Even though it’s less than five years old, the Brooklyn Bowl has become something of an institution and it has now gone international. In January, the London outpost of the Bowl opened. According to owner Peter Shapiro, London was the first place the Bowl could go. ‘The only city close to New York is London. With culture, food, drinking, and nightlife, if you look at they’re kind of brother and sister.”
And London is certainly experiencing a flood of American influence, from Shake Shake, Five Guys, Wembley hosting NFL games, speakeasy nights to secret themed parties. Brooklyn Bowl is part o this movement, and Shapiro says that the “idea is about bringing our style over there.” That being said, the vast tented arena of The O2 on the outskirts of London is decidedly an odd choice of venue, if catering to hipsters and scenesters. On first glance, surely Dalston, or Shoreditch, or even Peckham would have been better. The adaptive reuse of an iron foundry in Williamsburg for the original Brooklyn Bowl gave the venue an urban edge. But then again, maybe it was the blank canvas of an empty manufacturing space in Brooklyn that appealed to the owners, more than its historical significance.
After all, The Brooklyn Bowl, in both its New York and London incarnations, is more of a recreation of an American idea–what people think it was like, or what it should have been like. Old signs and western themed 1930s to 1950s “antiques” decorate the wall of the vast space, which is roughly identical in both cities. There are two more lanes in Brooklyn, but more screens in London. The London joint does sell local Meantime Beer rather than Brooklyn Lager, though.
From a business perspective perhaps Shapiro’s real success was elevating bowling to a mass market middle class, a group that was ready to embrace a combination entertainment model. Bowling alone might not have cut it, but live music venue, good food and bowling together was a possibility.
But what does expansion mean for The Brooklyn Bowl, a remnant of an earlier (cooler) Williamsburg? A New Yorker who visited on opening night believes the reason that “American culture is influential [is because] we put a lot more polish on a lot of things, so they appeal to a broader audience.” But will “polish” mean the end of the Bowl as “cool”? Did it ever want to be cool? It’s certainly no longer in Brooklyn.