Why Brooklyn Bowl is New York’s Best (new club)

Some of the best clubs in the world are small. Brooklyn Bowl is not one of them. At 33,000 feet, with soaring ceilings, it would be considered a megaclub if not for the fact that it’s so neatly partioned into dancefloor, bar, dining area…. and, yes, a 10-lane bowling alley. Each of these sections borders the other and yet none of them intrude, allowing for each area to feel surprisingly cozy. Kudos to the architects.

IMG_3494 Late night revelry (of sorts) on the Brooklyn Bowl dance floor as Shit Robot mixes up a storm.

As a DJ, I’ve always subscribed to the notion that loud is good. Inherently, I know that this is so much bullshit, that the better the sound system, the more you can talk over it while still feeling every beat. This is particularly true of Brooklyn Bowl, where the sound resonates from a flown PA with impressive velocity, yet at a sufficiently restrained volume that allows for conversation. Round the corner, in the dining area, that conversation is slightly easier due to the relative lack of bass. While my personal taste still run to a few more decibels on the dance floor, the clarity of the sound more than compensates. Of course, it helped that I was listening to the DFA DJs last Thursday night: James Murphy, Pat Mahoney, Shit Robot, and Holy Ghost. It doesn’t get much better.

Actually, the lights are not Brooklyn Bowl’s most impressive element. Nor should they be: strobes and smoke would interfere with both bowlers and diners. The visual focus, instead, comes through the video screens, located at the end of each bowling alley, with more at the back of the stage. While the constant razzle-dazzle of the video mixing might still put you off your game, the club encourages bowlers to get in as early as 6pm, to be done by the time the club vibe takes over. Besides, given the presence of those video screens, it makes all the more sense that Friday nights belong to…

IMG_3494 And late-night revelry (of sorts) on the bowling lanes, with video screens to distract.

I saw and heard these Brit audio-visual expat experts at Jason’s Upstairs in Hudson not too long ago. They were good there. The Eclectic Method must be brilliant at the Brooklyn Bowl, where what appears to be a Friday night residency must surely benefit from all those video screens, clear sound and a large dance floor. Not that you should judge Brooklyn Bowl’s music by its DJs, but rather by its…

Word has it that the former Wetlands’ founder is one of Brooklyn Bowl’s owners. That seemed about as likely as a Smiths reformation based on my initial exposure to the Bowl, which could hardly be more different from Tribeca’s old hippy haunt if it grew antlers and levitated. But a look at the club’s live bookings suggests that there is indeed a certain hip-hop jam band influence behind the scenes, what with the likes of Dr. Dog, the Honeyspringers and the Flobots all on the calendar over the next couple of months. But then so is Art Brut. And Deer Tick. And the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. None of whom appear to be charging more than $15 a head. The DFA party night, for that matter, was but $5. Quite why anyone was lining up for half an hour for the guest list was somewhat beyond the new me. (The old me did, I hate to admit, go through a lengthy stage of refusing to pay at nightclubs out of principle. Quite what principle that might have been I can no longer remember.)

Something of a Gotham institution nowadays, Blue Ribbon has taken Brooklyn Bowl’s dining franchise and developed a menu full of comfort food at relatively comfortable prices. While the stupidly-named Rock’n’Roll Fries seem expensive at $8.50, they could easily feed 3 people. Ditto the hummus, at somewhere round the $7.50 mark. Burgers and vegetable sandwiches generally fall between $10-$20. You can choose to sit in the separate dining area, with its own bar, where service is impressively swift, or you can have food brought over to your bowling lane. Either way, you have immediate gratification for the hunger that will inevitvably be brought on by the…

IMG_3487 Does this picture really need a caption?

Brooklyn Bowl serves Brooklyn beer. Exclusively. And not just any Brooklyn beer, but ALL Brooklyn beer. Yes, their tap line-up includes every one of the now venerable Brooklyn Brewery’s beers, and on into the Borough’s two impressive new-comers, Six Points and the cask-ale Kelso. This is good news for everyone who believes in drinking local (and cask-ale), and it’s all the better for the almost uniform $6-a-pint price. (I believe Brooklyn Brewery’s basic lager comes in at $5.) Even better is the fact that the beer is served in a proper glass, not a plastic cup. (Don’t worry, drinks fans, a vodka tonic is but $7, there’s plenty wine by the glass, I got a pint of iced water when I asked for just a cup and there’s a decent wine list in the dining area.) This use of potentially dangerous but libation-satisfying glass is surely a reflection of…

It is not necessarily true that if you treat people with kindness and respect, they’ll react likewise: I once rented Georgio Gromelski’s midtown studio for an underground club party and within five minutes some dickheads had terminated the toilets. However, it is true, as British football fans of the 70s and 80s terraces can surely testify, that if you treat people like animals, they will eventually behave like them. Brooklyn Bowl, then, errs on the side of friendliness. From the front-of-house security to the relative lack of bouncers, and on to the bar and dining staff, Brooklyn Bowl offers service with a smile. Admittedly, the DFA CMJ party night was hardly full of hoodlums (you could pretty much blow on any of these wafer-thin Billyburg boys and they’d fall over), but still, I’m sure the lack of broken pint glasses on the dancefloor spoke as much to the crowd’s sense of empowerment/responsibility as their pacifististicy. (I’m allowed to create one new word a month.)

IMG_3488 Interestingly, the sign does not say “club.” But it is.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether this is a pro or a con. On the plus side, Brooklyn Bowl is far from Manhattan (with its high prices and inherent elitism), and not that easy to get to even by subway (I’ve always believed you need to put a little effort into your nightlife if you expect serious returns). On the down side, it’s situated on the very border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and if you’ve been reading iJamming! since its inception, you’ll know that my view of the Billyburg hipster scene has not always been one of infatuation. But bitching about trust fund kids in lumberjack beards and trucker caps gets tired after a decade and besides, some of my best friends have ended up living there. Indeed, Williamsburg and Greenpoint are now as established a part of the New York City cultural scene as any other neighborhoods in the five boroughs, and they continue to have their own particular (peculiar?) vibe. Ultimately, I’d sooner a club like Brooklyn Bowl take over some vast warehouse space in the Borough of Kings than, I dunno, Brooklyn Industries. (But then I’m too late for that one.)

Competition is healthy. Especially in the world of nightlife. With the Music Hall of Williamsburg and the new Knitting Factory both in the same nabe, Brooklyn Bowl can’t afford to be anything but as good as I’ve made it out to be. Indeed, it’s only a few weeks since I was thinking that the Bell House, a large live music venue with separate bar down in the more dilapidated Gowanus area of Broooklyn, might be New York City’s best new club of the decade. But that’s the thing about NYC. It’s not just competitive. It’s cut throat. It demands the best. Fortunately, Brooklyn Bowl delivers.

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October 2021