The original Brooklyn Bowl is smack in the off-beating heart of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. It's next door to the legendary Brooklyn Brewery, summer hangout McCarren Park (Williamsburg's London Fields), and mere blocks from Bedford Avenue which hosts one locale of the exemplary Meatball Shop and the Styrofoamazing Rosemary's Tavern. It is a fucking brilliant part of town.
We have fond memories of this neighbourhood: alternating craft beers and PBRs in the various bierhalls, roof terraces and dive bars, getting offered to hotbox by several locals before eventually getting a ride to the bowling alley, where we danced like seizuring-puppeteered idiots and had a lovely time.
So it seems perfectly natural that the facsimile location to transfer this culturally astute venue would be deep in the O2 Arena in North Greenwich.
The Millenium Dome. The Blairite blemish on the protruding hernia of London.
Saying the O2 is an odd choice for a place is a hell of an understatement. Either they have an incredible sales team or the rent was so minimal, or they were flat-out lied to.
We've been waiting to see write-ups of this weirdness but they've not appeared yet. There was the standard Time Out PR puff-piece the week they launched, and since then, nada.
Inside, the London location is a brick-for-brick copy of the American original. Simple wooden tables reside alongside bare brick and wood-panelled walls, with the same Coney Island knockdown punk pins separating the restaurant from the venue, and huge shiny chesterfields offering seating at the end of each alley. And all at a barely visible level; a low-lit downplayed plush. This would be an amazing venue to hire out for an event if you were a record label putting on a gig, the stage and dance floor has a downright bonkers lighting rig and we bet shows here would be boss.
But the O2 is where people reluctantly travel to for gigs, and families go for family meals at places like Harvester which, incidently, is fucking opposite. Imagine the bemusement of a dad from Kidbrooke as his kids run around the dimness whilst Sleater-Kinney floats through the air. The atmosphere in the O2 is heavy with teenage expectation and the sound of begrudging parents repeatedly opening their wallets for another spanking.
Fortunately the people who do the food have travelled over as well. Run by the Bromberg brothers, Blue Ribbon have a bunch of restaurants in NYC from sushi to barbecue to fine-dining. But it's the diner-style menu from Williamsburg that has made it over mostly intact, including their highly lauded fried chicken.
One Chicken dinner please.
We don't know if the part matzo meal crumb they use in the States has made the journey, but the deep golden crust of the chicken was satisfyingly crunchy, very savoury and peppery, but lacking chiefly in salt which let it down. As with most fried chicken, the ratio of breast meat to coating was high, and whilst the meat was moist you're probably best sticking with the dark meat for consistent meat and crust enjoyment: there's just too much MEAT in a breast piece to make it enjoyable.
The showpiece here is the ceremonial placing of the teddy bear shaped bottle of honey on the table before the food with a training-emphasised "It is for the chicken" accompanying it. The service rite is over the top, but the addition of the honey to the savoury creates a combination that works really well. We'd say all it needed was a waffle, if the sides that came with it weren't so brilliant.
The mashed potatoes were pure America. Smooth with occasional lumps, outrageously buttery and creamy (and a hint of sour cream?), with an oasis of lovely thick gravy in the middle, swirled around into unbridled sloppy goodness. And the collard greens sharpness was matched with butter and bacon, the way vegetables should be fucking served. You can't get this anywhere else close.
We asked for the addition of cheddar on our burger so that when it arrived, served open, you could see how fucking much of it they had melted so captivatingly over the top of the patty underneath. The patty in question was there, if rather thin and slightly overcooked, but had decent agreeably-seasoned flavour to it.
The bun was a notably supple, shiny and bouffant brioche, which had unfortunately been sliced top heavy so the juices quickly decimated the bottom half. Having NYC-style hot mustard as an option to add was pleasing, but when all constructed with the shredded lettuce, tomato and youthful cucumber-ish pickles the patty felt a bit dwarfed, with the cheese kicking out the predominant flavour.
Pretty standard, but nothing special. The fries were delightfully crispy though.
The wings were ruddy massive chunky gobbets of bird. They were drowning in in gallons of sweet, tangy, hot, smoky sauce (think of the Patty & Bun wings and you're not far off) and an blue cheese sauce was there too. The super light and crunchy pork rinds,which would have been great on their own (if pricey as fuck) benefited greatly from the taco-esque topping of coriander, queso and jalapenos which provided intriguing freshness. But they're the same as Wahaca's scratchings really.
Though the bits we sampled were on the whole hit and miss, there is so much other amazing sounding Americana on the menu we'll obviously go back to try it, once we've saved up enough and figure out when the Blackwall tunnel isn't busy.
So we're faced with a true quandary.
- Brooklyn Bowl serves excellent food.
- The service is snappy and bordering on over-friendly.
- The venue is tasteful, clean and full of potential.
But it's really difficult to recommend. Lots of irksome little touchpoints, so let's go through them.
1. The Bowling
First up, this is a Brunswick lane, which makes a nice change, and because it's brand new, the balls are still round and smooth, they're nicely oiled and the whole thing doesn't smell of piss and failure.
But. They charge by the half hour. Not by the game. This will be immensely stressful to most pissed-up punters who have no idea how long a game of bowling takes and will lead to many a bill argument.
Unforgivably, they also charge £2.50 for shoes. For a large group that's £30-40 before you've even sworn at your opening gutterball.
The subdued string pinsetters, whilst supposedly 'energy saving', really dull the gratifying clatter of the pins that you get from the regular stand alone pins. Picking up splits is impossible.
The lanes have huge screens just above the pins playing random MTV video dross which is off-putting and totally at odds with the blaring soundtrack of blues, retro Dad rock and Kraftwerk.
2. The Price
So the bowling is absurdly expensive. Makes All Star Lanes look good value in comparison (which it is not). The food is also expensive, at more or less straight dollar to pound conversions. Expect a meal for two with a very lightweight amount of booze to head north of £70 very easily.
The two of us spent nearly a ton on a Tuesday night and left poor and sober.
3. The Totally Weird Location
Enough on that already, but it's so fucking weird. So. Weird.
Also they're very far round the Dome itself so many walk-up customers just won't make it that far, probably wooed by the Byron on the way instead.
4. The Staff
Now. They clearly have a customer touchpoint playbook, these guys. It works as expected in New York, and we imagine it does in Las Vegas too. But in London it's awkward: too many forced questions and interactions. Too much matey camaraderie from the manager. Too many staff in general.
By the time our half hour was coming to an end (and we were desperately trying to finish our second game without being charged even more money), there were at least ten staff milling about with nothing to do. Watching us bowl. Half-heartedly trying to sell us drinks. Taking our shoes away in a shopping basket (weird). It made us feel 13 again, on the first tee at the local golf club, with the chilly gaze of the clubhouse audience willing us to duff it.
Ultimately, the choice of location makes it a strange proposition. No matter what they try to stuff into the O2, it's never going to turn into a proper destination for Londoners. Yes, Kent and Essex like to razz it up at the Indigo, but B-Bowl is certainly not a venue catering to that demographic.
We cannot recommend it to our IRL pals because they'd tell us what a huge amount of money it all cost and they'd hate us for making us go to the O2 without the benefit of seeing Taylor Swift / a random NBA game / Iron Maiden.
So to you, internet pals, we can't recommend it either. Even though the food is pretty great. If your boss has a massive party budget then it could be perfect. That's the only scenario we could come up with.
Let's just stick with Rowan's, yeah?
- Rob & Simon.
- Apologies for the terrible photos. It's well dark in there.