In Los Angeles, a Prohibition-era bowling alley gets restored
By Allyson Rees

The impressive architectural space caters to Highland Park’s diverse neighbourhood.

May 27, 2016
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For a neighbourhood changing so quickly, Highland Park’s new Highland Park Bowl is a master class in preservation. After a year-and-a-half long restoration by LA’s 1933 Group, a hospitality firm responsible for hip bars including The Thirsty Crow and Le Cuevita, the bowling alley finally opened its doors, presenting a gloriously restored space that is as friendly to local families as it is for bar-hoppers.

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As Los Angeles’ oldest operating bowling alley, the space was first opened in 1924, when prohibition required a “pharmacy” to sell medicinal whiskey to bowlers. In the 1960s, it took on the name Mr. T’s Bowl, had a short stint as a music venue and then fell into disrepair. In the early aughts, the gritty space became a launching pad for local punk bands.

The layers of history are apparent the minute you step foot in Highland Park Bowl. 1933 Group restored the space back to its original glory, complete with bow truss ceilings, a large hand-painted forest mural and original vintage pin machines on eight lanes. The group even found original memorabilia and banners from the early 20s.

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While these prohibition-era design details can make a space feel kitschy and overdone, the space is deliberate, but not precious. The staff, many of whom live in Highland Park, is welcoming, like they’d remember a customer’s name and “usual” order. Two bars serve old-school craft cocktails and an open kitchen offers family-friendly wood-fired pizzas.

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For customers wanting to bowl, lanes open at 10am, ideal for kids’ birthday parties. The afternoon brings in neighbourhood retirees, early birds and happy hour drinkers, while the late night caters to the neighbourhood’s surge of hipster 20-somethings. A listening room, called Mr. T’s room, and a microbrewery will arrive by next year.

Though the revitalisation/gentrification of Highland Park has been met with pushback from the area’s long-time residents, it appears that older generations and the neighbourhood’s new hipsters can finally bond over one thing—bowling.

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