Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia, the fourth location in co-founders Peter Shapiro and Charley Ryan’s bowling-dining-live music chain, opened on Nov. 4 with a weekend packed with gigs starring Soulive (or, for the occasion, Bowlive) with Meters bassist George Porter Jr., DJ Logic, and Philadelphia’s own Ahmir “Questlove Thompson, from The Roots, spinning his Bowl Train: Hometown Philly Edition.
While that trio of live events were killer parties filled with deep grooves, nothing could have been deep or groovier than Nov. 11’s official ribbon cutting party at 1009 Canal St. With the high life funk ensemble Antibalas roaring and drumming in the background, this VIP event officially welcomed Brooklyn Bowl Philly as part of the Live Nation family in a pocket of its clubs that includes The Fillmore Philadelphia and Punchline Philly (this is the third partnership venue between Brooklyn Bowl and the international concert promoter Live Nation).
The first Brooklyn Bowl opened in 2009 in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section with Nashville and Las Vegas following suit. With Canal Street’s 38,000 usable square-foot Brooklyn Bowl property (the longtime home to Revolutions game room and bowling alley since 2016), the bi-level, 1,000 person-plus capacity music venue, bowling alley and restaurant is radically different than the other three B-Bowl locations.
“Our Philly Brooklyn Bowl offers options that our other locations don’t,” said Chad Peterson, the general manager of the BB’s Canal Street space. “If you want to bowl, eat AND see the live show upstairs – whether it is upcoming acts such as Talib Kweli and his band or White Denim – you can pay the admission and do that. If, though, you’re at The Fillmore or the Punchline seeing a music or comedy show, and afterwards you want to drink, eat and-or just bowl a few rounds, downstairs you can do that. You can do that before a show next door or across the street. If you just want to eat, drink and bowl on a night where we don’t have a concert, you can do that as well. Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia offers more options than our other spaces in other cities.”
Walking me through the surprisingly large upstairs portion of the venue during the VIP party, Peterson explained that while the entirety of Brooklyn Bowl Philly houses 1,500 patrons, the dance floor-live space and official Brunswick bowling lane’s lounge area is set for over 900 people. Grafted onto this wide space and its 24 bowling lanes are “the little personal touches” that make the room sing – everything from new, handmade bars to the placement of legendary carnival games such as SkiBall as part of the new Brooklyn Bowl Philly’s design statement.
“The placement of one of a kind, vintage and classic amusements such as that are all part of the Brooklyn Bowl vibe,” Peterson said. “It’s a throwback to the old days of Coney Island.”
Most connected to the old school carnival vibe at BBP is a specially commissioned wall of individually hand-painted Carnival Punks and Knockdowns, a game that involved striking a “punk,” with a ball to put it down.
“Aside from the sights and sounds of a typical concert venue, we want to give you more to look at than four walls and the band,” said Peterson in regard to flooding its patrons’ senses. “We want to give our crowd an element of escape, of fun, at every turn.”
While Peterson spoke, several Philly team mascots prowled the BBP’s upstairs and interacted with the crowd. “People can come here and watch the game, any game downstairs,” he said. “Brooklyn Bowl is in our name, but that’s just where we’re from, where we started. We love the Sixers, the Flyers, the Phillies and the Eagles.”
And while New York City’s Blue Ribbon restaurant group will provide everything from pizza, ribs and fried chicken (along with vegetarian and vegan options) to go with the official Brunswick lanes, the live music – booked through Brooklyn Bowl – is the largest, if not the loudest part of the BBP experience.
Paul Bacher, the band/music booker for BBP, promised to keep a balance between nationally renowned such as Rakim (Dec. 11), Yola (Feb.15), Gangstagrass (Feb. 17), Red Baraat’s Festival of Colors (March 10) and a jam-band favorite, Lettuce (April 1-2), and local acts.
“Last night, we had TagTime Philly, tonight we have Trap Rabbit opening for Antibalas, and we intend to keep giving great opportunities to Philadelphia artists,” said Bacher. “We want to give locals a chance to build their brand. Especially by putting them in front of national bands as support. Plus, I plan to create local residencies, and want to do things such as Black Lily-like jam sessions with local promoters like The Jawn, which we’re just announcing today.”
For the uninitiated, Black Lily was the legendary soul, hip hop and spoken word jam thrown weekly by The Roots at the Five Spot in Old City where Questlove & Co played behind up-and-coming locals such as Bilal and Ursula Rucker back-in-the-day. “We want to build awareness for the amazing funk-soul-jazz scene in Philadelphia,” said Bacher. “In my opinion, that scene here is even more robust than that of New York’s scene.”
Evan Gusz, a one-time boss at the Philadelphia-based RuffHouse Records label (Fugees, Cypress Hill) was in attendance on Thursday night. Now a husband and a father who takes his family to South Bowl on Broad Street for fun and games, he loves having another place to bowl and dine. “It’s very cool seeing Brooklyn Bowl open as part of this entertainment complex in Fishtown,” said Gusz. “I’m curious to see how all of that works with having rock and hip hop bands play at the same time. That will be interesting indeed.”
Said GM Peterson before Antibalas commenced to play, “People walk in to Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia for the first time – see how large the space is, and everything we have to offer – and they are surprised. And we want to keep them surprised with how much we have to offer.”