A common lament in the club business is that ‘everybody is doing the same thing’. You go from one place to the next and it is the same bottle of Vodka on a similar table, a clean and modern design and chances are the same records you heard at the last joint.
Brooklyn Bowl is a departure from the mundane. It is, as its name declares, a bowling alley. But it is also a club, a great restaurant by Blue Ribbon, a neighborhood hangout and a great live music venue.
Brooklyn Bowl was at the forefront of the Williamsburg cultural revolution which has changed the landscape of NYC nightlife forever. Approximately 10 years ago, a building boom in Manhattan took the bridge and tunnel crowd into the city proper. The former B and C list crowds were now the primary revenue stream of the bottle service era. Clubs, bars, boutiques and bodegas adjusted their way of thinking to embrace the new nearby, yuppie clientele.
As the rents rose through the roof and the hipper crowds, the creative crowds went East over the bridge, to latch onto a burgeoning art scene in the cheaper Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Soon everyone cool was abandoning Manhattan and the clubs fat with bottle service clients.
Brooklyn Bowl provided great music and fun to this enlightened group of exiles from main street. Right now the world is bearing witness to this cultural revolution as hotels and smart shops pop up every day. Can concepts like Brooklyn Bowl stay alive and play in Peoria?
Nightclub Confidential caught up with Brooklyn Bowl owner Pete Shapiro and asked him all about it.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): Did you know when you built all of this - at the time a fairly desolate area - that it was going to be successful? Did you truly believe that people and businesses would move in when you saw these empty warehouses?
Pete Shapiro: We were focused on ourselves and on making a great venue here. We were really stuck on making Brooklyn Bowl the best place to experience live music which is at the heart and soul of the idea. So, it stated there. Then we added the bowling and the Blue Ribbon concepts. With this kind of building we started adding furniture and lighting to augment the overall experience. But again music is everything and that is why we have live music seven nights a week. We knew it would come... we had a feeling it would come but not this quick.
NCC: How did you incorporate three different elements into one venue and make it work?
Shapiro: When we started we only launched one thing at a time. First, it was just bowling and a limited food menu. Then we increased the menu options and started booking some bands to play. At first we only had, I think, three shows but as popularity started to grow we began attracting more popular names. We didn’t expect to be sitting here three years later hosting acts like Kanye, Adele, the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, James Murphy, LCD soundsystem, Bob Weir, Gaslight Anthem, and Bruno Mars - which have all played here.
NCC: There are times when people come to eat at Blue Ribbon and can’t due to a sold out show. How do you keep one element from not step on the other?
Shapiro: It’s difficult sometimes as we’re not just a restaurant. We believe the restaurant should augment the shows and make it the best place to see a show anywhere in the country. But if we have a free show the restaurant can stand on its own because it's a great restaurant. Patrons can also make a night of it by coming here early for a sold out show to have dinner. As for the bowling that audio visual experience is needed to enhance the overall experience.
NCC: You're all over the place with your bookings... Okay let’s say you’re very diverse. Why?
Shapiro: We have live bands seven nights a week. I believe we’re the largest venue in the country booking bands every night. We have a big club and are proud we have a little bit of everything including folk music like Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary. We’ve had SnoopDog, kids bands in the afternoon and big time rock bands. It comes from that sensibly from wetlands, music with a lot of soul, music that makes you dance to songs that are 10, 12, even 14 minutes long. We’re not big on the four minutes and out. We do a lot of Indie rock bands, jam bands, funk bands, soul bands, and all kinds of jazz fusion. Questlove is a great representation of the mindset of the club. He spins soul classics every Thursday night - it’s called Bowl Train. We love his set list is very diverse it appeals to people in their 40's not necessarily their 20's.
NCC: You are expanding and how will this play in Peoria?
Shapiro: Were not going to Peoria but you can probably guess where it will go.
NCC: Will you try to bring Brooklyn to the new spot or will you adjust to the new area?
Shapiro: We will bring a lot of what works here to the new venue and it will look the same.
NCC: The neighborhood is changing a lot and your core crowd is moving to Bushwick and other areas. How will you not lose who you are to the gentrification of Williamsburg?
Shapiro: There are good things and bad things to being in the rock and roll business. A good thing is you can book a great band and patrons will come. If you have a great staff, energy and vibe, they’ll come.
NCC: What makes a bowling fun?
Shapiro: When you add rock and roll to it.