Idea of boutique bowling bound for gutters here

December 20, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

A bowling alley with no smoke? A bowling alley with no sports jerseys? A bowling alley with no greasy burgers or pitchers of beer?

What's the point?

This is one of those cases where you're happy that new trends hit Hagerstown about two decades after they have ceased to be trendy anywhere else. Because frankly, I do not believe we are ready for what is being dubbed "boutique bowling."

Boutique bowling, according to a story last week in the Washington Post, is a Jackie O. twist on a Jack Daniels sport. Dance and alternative tunes are piped over the sound system. Modern art is projected on big screens over the pins, beer has been replaced by Manhattans and cosmos, and burgers and fries have been replaced by - GULP - tuna burger au poivre and ancho citrus chicken.

I guess if you ask for nachos, they haul you away in a wire bus.


Hagerstown disqualifying factor No. 1: There's a strict dress code.

Hagerstown disqualifying factor No. 2: It costs you $75 an hour, or $7.95 per game.

Boutique bowling. How cute. I guess you don't throw a gutter ball, you throw a stormwater abatement system ball. So what's next, country club cockfights? It makes you think anything will play in Georgetown. Set up a horseshoe pit at Gallery Place, serve tuna au poivre and you can charge them two bucks a toss.

I haven't bowled in ages, but part of the appeal for me was the smell of stale smoke and stale beer, with maybe a little feet mixed in. You've gotta have that bowling alley smell, in my view. I'm sure some fragrance company makes "eau de tenpin" that new bowling alleys can spray in the air just to make people feel more at home.

Even the scoring has been taken away at boutique bowling alleys because the totals are kept electronically. This subtracts the most entertaining element of bowling next to knocking down the pins, that being watching drunk people try to do math.

One cool element, though, is that along with electronically calculating your score, radar guns on each lane keep track of your ball speed. This would create an entire new subsport, especially among those guys who never really seem to care as much about the score as they do their seeming quest to one day throw a ball so hard it breaks through the back of the lane, goes through the outer wall of the building and comes to rest somewhere in Ohio.

Unfortunately, this poodlepin phenomenon ladles in a lot of other baggage along with the radar guns, including a Saturday night DJ.

Oh yeah, try that in your traditional bowling alley. Two spins in, and some hairy-shouldered backhoe driver is glaring at the booth and saying "What's that freak's problem?"

In the Post story, David Montgomery writes, "There are plump couches and living room lamps, and everywhere are huge video screens designed to show images of contemporary art. Walk up a short ramp, past the DJ, and there, regally elevated, are the 14 lanes. They are a shimmering blue, with tubes of colored lights separating them. You feel like you're bowling on the lanes of a swimming pool. The urethane bowling balls are the bright fruity colors of gumballs."

Somewhere, our backhoe driver just sheared a pin.

And the wait for a lane can be "three or four hours." Imagine waiting four hours for a lane at a normal bowling alley. Even at the slow-by-bowling-standards pace of one pitcher per hour, when the time comes, you're going to be in no condition to bowl or do anything else. Maybe that explains the "plump couches." You need a spot for hapless Hill staffers to pass out after maxing out on $12 cocktails.

Yet there is good news, because apparently bowling has been able to transcend chic as much as chic has been able to transcend bowling. As the Post puts it, "The air is not thick with camp and parody. The boutique bowlers' attitude toward the sport is affectionate, not ironic."

OK, I have no idea what that means. But it sounds like a good thing. Like if bowling can survive generations of flat beer and round stomachs, it can survive this.

Just not here. If we get the boutique makeover, I know a lot of local bowlers who are going to have trouble keeping their tuna au poivre down.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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