Originally published in San Francisco Bay Guardian June 2005
Its pastel and stucco exterior stitched with neon piping, the Albany Bowl beckons with its warmth and light. Stepping inside, one hears the thunder of colliding pins along 36 parallel lanes. The Bay Area is known for its polyphony of opinions, culture, and approaches to life, and its full spectrum can be seen at the Albany Bowl, from rockabilly to hip-hop, from UC students to 9-to-5-ers, from retirees to manic packs of toddlers.
Rising property values have made the large lot size necessary for bowling alleys a bit impractical, and establishments like College Bowl and Japantown Bowl have closed, their space divvied into smaller retail stores. Soon to be 56 years old, the Albany Bowl has stayed successful by accommodating a varied clientele and a steady flow of customers from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m., 364 days a year (the Bowl closes on Christmas Day).
And this alley has a flair all its own. In addition to the requisite burger and fries, the attached diner also prepares a selection of Thai food. Every time a shot is sunk at one of the red velvet-covered pool tables, it’s like the cue ball is attending a gala affair, trotting across the Academy Awards carpet. When I first stopped by, part-owner and general manager John Tierney was seated at one of the pool tables, using it as a desk while preparing a speech for an upcoming bowling tournament.
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