I'm not sure which revelation in the Times' bowling trend piece is more disturbing: that Port Authority, that last vestige of seedy old Manhattan, now has a bowling "nightclub" complete with a bouncer-enforced dress code, or that the humble sport of bowling itself has gone irreversibly upscale across the city.
I used to work across the street from the Port Authority (no, I didn't work the corners). There were two things that redeemed the otherwise miserable experience: abundant cheap hot dogs (whether at the venerable Gray's Papaya or the...unvenerable dive bar Port 41, where the franks were free and served by bikini-clad bartendresses), and the vague sense of having entered a time warp to the de-glossed midtown of Taxi Driver-vintage.
The area had porn shops galore (you could enter one through the P.A. subway station, a convenience that unsettled many a middle-aged secretary), staggering bums that used to roam the Bowery and, with the exception of the shiny (and climby) new Times headquarters, buildings caked in decades worth of bus-spewed soot.
Port Authority was the dump's nerve center, a structure (ranked among the 10 ugliest in the world, by the way) home almost exclusively to nomadic out-of-towners passing, no, sprinting through.
So it came as a surprise to read that instead of rushing to get the hell out of Port Authority, people are now waiting on line to get in. At least according to the bouncer at Leisure Time Bowl (soon to be Frames), an alley that "will open a swank restaurant and V.I.P. lanes (two private lanes with bar), followed by a nightclub later in the year."
Hell, there's even a dress code. General manager Ayman Kamel says that:
“We don’t allow those real large jeans that almost fall off your hips. Or those bandannas that represent gangs. None of those big visual gold chains.”
In that case, looks like the Guest of a Guest crew will have to bowl elsewhere. Easy enough, given the mini-boom of new or newly revamped alleys in midtown, Greenwich Village and retro-crazed Williamsburg (which is obviously where the hiptard pictured at right was photographed).
Sadly though, these pin palaces, like the Port Authority, insist on going upscale. Says reporter N.R. Kleinfield:
"These are not the beer-belly bowling alleys of yesteryear, but souped-up, hipster alleys often interwoven with restaurants, V.I.P. lounges, clubs, sports bars. Dark lighting. D.J.’s and thundering music. Waiter service. Dress codes. Coolness."
As for the no-frills dinosaurs? "Conventional alleys continue to close," the article explains, with the overall number down from 200 in the '70s to 23 now.
I guess spiffed up bowling is preferable to no bowling at all. But the flashy arrivistes would do well to keep the game's lowly roots in mind, and their 'tudes at bay. Kleinfield asked one gourmet bowler if he was helping New York through the recession by knocking down pins (OK, the whole article is a little tongue-in-cheek re: recession symbolism). His response? "It's always good to save New York."