The look on owner Dale Schwartz's face last Saturday night said it all.
I asked: Would he be upset if I called his place a bowling alley?
He stared, smirked and said, "We fight the stereotype."
In other words: No, don't call this place simply a bowling alley. Schwartz, a Chicago-based businessman, is the owner of Pinstripes, a 39,000-square-foot complex that opened last weekend in Edina. Located next to the Container Store off France Avenue S., it includes 16 high-end bowling lanes, six indoor bocce ball courts and a swanky Italian-American restaurant.
You'll find no shaggy carpet here. No "Big Lebowski" types clad in polyester league shirts. Instead, the lanes are filled with dressed-to-impress bowlers waiting their turns on leather sofas as servers bring out trays of cocktails and crab cakes from the kitchen. A gutterball goes down easier when you have a nice bottle of white wine nestled in an ice bucket back at your table.
While this might raise an eyebrow in the Twin Cities -- where neighborhood alleys like Elsie's and Memory Lanes suit us just fine -- the luxury bowling trend is nothing new in larger cities.
Some people point to the Lucky Strike chain as the forebear of the froufrou bowling revolution. Founded in 2003, the L.A.-based company has expanded nationwide with 19 locations, some of which are popular for celebrity sightings. (Yes, Kim Kardashian bowls.)
Bowling alleys have tried everything -- twilight bowling! rock 'n' roll bowling! -- to bring back the glory days of the 1960s and '70s, when customers used to pack their hardwood lanes. Some Twin Cities bowling centers, such as Brunswick Zone and Pinz, are full-on entertainment venues with laser tag and arcades.
Places such as Pinstripes have basically brought the nightclub to the bowling alley. Patrons range in age from 25 to 50, with many dressed for a night on the town (daytime hours are family-friendly). This Pinstripes location is the third for Schwartz, who opened his first two in Chicago suburbs in 2007 and 2008. He expects future locations to generate between $7 million and $15 million annually. In Edina, Pinstripes is sprawled across two levels, each with glass windows that overlook Centennial Lakes Park. Upon entering, customers are greeted by a large, winding wrought-iron staircase and bocce courts.
Schwartz thought the addition of bocce ball would help separate his concept from other upscale bowling establishments. Like the bowling lanes, the green-felt bocce courts are located on both levels of the building. The bocce players on Saturday night seemed to be having the most fun -- many of them crowded the courts with a ball in one hand and a cocktail in the other. Games cost $8 to $10 a person, a far cry from what you'll pay at the Twin Cities' other indoor bocce spot, Half Time Rec. Of course, that classic St. Paul dive doesn't have dramatic lighting and soaring ceilings.
Like Crave, but with bowling
Beyond the gaming, Schwartz was most eager to talk about Pinstripes' restaurant and bar. The look is typical of other chic suburban spots -- as if Crave had attached itself to a bowling alley. The Italian-American menu will be familiar to foodies, but might prove a bit esoteric for bowling alley rats. The small plates and flatbreads range from $7 to $13 (stuffed mushrooms, tenderloin sliders, chicken and avocado flatbread). The pastas and entrees are priced at $12 to $23 (Italian jambalaya risotto and pine-nut-crusted halibut, for example).
Talking about the food on Saturday, Schwartz was still in corporate mode, repeating the company tagline with a chuckle: "Strikingly good food," he would say.
With so many corporate headquarters nearby (Best Buy, Target, Cargill, etc.), Schwartz is hoping for a robust banquet business.
Bowling might be an indoor sport, but I'm guessing the summer months will be good to him, too. Pinstripes' outdoor spaces, including a massive balcony, feature two fire pits and scenic views of the lake.
All this sounds great if you don't mind paying a little extra to bowl in style. A couple of games on a Saturday night (plus shoes) will cost you $18. And that's before drinks. Bowling purists will tell you that there's something genuine and charming about patronizing your old-school, neighborhood bowling alley.
But as I sat on that slick leather sofa last Saturday night, sipping a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc and waiting my turn, I contemplated:
Even bowlers want to be spoiled, right?
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