In a city that habitually tears down our beloved historic spaces in favor of erecting yet another strip mall full of dry cleaners and spray tan salons, we gladly give our full support to any business that stands for the preservation of our architectural history. So when we heard that Highland Park Bowl had recently opened after a major preservation project, we knew we had to take the new digs for a spin and go knock some pins around.
Located on Figueroa in a burgeoning strip of Highland Park, Highland Park Bowl really does feel like stepping back in time. From the moment you enter the wrought iron gates under the peeling-paint façade, it’s as if the decades instantly begin to roll away behind you with each step until you find yourself right smack in the middle of a bygone era, perhaps meeting Nick Carraway for some tales and a stiff one over a game of tenpin.
The original establishment dates back to 1927, giving it the unique distinction of being the oldest bowling alley in Los Angeles. The 1933 Group (responsible for Big Foot, Thirsty Crow, Sassafras & Idle Hour) has lovingly restored the space with a keen eye for detail. As you walk in, the view is quite literally breathtaking. I actually gasped when I laid eyes on it. The giant open-air, high-arch, exposed-beam ceiling houses a huge restored forest mural from the 30’s, two large horseshoe bars with vintage pin chandeliers, cages of alcoholic trinkets and treasures all aglow along the walls and eight brilliantly shining lanes with exposed pin machines so you can watch the pins reset and follow the ball on its journey home to you. The leather couches gathered around wooden tables at each lane give the distinctive feel of lounging at an elegant speakeasy or crashing a Coen Brothers set for a couple sneaky hours before they call security.
Aside from the truly stunning environment and décor, one thing I was struck by was the vibe of the place. Having already been publicized by the de rigueur “what hipsters should do” sites, we were frankly a little skeptical going in and were not sure if we would actually share it with you unless we genuinely dug the place. Though we whole-heartedly support historic preservation, we are not big fans of anything too precious or self-aware. But we do love to bowl, so…. We came on a Sunday afternoon and were surprised by the warm, breezy, inviting vibe. The crowd was a mix of all types—old school Highland Park families, bearded dudes having low-key guy time and groups of friends celebrating birthdays. The staff was friendly and seemed to genuinely care that we had a great experience and enjoyed ourselves. (And no, they didn’t know we were writing about them.)
At night, I’m sure the space feels deliciously dark, sexy and romantic. During the day, it was all brightness and soft hazy sunshine filtering in through the many skylights overhead, giving it a dream-like quality. Our group kept looking around in awe between hitting pins, big smiles on our faces, genuinely experiencing that rarest of gifts in life…wonder. Every corner holds some new thoughtful delight to tickle your senses. And it doesn’t hurt that they pipe in a killer playlist of new vintage tunes to set the mood just right and get your toes a-tappin’ before launching into your next strike. No detail has been left unattended.
That’s to say nothing of the food. The open kitchen and wood-fired pizza oven is the first thing you see upon entering and that’s for good reason—the food here is straight-up delicious. As major foodies, we don’t say that lightly. We’ve all had french fries everywhere in town to varying degrees of pleasure. But these french fries were a Perfect 10—hot, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and seasoned to perfection. And the pizza…oh, the pizza! The best pizza we’ve had in town, hands-down. Their dough is out-of-this-world crazy delicious. Soft and chewy, fluffy but crispy where it counts with an almost sourdough flavor, we could have eaten it all day. In fact, we did. BIG BONUS: they have somehow managed this same level of epic doughy fluffy crust goodness with a GLUTEN-FREE version! Siren Sarah was losing her mind with each bite, her eyes actually rolling back in her head with delight. Did we mention how much we loved the pizza? Do yourself a favor and go just for that, even if you don’t get up to bowling.
Surprisingly, it was quite easy to get a lane on a Sunday afternoon, no long wait required. Lanes are booked for an hour at a time and can fit up to six people. Prices vary by time from $50-$70 an hour. We were in a $50 timeslot at noon on a Sunday, so two hours of bowling two games cost us each a little under $17 total, plus a $5 shoe rental fee. Very reasonable considering all the amenities and this level of atmosphere. Specialty craft cocktails are served all day long, so if that’s your thing, it’s a fantastic addition to your overall bowling pleasure.
All-in-all, we walked away very impressed with every detail at Highland Park Bowl. Unique, gorgeous, welcoming and just good-old-fashioned fun, we could have stayed all afternoon and been perfectly happy. The one and only question as we all said our goodbyes was, “When are we coming back?” Don’t doubt it, plans are already in the works. If you’d like to join us on an outing to Highland Park Bowl, drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Location, hours, menu and pricing are available on the Highland Park Bowl website: http://highlandparkbowl.com
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Contributing photos by: Jessica Sattelberger
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