For two months, Orange County's gay community turned out in force to the Lucky Strike bowling alley for Spin Tuesdays, a nightclub-style event with DJs spinning pop, dance and '80s music, and a velvet-rope entrance for as many as 1,000 bowlers, pool players and dancers.
The week before last, the gathering at The Block at Orange was shut down after police told Lucky Strike's management they could be ticketed or arrested for allowing dancing, live entertainment and outside promotions without a permit.
But the event's organizers tell a different story. They were targeted by police, they say, because it was a gay event.
"Everyone's feeling like the gay community is not welcome here," said Zach Moos, 34, one of the event's promoters and DJs.
Gay night at the bowling alley, Moos points out, was shut down while other nights with live entertainment were left alone.
The upscale bowling alley's MySpace page advertises various events with DJs and boasts of "VIP party space, multiple bars, cozy dining areas, DJs and electronic art shows projected all over the lanes and lounge."
Spin Tuesdays began in January and was organized mostly through mass text messages. It quickly became a popular outlet in a county where many gay bars and clubs have closed their doors in recent years, including Laguna Beach's landmark Boom Boom Room, which had its last call in fall 2007.
Police say the weekly event at the bowling alley was too well-attended.
Though there had been no complaints about the event, an officer on patrol in late January took notice of the over-capacity crowd of 500 people and a line snaking outside. It was operating as a de facto nightclub with hired promoters and furniture pushed out of the way to make a dance floor, authorities said.
The crackdown had nothing to do with the gay theme, Orange Police Sgt. Fred Lopez said.
"When you're expecting 30 or 40 people to be in an establishment and there's 500 people that are drinking that you're not expecting, then you have to pull officers from another area," he said. "It's a safety issue."
Over the last few weeks, police met several times with the bowling alley's managers and attorneys and sent them a letter warning that they need a permit for live entertainment, Lopez said, but Lucky Strike Lanes has not secured a permit.
Lucky Strike's management could not be reached for comment.
Like many regular patrons on Spin Tuesdays, Drew Adams, 22, a bookstore manager at the mall, was disappointed that the city clamped down on what he saw as an economic boon to The Block. In recent months the mall has lost several major retailers, including the Virgin Megastore and Ron Jon Surf Shop.
"It seems like all of a sudden the police start coming around on Tuesdays because it's gay night," he said. "It's really just people hanging out, listening to music and having fun."
Police said their goal was not to drive away customers but to get the bowling alley to obtain the proper permits.
"They're a business, and we want them to succeed," Lopez said.
Since being booted out, Spin Tuesdays has become nomadic, planning to meet at other bowling alleys and bars around Orange County.
But Moos, the DJ, contends that police continue to tail the event. On Tuesday he convened a spontaneous get-together of a few hundred people at Dave & Buster's in the same mall, and several police officers arrived and followed them inside, he said.
Lopez said that if the officers did show up at the event, it was either a routine bar check or a coincidence.
Moos remains unconvinced.
"They're after us, they're chasing us, and we're not doing anything wrong," he said. "I'm the last person to cry discrimination, but there's definitely some bias here."