Roll into One of LA's Hot Spots : Highland Park Bowl
The beloved Hollywood Star Lanes, where Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman rolled strikes and packed armed pistols in “The Big Lebowski’,” were sadly torn down in 2002, marking “the end of an era” for a Los Angeles bowling institution. But if The Dude and Walter were to find another home where their bright bowling dreams wouldn’t fade away, it’d be over on the east side of town at Highland Park Bowl.
Opened in 1927 and recently-refurbished to its past bowling glory, Highland Park Bowl feels like a lost gem of the prohibition era, with ample liquor offerings and good times to be discovered in every nook and cranny of the venue. Every detail of Highland Park Bowl breathes a piece of bowling and Los Angeles history: Glorious banners of local league championships adorn the alley’s right wall and vintage images of smiling bowlers from decades’ past greet you when walking the staircase upstairs. One could literally spend hours at Highland Park Bowl doing nothing but observing every small intricacy or detail that composes the venue while imagining whether it was a no-nonsense 1920s gangster-type character of a 1950s suburban Angeleno dad and league champion that once lounged in your booth.
“When we discovered this space, it was in dire need of an uplift and the general upkeep was in complete disarray. However, considering the history of the neighborhood and its architecture, we instinctively knew that if we peeled away the layers, something rich would be revealed,” said Bobby Green, Co-owner/Designer of 1933 Group, which refurbished the alley. “The goal with Highland Park Bowl was to restore something historic in a richly historic LA neighborhood. Highland Park has been preserved but covered for decades and is now becoming widely known again and the value of the neighborhood is being embraced.”
Despite its namesake, Highland Park Bowl isn’t just focused on the bowling. Their ample food and drink offerings aren’t just good by bar or bowling alley standards, they’re some of the best in LA, period. Highland Park Bowl has been praised for their hand-crafted pizzas, which you can see being cooked as you first enter the venue. Clever, pop culture-inspired cocktails like “The Dude Abides” and “Warren Loves His Momma” are prepared by attentive and friendly bar staff, who feel fortunate to be part of the venue’s new history, and even spend their own time bowling and relaxing there when not on the clock. Everybody involved with or just in the near vicinity of Highland Park Bowl is embracing what feels like a new beginning for a cherished venue and a blossoming neighborhood.
“Highland Park not only has America’s first freeway running through it, but it is also rich with early LA history and architecture, from elaborate Victorians to simple Craftsman,” Green said. “When we cleaned up space and found the original bow truss architecture, the mural in the background, and all of the leftover machines, pins, artifacts, and otherwise, we knew we had to pay tribute to all of that in our restoration.”
That sudden, rapid neighborhood popularity growth can be a double-edged sword in Los Angeles., Hip restaurants, shops and venues open in a once culturally-drab part of town, which leads to more established businesses and restaurants start moving in. Overnight a neighborhood is once known for cheap rent and hole-in-the-wall good eats has become nothing more than a not-so-hidden gem where only wealthier residents can hang their hats.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Highland Park Bowl and its surrounding Highland Park. As the venue becomes more and more popular, and Highland Park more and more a center of the Los Angeles cultural zenith, the bowling venue remains committed to being a part of the local community, where many of its staff live just down the street and proudly wear their Highland Park pride on their sleeve.
“Highland Park Bowl, due to its historic past, is helping preserve the city in a time when urban development is booming. I think this project is an important reminder to the community that preservation is a crucial piece to any city,” Green said. “I believe that’s the biggest appeal to Highland Park Bowl.”
The venue already has already begun hosting events and plans on adding live music to their repertoire in the near future. But even as Highland Park Bowl expands, you get the sense that they’ll always be committed to their customers of all walks, background and bowling skill sets. When I was hurdling gutter balls on one of the venue’s refurbished lanes, I noticed a more experienced bowler to my left, wearing a classic short-sleeved button-down uniform that he had probably worn on PBA tournaments in years past. To my right was a family bowling with a girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, who was faring on the lanes far better than any adult in the nearby vicinity.
“Our target clientele doesn’t really have a boundary. We thoughtfully restored the building and included modern mechanics like electronic scoring to appeal to everyone,” Brown said. “Since we’ve opened, people from all over Los Angeles (and beyond) have visited Highland Park Bowl- families, weekend warriors, longtime locals, curious visitors, and travelers visiting the city. The vibe is relaxed, welcoming, energetic, and playful.”
If you do make bowling your mission when visiting the Highland Park Bowl, every lane provides a soothing experience, although Candis, General Manager at Highland Park Bowl, commented that her favorites are lanes 5 and 7 (I averaged an 81.5 over 2 games on lane 5, but that’s more due to my lack of bowling finesse.) If you’re just looking to kick back and unlace your shoes, try their Capricciosa pizza while sipping on a choice cocktail or beer. Regardless of whether it was bowling, food, or the mesmerizing pin-setting machine that brought you inside the doors, be game to fully digest every morsel of history and ornate design the venue offers. And yes, they still have bumpers too if your bowling skills aren’t up to par, but you’ll be having a good enough time in-between frames time that you won’t have to keep score.
Written by Justin Sedgwick