music will be regularly programmed, though precisely how often is still under discussion. General mangers Gina Truitt (formerly of The Well and Sweet P’s) and Chris Webb will run the operation and booking will be handled through the Maple Hall webpage (currently a landing page).
The two are excited to get started. Saying , “we bleed orange and downtown means so much to us,” (they are both UT graduates), they wanted to open the concept in the city and are very pleased with the location. Parking at both the Promenade and State Street garages is located just behind the building and they are pleased with being in the center of Gay Street.
Friends and family events are planned for this weekend through Monday and the official opening is set for Tuesday. Bowling will be available for $20 per hour, per lane, regardless of the number of bowlers. Rates for Friday and Saturday night rise to $30 per hour, per lane. Initial hours will be 4:00 PM – 1:30 AM, Monday through Friday, and 11:00 AM to 1:30 AM Saturday and Sunday. Daytime hours will be available for private events and parties.
It’s been a long time coming, but it helps downtown entertainment options continue to stretch beyond eating, drinking, shows and movies. Here’s wishing them complete success. I’ll see you there.