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Bowling's Back!

May 16, 1987|MICHELE SEIPP | Seipp is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

The place is clean . . . clean, spare and high-tech. But it's quirky, too--you have to take an elevator to get there, since it's on the third level above a mall. And, maybe it's this '80s combination of kitsch and tech that makes it appeal so much to the three upwardly mobiles--out for a night of recreational bowling.

Once inside downtown's Little Tokyo Bowl, the three peruse their surroundings with practiced eyes. "Ooooo, look, the Sugar Bowl Cafe," enthuses Nance Billington, 31, a former Columbia Studios production assistant and black leather jacket collector, on spotting the alley's generic coffee shop.

Actor Clayton Rohner, 29, runs his hand across his Don Johnson stubble. "Great," he agrees. "You want to eat there, John?"

Their companion, writer/director John Lafia, 30, nods. "Let's do it," he says.

After dining on the Sugar Bowl's Japanese-American food combinations, and giggling over the name of the Aloha cocktail lounge, the three get down to the serious business at hand--bowling.

They rent tri-toned shoes and put their names down for a lane. But wait--Rohner, a Hard Rock Cafe regular, already sees someone he knows. He presses palms with the couple--an actor more than a little reminiscent of Mickey Rourke, and his photographer girlfriend, who looks like 'til tuesday lead singer Aimee Mann.

"Hey man, this place is great," the Mickey Rourke clone says. "It's so close to our downtown loft. . . ."

Bowling--that blue collar sport most people associate with yesterday's TV heroes Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney--has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts and, in some L.A. circles, may be the hippest form of weekend entertainment.

Why the growing fascination? Well, as screenwriter Robert Mundy, 36, puts it: "It just seems a typically inane thing to do."

"It's nostalgic--a '50s thing," offers Guber/Peters film production company executive Michael Besman, 29. "After working so hard all day, you want to do something ticky and fun at night."

Explains Billington, 31: "It's probably popular now because, for so long, it wasn't cool--that now it's cool."

Los Angeles Bowling Assn. secretary-treasurer Webster Sheridan says his group, which represents league bowlers, doesn't keep strict track of numbers. But "it's picking up for the young crowd now," Sheridan says. "There are several types of bowling events going on, like 'Moonlight Madness' at the Sports Center Bowl; they pack that joint." Edna, who works the desk at Santa Monica's Bay Shore Bowl and declines to give her last name, has a more sobering view: "It's like every sport. . . . It goes in and out of favor every 10 years."

Responded in Kind

Whatever your viewpoint, the renewed interest in bowling has been sufficiently sustained that bowling alleys everywhere have taken note and responded in kind. The Bay Shore Bowl, a '50s bowling alley with beautiful, green lanes, has replaced its dingy coffee shop with the Cafe Beignet, a Cajun cookery run by 30-year-old Judy Binder--who apprenticed with chichi chef Wolfgang Puck. "We get every yuppie in town here," says her mother, Sara, manager of the cafe.

The Sports Center Bowl in Studio City, another '50s original, now features "Moonlight Madness" every Friday night from midnight until 3 a.m.

"For $6, it's all you can bowl," explains manager Tom Christy, 36, organizer of the event. "And every Friday night, I sell out."

Says actor/waiter Mike Capellupo, 26: "They turn all the lights off except over the lanes. They have a DJ with music, and he's fairly obnoxious, so it's a real nightclub atmosphere."

On a recent "madness" weekend, it was so dark, it was hard to tell what was going on. Rock music blasted out over the intercom. The soupy, friendly voice of the disc jockey made it seem like a nightclub, as did all the young singles, mingling and chatting, drinks in hand. One young man, a thick-necked college type, loosened his tie and grabbed the hand of a slim brunette. They jumped into one of the few streams of light and began to dance--until they were barely missed by a ball that went whizzing past them.

Sake and High-Tech Scoring

In Redondo Beach, the brightly lit South Bay Bowl coaxes consumers with a Persian restaurant and an ice-cream parlor. And, in downtown L.A.'s Little Tokyo neighborhood, the year-old Little Tokyo Bowl appeals to its New Age patrons with sushi, sake and high-tech, computerized scoring. "It's so automatic there, they practically roll the ball for you," screenwriter Mundy muses.

With all this frenzy, it seems only natural that another element would arise: the premeditated "Bowling Party."

The hip movie "Blood Simple" held its publicity party at the Bay Shore Bowl, Wolfgang Puck celebrated this year's birthday at the Sports Center Bowl, and pop singer Sheena Easton recently rented out the Little Tokyo Bowl for her extravagant fund-raiser, "Save Marineland." "It was a charity bowl," quips Little Tokyo Bowl employee Michael Scott, 24.

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