Bowling is the great American dichotomy.
Though its numbers have been nosediving since the 1980s, bowling remains the No. 1 participation sport in America, according the U.S. Bowling Congress and the CEO of Bowlero Corp., the largest bowling alley operator.
Decades removed from its heyday of the 1950s and ’60s, when folks would bowl a few frames while donning squarish shirts with logos for outfits like Sal’s Meats, the sport is reinventing itself as more casual entertainment — these days typically paired with other family amusements.
The Alley Lanes & Lounge, finally opening at DeVargas Center around the start of September, falls in line — in a City Different sort of way.
Really, it’s more The Alley Lanes & Lounge … and pool tables and bocce courts and darts and table shuffleboard and game room and birthday party/corporate party room, plus lunch and dinner.
The menu is light on nachos and hot dogs and instead filled with offerings that include tapas, salmon, paella and smoky paprika pork sausage with fig aioli. But there also are burgers and fries crafted by The Alley’s executive chef (yes, an executive chef at a bowling alley) Ever Paz at El Sabor at The Alley. Paz became known in town for his food truck, El Sabor Spanish Tapas y Masss.
Owners Joey and Hannah Padilla have taken the mom and pop business into overdrive at The Alley, where financing challenges for the $2.2 million project have delayed earlier planned openings for March and July until now.
“In Santa Fe, there is a gap about having fun,” said Hannah Padilla. “Fun. We’re always looking for ways to not have the kids on their iPads. They love Meow Wolf.”
But the Padillas wanted something more. So they created this family entertainment center at DeVargas Center — though Joey Padilla cringes at the term “family entertainment center” because it signals bright colors, overwhelming lights and booming music.
That’s where the City Different comes in. The Alley may have “family entertainment” components, but the Padillas and their friend and graphic artist Andrea Neal opted for an atmosphere of modern industrial mashed with 1920s Chicago style — exposed ducts, clear Edison light bulbs, plus large black-and-white period photos above the pins and in the lounge.
“This is a fun place to just hang out and watch,” Joey Padilla said.
They did have fun with painting the bowling balls in pool ball colors with the weight corresponding with the appropriate pool ball color.
The Padillas expect to have The Alley certified by the U.S. Bowling Congress, the national governing body for bowling, which tallied 4,054 USBC-certified centers in the 2017-18 season. This contrasts with more than 11,000 bowling alleys in the U.S. in the early 1960s, Bowlero Corp. CEO Tom Shannon told the Bloomberg Enterprise television show.
“At league bowling’s peak in the late 1970s, there were over 9 million league members in the United States,” Shannon said. “As of 2017, there are only 2 million league bowlers in the U.S. The number continues to decrease. And yet, you may see a lot of people in a bowling center.”
Santa Fe has not had a bowling alley since Silva Lanes on Rufina Circle closed in 2009. It was redeveloped into Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. The only relatively nearby bowling is at the 24-lane Big Rock Bowling Center at the Santa Claran Hotel Casino in Española and the 16-lane Strike Gold Lanes at Cities of Gold Casino in Pojoaque.
The Padillas aren’t worried about statistics heralding bowling’s decline. They believe they have the perfect recipe for family fun. Plus, they will not have traditional 36-week bowling leagues.
“We’re going to do social leagues,” Joey Padilla said. “There’s not that seriousness to it.”
Company or other groups can get together and play for eight weeks, Hannah Padilla said.
The Alley Lanes notches four of the five key trends in the bowling industry outlined in a University of Northern Iowa blog called Future of Bowling: Covering Bowling in the 21st Century and Beyond.
“The bowling industry must learn to evolve with their customers’ increasingly busy lifestyles,” blogger Jacob Smith wrote in September.
Smith noted changes in taste and demographics mean “the stereotype of the blue-collar league bowler no longer applies.”
“Across the industry, the largest share of bowlers are white-collar families earning greater than $100K per year,” he wrote.
The Alley’s push to be a lot of things to a lot of people can be found at two 40-foot by 12-foot turf bocce courts that are still just half the size of regulation 91 feet by 13 feet. The Padillas said a friend of Italian heritage, Neal, urged them to add bocce. She said she sees groups playing bocce or the French pétanque on improvised dirt patches at the Railyard.
All the attractions are Americans with Disabilities Act accessible, even the bocce courts.
“I want people to come together and have a good time,” Hannah Padilla said.