Maple Lanes A Survivor Among Brooklyn Bowling Alleys

Maple Lanes, the 48-lane bowling center in Bensonhurst, is Brooklyn’s largest, and enjoys a popularity that is partly fed by the closure of other alleys in the surrounding area. But it too may be shut down and razed to make way for residential housing, according to a New York Times report published this past weekend.

The Times reports that while redevelopment is not imminent, an application to rezone the area to residential was submitted three years ago. The prelim plan is for brick apartment buildings and a synagogue, a nod to the growth of the Borough Park community. This would be consistent with an aim stated by City Councilperson David Greenfield during last year’s debate to rezone the industrial areas south of 60th Street for residential housing.

Not your Williamsburg friend’s drunken party hangout

The New York Times piece makes an observation about the Brooklyn bowling landscape that I find partly misleading, and completely depressing:

Beyond this familiar pattern of Brooklyn’s progress lies a truth about the state of bowling in the area: boutique alleys with bars and bands in popular locations are popping up, and the less flashy centers that feel like suburban oases are being phased out.

For clarity, the “boutique” alleys the Times refers to are The Gutter and Brooklyn Bowl – a pair of Hipster joints located around the corner from each other in Northside Williamsburg. Compared to these two new boutique centers, the “less flashy” alleys being phased out number more than 15 by the article’s own admission.

If you want plush seating, waitstaff service, and earsplitting music, by all means shell out the $50 an hour for Williamsburg's "boutique" Brooklyn Bowl. If you just want to actually bowl, go to "less flashy" Maple Lanes.

I’ve been to Brooklyn Bowl a couple of times. I would describe it as a concert hall that also happens to have bowling, not a bowling alley that happens to have music. I had a good time listening to the bands, but I would never go there to bowl. For starters, am I the only one who things $50 an hour is a little steep? To say nothing of the venue cover charge, if a band is playing that night (which is often).

Brooklyn Bowl caters to the gentrified Williamsburg Hipster crowd of presumed adults that aren’t ready to grow up yet (on several occasions, I’ve referred to the neighborhood as the world’s largest concentration of seventh-year seniors). I’d compare the drunken party atmosphere inside to a college frat house, but that would be insulting to frat houses.

Sharp contrast to the Maple Lanes old-timers interviewed for The New York Times story – people who take part in the leagues year after year, people who’ve been bowling at “less flashy” alleys for decades. Sharp contrast to the melting pot I see every time I visit Maple Lanes – from Jewish families to Muslim teens, from drinking buddies on a Friday night to parents on an afternoon after school.

Glow-in-the-dark "Cosmic Bowling" at Maple Lanes.

Maple Lanes answer to the Hipster clubs’ music programming, as if a 50-year-old alley has to answer to the two-year-old upstart, is “Cosmic Bowling” on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s pretty cheesy. They have a DJ who plays some ’60s and ’70s songs off from a Macbook, and bring out some bowling balls that look kinda cool under a blacklight. I’m not gonna lie to you: it could use a little more polish to be taken seriously. But y’know – if I’m going out to bowl, I’ll take the glow-in-the-dark bowling balls and songs from the actual Bee Gees over some middle-aged dudes who have made a night-job career out of covering the Bee Gees.